Monday, March 24, 2008

Riding to work during Easter.

With no kids or grandkids to hide eggs for, I followed my passion. You guessed it, I taught a class. This time it was in Eugene, about an hour South of me. One day's ride was dry while Sunday tried to drown me. All in all, though, it was great fun. Another batch of new riders was launched while one man had the chance to find out in a safe place that riding isn't for him. Success either way.

I want to share some musings from these two days.

It's amazing how an image can evoke such emotions in one's mind. This hill is visible from our range. There's something about it that makes me think of freedom and adventure. It doesn't really go anywhere. Over the hill the road drops into the commercial outskirts of Eugene. Still, though, every time I look at the hill I think of adventure and fun on a bike. There actually is adventure on some days. Those trees are home to a lot of deer. I've come around the blind on-ramp only to find a deer staring at me. More than once. Another reason to expect the worse when you can't see the end of the corner.

I left for home about 5 PM on Saturday. Katie wanted to go to church in the evening and I had agreed to pop on home and join her. Sophie was content to stay on the Interstate for a while. Soon, though, she smelled a familiar curvy road and took the bit in her teeth. It would only add about 15 minutes to the ride so I let her take us there. Heck, I could always eat after church instead of before! In Harrisburg there's a private air strip that parallels the road. One of the neatest things about being on a bike is that it makes me so much more open to unexpected adventures. I'm more willing to take a little detour or pause a bit to look at something. We found a small treasure on the ride. How many cagers miss these kind of things in their insulated boxes?

A small aircraft was banking in towards the landing strip. It was an ultralight type craft, similar to a Breezy. A fixed wing crossed over the top of the cockpit. The motor was in the middle of the wing with a prop at the rear. Amber colored vinyl type plastic enclosed the pilot who sat out in front of the wing and motor. As the craft lined up with the runway, I slowed to match its speed. The plane and the motorcycle gracefully travelled together. Rubber kissed tarmac as the aircraft touched down. Pilot and rider exchanged waves. I was looking West and the setting sun added an extra glow to the aircraft. It was a magical moment.

Sunday morning brought rain. Children would be hunting soggy Easter eggs. City streets were quiet as I left town. The freeway, however, was busier. Riding in traffic in the rain has its own challenges. For some reason I had the same thing happen to me over and over. It wasn't a problem as I always expect drivers to do stupid things. Have you noticed how common this scenario is getting?

I ride mostly in the hammer lane. This stretch of freeway has two lanes. It's safer for me to ride a little faster than prevailing traffic. Too much lane changing can be a hazard. That's right, Officer, I'm doing it for safety, not because I like to ride briskly! Anyway, people in the right lane are driving at the speed limit or a little under. Pretty soon they start to come up on an even slower vehicle. Faster traffic like me are coming up in the left lane. It used to be that these slower drivers would wait for a safe gap and then move into the faster lane. Not anymore. Maybe one in a hundred does that.

What I see over and over, whether in a car or on a bike, is that these drivers pull over right in front of me. Are people collectively getting too stupid to fathom how dangerous this is? Are they just getting so selfish or rude that they don't care? Do they figure everyone else has to adjust to them? Has cruise control gotten so spiritually powerful that people fear to take their vehicles off of it? All I can tell you for sure is that it really disgusts me how people drive now.

Speaking of riding in the rain, Sophie was getting pretty darned dirty.

I ride in any weather and Sophie's no Garage Queen. Who has time to be washing that often? Thursday afternoon I changed her oil. My intentions were to wash her then but it started hailing. Plus the wind was blowing cold into the carport. I lost my enthusiasm for washing so I let it go. Most of the time Sophie's ok with that. She's proud to be a Road Warrior-ette. Once in a while, though, she gets a little insecure. Like when she was parked next to this hunky BMW GS big dual sport.

I know how she feels. I'm pretty secure in who I am. I'm not fat and not bad looking. In fact, some gal recently told me that in my black Rayban aviator style sunglasses I looked sort of like Tom Cruise. She was neither blind, drunk, my wife, or my mother! I don't flirt with women. My heart is solidly faithful to Katie, my best buddy and soulmate. Why is it then, that when an exceptionally pretty girl walks by, I automatically stand up straigher and expand my chest a little?

Sophie shined her two little low beams at me. I could see shame in her gaze. Guilt moved me to wash and spiff her up today. Katie and I are riding her to Medford this weekend. That's a three hour ride South. Two new instructors are teaching this weekend with me as a Mentor. Sophie won't have any reason to be self conscious. She's all clean and shiny. I even applied a little Armour-All restoring cream to her plastics and seat. Not too much on the seat, though, I don't want Katie sliding off!

Six fifteen PM Sunday saw me once more heading up the road to home. Staying on the freeway got me home in 45 minutes. You see, Katie had told me she'd have a homemade pizza in the oven when I got home. Sure enough, I walked in the back door and was greeted by the smell of pizza dough and spiced sausage cooking. Heavenly.

What better way to end a weekend of being immersed in my two wheeled passion? A sweet woman and a hot pizza!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, March 21, 2008

MBI revisited.

This is a follow-up to my previous post about MBI. Since that time Mike Werner and I have exchanged correspondence. I haven't had a total turn-around in outlook but I do have an increased appreciation for his goals. We've worked out our differences over the e-mails and things. In an effort to be fair I felt like I should do this additional post.

By the way, Happy Good Friday and Easter! I have the day off and there's a little sunshine. Saturday and Sunday afternoons will see me riding an hour South and teaching an eager new group of riders.

As you are out and about this weekend, be on the watch for small animals! ( especially Rabbits encumbered with big baskets! )

Back to MBI. Mike and I talked about the tone of the e-mails. I can understand the frustration that came through. He's wondering why so many bloggers sign up and then don't participate. Especially in the voting process. I have to admit I was one of those many bloggers. I still sort of resent the tone but can understand where Mike was coming from. In my first e-mail to Mike I stated that maybe I wasn't the kind of blogger he was looking for in MBI. I tend to be more of a solitary creature. Probably one of the reasons I'm hooked on long distance type riding. To his credit, Mike replied quickly. His replies were very professional. He didn't ask me to stay, nor did he ask me to leave. Mike simply explained a little more of what he envisioned for MBI and how the members could help.

I decided that removing myself from the member list felt too much like slinking away. I'd challenged Mike and he responded like a gentleman. Fair enough. I resolved to attempt to make a positive impact on the situation. Don't misunderstand. I still think some things could be improved to make MBI more effective. I'm going to try to exert an influence to make that happen. By the way, I did end up voting on the last awards. Several bloggers in my circle have posted the results. There's probably very few who read here who don't also get to the other blogs. So readers will have seen how it came out. I'd rather use the space to put this message out.

MBI was started with the express intention of putting out yearly awards in the motorcycle industry. The reasoning behind recruiting motorcycle bloggers is that we are all riders. Our readers are all riders. Collectively we represent a substantial source of possible revenue to manufacturers. It would behoove manufacturers to pay attention. The awards are a summation of what the members and readers consider to be good and bad in the industry. Press releases are prepared to get as wide an exposure as possible. You might say it's making an announcement in a voice loud enough for the manufacturers to clearly hear.

I totally agree with the concept. I'll tell you about something I think could be changed, though, a little later.

One of the things that some of us may not have been clear on is that blogger members are expected to participate in a number of ways. Members are expected to participate in the voting, make postings on their blogs to encourage readers to vote, etc. I looked at the site again and there is a page that clearly spells this out. You can see it if you click here. Was it there when I joined? Probably. Did we sort of glaze over this page, signing up because we just wanted to join a group of bloggers? Honestly, I probably did. I was thinking about exposure for my blog at the time. That may have been an influence.

MBI has a forum section. I'm not a fan of forums for the most part. Interestingly, Mike told me he wasn't either. The only section of the forum I really saw at first was for introducing new members. After digging around I found some good information relating to blogging itself. Steve Williams of Scooter in the Sticks fame, for example, shared some additional sources of tracking visitors to our sites. I found some use for myself here.

Bloggers are welcome to start new threads. I'm sure a bunch of fellow bloggers would be a good source for new bloggers, for example. So far the forum hasn't gone the way of so many others and degenerated into a social avenue for a few vocal loudmouths. I hope we can keep it that way.

Here's where I would challenge and encourage fellow bloggers to make an impact. Sorry, Mike, but some of the award categories seem a little strange to me. I'd be more inclined to adjust some of them to be more relevant to riders. That's where you all come in. It happens that the choice of award categories was up for discussion on a forum link before the voting started. Some of you I've corresponded with have expressed feelings similar to mine. Let's take positive action by being more active ( ok, in my case just active ) next year. If we think the categories should change, then let that be known on the forum. The awards have the potential to pressure manufacturers. Why not use it to let them know what we, as riders, need?

Here's an example I just came across on Road Captain's blog. Mrs. Road Captain, aka Diana, was expressing her concern at the lack of stylish gear for women. You can see the post if you click here. Women riders often have to make do with gear and bikes. Some manufacturers are quite responsive to this situation and some aren't. We could use the awards to let the manufacturers know who we appreciate or not. Ultimately, the positive awards translate to riders spending money. With enough MBI members and readers participating, it should speak loud and clear. If we have a way to be heard, why not make use of it?

Well, this post has gotten long enough and there's sunshine and riding with Katie calling me. I want to sign off by urging bloggers to sign up on MBI if they haven't already. Participation really isn't that rigorous. If you're already a member, take some time to browse the forums. Welcome new members. Think about what you'd like to see for award categories next year. Who know's what will happen down the road with MBI? If we do eventually end up parting company, at least I'll know that I actually made an effort to make a positive contribution. I could use a little company in this effort. Are you game?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Vanity or pride?

Well, I finally did it. I now have a personalized license plate for Sophie. Some people call them "vanity plates". Whatever you call it, I got it. On a whim I called into DMV to see if the plate was taken. Since it wasn't, I took that as a good sign.

I can't tell you why I did it. It has never even been on my radar. Even Clinton was surprised when I told him what I'd done. Maybe it was because it was Sophie's anniversary of joining the clan. I'm pretty sure it wasn't anything to do with a mid-life crisis. I mean, I'm already a dedicated rider so I didn't go buy a bike like so many do. There's no sporty convertible. The only great looking blonde hanging on my arm is Katie. I hardly find myself in need of attention. Whatever the reason, there's a shiny new plate on the back. See for yourself the results of work by the Oregon State Corrections System's finest inmates.

Now people will know who they're dealing with on the road. Will they be impressed? Will they be intimidated? Will they even notice or give a dang if they do? One thing for sure is that it will be much more difficult to remain anonymous when Sophie's parked outside a bar! I'm only joking, you realize? Of course, bikes in front of a bar aren't that humorous. Maybe I shouldn't have gone there. See what having a vanity plate does to a person?

By coincidence, I noticed another vanity plate at the hotel where the business dinner was last night. When I showed the picture to Katie she told me this one suited me a little better.

What's she trying to tell me, anyway?

Actually, the nickname itself didn't come from my own vanity. It was bestowed upon me by my oldest boy and then adopted by the rest of the kids. Here's what started it all.

There was a time when I was a very ardent follower of the "iron" discipline. The gym was a second home and I'd take the family along. One time on a bet from a state cop friend I ran a mile with Clinton perched on my shoulders. That was 19 times around the indoor track. He was probably about three years old. I remember he complained about his butt hurting and I had to talk him into a few more laps to finish things. Anyway, the statue is an art project. My oldest son, Dustin, was in middle school. He's 25 now. They were required to make a clay item, fire it, and glaze it. I had no idea what he was up to. One day he brought this thing home and presented it to me. It's fashioned after the Mr. Olympia statue. On the base is inscribed "Iron Dad".

Every father wants to be a hero to his children. How can I not bear the title proudly? My son also unwittingly gave me something to live up to in a positive way. Like all personalized plates there's a deep meaning for me that most others will never know.

So if you see me out out there with my "vanity plate" please wave. Use all your fingers and try not to laugh!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interesting data.

I'm sitting in a meeting room at a Holiday Inn near the Portland Airport. There's a meeting at 6 but I'm early. What else to do but blog? The Oregon National Guard Air Base is right here, also. I've been watching the F-15's play. Man, I'd love to be throwing up in the back of one of those!

We received the figures for Oregon's fatalities in 2007. There were also some other numbers released I thought I'd share. Coincidentally, I came across a statement by Ken Condon in Motorcycle Consumer News. It has a sobering thought on the risks of riding. In the last post I stated I would also look at a press release from the Insurance Institute. That looks to be too complicated to tackle here so I'll let that one go. Once I got started with them I'm afraid I wouldn't know where to stop.

This is an exact quote from Ken's article in the March 2008 issue of MCN. The title of the article is Risk Revisited. It's well worth going online to read this. Anyway, read this quote but don't be disheartened. The reason I say that will be apparent later.

"Riding a motorcycle is risky. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ( NHTSA ) 2005 statistics, motorcyclists are eight times more likely to be injured in a crash and 34 more times more likely to be killed than a car driver per vehicle mile traveled. That's up by about 13% from the previous year. With this knowledge, why we would expose ourselves to the possibility of serious injury by riding a motorcycle? The answer is that the risks can be managed to make riding relatively safe and that the benefits outweigh the perceived risks."

Ken's statement is a bad news / good news sort of thing. He's right in what he says, though. Risk can be managed. It's also very revealing to look at what causes the accidents. The fact that you're reading here means you're probably also way ahead of the curve.

By the way, I feel the urge to put in a shameless plug for our training program. The organization mentioned in Ken's article, NHTSA, is the same one that rated our program the best in the nation. There's a link to TEAM OREGON on the right. More detail about this is available on our website.

First off, here's some numbers regarding registrations, endorsements, etc. All the numbers and statistics are specifically for Oregon. I can't help but think that the parts relating to accidents are bound to be applicable in other states.

Oregon has approximately 220,00 endorsed riders with somewhere around 120,000 registrations. In 1999 there were 6957 new endorsements. In 2007 there were 12,087. If you were to take each of the years in between and plot the numbers on a graph, it would be apparent that the numbers of new endorsements is starting to flatten out. That corresponds to the overall drop in new motorcycle sales. Of those 12,087 new endorsements, 6957 were from our two entry level courses. We got a chance to touch a lot of them. That's pretty cool. There's some talk in the legislature to make it mandatory to take a course in order to get an endorsement. Right now anyone under 21 has to complete a course. This would expand the requirement to everyone. There's both good and bad in that. We'll leave that there for now.

Here's the numbers for fatalities.

In 2007 there were 57. Ouch! Over the last few years the number has been on a gradual upward trend. This pretty closely matches the growth rate of new endorsements. More riders means more fatalities proportionately. I hate it, but that's the way it goes. Here's how the scenarios breakdown.

39% of the fatalities happened as the result of the bike colliding with another vehicle. The results of accident investigations by police agencies shows some interesting things. Of the total fatalities, 14% were situations where a car driver hit a bike and was considered to be at fault. Of the total fatalities, 25% were situations where a bike impacted another vehicle due to a mistake. That could include making a bad decision and doing the wrong thing. In other words, where it was determined that the rider could have avoided the accident by doing the proper thing.

6% of the fatalities were situations where an animal was involved.

A whopping 55% of the fatalities were single vehicle. As in a rider all by themselves without an animal or another driver involved. The most common scenario was failing to negotiate a corner. Most of that was due to not looking far enough through the corner. Good visual information sets up everything else in cornering. The reason we know the crash was due to bad sight distance is because it happened in the last third of the curve. Riders were surprised and ran off the road to either side. Oregon has a lot of curves and thus riders have a lot of chances to kill themselves.

Training really helps. The basic course started here in 1984. Since that time, only 18 of the fatalities have been our former students. That's even too many but it's extremely small compared to the total number. DMV puts a tag on the driver's license of anyone who gets a completion card. Training is huge in preventing fatalities.

Even more telling is the three "un's". The vast majority of fatalities had one of these involved.



Un-der the influence.

Under the influence means any positive BAC. Only a third were legally intoxicated. The rest were impaired. Same outcome either way. It's sobering to think about, with no pun intended.

Despite all the flap about motorcycles being so dangerous and that all the drivers are out to get us, it's evident that other drivers really cause very few of the fatalities. It's really not our fate to be taken out by a fast moving Buick with a cell phone impaired driver. Riders are doing it to themselves.

The lesson is that risk can be managed. Statistics are weighted by the kinds of riders I wrote about yesterday. Get training, take refresher courses, and urge your riding acquaintances to do the same. Attitude really does make a tremendous difference. Don't ride impaired. That reminds me, I should do a post on impairment. There's a lot more to it than alcohol and illicit drugs.

Enjoy riding. You can do a lot to take care of yourself. Knowing you're prepared to deal with things makes riding a lot more fun. You might be a little worried about going to advanced training and pushing your limits. Remember this.

Beauty often lies on the other side of danger!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Judged by the worst.

It's happened again. Somebody in my circle of acquaintances has crashed a bike. Now I'm hearing a fresh round of how people worry about me riding. "Motorcycles are so dangerous" they say. Never mind the hundreds and hundreds of hours and thousands upon thousands of miles I've ridden without serious incident. Not to mention the miles put on by my fellow bike commuters. No, I'm being judged by what happened to a single individual. And one, truth be told, who reaped the rewards of his own attitude. By extension, I'm also being judged by others just like him. Why are these always the most visible ones?

If you're reading this you've probably realized I'm back. Katie and I had some time together without too many other things intruding. A gentleman will never "kiss and tell" but suffice it to say that she's humming to herself again. Always a good sign! The down side is that I haven't been on two wheels for a week. I'm suffering severe withdrawal. As we drove through the Coast Range I couldn't help but remember the awesome rides I've had through there before. Everywhere we went by car we'd been on the bike, as well. Rain drops on the kitchen window air conditioner sound like heavy men line dancing on a tin floor. Soaked or not, motorcycle tires are going to roll this morning!

When we got back into town I called my mother to let her know we were safely home. You know how that goes. She asked me if I'd heard what happened while we were gone. Of course, I hadn't, so she tells me the story. About two guys riding when a car pulls out in front of them. One gets around the car and the other runs into it. This was also the first of what would become several expressions of "motorcycles are dangerous".

I did a little checking into things. To quote Paul Harvey, here's the "rest of the story".

Three guys decide to get bikes. Two are close to my age and one's a little older. I went to high school with and casually dated the girl that one of them is married to. Obviously well before he married her, of course! This guy is the fairly new rider. The other two guys are coming back to riding after being away a long time. That's a big trend these days. Unfortunately, the riding world's a totally different place now. A person can't step off a time machine and expect to seamlessly blend into the future without a little help. Enter The Trainer.

All three bought Harley's. All three were strongly urged by yours truly to seek some sort of training before they actually took them out on the road. Here's where it gets interesting. Two of the three had no endorsements. One had let it lapse and the other had never had one. Both of these took one of our courses, did well, and had gotten endorsed. Now they are legal and much better equipped to start taking care of themselves out there. As much as I'd like to say otherwise, riding is dangerous. That's a constant that is only likely to get worse. What isn't a constant, though, is how we prepare ourselves to deal with the risk. That aspect is totally under our control. We can choose to accept the risk and act accordingly. Or, we can don the mask of denial. Two of the riders chose the former, one chose the latter.

Katie and I happened to be out riding on a nice afternoon not too long ago. Stopping for coffee and tea, we saw the new rider and the eventual crasher sitting at a table. Their bikes were parked nearby. The new rider proudly told me of how he'd taken a class and learned a lot. The crasher basically said he didn't need training. He'd gotten an endorsement at DMV decades ago. That was good enough. Despite my efforts to sway him, that attitude didn't change. I'm only going to push someone so hard. It's their decision to make, after all. It's also up to them to deal with the consequences.

Attitude played a big part here. This guy is pretty full of himself otherwise. It's one of the reasons he's an acquaintance and not someone I'd really call a friend. Anyway, this isn't an opportunity to speak ill of him. I simply want to show the contrasting attitudes of these two riders. Fast forward to the crash.

These same two are riding together. The newer rider is in front. They're approaching Corvallis on Highway 20. Corvallis is a college town, housing Oregon State University. Highway 20 is a scenic connector between Albany and Corvallis. It follows the Willamette River for most of it's way. If it weren't for all the commuter traffic it would be a most excellent ride. The stretch where the crash happened is where the highway turns into a city street. There's some business and residential mixed together. The speed limit is just about to turn from 35 mph to 25. A woman in a small car starts to pull out onto the street. Pretty close to the bikes. She sees the bikes and freezes. About half the car is sticking out into the lane perpendicular to the bike's path of travel. Now what?

Newer rider, fresh out of training, is in front by a ways. He is able to swerve around the front of the car. No harm, no foul. Except for some language, possibly. The "I don't need no stinkin' training" rider is a little farther back. He should have had more room to maneuver. At the lower speed he should have been able to actually stop. I know, I wasn't on the bike so it's hard to say. Here's what happened. See what you think.

The guy ran into the side of the car. There was no attempt to make any sort of avoidance maneuver. No attempt to swerve, no attempt to brake. In fact, he hit the car so hard that his helmet broke the passenger side door window. By the way, gear was, shall we say, less than optimal. The police officer on scene commented on how it was a good thing the window actually gave way. Otherwise, the rider would probably have broken his neck. As it is, the rider receives a very large gash on his head, some spinal cord compression, and one arm requires surgery. His wife's freaking out about his ever riding again. Maybe with good cause.

Did he just not see the car? We really emphasize using aggressive scanning to spot potential hazards as soon as possible. Did he see the car and just freeze from not knowing what to do? It could have been the classic "stare at the hazard and crash right into it" thing. The rider got his bell rung so hard he can't tell me. Even if he would.

What's the takeaway?

Sure, riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. Even good riders crash once in a while. Proper training makes a huge difference. Attitude makes an even bigger difference. Faulty attitudes make for faulty riders. These are the ones who populate the statistics, unfortunately. I'm just getting tired of being judged by the actions of these riders. You know I'm going to keep speaking up whenever I get the opportunity. Two of the three heeded the message. Big thumbs up to them!

Stay tuned for the next post. Figures are in for last year on fatal accident causes. There's also been a statement released by the Insurance Institute. Let's see how they compare.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, March 10, 2008

Working vacation.

Another weekend of instructor training is marked off the calendar. As part of the process these instructors were sort of student teaching with a class. The big surprise was two ladies who are school bus drivers. Guess which two had the hardest time understanding and following directions? Yup. These two. Strange. Seriously, I'm not making fun of anyone. I was simply surprised at the situation.

I'm leaving early in the morning for three days and two nights on the road for business. The schedule's a little light with a fair amount of driving involved. It's worked out for Katie to come along. We're using it for a light working vacation. I've been so involved in work and motorcycle related activities like training that she's been sort of neglected. Katie's still my best buddy and sweetie. Hard core or not, balance is required. So I'm putting most of attention towards enjoying her the next few days. We have the option of travelling on the bike but it's supposed to rain a lot. I don't want to make her endure that this time. So we will be in a cage. Oh, well.

You probably won't see much here until Friday. Don't forget to come back, though! There's some pretty cool stuff waiting in the wings. Also coming up is a second part to the MBI post. Mike Werner and I have had some correspondence. Mostly positive. Stay tuned for that and more.

I will have my laptop with me. There should also be wireless internet access at the hotels. So who knows? Maybe when Katie's in the shower my fingers won't be able to help straying towards the blog world. We'll see.

See you in a few days. Don't forget this place!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gravy run!

Sometimes everything just comes together to make a great day. Yesterday was one of those for me. I was asked to make a run to Gresham to look at a shipment that had come into a distributor. It was supposed to receive a little fabrication work then be sent to a job. Their shop guys claimed it was way out of tolerance. My job was to be the "official" viewpoint and report back to the factory in Tennessee. The fact that the sun came out and the distributor is a little over 80 miles away from my house added a bonus. I mounted up Sophie and off we went. Gresham is on the Columbia River Gorge, by the way. Please don't throw me in that briar patch!

It was freezing when we left. No big deal. I chose to add a lightweight fleece jacket under the 'Stich. I knew I'd be chilled for a while. The upside is that the sun would eventually warm things up. Fleece means no wiring up. When the mercury hit 61 degrees later in the day I knew I'd made the right choice.

Since this was a last minute change in schedule, I had to postpone other things on the list. That left some free time to just sort of wander around. I came across this little oasis in the middle of sprawling urbanite clutter. There must be some sort of preprogrammed thing in humans that makes us need to commune with Nature. Even if it's a man-made pond in the middle of an asphalt jungle.

That's part of what drives us to ride, isn't it? We feel more in touch with our surroundings. I could wax philosophical. I could use hundreds of words to describe it. Or, I could just quote something Katie says that sums it up nicely.

"I need to walk on something besides cement once in a while!"

This pond covers the equivalent of several blocks. On one side is a grassy slope that leads up to a busy street. Across that street is a huge shopping center. On the other side of the pond, patients in a dental office can gaze at the water and the fountains. Does it help quiet their fears? Probably not! Farther down is a Ruby Tuesday's restaurant. It would be nice to eat outside and look at the water.

Of course, there's the obligatory ducks and geese. One must really watch where they walk. No reclining on the grass would be possible due to the abundance of "you know what".

You'd think these two fertilizer spreaders had never seen a guy in a Hi-Viz jacket before! Come to think of it, maybe they hadn't.

It was nice to have time to just sort of poke along but eventually I needed to go take care of business. My appointment was later in the day which meant the ride home was in the late afternoon sun. Nearing home, I was headed East. That late afternoon sun can be pretty obnoxious. It was blinding me in my sideview mirror. I found myself signalling a left turn. Without even thinking about it, I extended my left arm to go with the turn signal. I realized it's a habit I picked up long ago.

Once, in similar circumstances, I thought a car had seen my turn signal. We were both headed the same direction. I was in the left lane and the car was behind me in the right lane. I signalled to change lanes. Suddenly the driver sped up and filled the space beside me. Then they turned right into a parking lot. Being kind of forward, I turned in and "chatted" with the driver as he got out of his car. When I asked him why he ignored my signal and closed the gap, the guy told me he didn't see the signal in the sun. This was no argumentative person. He was genuinely apologetic. When I looked the direction we were heading, I realized he was probably telling the truth.

Imagine staring into this. Then think about a small motorcycle turn signal light. Especially an amber colored one. I could see the driver's point. Now, whenever I find myself with the sun bright behind my back, I realize that oncoming drivers might not see my signal. I use hand signals ( polite ones, of course,what were you thinking? ) to help communicate my intentions. I just figure that's part of my responsibility as a rider. It's an ingrained habit by now.

Thus ended another work day. Riding for work and enjoying a whole day on the bike. Not to mention getting paid fifty and a half cents per mile! How lucky can a guy get?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, March 03, 2008

A pressing matter!

"Experience is what you get right after you need it." That's a useful statement. I tried to find out who the quote was credited to. For some reason, nobody seems to know. I did, however, discover another quote during my search. Again with an unknown author. It was on a professional soldier's discussion forum. It goes as follows,

"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to stick it up your ass."

There may be some value in that for me some day. If I ever find myself with a tomato in my hand while riding. For now, though, I'll stick to the first one. As a rider the statement seems to be more applicable. Getting experience right after I need it just feels wrong. Being sort of anal about trying to control my own destiny on a bike, I have this feeling I should try to get experience before I need it.

What I'm specifically referring to is accident avoidance skills. These are things that a lot of riders take up when they're trying to avoid an accident. That's a bummer of a time to start, if you ask me. These are the kinds of skills you don't need until you need them, then you really need them!! Will they be there? If we make the effort to gain experience beforehand the skills will be there for us.

The particular skill on my mind at the moment is the swerve. It's not as easy as it may seem. There's a lot of interesting dynamics involved. Sometimes I think riders don't really think about things like this. It's as if they feel it will just happen naturally when the time comes. Guess what? It doesn't. That always puzzles me. How do untrained riders think they'll just naturally know what to do? In a recent post I wrote about a man and his wife on a bike. A swerve gone bad resulted in her death. I don't even know these people but I take each fatality personally. Hence the keys on my laptop are getting a workout. I want to share what I know. Then I'd urge every rider to go out and practice!

These pictures are from a recent class. There was a third instructor around so I asked him to step in while I took some photos. The instructor in the photos is my pal Pak Ho. Like many of the instructors, I mentored him when he was brand new. Now he's a mentor, himself. Our students get anywhere from 45 to 50 passes during this swerving exercise. It's a great start.

A swerve is two consecutive countersteers. A countersteer is a press on the handgrip to initiate a lean. Understanding countersteering is really critical. Some riders who crashed instead of making a successful swerve did so because they tried to steer around the obstacle. Which actually means they countersteered, all right. Just in the wrong direction which caused them to impact the hazard.

As we move through this, I'm going to ask a couple of questions. Just for fun, see if you know the answers before you read on. A swerve to the left requires a left press followed by a right press. A swerve to the right would be just the opposite. Here's a couple of questions.

What moves a bike farther? A harder press or a longer press?

Are the presses of equal magnitude? If not, which one should be longer?

What does the first press in a swerve do?

What does the second press do?

Holding the press longer moves the bike farther. A really hard press of short duration would just make the bike jerk around. The first press moves the bike onto a new path of travel. A lot of riders seem to think that the second press puts the bike back onto the original path. That's not true. Sometimes a rider can't come back to the original path. It might be a long trailer we're swerving around. It might be a line of stalled cars. The second press only straightens the bike out until we decide what to do next.

Summing up that part, it's a long first press that needs to be held until we clear the obstacle. That part's important. We might get around the end of a pickup only to be hit in the head by the mirrors. The long first press is followed by a short second press. That press brings the bike back upright in the new path of travel.

What kind of presses should be used? They need to be assertive. Remember, it's an effort to avoid an accident! We're not making a lazy "S" turn. This is a reaction to a situation that happens suddenly in front of us. Our preference would be to stop quickly. A swerve is something we do when stopping's not an option. The bike needs to move, and now! Properly swerving requires assertive presses. Assertive, but still,oh, so smooth! The faster the speed, the more pressure it will take to move the bike. I've swerved at 70 and 80 mph in front of a bunch of motor cops in training. It's surprising how much pressure it takes to move the bike 8 feet to one side or the other. I've also swerved at freeway speeds. Comfortingly enough, it's just like in practice. With a little more adrenaline thrown in, of course!

Since a swerve happens so quickly, only our hands are involved. By the way, this is another reason to ride with our elbows slightly bent. I see a lot of stiff-armed riders. Not good for pressing. We don't have time for upper body leaning. The bike moves underneath us while we remain upright. I call it the Elvis Presley School of Swerving. Just let your hips swivel, baby! Notice there's no picture of me doing that move!

Now that we have the presses down, let's talk about target fixation. Where should we look during a swerve? That should be pretty obvious. We need to look at our escape route. Weirdly enough, a lot of accident involved riders ran into what they were trying to avoid. Why? You know. What's a surefire way to run into something? Stare at it. It's amazing how many so called experienced riders tell me they finally figured out why they crashed into something. It's the classic,

"I don't want to hit that guard rail. I don't want to hit that guard rail. But, by golly, I'm going to stare at it until I do!"

Researchers discovered target fixation when studying fighter pilot crashes. The pilots would stare at something and fly right into it. The same can happen to a motorcycle pilot.

I don't care if there's 48 of those little Shriner's cars on fire in front of me, the most interesting thing to me is that few feet that's my escape route. Look where you want the bike to go.

So far so good? One long press followed by a short press to straighten the bike. Both presses are assertive. We look to our escape route. Now let's move on to the really interesting part.

Does everyone agree that braking at speed eats a lot of traction? How about swerving? Yes, both things eat bunches of traction. With two things both hungry for traction, what's the strategy?

Separation. Brake, then swerve. Or, Swerve, then brake.

There's not enough traction to go around. Did I mention that a rider should never brake and swerve at the same time? Did I mention how critical it is to separate the two? I did? Well, then, this must be really, really, important.

Sound simple? Here's another question. How many brakes does a bike have?

Did you answer two? A lot of people do. Do I hear three?

Yes, a bike actually has three brakes. The engine is the third. So what do we need to do with the throttle during a swerve? Exactly. Steady throttle all the way through. That means until the bike is back upright after the second press.

I see a lot of students start a throttle roll-off at the same time they start the first press. The whole swerve is done under trailing throttle. At low speeds the traction isn't so much an issue. At higher speeds, though, engine braking can be just enough to make the bike fall down. Even if engine braking's not the factor that puts the traction account into deficit spending, there's another consideration.

What holds a bike up? We've talked about this before. It's speed, isn't it? Think of what we're asking a bike to do doing a swerve. We're asking the bike to quickly lean over one direction, then snap back upright. With trailing throttle, what's going to help the bike come back up? What do we have to press against? Without power, trying to accomplish a swerve is a lot like punching a marshmallow. At best, it's not too confidence inspiring. At worst, it's the difference between avoiding an accident or being the accident.

A swerve is a maneuver that seems simple but turns out to be complicated once we peel back the layers. No wonder so many riders actually end up crashing despite trying to avoid doing so.

Swerving is a skill we hopefully won't ever need. If we do need it, though, it's important to know what to do. That means making opportunities to practice ahead of time. Hope this has been useful.

Why don't we try to change the quote? How about,

Experience is something we make sure we get before we need it.

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Motorcycle Bloggers International.

There aren't any photos for this post. I just need to get something off my chest. I really try not to post anything that could cause offense to too many people. It's a carryover from being a motorcycle safety professional, I guess. While I personally feel that it's possible to be too politically correct, as instructors we have to keep our personal opinions to ourselves. If something we say or do makes a student shut down towards us, we've robbed them of the the chance to get what they need. In other words, the critical training has to take precedence whether I agree with a person's views or not.

That's been the case with this blog. I try to share riding wisdom and tips as well as share stories of commuting. Despite being a fairly opinionated person, I've really tried to keep that out of this blog. Some people make a great living at being controversial. That's not the goal for me here. Which is why most of us don't try to use our blogs for commercial gain. We're all more alike than not. It's so much more fun to celebrate what we have in common than to fight over differences, don't you think?
Nonetheless, I'm going to cross my self-imposed line here. Rather than write something under the influence of a provocation, I've let it sit on the back burner for a few days. I find that I'm still compelled to write this. It has to do with the leadership of the MBI. This will not be complementary. It is not, by extension, an indictment of the good bloggers who belong to this organization. It's aimed squarely at Mike Werner.

When MBI started, I joined, as did a lot of other bloggers. My impression was that it would be a forum for fellow motorcycle related bloggers to interact. Turns out that the expressed purpose was to present annual awards in the motorcycle industry. I'm ok with that even though it's not what I expected. One of our own, Steve Williams received an award last year for best scooter related blog. Something like that. Sorry Steve! His most excellent blog, Scooter in the Sticks, was certainly deserving. In my mind, that's a very positive thing that came out of the awards.

What's not so positive is the communications to those of us who are slow to "participate".

I've been in leadership roles for most of my life. I've also had extensive training in this capacity. Every once in a while I've needed to sit someone down and ask them this question.

"Do you realize that you are perceived as ( fill in the blank )?"

So I'm presenting the following in this light. Yes, I'm also sending a personal communication to Mike, as well. The reason I'm making this as public as my blog allows it to be is that I'd encourage others to express their feelings to Mike.

Here's a couple of recent e-mails I've received. I'm just one of a long list of receipients.

Number 1.

Dear fellow blogger,
It may have escaped your notice, but we're in the middle of our annual award voting process at MBI. Since you yourself asked to join this group, and we've clearly stated that the main reason for MBI was to hold an annual awards program, we ask your help and cooperation.
So, please do make me send reminders after reminders.....So far, only 30 of 152 of you have voted, and 26 have written about the awards. That's really bad !!!!

Number 2

This is become very boring. Out of 157 members, only 63 have voted at the MBI members area. After a lot of work by some MBI members, plus upcoming costs for the PR releases on the awards (they don't come cheap), it would seem that most of you can't find the time to spend a minute to vote as MBI member.

Are you not interested in MBI, if so, let me know, and we'll remove you from the membership. That way you'll not receive these messages from me.

MBI was created initially for the awards, and with the awards, we hope to gain strength and credibility with the industry. If you think the MBI is a waste of your time, that's fine, but than let us know. If you're traveling, that's understandable (I know some of you are on world tours).

These e-mails didn't make me feel motivated to participate. I'd be more likely to follow the course set out in the second sentence of the second e-mail. In other words, I'm pretty much shut down to the message.

Mr. Werner, you're more perceived as punitive here, not as a leader trying to share a vision. I'm sure many who received these and other e-mails feel similarly. On the positive side, here's a little feedback.

63 out of 157 comes out to around 40 percent. If only that small a percentage are buying in, then perhaps there's a failure to communicate your vision. Up until this most recent e-mail, I personally had no clue that awards were the express purpose here. Maybe I'm not the only one. Better communications presented in a more positive manner might be in order. Here's a formula I use constantly with people who report to me.

Performance = Capacity - Interference

I have to assume good intent on the part of these folks. If performance isn't happening then I have to look at what might be getting in the way. It might not be the person at all. It might be something the company's not doing correctly. Could the same be true for MBI?

That's as far as I'm going here. It's feedback, not derision. If others of you feel the same way then express yourselves. MBI could be a really good thing. Member participation entails more than just following directions, though. Leadership needs input from the troops to help determine how things are going. Done with the right motivation, this input can be a positive thing.

Miles and smiles,