Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sharin' the Road!

This week Dave McCallister from Alma, Michigan stopped by to share his story and enthusiasm for riding. His ever present riding companion and mascot, Road Kill, was with him. R.K.'s picture is below. Dave's a retired USAF Master Sergeant. Now he's a computer technician for a private college. Mixed in with all that, Dave rides with the Patriot Guard Riders.

I've had the privilege of training several folks who wanted to ride with this group. Many are veterans themselves. I thank them for what they've given and continue to give. People have different opinions about war and the military. No matter a person's beliefs, a fallen soldier and their family deserves the quiet dignity and grieving provided by the funeral. Some folks just can't seem to respect that. The Patriot Guard helps ensure the family gets what they need. Along the way they evidence their own honor to the fallen. That's a huge gift in my way of thinking.

Just a note here before I turn it over to Dave. Yes, Allen, there is another Harley gracing my blog!

Here's Dave:

The idea of riding a motorcycle never entered my mind until 2006. At the age of 44 I heard about a group desecrating military funerals of those killed in action with their protests. In February 2006, I joined the Patriot Guard Riders and started attending military funerals with them to ensure a dignified farewell for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Over the next few months, after hearing bikers exchange road stories/ lies, I thought, "Riding a motorcycle sounds like a lot of fun." I didn't want to get a bike until I went through the BRC as I didn't want to teach myself bad habits or learn bad habits from others. In July that year I passed the BRC, got my endorsement, and started looking for a new bike. I had it narrowed down to either an 07 Honda Shadow Aero in pearl white or a Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low in pearl yellow. I sat on lots of different bikes, but only those two had hand and food controls that felt safe and comfortable to me.

HD got their 07's out before Honda, so I got the Sportster. Within the first week the BRC training paid off. I had to come to an emergency stop in a blind curve to prevent running into a car that wanted to get around a stopped semi trailer on the curve. Our front tires stopped about 6 feet from each other. Michigan subsidizes the BC (Thank you Michigan ABATE for that!), and after I stopped I thought, "That's the best $25 I ever spent!"

Since getting the bike, I regret waiting so late in life to discover the joys of riding a bike. I've ridden the bike 30,000 miles so far. I don't consider myself proficient though. I now know seven things in your first year of riding you shouldn't do to drop your bike at low speeds.

The last time was when dirty water from snow melt-off covered a road last year. The right six inches of my lane didn't have water, but had lots of stones. My thinking was that I would go to the left of the center line and ride slow since pot holes would be near the right part of my lane.. I slowed down to about 10 MPH to cross the water and I rode into the pot hole from hell that was about 2 feet long and I don't know how deep. The bike instantly slammed me to the pavement on the right side of the bike. If I hadn't added saddlebags and crash bars to the bike, my ankle probably would have been crushed. As it was, it was a struggle to get my foot out that was pinned underneath the bike (in the meantime cars were attempting to go around me while I was laying in the middle of the road.) Insert inappropriate words for print in your mind for those folks ignoring my situation.

The full face helmet suffered a small scratch and my chaps had a small hole at the knee from where I hit the pavement. If it weren't for my gear, the crash guards, and the saddlebags, things could have gotten ugly. It's been over a year since I last dropped the bike, so I guess I am getting better? I've gotten to the point where I can ride the bike on dirt trails without losing control :) Those who grew up riding dirt bikes (I didn't have that experience) may get a chuckle out of that, but to me that is a milestone achievement. Riding a 600 pound bike on dirt trails. My Road King riding partner who is a very experienced rider has got a chuckle out of egging me into riding on gravel and dirt and recently laughed and said, "You've come a long way Dave, ya' wussie."

Bikers (especially HD bike snobs) snicker at me because of my appearance, but I don't care. A bright yellow Harley and a bright yellow helmet. There is a phrase "Loud pipes save lives." My motto is "Loud colors save lives." There have been many instances where people were about to violate my right of way, but they backed off once they noticed my visually obnoxious helmet. I don't care about looking cool, I just want to minimize the risks when riding so I can ride another day.

And for those of you who think there is only just one brand of bike to ride. Two wheels is two wheels. If you are on two wheels (even if it is a scooter) you get a wave from me. You realize the magic of riding on 2 wheels that most don't in this country.

Dang, isn't is great to be riding on two wheels and smelling nature instead of being locked up in cage? In December 2006 I hauled my bike down to Atlanta and rode down to Florida. While taking a state highway from Lake Worth to Tampa, I rode through the citrus crop region. The wonderful smell of oranges pleased my olfactory senses for about 200 miles. The other day here in Michigan I smelled a sweet fragrance for 2 miles from something that I wouldn't have noticed if I was in a cage. You just can't experience something like that on 4 wheels. Ride long, and ride safe!


Thanks for sharing, Dave! I've been amazed and honored that riders have put forth the effort to be a part of Sharin' the Road. Next week look for a visit from Shannon. She comments here under the name Balisada. You'll see why she calls herself that in her post.

You're warmly invited to drop by to share your story. Maybe you had a great ride you'd just love to tell someone about. Campfire conversation wanders along a variety of subjects. Drop me a line at and tell me about it.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Humorous musings!

As we shake out from under the long weekend I thought a little humor would help. I actually had a weekend with very little work involved. It almost made me fall into a stupor! Smiling counts as exercise so here's some things that were passed on to me by some friends.

Okay, I realize there's nothing funny about this picture. It's a necessary pain to set up the next bit. More of the folks coming through our classes are citing rapidly rising fuel prices for exploring motorcycles. The pain at the pump is a lot less filling up a bike than a truck. I was shocked a week and a half ago when I filled up the training program's diesel truck and it cost $106.00 for twenty three and a half gallons. And I was moaning when it cost me a little over twenty bucks to fill Sophie!

This is another great reason to ride instead of drive. Cagers are starting to look a little less smug as they glance at the motorcycle riders among them.

Even at that, though, riders are starting to feel the financial pinch despite it being less than if they drove. People new to riding, having just come from driving, are starting to think about how things were when using a car. Memories of carpooling are still fresh in their minds. Is there a way to do something similar but using motorcycles, instead? Somebody must think so. Here's a picture sent along by a fellow instructor.

Welcome to bikepooling! Everyone just pitches in a little every week for fuel. Split among 9 or 10 riders ( or passengers ) the cost is pretty minimal. As a further benefit, the owner also makes himself available for those nice dates when a fellow gets in the mood to treat his girl to a special ride. Or vice versa. Who needs stretch limos when you have an Anaconda?

Speaking of wild things, who of us hasn't heard George Thorogood and the Destroyers' "Born to be Wild" and thought, right, that's me! Go ahead, you can admit it to us, we're friends. I'm a baby boomer. Like all the rest of them, time is taking its toll on me. All in all, though, I'm doing ok. Still riding. Not on any prescription medications. Don't need any "helpful" pills except for vitamins. I can still see my belt buckle and can tie my own shoes. You don't have to take my word for it. Just ask Clinton, the owner of the newly acquired VFR! I still have a lot of life let in me. Okay, Clinton, I need you to step in here! Hope you're still reading, buddy.

I have a dear friend who used to work for me. We still keep in touch. Jim sent me this link. Said he couldn't resist. He better not be poking fun at me. I'm a little younger and in better shape!

This is a short animation. The message is set to music. Lyrics are to the same tune as "Born to be Wild". See, it does eventually have a motorcycle connection! Click here and prepare to laugh!

Hope this gets your week off to a good start. Look for another guest on Sharin' the Road this week, plus whatever strikes me as worthy of sharing. Speaking of guests, I thought it might be fun to have Katie do a guest interview. She's a rider, having taken training, ridden a little, and being currently endorsed. I told her the readers might enjoy finding out more about what it's like living with someone like me. She thinks it wouldn't be all that interesting. What do you all think?

Miles and smiles,


Friday, May 23, 2008

Capping off Motorcycle Awareness Month.

No photos this time. I just wanted to put down a few thoughts on Motorcycle Awareness Month now that's it's coming to a close. I've watched with interest what's gone on with press releases, discussion forums, etc. For some reason I feel sort of attacked as a rider. I would have thought it should be the other way around. Here's what's bothering me.

The whole tone seems to be one of making the best of a bad situation. Most of what I read tells me I'm part of a totally dangerous pursuit. What's more, they say I'm not really good at it. So much of the stuff published focuses on what riders are doing wrong. That we better work harder at getting it together. Here's another thing. Since you're going to crash anyway, we're going to work harder at making laws requiring safety gear, particularly helmets.

Then there's the perception from the car drivers around us. The tone's more like,

"These people are crazy and dangerous so you better look out for them!"

I know this is slightly exaggerated ( not that motorcyclists ever exaggerate, of course ) but you get my point.

Here's my thoughts on mandatory helmet laws. This is coming from someone whose passion for motorcycle rider training burns hotly. I'm sure trainers from other states who might be reading this will share my views. Whatever program we're currently teaching, our hearts are in the same place.

I'm an advocate for all the gear all the time. Laws or not, I'd wear a helmet. Not just any helmet, but a full face helmet. Whatever anyone says about helmets, I've seen too many severe facial injuries with riders wearing other types of helmets. What riders wear or not is their choice. My choice is based on my experience and I realize it's personal. That doesn't mean I'm not going to try to make sure a rider's choice is based on accurate information instead of peer pressure. Nonetheless, once the rider makes a choice I will respect it. I want it on the record that I'm totally in the camp of full face helmet use. That way there's no misunderstanding of the next thing I'm going to write.

What gets me about the big push for helmet laws is that it's shooting for the wrong target. I think the big push should be making quality rider training more readily available. Maybe even subsidizing a large part of it. As a trainer, I'm busting my butt trying to help riders avoid accidents in the first place. The government seems to be concentrating on making riders have safer crashes instead. Do you see the conflict from my viewpoint?

Here's the other part that bothers me. Motorcycles are a viable alternative to cars. For many reasons which have already been discussed, bikes are actually a desirable change. It's better for the earth. Riding makes better use of our resources. I'd even go so far as to say there'd be a lot less road rage, a decrease in horrible driving habits, and so many more generally happy people. Yet, most of the press releases I've seen for Motorcycle Awareness Month totally get it backwards.

What should be out there is stuff that tells car drivers that motorcycles have just as much right to be on the roads as cars. The message should be that riders are people trying to make a difference in the world just as much as those who drive hybrid cars. These riders are people who sit in an office just down the hall from you. Just like you they worry about raising kids and paying bills. Even further, you should try riding to work yourself.

That's why the proclamation from Oregon's Governor warmed my heart. Of course, he was prompted by the director of our program and the state's traffic safety officials. Notice the tone of this statement and how it fits in with what I just wrote.



WHERAS: Oregon continues to be the national leader in motorcycle safety education; and

WHERAS: The Transportation Safety Division’s (ODOT) TEAM OREGON Motorcycle Safety Program was recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as the most outstanding state motorcycle rider training program in the nation; and

WHEREAS: Education and safe riding habits are worthy of special recognition; and

WHEREAS: It is important that the citizens of our state should be aware of motorcycles on the highways and recognize the importance of sharing the roadway with these fuel-efficient vehicles: and

WHEREAS: Motorists should have special awareness of the vulnerability of motorcyclists; and

WHEREAS: The designation of Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month promotes public awareness of the energy-efficient motorcycle and its proper and safe use on the roads and highways of Oregon.

NOW,THEREFORE, I Theodore R. Kulongoski, Governor of the State of Oregon, hereby proclaim May 2008 to be

MOTORCYCLE SAFETY AWARENESS MONTH in Oregon and encourage all Oregonians to join in this observance.

Now that's what I'm talking about! This proclamation captures the spirit of what riding to work is all about. Notice the proper emphasis on rider training and the value of our fuel efficient mounts?

Further, there was a press release from the Oregon Department of Transportation. This release carries a similar tone with more detail. You can read it here. Gives a whole new meaning to Share the Road, doesn't it?

Ok. This post has gotten quite long. I just wanted to get this off my chest. Be proud of riding. Even more so if you ride to work despite inclement weather. You're doing a noble thing. Not to mention a really, really, fun thing!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sharin' the Road!

I'd like to introduce you to Stacy. In a small way I've been involved in her training, both directly and in the fact that one of her original instructors was trained by me.

Stacy's the kind of newer rider whose enthusiasm for riding is contagious. If you've ridden a long time and found yourself getting kind of jaded, hanging out with Stacy for a while will soon remind you of why we all started riding in the first place! She's also a faithful member of the ride to work club. Here's her story.

Hello everyone, my name is Stacy and I live in Oregon. I've been motorcycling a little over a year now, and I'd like to thank Dan for giving me a chance to share my story.

I never thought I'd be a motorcyclist. Motorcycling was something other, more adventurous people did, and it took a few seeds of memory and a few more strokes of luck before I found myself sitting on a motorcycle for the first time.

First, the memories. As a toddler, I once ran out in the middle of a street into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. The rider executed a perfect emergency stop and his motorcycle came to a halt several feet before me. This was my first experience with SIPDE, though I didn't know it yet.

The second memory. As a young girl, I watched from my bedroom window as the neighbors across the cul-de-sac unloaded a motorcycle from a trailer and proceeded to teach their eldest daughter how to ride. This was the first time I realized that women were not only passengers, but riders themselves.

It still took a few lucky breaks to get me into the saddle of a motorcycle. The first break was my job right out of college. I soon found that my boss rolled into work on a gigantic Harley. Another co-worker commuted on a Ninja 250, and yet another rode a Yamaha sport-tourer. I was surrounded by riders for the first time, and they were invaluable in giving me a good impression about riding. All of my co-workers suggested that I take the Team Oregon BRT if I wanted to learn to ride, and when my Ninja riding co-worker offered to sell his to me at a good price, I almost got bitten. But alas, it wasn't yet to be.

After a job change, a move up to Corvallis, and three years came the second lucky break: my soon-to-be partner decided to sell her car and learn to ride... a scooter. It didn't take me long to talk her out of buying a 50cc and in to taking the Team Oregon course -- sorry, scooter folks! -- just to try things out, of course, and if she didn't like the motorcycle, she could always buy a scooter and have some rider training to boot. I would also take the course with her, so she wouldn't be alone. Yeah, right!

So that's how I found myself on my first motorcycle: a cranky Suzuki GZ125 I named "Mr. Sparky." The classroom session earlier in the week was one thing, but actually sitting on a motorcycle and preparing to ride was another. I had no idea what to expect, but I'll never forget that first exercise of finding the friction zone and letting the bike roll just a tiny bit forward. After taking baby steps up and down the range, I thought to myself, "I think I can do this." But once we did the next exercise, easing out on the clutch enough to continuously move the bike, the thought changed to "I know I can do this."

The beauty of the Team Oregon BRT is that each exercise builds a foundation. Every exercise requires using the skills from all the previous ones. Together, they form a logical, and natural, progression. I began that first day having never been on a motorcycle and ended it starting, shifting, and turning -- a new rider! But I wasn't quite ready yet.

Day two, which began with such promise, ended with disaster: I failed the riding test. Passing the written test with a 100% was little consolation. I had done so well on the exercises! I knew I could do it, but what had gone wrong? A bad case of nerves, for one, and after I bought the Rebel, I discovered that a friction zone that felt more narrow than a toothpick was not the norm. I thought I was doing fine when practicing the exercises on Mr. Sparky, but really, I was just getting by. Combined with nerves, the lack of perfect practice led to a downward spiral that killed my confidence and led to even further mistakes and a failed test.

My instructor, of course, already knew this. She told me that what I needed was more time on a bike. Thankfully, my partner passed the test, so one of us could ride a bike to and from the nearest parking lot. It didn't take long before I bought the Rebel and started practicing in earnest for the retest.

Dan was the instructor at my retest. I rode the Rebel. I got nervous again, but all that practice paid off and I passed. I remember Dan's evaluation: I had done fairly well, but there was room for improvement with practice. There's that word again: practice.

Once I got my endorsement, I started commuting to work on the Rebel. The commute was only a couple miles each way, and it took longer to put on my gear and warm up the bike than it did to actually ride there! Sure, I could have taken the bus, but commuting meant two rides a day! A few months ago, my commute doubled to four miles each way. Now I'm riding home for lunch. That's four rides a day!

I began to see every single ride as a practice session. Every start, every shift, every turn is an opportunity to practice perfectly. This outlook keeps me focused on the ride and the improvement of my skills. I can tell within minutes if I'm just not in it that day; perhaps the body's telling me that I should take the car for the rest of the day. There's almost always another opportunity to ride tomorrow.

I've put about 3000 miles on the Rebel in the past year. That's not very much I suppose, but 90% of those miles were on city streets, rain or shine (and one snowstorm!) I feel much more comfortable on busy city streets than out in the twisties. However, my goal this summer is to put in some quality miles on longer rides. I'm hoping that my schedule's permitting, because the new SV650 parked in my garage is starting to demand it!

( end of Stacy's writing )

Thanks so much for gracing my site, Stacy! There's still a standing invitation out to everyone. Stop by and share your story with us. I'll help you put it together if you'd like. Drop me a line at

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Riding is an ART!

I'm catching up on a post I wanted to do last week. It's from Monday when I worked an Advanced Rider Training ( ART ) course. We work on some accident avoidance skills. Stopping quickly in a corner, straight line maximum braking, and swerving. Swerving moves up to braking then swerving, or swerving then braking. Never both at the same time, mind you. Speeds approach those found in urban settings since we have some room.

We mostly concentrate on corners. Yes, those glorious corners! Students get to work on their lines, linking curves, and making smooth transitions before the turns. The problems that plague riders the most are not looking far enough ahead and not having all the transitions done before they actually lean the bike. Most riders brake far too late. As a result, they're still braking in the turn. They end up coasting in and powering out. Riders should enter the corners already under power.

Check out this great head turn from a student! This one was showing fine form.

Pay no attention to the rider behind the BMW. That's Dave. He's one of the instructors and the V-Strom is headed for a shortcut to another part of the track. Clear in the background is Balisada. You'll see more of her in a future post.

In an interesting parallel with the ART theme, most riders tend to "paint" their corners. In other words, instead of coming out of one corner and heading straight for the entry point of the next one, they'll move clear over. For example, if they come out of a right hand turn onto a short straightaway leading to a left hand turn, they'll turn right to go left. A standard line is "outside-inside-outside". For linking corners successfully, think "outside-inside-entry to next corner". That's a whole post by itself. In fact, I did a post a while back on this very subject. You can read it here.

I love teaching these classes for a variety of reasons. How many opportunities do we have to get paid to ride a track? Not only that, but get reimbursed for mileage? It's also like going to a bike show sometimes.

These are some instructor's bikes with the morning group's mounts in the background. Sophie's in there somewhere. This was a smaller crew. Lined up on the other side of the fence are the afternoon group's bikes. We ended up with 15 riders.

Once in a while we have something more exotic come through. Such was the case this time. If you look just behind the first two bikes you'll see something that looks different. Ok, I'll be kind and give you a closer look.

One of the students brought this MP3 by Piaggio. It's the first live one I've seen. This thing is pretty versatile. Riders just have to remember that the front end is a little wider. Going through the swerve gates, the guy would often wipe them out with the front wheels!

The owner's on the left. That's my good buddy Ray in the Hi Viz 'stich. So the thing looks interesting. But can it corner? Well, take a peek for yourself.

Looks pretty cool, too! The rider's a great example of popping the balloon on a stereotype I hear oft repeated. This guy has some great skills. So many times I hear riders of bigger motorcycles deride scooter pilots. The common theme is that people ride scooters because they don't have the skills to ride a "real" motorcycle. I have to laugh my posterior off. I see so many of these so called real riders come to classes with horrible skills. I also see many scooter riders with awesome skills. Riding a scooter is a choice, not a second class ticket. Jeez!

It was all in all a really fun day. I even got to appear in a video! The fellow on the BMW put a camera on his bars during a practice session. We run the track backwards to allow the riders to put their cornering skills to work in a new environment. There's two laps on video. Ken was kind enough to send me the link. At the end you can watch as he catches up to Sophie and I. It looks kind of strange because I have a passenger.

We follow students, watching their lines and transitions. Sometimes we have them follow us. Other times, when it seems they just aren't relating it to their bike, we have them ride a couple of laps with us. Such was the case with me. I'm not being caught because I'm slow with a passenger. It's because I've already caught up with the tail of a group in front of me! Besides, the passenger can better get a feel for what's happening if you're not riding at breakneck speeds. I learned that after I scared a few!

You can see the video if you click here. It's not super fascinating or anything. It just gives you an idea of what the track looks like from the rider's viewpoint.

Look for another Sharin' the Road post tomorrow or Friday. You'll get to meet Stacy and her new Suzuki!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The urchin and the grizzled veteran.

I know, the blog's been quiet for a few days. I've been busy doing what I do. Working, and uh, working. Although the second work is kind of like play.

This is a picture from McMinnville, a small city of about 36,000 inhabitants. It's located approximately 35 miles East of Portland and 50 miles Northeast from my place. The trailer rolled behind me on the way up Friday afternoon and back to the ranch on Sunday night. In between times I drove the truck back and forth. I'm not ashamed to say I took full advantage of the air conditioning! We've been allowed to set up a range in a middle school parking lot. I'm hoping that the fact we trained 22 new riders will offset the twenty some gallons of diesel fuel I burned over the weekend.

Either way, it was quite the switch from being on a motorcycle! This one ton truck is built as stout as you'd ever wish. The trailer's 33 feet from nose to tail. There's 12 feet hanging out behind the tandem axles. One has to be careful about those 12 feet! In tight corners it's possible to take a mirror right off the side of a car. Ask one of the fleet maintenance guys how we know!

Sunday was an extremely long day. I arrived home Sunday night 16 hours after I left. The truck and trailer had to be returned to Corvallis. After unhooking and securing the trailer, I still had to drive home. Despite the long hours, it was a really neat class. My group was extremely personable and coachable. I had to laugh to myself hearing the students chatter excitedly among themselves as they dismounted the bikes for breaks. This isn't about the class itself, though. It's about a young man who showed up Sunday afternoon as I was hanging around waiting for the afternoon class to be finished so we could load the trailer for its trip home.

There was about an hour and half to wait between the time I finished with my class and the time the afternoon group was done riding. Gratefully, I settled into a canvas folding chair to wait. I'd been on my feet for too many hours. The trailer provided some welcome shade. On Saturday the area hit a hundred degrees for the first time this year. Oddly enough, it was one day before Phoenix hit a hundred for the first time on Sunday. That never happens. Until now, that is. So here I am, sitting, relaxing, drinking cold water, and snapping a few pictures. It would have been a good time to have tried the 55 to 200 mm lense but it wasn't with me. I did the best I could on the long shots with the 18 to 55 mm lense. I didn't have the energy to actually get out of the chair and move closer. There was still a trailer to be loaded and hauled back to the barn. I'd need to save some energy.

The last exercise of the day is a traffic interaction situation. Students turn into traffic at one of four intersections. The middle is a four way stop. At the same time, there's one way traffic circulating the pattern counterclockwise. At one end they had a new wrinkle to deal with. It was in the form of an urchin ambling across the top end of the range. He was headed for where I was sitting. I was ready to get up to correct his path of travel. Fortunately for me, he did it himself.

The picture above was taken earlier in the day but you can see the layout. The truck was parked farther away from the trailer as I'm sitting in the chair. My chair's close to the trailer's tongue. West is to the left of the picture. That's the direction the sun's headed as it seeks to light the other side of the world. With a plop the urchin parks his butt on the ramp. That's the way all young people seem to sit down. They perch their rear ends somewhere over the target and then come crashing down like their legs have suddenly turned to jelly.

I gave the young man a visual going over. His hair's a dirty blonde. The skin on his body not covered by his charcoal colored t-shirt and dark denim shorts is tanned and dirt streaked. Just what you'd expect from an 11 year old who spends long days roaming in the sun looking for adventures, real or imagined. I should have thought to have taken his picture. At the time, though, I didn't think I'd be writing about him. His name is Allen and he sits quietly watching the bikes. For a short while, that is. Then the questions start.

"What are you doing with all those motorcycles? Do the bikes belong to you? Why aren't they using their own motorcycles? Could they use their own?"

After I told him that this class had to use small bikes, he told me the bikes didn't look small to him. It's all a matter of perspective, isn't it? Allen probably didn't grasp the idea of large frames with smaller cc engines. The motorcycles simply looked big to this small boy. The questions continued; not obnoxiously, but certainly in large quantity.

I have to admit it. My first reaction was to shoo him away. I was tired and hot from a long, hard, weekend. Answering a bunch of questions wasn't first on my list of fun things to do right now. I guess the gleam of excitement in his eyes reminded me of myself a long time ago. It also triggered memories of my own boys when they were young. Remember the youngest who just got the VFR?

My nickname for him for a couple of years was "The Voyeur". It wasn't meant in the strictest definition of the word. Rather, it was because he'd follow me around everywhere, watching with intense interest and asking questions.

Katie calls me a tough creme puff. She claims that I really have a kind and tender heart but she's the only one who ever sees it. Well, I let Allen see it on Sunday. I answered all his questions, treating him like an adult and giving him straight answers. He really melted me more when it was time to put the bikes away.

All the bikes are lined up behind the trailer, waiting to be loaded and strapped in. It's not quite time, though. Students are being debriefed and given their completion cards. Helmets need to be sanitized and put away. Keys need to be pulled and put in the key box. I'm doing all this while Allen follows me around. I start pulling the cabinet doors shut. There's a dozen on each side. As I start down one side, I see Allen starting down the other side. He wants to be a part of what's going on. Allen helps me pick up the empty paper cups sitting around. There's a few more chores he chips in on.

Then we get to the where the bikes are. Allen, despite being 11, has his own cell phone. It's a flip up model with a camera. He starts taking pictures of the bikes. Then he stops at a blue and white Suzuki DR 200 dual sport. Allen's clearly taken with the bike. Here comes another question.

"Do you ever sell these bikes? I'd like to buy this one when you do!"

I let him down gently by telling him we'd probably be using it for quite a while yet, as the motorcycles only see about thirtyfive miles during a class. Allen wasn't done with the DR, yet, though. As I was putting keys away, he asked which key was the for the DR. I teasingly told him I was starting to get a little suspicious about why he was asking! When I showed him the key, which looked just like any other key, he was visibly disappointed.

"I thought it would be a special key", he seriously told me. Like I say, he was totally smitten by the bike! I knew exactly where he was coming from. We were seeing eye to eye, this 11 year old urchin and the grizzled veteran.

Keeping him safe, I let him hang out and help until we were done. Allen solemnly shook hands with me and the other two instructors. Then he ambled back across the parking lot the same way he'd arrived. The young man carefree and living in the moment like kids do. The grizzled veteran fired up the truck and started the trailer rolling. His heart and mind still smiling from the encounter with the urchin.

I wondered what he'd have to say to his parents over the supper table. I wouldn't be surprised to see him in a class in half a dozen years. He had all the makings of a future rider. Allen's felt the magic!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sharin' the Road!

This week I'm honored to introduce a rider who lives on the opposite coast from me. Though separated by a little over three thousand miles, we have more in common than the distance would imply. Motorcycling transcends boundaries that normally divide humans. The scenery and weather may be different but the passion for riding looks markedly similar. That's one of the things that's so cool about it!

Some of you are most likely already acquainted with Michael. He was a frequent commenter on Gary's blog. Now Michael graces this and other blogs with commentary from a character called Conchscooter. If you like looking at photos of Florida, cruise on over to his blog, Key West Diary. There's a link at the end of the post. I didn't put the link here because I didn't want you to go away, yet! Relax and enjoy the pictures and post Michael was kind enough to share with me. Ok, I nagged him into it, but the end result is the same, right? My blog is going to look like his for this post thanks to the many pictures. Don't worry, Conch, it's only temporary!

Without further ado, here's Michael.

So why is it everyone isn't abandoning their cars for a motorcycle or scooter to commute in this balmy climate? Beats me, but I sure do enjoy my Triumph at 24 degrees North latitude, and I enjoy it year round on my 25 mile commute to Key West.

I live in a stilt house in the Lower Keys, what we think of as "the suburbs", in this island chain, and there is but one road into town. Luckily for me it has great views and every day is a fresh ride for me. The commute varies between my different moods,the moods of the weather and the moods of my fellow travelers on the Overseas Highway. I've been riding the same road for three years and I never tire of the bridges and causeways.

Because I work nights ( as a Key West Police Department dispatcher ) I pull my stuff together around five o'clock on the afternoons I'm working and get ready to ride. This time of year it's broad daylight and the sun is a deep golden color as it edges towards the horizon, bathing my house in a glow that I just don't want to leave. My Bonneville is a good excuse to tear myself away and by the time I'm ambling towards the highway at the end of my street I'm in the mood to go.

The 2007 Bonneville uses carburetors which return less miles per gallon than fuel injection but if I'm careful on the acceleration I can get 47 miles per gallon. That drops to 43 if I wind up the 865cc motorcycle in a hurry. It's hard to resist the temptation, as it's the only time I really get to feel what the big air cooled twin can do on this sedate roadway. Speed limits are 45 and 55 miles per hour on various stretches and it's rare I get to see 70 miles per hour on the open bits. I got pulled over a few weeks ago at 6:15 in the morning but I got off with a verbal warning.

I've been riding for a long time and I think part of the reason my commute retains its magic is because I have lots of riding memories stored up in my head. These days I like the warm weather and the easy riding style of the single, no elevation highway. I do miss mountain twisties, but when I lived in Santa Cruz California, I had lots of excellent roads to ride in my back yard mountains. But the weather was awful: Cold! Fog! Drizzle! And that was summer!

If I wanted economy I'd drive a small car, one of the new generation vehicles like a Yaris or an Aveo with small tires, small engines and about as much joy on the road as a dead badger. No, I ride because it's fun. It seems almost criminal these days to confess that infernal combustion is fun ( and only theoretically economical ). Motorcycle tires are expensive and need frequent replacement ( rear every 8,000 miles front every 12,000 miles ) and they aren't cheap. Chain drive, accessories, spares, all cost money and even a flat tire can be a pricey proposition.

I ride about 1500 miles a month, year round, and on those days when I have to drive the car I stare out the windows at passing motorcycles and wonder why, even for one solitary day, I have to be in a cage. I think I'm obsessed, and I hope I don't change. I really like riding to work. And I like riding home from work in the dawn's early light even better. And so to bed.


Editor's note: Yes, you're obsessed. While we're at it, a dead badger in the road can actually be fun!

Next week look for Stacy. She's a newer rider finding her way on this journey of ours. Her fresh enthusiasm will have you smiling.

Care to share? Stop by the camp fire and share your story. Show off your bike and some favorite pictures. I'm working with a couple of folks for future visits. Love to have some more company. Drop me a line at and invite yourself over!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New addition to the family!

"Dad, I'm going to buy another bike. Can I keep it at your house, and will you take me up to get it?"

Those were the words I was greeted with when I answered the phone. I'm not sure what happened to the plans for the Jeep that was going to come first. Guess the bike bug has its jaws in my son clear up to its neck. Gotta love it. That's my boy!

Last night I called Clinton on my cell phone to make arrangements to meet him this morning. Of course, I just happened to be out on the bike. Katie likes Ginger Altoids. She had a meeting last night so I went for a ride. There's a huge Wal-Mart in Lebanon. Since we hadn't had any luck finding them here, I decided to go out of town. Clinton told me I'd use any excuse for a ride. What nerve! Maybe he's right. How is it that when most people would put 28 miles on their odometers I manage to nearly double that? Clinton must suffer from the same quirk as me. The last I saw him was at 9:30 AM when I took this picture.

He's grinning all over his face and he hasn't even ridden the bike, yet! How shameful. It's now 3:30 PM. Clinton's truck is here, but he's not. Hey, he's got the day off. He's also got a new-to-him awesome Honda sport-touring bike with more emphasis on sport. Who can blame him? At the same time I worry just a little. I'm trusting Clinton to have the good sense to extend the honeymoon with the bike. Nothing too serious until he and the bike have had a chance to synch up with each other.

I was kind of flattered this morning when Clinton came over to the house. He told me that he'd gone into the motorcycle shop and said,

"That's right, I'm Irondad's son!"

It probably wasn't stated exactly that way but he did tell the guys who his "Daddy" was. It's cool to have a little stature in the local motorcycling community. It's even cooler for a father to be somewhat of a hero to his sons.

Ok, I can hear you. Get to the bike, already! It's a '98 Honda VFR with 36,012 miles on the digital odometer. At least that's what it had the last time I saw it. I'm sure it will have a lot more when it finally shows up here. The original owner's had it on consignment there at the shop for a while. The bike's sort of tricked out and it's been really well maintained. The modifications have been done intelligently. A Two Brothers can, polished wheels, a double bubble windscreen, and some other small things make up a nice package. Although the yellow graphics need peeling as soon as possible. Ick! It was interesting when Clinton told me he was going to buy this particular bike.

I'd been really close to buying it myself. Knowing I'd probably be replacing Sophie this summer I nixed the idea, tempted as I was. Anyway, I'm already quite familiar with the bike. What a bonus that it ended up in the family. Clinton's already been informed that the price for storing it here will be letting me ride it once in a while.

Clinton's kissed a couple of toads with the last two bikes. I'm pretty sure he's found his Princess this time.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I have got to get me one of these!

It's been a long, tiring, weekend. Fun, though! I spent Saturday and Sunday running a workshop for instructor candidates. Four new instructors are starting their apprenticeships. Here's hoping they find the same fulfillment from teaching riders that I do. On top of the long days and effort, The Director was playing Wing Man for me. Always good for a little extra pressure, you know?

Stacy showed up with her new SV650. It's a very attractive blue color. What a nice bike these are! Look for her in a guest post next week.

Yesterday saw me up early and on the way to the track in Canby. I got to teach an Advanced Rider Training course there. I had classroom duty yesterday morning. Usually we have classroom in the morning and ride the track in the afternoon. Whoever has classroom has to be inside listening to the other instructors rip around the track. We're working, I swear!

If I had to take a turn in the classroom, yesterday was the best time to do it. There was a make-up group on the track in the morning. Which means we couldn't have played, I mean worked, on the track anyway. These riders got rained out earlier. It looked like the same thing might happen again but we were spared. There's no safe way to ride on a track when it rains. Rubber on the track, water, and rubber of the bike tires make a bad cocktail.

I'll write about the class later. We had a guy on an MP3, and I'm not talking i-pod, take the class. Stay tuned for the pictures.

Balisada was in the make-up group on her Rebel. I've got a couple of great pictures of her on the track. I'm hoping she'll grace us with a guest post soon. I'm saving the photos for then. By the way, Balisada, if you send me your e-mail address to I can send you the photos. One of my new instructors from the weekend was in the make-up group, as well. I'll bet he was as tired as I was, although his day yesterday was shorter than mine.

I was so tired last night I fell asleep on the couch after a late bite to eat. I'm cheating on the post today. It's kind of a "here's what's been happening" thing. As a part of my cheating because I'm exhausted ways, I'm putting a link to a video.

This is what I need for freeway traffic. Click here to see it. Catch you tomorrow!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, May 09, 2008

Objective reached!!!

Finally! Maybe it's the good karma I've put into the motorcycling world. There's a payoff to all the riders I've trained over the years besides keeping them safe. Part of the payoff is that there's so many bikes out right now. Riding has become totally mainstream. Whatever the reason, I'm celebrating. I've been granted full carte blanche to ride for work. It's been a long two years.

A quick trip into the past is in order. Before I took this job I rode every day of the year unless there was ice. A minimun day's mileage was 88. Most days it was a hundred or more. Five hundred miles a week just commuting to work. That's not counting any riding on a lunch break, running errands, or the weekend riding.

Then I got a chance to move to a position with another company that suited my talents and desires much, much, better. With it came a lot more freedom and satisfaction from meeting personal challenges. The downside was this statement when I was hired,

"We'd prefer you not make calls on your bike".

That was ok. We have an office 99 miles North of where I live. Seems like a winning situation. I could double my commuting mileage. After all, nothing was said of how I got to the office. The bike would park and then I'd take a small car I left there for making calls. There were two issues with that. One, the commute was all freeway. It was tough to find backroads without adding hours to the already long commute. Secondly, not all the calls were neatly contained in the Greater Portland area. I cover the whole state. Some days I just couldn't ride at all. Not that I didn't try. I'd find things I figured I could do on a bike. Something about better to ask forgiveness than permission. Not to sound melodramatic, but I really have to ride. Really. At least I still had the commute. Then the commute went away.

Our lease on the office was up. At some point in the near future we'd want a bigger space. The property management company wouldn't renew the lease for anything less than two years. So we moved out. We're still half heartedly looking for a bigger office. For months, though, there's been no office to commute to. I already posted about the early morning rides to sort of simulate a commute. All of it was an awkward attempt to bandage the situation. So how did things finally get right? At least from my perspective?

Firstly, there's the attitude expressed in the Kawasaki ad from 1988. It was a two page magazine spread. The only way I could find it without violating copyrights was in two photos. I'm not a html wiz so the picture of each page remains separated. Sorry. ( note: after I published this, Stacy sent me a stiched together version.) That ad's always been on my mind. I've ridden to sales meetings and the retreats in Idaho. Everybody knows me as a rider. After all, it's who I am which means it's a part of my life. Different humorous things have happened with visiting factory people. Which includes the day I passed my boss on the freeway on the way home from teaching a police training course. I slowed enough to flip up my modular helmet chin bar, grin, and wave. The factory guy with him forever refers to me as the "motorcycle guy". His name is Kurt. In fact, he's the one who sort of opened the door wider for my riding.

I'm going to intersperse some photos I snapped with my camera phone at a large distributor of ours. I'll weave in the significance as we go.

This bike belongs to Chuck. He's a project manager.

We are reps for manufacturers in the commercial door, hardware, and electronic security industry. I call on school districts, colleges, hospitals, and distributors. We don't sell directly to customers. My job is demand generation and support for distributors. Part of the support consists of training the distributor's personnel. To assist with that, different factory people will fly out and conduct training sessions. As the rep, I try to attend, also. That's how I found myself in Salem with Kurt and my boss. My boss is from near Seattle. We were setting up a room at a hotel for training.

Kurt asked me if I'd ridden the motorcycle. Looking squarely at my boss, I replied,

"I'm not allowed."

My boss looks back at me and says,

"Look, if that's what you want to do, then just go ahead and do it".

I was tempted to ask for it in writing but refrained. I still wasn't sure if he was serious or saying it for Kurt's benefit. Until recently.

Not long later, we had a bunch of things going on with a university, a college, and some distributors. My boss came down to spend a week with me helping out. As luck would have it, the weather turned just warm enough that people started riding to work. Never have I been more thankful to everyone who commutes on a bike!

This effect is what we're trying to achieve by participating in Ride to Work Day. It's July 16 this year. Showing how many normal, ( that excludes me, of course ) hardworking, respectable ( excluded again! ) folks ride motorcycles gains us all more respect and credibility. With that comes things like more bike parking spots, an awareness of bikes by our co-workers as they drive, and a host of other benefits. One day is great. More days is even better. I know I certainly benefited from the number who seem to be riding regularly!

We went to the university. The person we needed to see, someone we call a Decision Making Person, knew I am an instructor. He asked me a technical question about riding. He also took us outside to show us his bike. It was one of several parked there. Later that week we went to a community college. Again, several bikes were parked in front of the building where our meeting was. I happened to know the Director of Facilities, who rides a Ducati. The Construction Manager rides a Valkyrie. Yes, it was parked outside. There were also a Shadow, a VTX, and a BMW R1150 RT.

Here's the one that capped it off.

We had an appointment with a very large distributor right after lunch. This company does a tremendous dollar volume in our products. The Harley on the left wasn't there when we arrived. We were just walking up to the door when the Harley arrived. The rider who dismounted just happened to be the Purchasing Manager, Randy. He's about my age or a little older. Randy said he'd gone to lunch and dropped some stuff off for a customer. When my boss asked about how stuff fit in the saddlebags, Randy showed us how he regularly carries things on the bike. He also stated that he made a lot of customer calls on the bike.

Earlier in the day we'd met with another distributor. The president of that company had a model of a cruiser on his desk. When I asked him about the model and if he rode, his reply was the he rode, but seldom to work. Still, though, that lent more credibility to the whole riding thing.

Now we're cruising down the freeway. My boss spends a lot of time on the cell phone. My arrangement is that I drive, he talks. Safer that way. After finishing a call, he hangs up. As you expect he would, of course. The phone doesn't ring for a while. It's quiet. We've been together for days and conversation's pretty much all been done. Then he breaks the silence.

He tells me he's serious about this bike thing. Two years ago, he knew me, but not really. At least not how I'd be as part of the company. Things are much different now. I'd proven to be quite valuable to the team. For the first time in forever, this state was experiencing growth. He stated that he knew it wasn't because the economy was good, either. Things aren't great as many places are experiencing. He said he had total trust in me. As long as the job got done, he didn't care about bike or car. My boss expressed the fact that he knew I'd use proper prudence.

As for me, I kept a straight face even though I was tempted to pull the car over and do the dance of joy. Finally, with a pure heart and clean conscience, I can go about my day planning to use the bike as a company car. Just in time for the Spring riding season. If spring ever gets here, that is. However, that's a story for another day. I'm riding all the time now. As it should be!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. Ill be training new instructors this weekend and teaching a track based class on Monday. See you on Tuesday!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sharin' the Road!

This week's guest is David Salter from Rio, Illinois. David's experiences are something we can all relate to. David, you have the keyboard!

Hi, my name is David Salter. I've enjoyed your blog for some time now. I live in West Central Illinois and use my bike/bikes to work. Due to our seasons I go mostly to the F150 in late November or early December and then resume the bike in mid March. I can say I have ridden to work every month for the past 2 years. I started out with a 1980 Yamaha XS 1100 I bought for $1000.00 from a hardware store in New Windsor IL in 2005. I had gone there to buy 2, count them, 2 screws and literally came back with a bike. A year later I picked up a 1998 Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 for $2900.00 at FunMart in Moline IL after the Yamaha developed chronic electrical problems. Last year my darling bride gave me permission to buy a new bike, which I did, a Maroon 2007 Yamaha FJR. She was tired of the break downs and while I was content to keep looking for used she insisted on new. I caved. I know, quite un manly. I traded in the Vulcan for the FJR but still have the XS1100 which I plan on rewiring and keeping as a vintage bike and back up steed.

I first rode a bike in 1975 when I moved to Phoenix AZ right after graduation from college. Recession was the buzz word at that time and I bought a bike only because I couldn't afford a car. I recall vividly going to Western Honda and buying a used 1973 Honda CB350 four stroke in red with 1500 miles for $700.00.The salesman showed me the controls, gave me a once around the parking lot and with an earnest "be careful" I was on my way home. I recall one intersection that I wondered if I was going to stay in my lane during a left turn or T bone a pick up stopped at the light but I made it home.

I learned the hard way. I learned to use the front brake when as I approached an intersection on the ASU campus, I casually hit the rear brake and all that happened was I skidded. I let up and tried again. Same thing. As I approched the cross walk skidding and wobbling I saw a bemused back pack toting college guy waiting to cross and taking it all in. When I finally stopped well past the stop line in front of the student I sheepishly apologized. "No problem" he said and we both went our merry way. After that I understood the front brake. For 6 months that 350 CB 4 was all I had for transportation. Every week I filled the tank, for some reason usually on a Tuesday, for less than $2.00.

I don't recall ever even noticing a Harley. The bike was a tool; a way to get from point A to point B and my tool was a Honda 350 and that was that. It worked well for me. I did have 2 buddies who also had bought bikes at the same time. Eric had a 75 or 76 red Honda 750 CB and Dave had a red 75 Honda 450 CB. And we knew nothing. We did wear helmets but that was about it. Blue jeans, Adidas running shoes and a T shirt rounded out my normal riding gear. Because of that ignorance I froze on I 10 between Tucson and Phoenix one night in May because I didn't know how cold it could get on a bike or out in the desert. I had ridden to Tucson in the morning and it was quite warm. So pleasant. I didn't get started home until after dark. It was already cool and of course all I had was a very light jacket. I was cold. Around Coolidge and Casa Grande there was a lot of irrigation farming and the humidity just added to the misery. I remember those pools of frigid moist air that just wicked the heat out of my then skinny body. I stretched out prone, I slowed up, I went fast all the while shaking uncontrollably. I made it.

On another occasion I recall my buddy Eric and I went for a ride out on the desert roads to the North and East of the metro area on a Sunday afternoon. At that time it was just desert and hills. Now I'm sure it is well developed. Zooming along that afternoon about April we spied a place where a steep hill rose up on our right about 100 feet with tell tale motor cycle tracks going up over the top. We stopped, looked it over and asked "why not?". There was a hard gravel flat area about 200 feet in front of the beginning of the hill which we used to attain max velocity, maybe 60 MPH, and we bulled our way up just barely making it to the top. How cool!! Let's go down the other side. We could see tracks leading down and out over other hills so fools we were and down we went. At the bottom we were suddenly aware of 2 things. The deep fine grain sand we found ourselves in almost up to our knees and the absolute dead silence. It took us over an hour to wrestle our bikes and ourselves through that sand and kind of around the side of the hill to a point where we could barely make it back to the road. We were exhausted but now aware that there was a difference between street bikes and dirt bikes. Yes, we were clueless.

I gave up riding when I moved back to the midwest and found myself living in Chicago where It was very biker un friendly. I had no garage and was lucky if I could find parking for my van within a block of my apartment. Although I had never had an accident I had the usual confrontations and close calls with aggressive, stupid, ignorant drivers in Phoenix and it was obvious that Chicago was going to be worse. I gave up riding.

It wasn't until almost 30 years later when we moved out in the country just as gas was going over $3.00 a gallon that I came back to the bike again, at first simply as a tool for transportation. My daily commute is 13.7 miles each way. After that 1st year commuting on the XS1100 I was hooked. I now love riding just for the sake of riding. That anticipated savings in gas mileage pretty much gets negated by my scenic rides to and from work. That 13.7 miles each way is often 20-50 miles especially on the way home. But we bought it so my bride says I must ride it. I don't argue much except when there is ice on the road or lots of lightning strikes near by. Then I chicken out and take the truck.

That is about where I am as a rider. Not very sophisticated, not all that knowleadgable and I still would like to take a MSF course. I spent $800 + on an Aerostich riding suit early on and I've taken trips to North Carolina and Texas just by myself. (The bride doesn't like to ride and gave me permission) I identify more with the Long Riders and Bamarider than with the bar hopping crowd but I still like cruisers and standards. I'm not much of a computer guy but I like to ride and like to write so if you're interested I'll give blogging a shot.

David Salter
Rio IL


There's some other riders coming down the road to vist, as well. I'd be honored to have some more visitors. You can write a post or just send me some information. Between the two of us we'll make it happen. Drop me a line at

Miles and smiles,


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,


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,