Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lonely roads.

We've dug out of our ice and snow. Actually, we were right on the lower edge of the affected area. While the Portland area to the North was still struggling, we were thawed out. I use the word thawed only in the strictest sense. I'd chosen to severely limit riding attempts in the snow. Last Tuesday the mercury sat at 33 degrees ( f ). Technically it wasn't freezing. At least without wind chill factored in. Sophie needed her battery charged. She's sitting idle more now that Elvira's around. I can't believe Sophie's battery is still the one that she came with. It will be 8 years come February. Testament to a bike that gets ridden a lot, I guess.

Being two days before Christmas the roads around shopping areas were pretty crowded. We headed in the opposite direction. Not much traffic in the country. That works for me. I'm one of those people who needs a lot of elbow room. I haven't seen another bike being ridden for quite a while. In one way I feel an inflated sense of pride being one of the few. In another way, it's kind of lonely out there right now. It's nice to have another rider to wave to once in a while. There's an extra warmth to the wave when cold weather riders pass each other.

Speaking of waving at motorcyclists, there's an article in the December Reader's Digest. A guy wrote about his effort to say "hello" to everyone he met for a month. Whatever. The author made an interesting observation about traffic and motorcyclists. Here's a quotation:

"In general, highways are the worst places for hellos. When I waved from behind the wheel, other drivers would give me a dumb stare. Cell phones certainly contribute to this ( you can't wave when both hands are occupied ), but a bigger factor is our inability to see each other. Either the vehicles are too big or the windows are too dark. As a result, we share the road with faceless machines that are much easier to ignore or be aggressive toward. There is one noteworthy exception, however, and that is motorcyclists. Every one I waved to seemed genuinely thrilled to be noticed. The threat of death makes bosom buddies of us all."

For a short paragraph, there's a lot of stuff to think about. I'm not sure why he found motorcyclists "thrilled" to be noticed. Maybe it's because riders were startled to see a driver actually not in a coma.

Anyway, back to the ride. This was one of those supposedly short rides that turned into 67 miles. That was just the first leg. How does that keep happening?

I chose not to use the electrics. Stubborn pride makes me want to be able to brag about being spartan. I hate messing with wires and controllers. Mostly I just add a layer under the jacket. Fleece has become my cold weather friend. For this ride I pulled the Aerostich Darien off the hanger. With its thick fleece liner nothing gets through this jacket.

Cold weather riding has its own special charms. My visor was pulled down but not latched into place. Despite the vents built into the Arai helmet, I have to keep the visor open just a bit for defogging purposes. The visor got so cold I could literally hear it creaking in the wind. When it was time to stop the air flow quit. Which means I have to open the visor for clear vision. I love that moment in the cold. There's this big rush of freezing air into the helmet that literally takes my breath away. For a few seconds I can't breathe. It's a sensation that's disconcerting and delicious at the same time. One of those little moments that reminds us we're alive.

On the way out and the way back I stopped by the college campus where Balisada works in the Security Department. This is the motorcycle parking spot she calls the "corral". Balisada often rides her Rebel to work. Several staff members as well as students use this spot. Being right before Christmas, and the students on break, the spot was empty.

Despite the snow being gone, there's still hazards on the roadway. Thousands of yards of gravel have been dumped on roads throughout the county. I have to applaud the tireless efforts of the local road crews to keep on top of things. The gravel helps a lot on top of the snow and ice. Most of the stuff was dumped at intersections. People do pretty well once they're moving. It's the stopping and starting that's troublesome. Snow melts. Gravel doesn't. A motorcyclist needs to be vigilant and extra careful right about now.

This is the intersection of Highway 99 and Bell Plain Road. Headed South, you can't really see the intersection until you're close to it. The speed limit on 99 is 55 mph. Here's a case of just having to know the circumstances you're riding in and preparing accordingly. So much of successful riding is mental, isn't it? A rider can't just whip around the corner like normal. Taking a closer look, you can see the potential for big trouble.

The gravel's everywhere right now. There's always the danger, too, of gravel in the middle of curves. Vehicles pull it onto the roadway. It's worse now. I wonder why the road crews chose to put gravel on curves out in the middle of nowhere. LIke I said, though, most of the gravel's at intersections. Now the stuff's dirty with drippings from cars. Planning ahead for stops becomes crucial. Braking points and where to position the bike so you can put your foot down in a clear spot have to be mapped out ahead of time.

For Sophie and I the trip was refreshing. We did have a moment of entertainment at a bird's expense.

There was a flock of small gray birds in a field by the edge of the road. For reasons known only to birds, the flock decided they needed to take flight and go to a field across the road. One of the birds towards the back pulled a Dukes of Hazzard move across our windshield. Remember Bo and Luke Duke sliding across the hood of the General Lee? I don't know if birds show off to one another or not. Maybe it just miscalculated and got caught in the slip stream. All I know is that I saw the bird with outstretched wings and wide eyes slide flat across the fairing. There wasn't an impact. Things aligned just right with our path of travel that it simply got pinned for a moment. Just as quickly as it started it was over.

I looked in the mirrors and saw it flying towards the flock. All that remained to show what had happened was a grey smudge on half the windshield. It looked like feather dust. Didn't know a bird could leave a streak like that.

We finally decided we should head home. It hadn't warmed up any. Tough as I like to think I am, I knew I was getting chilled. We passed by the Wilco farm store. I live exactly 4.7 miles from there. Instead of thinking how I could get a few more miles in, I was actually glad to be that close to home. Weird, isn't it? I was looking forward to thawing out with a little hot coffee or a shot of whiskey. Then I saw the way Elvira looked at me when I dismounted Sophie. What could I do?

With a quick kiss and another goodbye to Katie we were off again. This time with Elvira. Katie gave me one of those "I'm married to a crazy man, but I love him anyway" looks. Kind of a smile hiding behind that pretending to be put out expression. Then she wished me a good ride. Again. How did I get so lucky?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Best wishes!

I've got a little time off. For the next couple of days I'm going to shut down and enjoy a little downtime. Actually, I'm off until next year. By Friday, though, I'm sure I'll be restless and looking for entertainment, again. Which I find a lot of in our blogger neighborhood!

In the meantime, I'm offering a wish for happiness as you go about your holiday season. While I'm sure we represent differing religious beliefs, I believe that we all want happiness, love, and security for our families and friends. May this holiday season and the upcoming year it heralds bring you what you desire.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Non motorcycle musings.

It's Saturday. Weirdly enough, I have other things on my mind besides riding. Although I think Elvira and I might be going out in the rain to do a little shopping soon. For those things you want to keep a surprise. Right now the thermometer is showing 36 degrees ( f ). There's moisture coming in from the West and a lot of cold air coming in from the East. When the two meet later today we're supposed to get snow followed by freezing rain. Oh well.

I've been a regular visitor to Rick's place. You may have heard of it. You can surf on over to
Keep the Rubber Side Down to check it out if you haven't already. Rick seems to find ways to take a different look at things. Once in a while he offers lists of things to think about. They may or may not apply to riding. It's always worth the trip, though.

In a fit of wanting to do something totally different than normal, I decided to emulate Rick. I've put together my own list. These things don't have anything to do with riding. However, there's still an undercurrent of safety involved. So the list fits into the general theme of my blog's philosophy. However tenuous that may be.

Without further ado, here's a list of things that you may find useful during the quickly approaching holidays.





4. FOR HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE SUFFERERS ~ SIMPLY CUT YOURSELF AND BLEED FOR A FEW MINUTES, THUS REDUCING THE PRESSURE ON YOUR VEINS. REMEMBER TO USE A TIMER. ( this one can also be used when Uncle Ernie or Cousin Ellie gets your blood boiling. For different reasons in each case, though, I suspect! )



7. YOU ONLY NEED TWO TOOLS IN LIFE - WD-40 AND DUCT TAPE. IF IT DOESN'T MOVE AND SHOULD, USE THE WD-40. IF IT SHOULDN'T MOVE AND DOES, USE THE DUCT TAPE. ( as you saw in the Redneck post, the duct tape can also be used on certain relatives, front or rear )

8. REMEMBER - EVERYONE SEEMS NORMAL UNTIL YOU GET TO KNOW THEM. ( this is why I don't have very many friends )

9. IF YOU CAN'T FIX IT WITH A HAMMER, YOU'VE GOT AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM. ( for Christmas lights, explore on only one bulb in a non-prominent location first )

I'm sure you'll find plenty of opportunity to put these things to use in the next week or so. Here's some additional advice on dealing with visiting relatives. Specifically, a few days after Christmas when you wish the lot of them would just pack up and go home!



Author's disclaimer: This last piece of wisdom is only a mental coping mechanism. Do not try this
at home or anywhere else with any person still breathing. The research for
this discovery was done by a professional pusher on a closed stairwell.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, December 19, 2008

Clarification needed?

I may have touched a nerve with a few folks. When I wrote about riding on snow and ice there were some who seemed offended I would even talk about such a thing. That part's okay. We all have different opinions and comfort levels. What worries me is that someone may get the wrong idea. As a motorcycle safety professional I don't want anyone to think I'm urging them to go out and ride in bad conditions. Particularly in snow and ice.

To that end I'm adding this clarification to put closure to the subject.

In no way, shape, or form am I advocating riding on snow or ice. For that matter, you could include any number of other things that seriously affect traction. The truly wise thing to do is to avoid riding anywhere that traction could be compromised. That being said, there's a couple of other factors that come into play. Those are the things behind the post.

We do not ride in a perfect world. Unless we only ride in certain places and at certain times, there's a chance we're going to encounter things like ice or snow. To those two things you can add oil, antifreeze, fuel spills, moss, wet leaves, and any number of other traction hazards. Even if we start out in favorable conditions, the end of a day can be the polar opposite of the start of a day. Pun wasn't intended but I'm going to let it ride.

Here's a recent example.

This was taken on Sunday. Two hours previously the temperature was in the upper thirties ( f ) with a light rain. Polar air moved down the valley and covered everything with snow. This might be a slightly extreme example, granted. But stuff like this happens as has been pointed out in comments here and other places.

Again, the first rule is to avoid low traction situations. Check out the current conditions and forecast. Even if it's not Winter, scan the roadway to detect possible hazards as early possible. My experience, though, has been that once in a while we're going to find ourselves riding on low traction surfaces. Some things like black ice can be where we least expect it to be. It's also extremely difficult to catch early. Especially in the dark.

Since there's a good chance we're going to be faced with this kind of challenge, why wait until we're in it to prepare? That's why I shared the advice I did. There's not a real safe way to practice ahead of time. You might find yourself in Stacy's situation. I'm going to quote her comment.

Still, it's good to know how to handle hitting a patch of black ice, even if the knowledge is "on paper"!

That's a good start. My hope would be that a rider would hear my words in their head.

"Eyes up! Hold the handlebars steady. Be smooth and gentle."

There's a second factor that creeps into my writings. You have to understand where I'm coming from. Again, I go back to Stacy. Thank you, girl, your words are wiser than you know!

"I just don't have the skills for ice riding. I think I'd need to have more street miles and a lot more dirt miles before I'd even consider taking a ride during freezing temps."

Don't let the unassuming words fool you. Stacy's a good rider in her own right. She has the wisdom to lay a solid foundation where she is before moving on to the next level. Her comment on experience and dirt miles is the lead in to my next point.

I've been riding since I was 8 years old. That's well over four decades. Riders who've spent a lot of time on dirt become more comfortable with low traction situations. Notice I said more comfortable. I'm not saying that they're safer. Street riding takes a whole different set of attitudes and skills. Dirt riding can transfer in both good and bad ways. I've been riding on the street since high school. I've also been a motorcycle safety professional for a long time. I've pursued professional training for longer than I've been an instructor myself.

Combining my dirt riding and street riding with my Warrior attitude puts me where I am now. I'm comfortable riding in situations that most folks aren't. I'm not reckless, though. I ride where a lot of people won't because I have the experience, comfort level, and skills to do so. Notice the mention of skills. Some of these skills can only be developed by thousands upon thousands of miles in the seat and encountering every possible situation. Daily commuting over long distances is one arena that provides oppurtunity to gain experience and skills. Nothing like the nitty gritty of real world riding. I'm aware of the risk. It's a highly person decision. It's also not something I would encourage anyone else to do.

I hope this helps clarify where I was coming from. Ride smart. Stay safe. If anyone gives you a hard time about where you've set your limits, too bad. Personal limits are just that: personal. If you've been riding a long time and decided there's certain things you're not going to do anymore, great. You've nothing to prove to anyone else. If you're newer and still working on expanding limits a little at a time, I'm proud of you. You're wise enough to honestly assess where you are right now and ride accordingly. The one thing I might say that applies to everyone is

"Don't forget to have fun!"

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Riding with Rednecks!

Tinker made a comment on my last post. He expressed that his reluctance to ride in bad conditions is based in large part on the other road users. I feel his pain. My work has me on the road a lot. I see things that would blow you away. I think people are getting more stupid all the time.

What makes it worse is that I'm in Oregon. There's two types of people here in our valley. Cowboys and Rednecks. Thank God Grandpa raised me as a Cowboy. However, I still have to deal with the Rednecks. I thought I'd take a minute or two to acquaint you with the type of folks I have to share the road with around here. As in: Welcome to my world!

Winter driving has come to the Valley. Tire stores in other states have been busy as people, despite having waited for the last minute, are buying traction tires and chains. Not here, though. Tire stores are empty. Grocery stores who sell cheap beer have been quite busy, on the other hand. Here's a news clip from the National Bureau of What's Going on with Drivers magazine.

A Winter Statistic


This pretty much falls in line with my own expectations. A Redneck's famous last words?

"Hey, y'all, watch this!"

See how it all fits the pattern? It's funny, but only in a pathetic and sad sort of way.

Once in a while a Redneck hits it big in the lottery. This last person spent some of the money on a new pickup, the official Redneck vehicle. The news people have been telling us to be prepared for the worst in case we get stranded in the snow. This guy took the advice to heart. I have to admit that he is prepared to wait out a snowstorm. Just remember that I'm sharing the road with people like this.

I do have to say that most of the Rednecks are pretty concerned about their pets being out in the cold. Cats, especially, hate the cold. You know how cats are. They are experts at seeking out warm places to sleep. That's why you find cats, and not dogs, under the hoods of recently driven cars and trucks. I was glad to see this cat comfortably settled into the den with its family. I'm also happy to see it drinking light beer. It looks like it's about time!

With Christmas approaching, Rednecks are making preparations. There's shopping, house decorating, and tables to be made festive. We see a few lights on tar shacks. Aside from the fire hazard, Rednecks usually prefer to use more "natural" materials for decorations. With hunting season being not so long ago, opportunities for natural Christmas decorations abound. Like this one, for example. Christmas is a time for Reindeer, isn't it?

Push the button and it plays Christmas carols. Sort of frightening, isn't it? Now that you've lost your appetite and won't overeat, here's a picture of a popular Redneck Gingerbread House.

The good news is that bundling up for the cold doesn't deter shopping. Rednecks look for bargains like everyone else. Maybe even more so. The baggy clothing and shopping at clearance centers just seems to go hand in hand. Here's a quote from a happy shopper up the hill in Sweet Home.

Some Rednecks are more serious about clothing accessories than others. This guy's so serious he's managed to garner a product endorsement contract.

Duct tape: It's not just for household repairs anymore!

Another problem with driving among Rednecks is that there's a lot of mental distraction going on. Believe it or not, there's a lot of Rednecks that ride motorcycles. There's no time like when driving on snow and dangerously icy conditions to day dream about Spring and a new riding season. Since most Rednecks seem to be a little on the economically challenged side, a lot of planning has to happen. I was almost run off the road by a guy who was scheming for his new ride. He's always wanted a Harley but can't afford to buy one. Why not build one, instead?

We live in timber country. Logging's been a part of the area's heritage forever. I'm sure there's plenty of old lumber laying around. Not to mention some abandoned bicycles strewn among Redneck yards. This guy will be the envy of his peers, I'm sure.

Of course, one mustn't neglect household chores. That lawn needs to be mowed at least once in the coming year. After all, there's always the chance of finding some long forgotten treasure that's been entombed by the out-of-control grass. By the way, has anyone seen Granny, lately?

I was almost greased by a Redneck in a huge truck. He had a faraway look on his face. I had plenty of time to look at his face as his truck bore down on me. I managed to accelerate away but never did figure out if he was thoughtful or just vacant. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, he was probably trying to find a way to combine riding and lawn mowing. Most Rednecks have the standard riding mower.

The pickup driver has a better idea. Here's another guy who will be the envy of his peers.

Of course, he'll be challenged. It will be tough to figure out how to add more and more chrome without being guilty of sacrilege to the hallowed John Deere Green color.

I could offer more examples, but this should give you the highlights. I certainly mean no insult to anyone. We all need to live and let live. However, I do get kind of upset when people put me in danger on my bike. I know it's my responsibility to keep myself safe and I take that seriously. So I'm not really trying to whine, here. I just wanted to give you a little better idea of the world I have to ride in so much. The Wonderful World of Rednecks!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advice column--Black ice.

Dear Maniac:

I'm curious what the following actually means in terms of management on a freeway:

Despite the cold, I'm sweating a particular stretch of freeway. There's some hills just South of Salem. The freeway takes a five hundred and forty eight foot rise. It's just enough to make the difference in ice or snow. I've hit black ice there a couple of times on a bike. The heavy fog makes it likely to happen again.

I've negotiated black ice on secondary roads with no traffic but not on a freeway. What do you actually do? Please, I need instruction.

Back Road Slider

Dear Slider,

Let's start by asking a basic question. Why in the world are you riding in this kind of weather in the first place? Any so-called "sensible person" will loudly tell us that one needs to be crazy, insane, or shades of both, to ride a motorcycle when there's a chance of hitting ice. These nice people will also tell us that the reasonable thing to do is to lock ourselves into some heated box. That way we'll have four tires for traction as well as being so much more comfortable. It sounds so cozy, warm, and oh so "wise", doesn't it?

Excuse me. I think I just threw up in my helmet a little bit. I'm so sick of people telling me to "play it safe"! My God. Next thing you know I'll be sitting in a recliner while somebody spoon feeds me instant mush. Heaven forbid I should do anything that might hurt me.

Sorry, folks. I'm going to ride my bikes as much as possible. That just might mean dealing with dicey traction. Sometimes those difficult traction situations are going to take us by surprise. No matter how hard we scan and search for information, we're bound to miss something. Things like Black Ice. There's a reason it's called that, obviously. So, Mister Slider ( emphasis on the Mister ) you've asked a darn fine "man's" question. How do we deal with black ice?

Firstly, be proud that you're out there being a true Road Warrior. Hopefully, you'll someday have an experience like this one. I've just got to take a little detour and tell you a short story.

We had to buy Katie a new cell phone. She doesn't much care for having to adapt to new technology. Her old cell phone has been in her purse for a bunch of years. There wasn't much incentive for her to get a new one. Until I decided to buy a new Blackberry Storm touch screen phone. I used her upgrade credit. Things went well until I asked Verizon to switch the phones around so Katie would have her number back. The old phones won't work with the new E911 requirement by the FCC so Verizon wouldn't re-activate hers. Everything turned out well, though, as I found her a new phone she really likes. Functional, but not too complicated.

Since we could now download songs for ringtones, I asked her what she would like for when I called. Right away she said she wanted the theme song from Raiders of the Lost Ark. When I asked Katie why, she replied that it was fitting for me. Harrison Ford's a great looking guy and, more importantly, she thinks of me as her swashbuckling hero.

What does this have to do with black ice? Some of us are going to ride whenever we dang well feel like it. Those who matter understand and even admire us.

This is an older picture I stole from a couple of years ago on this blog. It's pretty much what things look like around my house today. Except with more snow and ice on the roadway. We're sitting in the teens and twenties for temperatures. That would be minus 5 to minus 10 or so in centigrade, Bryce Lee. Most of the roads are covered in a sheet of ice. I didn't ride today. You can bet I'll have Elvira out introducing her to the snow pretty soon. I expect ice and will deal with it accordingly.

Black ice, however, doesn't always happen only when you expect it. That's what makes it so hazardous.

In the interests of honesty, the best plan is to not be riding when ice of any kind is expected. The second best plan is to pay attention to our surroundings. Our training program puts a lot of emphasis on detecting hazards as early as possible. This process includes assessing the current conditions, projecting how they might change, and aggressively searching for visual clues of changing traction. My experiences with black ice have happened despite my best efforts to avoid it.

Take the last time. This one was pretty typical of my other experiences. It was in February of 2007. I'm on the freeway heading North about 30 miles to teach a class. Yep, first weekend of February and classes are starting already. Most of the time our climate allows for it. I've checked the temperature. It's four degrees above freezing. A bit of rain had fallen overnight. There's a light mist still in the air. Not a big deal, I figure. If I had a dollar for everytime I've ridden in the cold and wet, I'd have retired rich by now.

Firing up Sophie a little before 6 AM, it's still dark. This early on a Saturday morning, traffic is pretty light. As is my habit, I'm feeling out traction as I go. The freeway feels fine and I confidently wick it up to 55 mph or so. My STeed and I are approaching the hills in South Salem. I've hit black ice here a total of three times previously. Always much higher up, though. My senses are on alert. There's no traffic ahead of me. I'm scanning the roadway in Sophie's headlight. I see the glisten of wet pavement but it looks normal. I'm expecting the possibility of black ice a bit later. This time I'd find it much sooner than expected.

As we start up the South side of the slope, we've only climbed a few feet from our two hundred foot or so elevation. The bike and I are Northbound. On the Southbound downhill slope, I see a car off in the ditch. An ambulance and police car are on the shoulder with lights flashing. Curious at to what's going on, my attention is drawn to the scene. At this point we're doing about 50 mph and pulling a little more throttle to start the climb up the hill.

There's always a danger in becoming distracted while riding a bike. Even dashing swashbucklers are human, though. As I'm drawing even with the emergency vehicles, I feel Sophie's front end get mushy. I'd soon realize exactly why that car's in the ditch. Weirdly enough, my first thought isn't about ice. That's how certain I was that the road was ok where I was. What crossed my mind is the possibility of the front tire going flat. Then the steering went from mushy to feeling really light. I felt the familiar sensation of continuing in a straight line while the handlebars are moving back and forth. This is exactly what I've felt every other time I've encountered black ice at speed. Momentum carries the bike forward. The front tire is sliding on the ice which causes that back and forth movement. This is a critical moment.

Several things have to happen quickly. Firstly, the head and eyes need to snap up. Feeling that weird sensation can cause a rider to want to look down and see what's happening. We need the bike to keep moving in a straight line. Looking as far ahead as we can see will help make this happen.

Secondly, the movement of the bars has to be stopped. Traction can come back at any time. You don't want that to happen when the front tire is pointed any direction but straight ahead. Don't go the other way and lock up your arms. Relaxed, but firm is the key.

Thirdly, despite the first reaction when realizing we're on ice, hold the throttle steady for a bit. Our instinct will be to roll off the throttle. Remember, though, that on a slippery surface we don't want either acceleration or braking inputs. A bike has three brakes. The engine being the third. If we're going to have to roll off, it has to be gradual and smooth. I always figure I'll be smart enough not to roll on the throttle or apply the brakes. So far so good!

Eyes up, keep the bars straight, and make no sudden inputs. So far I've successfully ridden out my encounters with black ice on the freeway at speed. I really hope I never have any more opportunity to test my skills in this regard. However, I ride in all kinds of weather. It may happen again. The name Black Ice was chosen for a reason, I guess.

So far, I've never hit black ice in a corner. For me, that's a totally different ballgame. If I even suspect a traction problem on a curvy road, my approach is pretty cautious. Or I will chose straighter roads. Even swashbucklers want to get home in one piece at the end of an adventuresome day!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, December 08, 2008

Training class. In December?

3:25 AM. That's what the glowing red numbers on the alarm clock show. I keep telling myself not to look at the clock. Myself doesn't listen to me. I've got this thing about time. I have clocks tuned into the atomic clock at Boulder, CO. There's this running clock in my head. At any given time I know within about a minute and a half what time it is. It's a sickness and a curse. The alarm is set to go off at 5. Please let me go back to sleep until then, my body begs of my brain!

Have you ever seen one of those sodium vapor lights when it first starts up? My brain started a small glow of activity. Gradually it warmed up. This was not going to be good for sleeping. The glow grew steadily into the light of full activity. Dang. This happens way too often. Maybe if I just lie here for a while. No such luck. Neurons are twirling and nerve endings are in full spark. There's no hope for sleep left now.

Katie's snoring gently beside me in the bed. I mean that in the most feminine and sexy way, my dear! Once I'm wide awake there's no way I can lie perfectly still. It's time to go fire up the coffee pot and start the day.

Outside it's below freezing. The weather guessers had predicted freezing fog. Looking at the lawn I see they were right. Back in the house with a steaming cup of coffee in hand, I contemplate my day. It's Saturday. On a day when most people would be still asleep this early, I'm thinking about work. There's a training class scheduled for this weekend. The last one of the season. As I look at the window at the dark, the fog, and the cold, I have to wonder about it all.

You have to question the sanity of people taking a motorcycle training class in December. What kind of people are these? Truthfully, they're probably folks who wanted to do it earlier in the year. Due to the ever growing demand, classes are booked way in advance. What of the instructors? We don't need the class to get our endorsements. Most of us don't need to work on weekends for income. Yet, here we are. A dozen instructors up and down the I-5 corridor between Portland and Eugene. All probably looking out their windows and thinking the same thing. What's the matter with us?

By 6 AM I've got Elvira loaded and ready to go. She fires up with hardly a protest. One of these days I'm going to have to wire her for my electric vest. For now, though, it's just a sweatshirt under the Darien jacket. The Darien's not Hi-Viz but I make up for it by donning a retroreflective vest. I want to be visible in the foggy darkness. All the way up the freeway Elvira's thermometer shows me the 28 degree (f) reason I feel a little chilled. Despite the cold, I'm sweating a particular stretch of freeway. There's some hills just South of Salem. The freeway takes a five hundred and forty eight foot rise. It's just enough to make the difference in ice or snow. I've hit black ice there a couple of times on a bike. The heavy fog makes it likely to happen again.

Not having a crystal ball, I have no way of knowing that this will actually end up being one of the best classes of the year. That knowledge is still in the future as I face the 35 mile ride North.

As you can see by the picture, Elvira and I arrive without incident. The only casualty was my breakfast. I'd stashed one of those "Oatmeal to Go" bars in a side pocket of the black bag you see on the bike seat. The bar was so cold I could hardly gnaw off a bite! Dunking it in coffee from my thermos helped a little, but not much. Not many insulated containers do well inside a bike saddlebag in freezing weather.

Here's the group near start time Saturday morning. There's still some fog but at least daylight is coming on. My good friend and fellow instructor, Al, had decided not to ride. He lives exactly 1.1 miles from the site. I, on the other hand.... The good news is that I established immediate credibility with the students! There were several comments of "You're the man!", including one from my fellow instructor. It's well worth enduring freezing temperatures to have my ego stroked!

Saturday's weather turned out to be a blessing. The sun came out and burned off the fog. We could still see our breath for most of the morning. That's Al over in the sun by the students. For some reason, my instructor positions always seemed to be in the shade!

The guy in front is wearing the new First Gear Kilimanjaro jacket. They've ventured into high visibility. This jacket is pretty effective at that task.

Sunday's weather wasn't quite as promising. I rode through a light rain on the trip up. It didn't do a lot of positive things to my outlook for the day. I'm not enjoying teaching in the rain much these days. Of course, that means I wouldn't teach much around here. So I deal with it. Fortunately, with the exception of a little sprinkle early on, we seemed to hit a pocket of dry, but cloudy weather. A half hour after we had the range picked up and the bikes put away, it poured. Oh well. I rode to and from in the rain but it was dry for the important part.

This class was one of the most personable I've had in a long time. There was a mix of experience levels. A couple had never been on a bike before. A few had permits and some riding time. Then there were a couple of riders who had been riding but needed to "tidy things up a bit", if you get my drift. To a person, they were very coachable. The more experienced riders were good at encouraging the newer ones. They were all committed to applying themselves. The whole weekend was a great mix of work and fun between the students and instructors.

To a certain extent that happens with every class. This one just seemed to rise to a higher level. It was a pretty sweet way to end the teaching year. We start up again the first weekend of February. I taught the first weekend this year. We got snowed out on Sunday. For now, though, it's time to take a rest from teaching. I'm glad it ended this way.

Here's a photo of our happy class at the end of their riding time on Sunday. It might be hard to tell with the helmets, but two of the eleven are gals.

They've all passed the skill evaluation on the bikes. Now they're off to lunch and will finish up in the classroom with Al. It's not common for everyone to pass. I believe our pass ratio is somewhere around 85 percent. Our goal isn't to see how many riders we can put on bikes. Our goal is to do the best job of teaching and coaching we can. Ultimately, though, it's up to the students to show us if they're ready to ride by passing the skills test. There were three perfect scores in this group. One perfect score is unusual. Three is really exceptional!

I guess the takeaway for me is this. It's a good reminder for me not to be too quick to prejudge. Things don't always end like they start. I started out looking at this weekend like a chore to get through. As much as I like teaching, I'm a little tired by the end of the year. Remember, my teaching weekends are on top of a full time job during the week. The same thing has happened with riding. How many times could I have decided not to ride to work because of the weather or other circumstances? How many times did I end up so glad I rode because the day turned out better than expected? How many times have I had some wonderful experience I would never have known if I hadn't been on a motorcycle? This applies to life outside motorcycling, too. As if there actually is life beyond riding.

Gemstones are often found in some of the most unpromising places!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, December 05, 2008

Meet Andrew!

Like I mentioned earlier, I was out and about on business. In each town I have what I call my "field offices". In between appointments I can get some coffee, make a pit stop, etc. The reason I call them offices is because I can also make phone calls without disturbing folks around me too much. Being on the bike, anyone calling me just has to leave a message. Then I check voice mail and return calls during these time slots. On days like yesterday in Portland, I really needed to warm up, too. But that's a future post.

My stop in Salem is a downtown mall. There's enough background noise in the food court that it masks my conversations without being too distracting. I use the parking structure which makes me walk a couple of blocks worth of distance both ways. While walking around I'm always on the lookout for bikes. Especially those that appear regularly. Like the BMW R1200RT and the Honda Shadow behind the gate in the parking structure. It's a facility used by Parking Enforcement. Getting a picture is really tough through the bright yellow mesh fencing. You'll just have to picture it on your own. The advantage for the riders is that it's a pretty secure place to park under cover.

Both bikes were there through the summer. Now the Shadow's not there anymore, but the BMW rider is hanging in there. I've had several students from this organization. I always wonder if these were some of them. The BMW usually has a bright yellow jacket draped over the seat so I have to think the rider's had training.

Anyway, now that you have more background than you ever wanted to know, let's get to the point.

There was some sunshine outside. Just inside an entry to the parking structure I see this Honda Ruckus. You can see the full face helmet attached to the far side of the scooter. I try to keep the point and shoot camera in my riding jacket pocket. I'm working on putting something together for a post on a new trend we're seeing in scooter riders. So I snapped a photo of the scooter. It could have been a better photo but I kind of like the dark and light contrast.

I check out the Honda and start to walk away. I see a young man jaywalking across the street towards me. Not that I care, I'm just trying to be descriptive in my writing! His walk was actually more of a saunter, easy and carefree. Judging by the riding jacket and the backpack I figured he belonged to the Ruckus. So I waited a bit for him to get to the bike.

Introducing myself, I found out that he did belong to the Ruckus. Did you detect the subtlety? Do we own the bikes or do they own us? He shook my hand and told me his name was Andrew. Figuring I should sort of explain why I was taking a picture of the scooter, I told Andrew about the blog. I also stated that I was an instructor for TEAM OREGON. Andrew said his brother took a class over at the Community College on a scooter. I believe he also mentioned that his father rides. On a small scooter, too, I think. I wasn't taking detailed notes, obviously, so I'm going by memory. I gave Andrew the url for the blog and invited him to watch for the post. So if you're reading this, Andrew, feel free to make corrections in the comment section! By the way, thank you for spending the time with me and agreeing to grace the blog.

What really struck me about Andrew is how enthused he sounded about riding the Ruckus and being a "scooter person". Andrew very willingly posed for a photo with the Honda. In that way that only young people seem to have, he looks both cool and cheerful at the same time.

This Ruckus is the smaller version. I believe it's got a 49cc single cylinder engine. Andrew told me he doesn't have a motorcycle endorsement. The scooter's just under the displacement cut-off set by the Department of Motor Vehicles for requiring a motorcycle endorsement. Despite not having the endorsement, it's apparent to me that Andrew's a serious rider.

Notice the good jacket and full face helmet. During our conversation Andrew brought up several topics relating to safety and using your head when riding. It seemed to me like he has a good grasp of the essentials even though he hasn't taken formal training. Yet!

Here's what's really impressive.

Andrew's had the scooter for about two years. During that time he says he's put about 6,000 miles on the Ruckus. Bear in mind that this scooter is only capable of about 40 mph! That's about average mileage for riders of even the bigger bikes. Andrew rides for fuel economy but seems to have caught the "passion bug" in the process. He's particularly fond of bantering with people he knows who drive SUV's. When they give him a bad time about being on the scooter and out in the weather, Andrew says he asks them how much they spend on fuel in a week. Then he tells him the Ruckus gets 70 mpg. Then tells them to go do the math.

Insurance isn't bad for the Ruckus. Andrew asked me to guess how much it cost to insure the scooter. I guessed a little bit low. I'm over twice as old as Andrew. I tend to default to the "old guy" frame of reference. He told me he paid $150.00 a year for liability. Andrew's excited because he'll turn 25 soon. His insurance should go down some then. The last big age milestone for a few years! After that you quit looking forward to the age going up and wish they'd stop going by so fast.

He's going to need the economical transportation a little more right now. Andrew told me he worked for DHL but got laid off a couple of weeks ago. DHL is a freight and package delivery company. They've cut back and consolidated which meant job cuts. I wish him success in finding new employment soon.

As a side note, I asked Andrew what he would change on the scooter if he could. His reply was that he was thinking of putting pegs just forward of the front of the floorboards. That way he could stretch out just a bit more. Andrew also stated that he wished the storage space under the seat was enclosed. He has some elastic cords to keep stuff in but the weather gets to it. Other than that, he really likes the thing.

I came away from my encounter with Andrew feeling refreshed in my enthusiasm for riding. It was neat to see his face light up when he talked about the scooter and riding. The small size of the scooter makes no difference. He's on two wheels and that's the important thing! As you can see by the photo, it's not the size of the bike we ride that makes us what we are. It's the size of our hearts!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The bare truth.

Today was a great day of riding for work. I met a very personable young man named Andrew this morning. He's been busy putting miles on a 49cc Honda Ruckus. Look for more about him in a day or two.

As usual, my eyes are always roving my surroundings looking for bikes. I spied a nice looking Yamaha. For a while we had a little bit of sunshine. You know how that Winter sun adds a little extra sparkle to everything. So I went over for a closer look. These pictures came from my camera phone. Not bad for those conditions I have to say. Here's the bike.

I have this bad habit of standing and looking over bikes. Most riders expect other riders to ogle their rides. Some motorcycle owners even go so far as to love showing off their mounts. We don't know anyone like that in our blog neighborhood do we?

One of these days, though, I expect someone to come striding up with an angry look on their face. They'll want to know just what I think I'm doing. So far it hasn't happened. Maybe it's because I'm usually standing there with gear on my body and a helmet in my hand. Come to think of it, that may make it worse. I'd be all the more ready to ride the bike away! Anyway, nothing like that happened today. So I have no idea of who owns the bike. Only that it was in a mall parking lot.

Sorry. I wandered off for a bit. The pertinent part was when I spied the rear tire. The wear bars have come and gone, I think. You be the judge, but I think the bike could use a new tire.

The first thing you can see is that there's a lot of wasted tread there. That's the reason I make sure to lean my bikes waaaay over. I pay for the whole tire. By golly, then, I'm going to use it all. This bike has spent a lot of time straight up and down. That's not all bad but the poor bike's probably somewhat embarrassed by the situation. Being a sport bike, and all.

Secondly, I wonder about the reason for the tire being in this state. More specifically, why has it remained this way? Is it because the person can't afford a new tire? If the rider is on two wheels for reasons of economy, funds may be scarce. Costs are measured in ways other than money. I hope this tire doesn't end up costing this rider in those "other" ways.

Is this a bike belonging to someone who just doesn't realize how dangerous this is? I'm sure there's still a few ponies being delivered to the rear tire. The bike's a few years old but that sweet motor must still be capable of a little excitement. We always teach that a rider needs to ride within the limits of the bike. In this case, the bike's limit is that it should still be in the garage.

Does the bike belong to someone who just doesn't care? Everybody's got different ideas of how much risk they are willing to accept. Perhaps this rider's level is way out there. Call me a coward but my own acceptance level just doesn't extend that far.

I don't know the answers to those questions. I wasn't really in the mood to play stalker and try to track down the rider. There was a lot of territory to cover. What I can tell you is that this bothers me on several levels. If the rider crashes because of the rear tire, nobody's going to blame it on that. Once more, we'll hear the old "motorcycles are dangerous" ringing out. Even if the rider doesn't crash, that rear tire just gives me the creeps. My rear would be puckered tight every second I was on the bike. Of course, I wouldn't be on a tire like that so that's a moot argument.

Anyway, I thought I'd just share it with you all. It will either make you laugh or send chills down your spine!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, December 01, 2008

Cattle cornering!

So I've written about this before. What's the number one determining factor in how fast you should take a corner? It all depends on how far you can see, doesn't it? Or, how fast the bovine road blocks will let you. What the heck?

The blog's been quiet. I've been riding a lot. On the weekend before Thanksgiving I taught a class with my dear friend Al. We're doing it again this coming weekend. That will finally wrap up the training year for the program. I'll have to do a post next week on what kind of folks are taking a motorcycle training class in December. Or what kind of instructors are crazy enough to teach it.

I took some extra days off for the holiday. Part of having some relaxing downtime just has to involve wandering aimlessly through the farm country around us. I can string back roads all day and never see the same stretch of blacktop twice. Yes, it's a blessing to live here.

Coming around a blind corner I was greeted by these four legged speed bumps. Ok, maybe they're more like barricades!

This photo was taken after I had completed the corner. After negotiating the cud-chewing obstacles, I executed a u-turn to take a photo. The cattle weren't visible from where I entered the corner. Fortunately, I actually listen to the stuff I teach about cornering. This day it paid off. As you can see, the cows didn't seem to be much impressed by the bike. They had hardly moved during the whole process. Such is the giddiness brought about by unexpected freedom, I guess!

Backing the camera lense away, it makes me shudder to see the bike headed into a center-punching position with the black cow. I don't even want to think about rolling quickly out of a corner only to hit the cow!

Worried that someone else would hit the cows, I pulled up into the nearby driveway. The only one home was an older woman. She hadn't noticed the escapees. The woman made a call while I tried to get the livestock off the road. They weren't exactly what you would call cooperative. Traffic here is very light which was a great thing under the circumstances.

Before too long a pickup pulled into the drive next to Elvira. I offered to help herd the cattle, being an old farm boy. Of course, my idea was to ride the bike around and sound the horn. These guys thought I should actually help chase the cows. Oh well. Seeing they were outnumbered, or maybe it was the grain bucket, the cows were once again behind a fence. The two guys went to find the escape route. I continued on my ride, the rest of which was pretty uneventful.

There's one thing I do have to say, though. Andy probably never had this usage in mind, but you can actually herd cattle in a Roadcrafter!

Miles and smiles,