Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Got grip?

Wow! Life seems to be swirling about me at a rapid pace. Training season is in full swing. I've spent the last three days working with riders from rank beginners to professionals. Saturday and Sunday I taught a basic riding course. Yesterday saw me joining a group of instructors for another motor cop training day. I'm looking forward to sharing a few of the stories. I haven't been posting much lately due to the time element. The pressure's been building so be prepared for a flurry.

Lucky and Lady Luck are back in Oregon. We talked on the phone Saturday. They were actually in my town but we missed connections. In the meantime, Lucky's haunting the Pacific Coast as they work their way North. I know for sure that Lucky's stirring up trouble. Whether Lady Luck is a co-conspirator or innocent bystander remains to be seen! They'll be in Portland at the end of the week and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

One bit of good news is that I'm still riding for work. Today my business was close to home. I don't know if I feel a connection or I'm just a stalker at heart. I find myself drawn to places where I know folks who ride to work. This time it was to Barenbrug. It's a large grass seed distributor where Bradley is a logistics coordinator. He's also a fellow blogger. The building has a neat look. Here's a picture of Elvira out in front.

It's not in the photo, but a lot of the building is made up of that dark glass. Kind of a Darth Vader thing. You can see the bikes on the background. Want a closer look?

That's Bradley's Triumph on the left. There was a bunch of bright sunlight and I forgot the hood for the Nikon lense. It looks like a couple of folks have joined Bradley in riding to work. By the way, Mr. Troubadour, you're a great example of a motorcycle commuter. I'd be honored to add you to my blog roll with your permission.

I spent a bit of time riding circles in Barenbrug's parking lot. I wanted to stop and take the photos but didn't want to attract too much attention. I could see some people peering out the windows. I figured I should finally either park or leave. You can see how it came out. Nobody came out to talk to me. I'm not as interesting as I think I am, it seems.

On another note, I'm taking a class in digital photography. It's one night a week for five weeks. Like in many endeavours, professional instruction can provide a faster track to a higher skill level. While making photographs doesn't have the same risk as riding, it sure adds to the quality of life. Interestingly, the two main cameras the instructor is using as examples are the Canon 40D and the Nikon D40. I happen to own the Nikon D40. Neat. Everything applies directly to what I'm riding, as it were. This week we'll be learning about exposure. Will it be the art of stripping or how to deal with lighting conditions? We'll see what reveals itself, so to speak!

In a reversal of the parent taking the child to the first day of class, Clinton wanted to ride with me to Lebanon where the class is being held. That's about 16 miles from home if you take the straight route. Who does that on a bike? So I picked a back road route with a few curves. I'm both proud and greatly pleased to ride with one or the other of my sons. I totally enjoyed the ride with Clinton.

It was an interesting ride. Several of the corners had gravel scattered in them. The gravel really seemed to get to Clinton. I'd be ripping through and look back to see Clinton far behind. I thought of how it was a great lesson in riding.

This is a good time to make a clarification. Clinton is a good rider. He's had an endorsement since he got his driver's license at 16. Now he's 21. However, he's only been riding seriously for the past couple of years since he got the VFR. When you look at the two bikes in the photo, you see two sport touring bikes. What you don't see is the vast experience difference between the two riders. One of the riders has a good start on gaining experience. The other has a lifetime of exposure to different situations covering every kind of weather over hundreds of thousands of miles.

There's the intellectual side of things. Things we know we should do. Things that we sometimes haven't actually done. One of these days we'll finally encounter a situation where the thinking and the execution come together. That's a powerful combination. By now you're probably wondering what I'm really trying to say. Let's go back to the corners.

I'm looking far ahead. I see the gravel well ahead of time. I have the opportunity to slightly change my line into the clear spot. A lifetime of riding and over a decade of training other riders combine to make me precise. I can put the front tire exactly where I want it. Even if the clear spot is only as wide as the tire itself. I also know from experience that my front or rear tire might slip slightly if I can't find a totally clear spot to ride in. I can adjust my speed and lean angle to my benefit. If the tires do slip a bit, I know they won't slide out from under me. Grip will come back pretty quickly if I trust the tires to do their job. I do my job as a rider and the tires do theirs. I'm prudent but fast in the gravel strewn curves.

My fellow rider, on the other hand, is competent but doesn't have the same foundation. This is the point of the story. Clinton was riding within his limits which is totally the right thing to do. What if he had found himself in the middle of a gravel patch where he hadn't really intended to be? His reaction to the situation, rather than the gravel itself, could have been the difference between successfully negotiating the corner or crashing.

This happens in a great many of the motorcycle crashes. The rider panics and the fear of crashing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have a chance, you should check out the April issue of Rider Magazine. Eric Trow does a column entitled "Riding Well". Here's an excerpt from his "Still Got Air?" column.

"Scuba divers are trained to first focus on one main thing above all else in panic situations. When a scene becomes overwhelming and the odds seem grimly stacked against the diver, the first question he must ask himself is 'Do I still have air?' If the answer is "yes" then the diver can reassure himself that, despite any other looming threat, he still has the primary thing necessary to survive under water. The rest is just stuff to work through. Calmly.

Like divers, far too many riders are injured or killed unnecessarily because they allow panic to take over when things go wrong. If we pick up on the advice of diving instructors-to recognize what is still working in our favor-it stands to reason that we could significantly improve our chances of survival on the street. In other words, we must discipline ourselves to push aside the threats that are screaming for our immediate attention ( Guardrail! Rock face! Approaching car! and I add Gravel! ) and concentrate on the important stuff. "Still got grip?' Terrific. Now let's focus on the exit of the turn and ride to it."

I tried to find a link to the entire article but couldn't in the time allotted. I'd recommend that you try to find a copy of the magazine. It would be well worth the effort.

Experience is an ally. Panic is a foe. The more experience enters the picture the less influence panic will have. In the meantime, stay calm. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Ask yourself the all important question. Got grip?

Miles and smiles,



Charlie6 said...

I really hate to see gravel around blind curves while traversing the mountain roads around here....slows me right up. No looking ahead with a piece of the mountain in the way.....you get locked into narrow channels of clear pavement while trying to negotiate the curve AND look out for oncoming cars....it can be "interesting" at times.

Sure, I try to ride the outside of the lane to see as far into the curve as I can, but then you can end up as a hood ornament for the cager coming the other way, gawking at the mountains and starting to slide into your lane.....

Sometimes, I ride the road twice, the first time looking for where the gravel still remains, then a more spirited run the second time...I imagine I still don't take the curves as fast as you Irondad.....

cpa3485 (JIM) said...

Thinking and execution coming together. That's a very poignant way of putting it. It comes with experience I am sure and is something I think about sometimes as I ride and encounter little hazards like the gravel. The reactions do not always come to me as second nature yet, but I think I am getting better at it. This post serves as a good reminder to strive for that ability.

Richard Machida said...

I still see a lot of gravel on the roads around here and I admit that I slow down and try to stay near vertical traversing some of them. Most of the gravel is left over from winter as it seems to take all summer to get it swept off the road. With such a short riding season, I don't think I will ever have the experience or confidence you have. We also have a lot of tourists gawking at the scenery as they are coming around the corners. I still get nervous whenever the rear tire slides a bit on the gravel. Thank you for the lesson Keep them coming.....

Troubadour said...

Thanks for the props and you are welcome to come in and say "hi". Today would've been perfect as it is inventory week, my boss is gone and I am bored out of my skull.

BTW, when are you going to make it to a bike night?

irondad said...

Blind curves are a different story. If you can't see through it, you have to assume the worst. In the ride I was writing about, I could see well ahead.

As to riding outside, about a third of the way in is the place to be. Always leave a plan "B"!

Charlie6 said...

Irondad, yep about a third of the way or the outer clear of gravel channel left by the cagers in front of me.....didn't mean to write I was near the centerline of the road.

heck, I usually go for the inner or closest to the rock walls cleared channel.

irondad said...


In an interesting twist, our first reactions can be wrong. Riding well consists of unnatural acts. In other words, opposite our natural human reactions. It's experience that makes the right reaction happen automatically. Fortunately, that experience can also take the form of repeated practice which shortens the amount of time required. Keep up the great goals!


We all have different circumstances to deal with. The important thing is to adapt accordingly which you seem to be doing admirably. Thanks for reading!


I sent you an e-mail about bike night. Is it tonight? I'll have to come knock on the dark glass some time.


Wow! Reading and responding so quickly. I'm honored. The slight drawback to being inside is that you have to avoid the temptation to apex early which can throw you wide coming out of the corner. I know you have the experience to pick the best spot and line for yourself.

Take care,


Krysta in MKE said...

"The more experience enters the picture the less influence panic will have."

I've seen this in emergency medical situations many times. Most parents freak out because they don't have the training to help. I solve the problem (for my kid or theirs). I've had at least CPR & first aid certs since middle school, worked as an EMT, & now teach CPR / first aid.

Wish I had the $ to take an advanced rider training course. Right now I feel reasonably confident in most situations, but I know there's a long way before I'm really proficient. May never get there, but that mindset means I'm no longer an overconfident beginner.

SheRidesABeemer said...

Sun...you have sun...I want sun. :)

kz1000st said...

Your story reminds me of my dirt racing days. It was before a foot of suspension travel when 3" was the norm. We were always looking for the smoothest part of the track, sometimes not much wider than our front tire. Otherwise it threw the back end all over the place in the bumps in the broken dirt holes. You had to look passed the rider in front of you, the dust and the flying dirt and rocks. It was good practice for later on when I started riding on the highway. It made you look and plan ahead.

. said...

Being a rider for just under two years and 12,000 miles, these things are just starting to become more automatic:

"...we must discipline ourselves to push aside the threats that are screaming for our immediate attention...and concentrate on the important stuff. 'Still got grip?' Now let's focus on the exit of the turn and ride to it."

"...our first reactions can be wrong. Riding well consists of unnatural acts. In other words, opposite our natural human reactions."

I have used the following, as it works well for road hazards, but is not entirely foolproof and does nothing to predict what is [now] located beyond a blind curve: "Ride the road twice."

As I am frequently the rider with lesser experience and ability in many of the groups I ride with, much as with your son. I sometimes feel as though I am holding them back. I try to push myself slightly each time out, but back off if I feel that panic of overload coming on. It is, nevertheless hard to watch the more experienced riders take off and disappear from sight ahead of me, though they always wait up.

Anonymous said...

Dan: The two stuffed bears on the motorcycle on your header are cute!

Gravel on the surface of the road
from anything can be dangerous, at any time/

As to the digital course, enjoy.

See what reading comments to your
blog can do?

Maybe one of these days we'll connect, in person.

BTW Goldwing still not sold; have summerized/winterized it and hopefully can think about my motorcycle future next year; just too many things going on in
my family's life, and mine at present.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

I am hardly the perso to comment on technical riding of any sort. But one of the hardest things I have had to make my body do is look far ahead into curves, like leading a target on a skeet range.

My mind tells me that this is always wrong and I have to consciously will it. I'm thinking of two separate trips to West Virginia. On the first one, we were riding on a stretch called Back Mountain Road, not far from the Cass Mountain Railroad. On a sharp, downhill turn to the right, the road crossed a narrow (single vehicle bridge, covered with gravel.

There was a four-inch wide channel of open pavement all the way across the bridge. I swung into it like the bike was on a track. Three years ago, I would have been spooked into hitting the brakes hard.

I was following long-time riding partner Dick Bregstein through a tight "s" turn last month, when I got distracted for a moment. My mind took over and processed a shrinking amount of space with a guardrail on one side and a rock wall on the other. I could feel the icy grip of fear on my balls.

In a fraction of a second, I made myself get back on the clock, give "Fire Balls" the gas, and lean that sucker over by looking as far ahead in the curve as possible.

The result from a momentary lapse in concentration can be catastrophic -- as you are well aware.

Fondest regaerds,
Jack "r" Toad
Twisted Roads

irondad said...


The experience thing reminds me of my cop days. An emergency to us is anything involving arterial spurting. An emergency to a civilian is anything they can't handle on their own. Which means it's likely much lower on our scale than theirs. It's all about where you've been before.

Congratulations, Grasshopper, it appears you have successfully snatched the pebble and are ready to learn more!


We're never happy. It's going to be in the low 90's for a few days here. I'd gladly send you some of the sun to get it out of here!

Take care,


irondad said...


You've hit upon a point that I've been contemplating doing a post about. The need to look past the rider ahead and map your own road. Sounds like you have already gained the wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

Take care,


irondad said...


I totally respect that fact that you stay within your limits. Those limits will increase, and sometimes faster than we realize. This doesn't apply to the folks you ride with. However, I often ask riders in your situation to consider why the others are faster. Are they actually more skilled or more willing to take unwise risks?

Take care,


bobskoot said...

It sucks to grab too much front brake on gravel. It happened to me on my way back from Oregon last year . . . luckily with minor consequences.

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Anonymous said...

Hey Irondad, geat post!

Funny you should mention the scuba divers, one of the biggest problems i had when starting ... was breathing! I'd come into a corner, and hold my breathe, literally, fear i guess.
So one of the first things i had to train myself to do, was breathe. It helped tremendously, focusing on breathing took some of the edge off, ad allowed a more relaxed approach.

As to your new picture ...
Whisky, tango, foxtrot, over?


Steve Williams said...

There is nothing like professional photo training to move a person off the plateau and to the next level of skill. The Nikon D40 is a great camera. We all expect great things from your image making just as we do from your writing about riding.

If you find time and want to thoroughly immerse yourself in the workings of the D40 you'll definitely want to look at Ken Rockwell's D40 Users Guide.

Ken's reviews and experience are legend and simply the best. He is the irondad of the online photo world....*grin*

I subscribe to Rider magazine and had read the Eric Trow article. Trow is a fine replacement for the columns that used to be written by the late Larry Grodsky. The one you refer to was excellent and something to revisit often.

Thinking about what you posted and the role experience plays for each of us I was left sort of confused about how experienced I actually am. I have been in situations with the sudden appearance of gravel and negotiate them ok but am not sure if dumb luck is at work or experience.

I guess I don't feel experienced. Whatever that is. I notice bad habits on the Vespa which I suspect are related to it's light weight. I find myself doing U-turns and stuff that would be disastrous on a big bike and wonder if I would do the same things on one of them. Or maybe I just know the limits of this particular machine.

Anyways, it is something I should probably think about.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks