Friday, February 27, 2009

One more time.

Several people seem to have mistaken where the target is on this exercise. One, in particular, has been vocal about his disapproval of me all along. There may be others who have the same idea and just haven't expressed it. This is in no way, shape, or form intended to be any sort of self defense. Mainly because I vehemently deny that there's any need for it. Consider this post to have two purposes.

Firstly, it's the same principle used with expectations. Every one of our instructors, for example, has the right to be told clearly and precisely what the expectations are for them and then to be given the chance and help to meet them. Once the staff are satisfied they did their best to clearly outline the expectations, the instructor then stands or falls on their own. While there is certainly no employer / employee relationships involved here, I want to make sure I clearly stated my position. After that everyone's on their own in regards to what they do with it.

Secondly, it's a matter of respect. I've been asked a direct question. I'm going to answer it out of respect for the purveyor of the question. The end result may be that we agree to disagree and that's perfectly fine with me. I'm quoting the comment below. This is not intended to be a call-out type challenge. For clarity, though, I'm including the comment as it appeared earlier. Agent 22, you made a public comment and I'm providing a public answer. The answer was too long for a comment so I gave it it's own space here. There's no pictures or fluff in this post. Let's get down to it and I'll try to be as succint and precise as possible.

Agent22 said...

have you ever heard the phrase "don't hate the player, hate the game"?If you really want to do something instead of write about it get a law change by writing your congressmen and petition.i mean, are you really doing so much by telling people what they probably know?So please don't blame the scooter rider, yes i agree they should wear all gear and take classes,blame the lawmakers.I am in the military and it is mandatory to take the MSF class and wear my gear at all times on my scooter.when I lost control in the rain one day ,I was very glad I had on all my gear also.Personally I see more motorcycle riders with no helmets than scooters.I don't understand why this is focused just towards scooters...please explain, I'm sure they are not the only ones guilty of being unsafe on 2 wheels.

Agent 22,

It seems clear that my transmitter and your receiver aren't exactly tuned to the same frequencies. It's also clear that you are offended because of it and that is coloring your comment, here. This is an effort at fine tuning the signal.

Although, I can't resist a friendly little jab to start with. It seems your vitriol towards me is an expression of hating the player and not the game. The same thing you accuse me of. Let's take a bit to more clearly illustrate what "The Game" is here.

The target here is not "scooter riders". The crosshairs are aligned squarely on people who exhibit a certain attitude. Their choice to ride a scooter is an expression of that attitude. For reasons I'll point out in a bit, motorcycles do not generally fit their needs. That's the reason I refer to scooter riders and not motorcycle riders. I know this might be a hard distinction for some people to make. We all have different perspectives. It's hard for me to totally understand your platform because I don't live your life. Similarly, it's hard for you to totally understand the perspective of a long time motorcycle safety trainer and advocate. To help out, I'm asking you to look at this from the perspective of people and not machines.

Again, not offered in any sort of conciliatory way, I state my awareness of the multitude of scooter riders who take riding seriously. You and your peers are examples of these yourselves. I applaud your use of gear, the time spent in training, and the sheer fun you seem to have, judging by the comments on the forum I saw about "mods" to the scooters!

Yes, there are motorcycle riders and scooter riders alike who shun gear and training. I've been around the block a time or two. You should give me credit for knowing what's what. I'm aware that a lot of people started riding for economical transport. It either worked or it didn't. When it worked people either went on to a shifting motorcycle or bought a bigger scooter. Whatever their other attitudes about gear and training, or their success level, they shared this one attitude.

"For whatever reason I choose to ride, I am entering the world of motorcycling."

Ok, keep an open mind and bear with me here.

The people I've been posting about do not ever have that thought. They want cheap, uncomplicated, transportation. Period.

That's why scooters become an expression of their attitude and motorcycles don't. No, you can't write everything in stone. Here's why I make that statement, though.

New scooters, as a whole, offer a lower initial purchase price than new motorcycles. This satisfies the economy part in a way motorcycles don't.

Small displacement scooters, as a whole, offer much higher fuel mileage than new motorcycles. This again, satisfies the economy part in a way motorcycles usually don't.

Yeah, I know a Ninja 250 satisfies both the purchase price and fuel economy part but they scare the crap out of these kind of people.

Scooters, as a whole, are more convenient for people to ride as regards places to put purses and grocery bags. You have to buy bags for a motorcycle while scooters have under-seat storage.

Here's the big one. Scooters don't need to be shifted. If I only had a dollar for everyone I've heard say they don't want to worry about that shifting stuff. It's so much simpler on a scooter. Again, the choices of motorcycles that don't need to be shifted are getting bigger but you know the current situation in that regard. Scooters at any price fill that need in a way motorcycles currently do not.

There's a few more small ones, but those are the really salient points. Only scooters satisfy the needs of the people I'm referring to. That's why I say scooters are an expression of their attitude. In case there's been too many words between there and here, let me restate.

The target is not scooter riders. It is people with a particular attitude and buying scooters is an expression of that attitude.

You ask why we don't push for more legislation. Some of that is being done quietly. There's a good chance this legislative session will end with motorcycle training being mandatory for anyone who wants a motorcycle endorsement in Oregon. Some legislation is good, but having too many rules doesn't really prove to be effective.

For example, it might also come out that the fine for riding without an endorsement will go up from a little under two hundred dollars to seven hundred. How many people will that really deter? I'm sure, if you weren't a little steamed at me, that you'd agree education is infinitely more effective than making a bunch more laws.

Which answers your other question of why I wrote about it. I want riders, scooter mounted or otherwise, to understand the situation and then help educate those they see around them that could use a little help. My posts were an effort to lay the groundwork from which these people are operating. Understanding where a person is right now goes a long ways towards helping them get where they need to be.

I personally don't give a crap if a rider considers themself "one of us" or not. I mean, geez, WE don't even agree on what that means. What I do care about is that no matter why they ride, or what they ride, they need good gear and training. Their decisions need to be based on education, not ignorance. Believe me, thoughts of gear and training really haven't entered their minds, sometimes. If, after someone takes the time to share a little wisdom with them, they choose to ignore it, so be it. Now's it's on their head and not ours.

Which brings me to the end of this post. Sir, I thank you for your service to our country and to us as its current citizens. I applaud your serious attitude towards gear and training. I respect the fact that you sign your handle on your comments and confront me mano-a-mano. I hope you can see where I'm coming from and try to share wisdom with new riders of all kinds. I'd even kind of like you to keep reading and sharing comments. People who share opposing viewpoints in a postive way add to the richness of us all. On the other hand, I really don't give a damn whether you agree with me or not. I just want to make sure the disagreement is on your head and not mine because I failed to make myself clear.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A new kind of rider: Wrap-up

Well, it looks like I've stirred things up a bit here. I'm okay with that. Katie tells me with a big wink that I need to learn to come out of my shell and quit being so shy. These last couple of posts have wandered a bit. Which means some folks have reached their own conclusions without waiting for mine. So be it. However, let's wrap this up and get to the point.

You see scooters tucked in everywhere like this one at Lloyd Center Mall in Portland. I use malls as a type of field office. This scooter is frequently there and I have to presume it's being used as a work commuter. In the last couple of posts I outlined how we're seeing a new kind of rider. One who views riding a scooter as purely a function of economics and nothing else. They look at things in a different way than most of us. The riders don't want to be considered motorcyclists and don't see themselves as riding any kind of motorcycle. As some have stated in the comments, the scooter is looked on as one step up from a bicycle.

Another contributing factor to this situation is how the scooters are presented by those who sell them. I'm not going to hit that very deeply here. Dru Satori has done an excellent job of covering this on his blog. You can see the post here. Dru has also left a comment on the second part of this series which adds a little bit more to it. Click here if you wish and scroll down.

Gear and training are two areas where the difference really makes itself evident. The new kind of rider doesn't feel a need for either one. Again, I'm not going to go too far down either of these roads. I want to wrap this up and move on to something else. However, I am going to make one little detour here.

I've been disparaged on the Scootdawg forum. There's another thread here. Among other things I've been called thin skinned and smug. I love it. One of my greatest fears is being considered a mild mannered guy that nobody ever notices. You call me Mr. Milquetoast and my fist will be down your throat. Go ahead and say what's on your mind. I'm thrilled to have done something to make you feel that way. I have to say that I really appreciate that folks on the forums are at least man enough to take credit for their remarks. There haven't any cowardly bite and run attacks. Either there or here.

So, to prove how thin skinned I really am, I'm offering this chance to flame me once more.

These economically minded scooter riders don't see a need for gear. That's not their domain alone. The difference is that the first group don't see themselves as motorcycle riders so there's no need for motorcycle gear. The others see themselves as motorcycle riders, at least, who choose not to use adequate motorcycle gear. It's the same outcome either way, interestingly.

Why is gear such a hot button for riders? Let me be plain about this. No beating about the bush. Anything on two wheels can crash. Road surfaces, hard objects, and the laws of physics rip human bodies apart. I don't think anybody can truly deny the truth in that statement. Then why so much resistance to gear that goes a long ways in protecting said frail human body? It's a discussion for another time but the forces that cause a rider to shun proper gear must be pretty damn strong given the actual facts.

Okay, the last area where I'm really seeing the difference is in the attitude about getting proper training. Again, there's motorcycle riders who don't believe in training. The scooter people I'm talking about don't even remotely connect their transport with any sort of need for "Motorcycle Safety Classes". They're not riding a motorcycle, after all. It's just a scooter.

Time for a quick recap. I'm talking about a group of people who ride scooters merely to save money on fuel. They don't see themselves as fitting in with a group like in the picture above. They see themselves on a glorified bicycle and their attitude about gear and training reflects that stance. So where do we go from here?

The fact remains that these people need adequate gear and proper training. Period.

See, personally, I don't really care how people see themselves. Not that I don't get offended. I'd like to share fellowship with other riders if they're willing. Yes, I think it's stupid that people on sport bikes will wave to me when I'm riding Elvira because she looks more like a sport bike, yet ignore me when I'm riding Sophie who looks more like a touring bike. I've also been known to get my knickers in a knot when I'm seen but snubbed by Harley riders. I know, you can't lump everyone together and I don't. I appreciate that there's a lot of Harley riders that consider themselves real people and not just posers. I'm just saying that the greatest percentage of riders who've dissed me have been on Harleys. That's all. The feelings only last a bit and then life goes on. To each their own. Seriously, it's no skin off my nose, if you know what I mean.

Professionally, however, it's a different story. I have to put aside any personal feelings and do my job as a trainer. Believe, me, we get riders with all kinds of attitudes. Some make it extremely difficult to feel any warm fuzzies for them. Doesn't matter. They deserve my best once they're in training. And that's the key. Getting them to take training. Whether or not people admit it or are even aware of it, anyone on two wheels needs professional training.

Our instructors have a double expectation when training scooter riders. On the one hand, the trainers need to be familiar with the way scooters work and handle. Riding instruction needs to be tailored accordingly. On the second front, the trainers are tasked with not making a distinction in the classroom. Mental skills and strategies are equally vital no matter what a person's riding. Each student needs to come away from training with the greatest understanding of these skills as is possible.

Remember this guy? He's a very personable young man. The reason he's riding the Ruckus, though? It's 49cc and doesn't require an endorsement. He's pretty plain about that. A lot of people take our classes in order to get endorsed. No endorsement required translates to no training required. At least to their way of thinking. If the scooter's large enough to require an endorsement, they're looking for the "easiest" way to do that. So here's the 64 million dollar question and the whole point of this discussion.

How do we get people who ride purely for economical reasons and don't see themselves as any kind of motorcylist to come take the training they need whether they know they need it or not?

Believe me, our training program has looked at this issue long and hard.

Stacy asked in the first part of the series if we've considered "scooter only" training. Yes, we have. It may happen down the road but it's not in the cards in the near future. It's a long story but our main thrust is motorcycle training and that's taking up most of our resources right now. We have, however, applied for funding to add a few scooters to the biggest sites which will be available for student use. We're hoping that being able to ride a scooter for training will encourage them to come see us. Students are also allowed and encouraged to bring in their own scooters for training classes as long as they meet the size requirements.

Some commenters here have mentioned the intimidation factor. That holds true no matter what a student is going to ride later. We've been encouraging instructors to avoid soliciting the student's previous riding experience. Brand new riders are intimidated by so-called experienced riders whether the brand new rider is going to be scooter mounted or big cruiser mounted. Besides, which, a lot of riders have been doing it wrong for years so that doesn't really put them too far ahead anyway.

We've got a person on staff who's working hard on public awareness campaigns. That effort is aimed to kindle a recognition of the importance of training. Time will tell how much affect it actually has.

The thing that will end up making the biggest difference is the personal touch. Riders are going to rub shoulders with other riders. Face to face encounters still have the greatest influence.

So I'm looking for two things here. One is suggestions to us on how we can encourage these riders to come into training. Maybe there's some aspect we haven't thought of.

Secondly, I'm going to challenge everyone to do what they can in their own personal encounters.

To those who said less than kind things about me, I'm going to ask a couple of direct questions.

Do you care about helping other riders be successful? If so, are you willing to step up to the plate and do something positive? Seems like forums would be a good place to touch base and see how you all can be effective in offering such help. I offer these questions with the utmost kindness and respect behind them. Seriously.

That's it. It was a long way 'round but, hey, it's my blog. It's been a fun trip but I got where I wanted to go. Will it be the end of this road? You all will decide that, I'm sure. Right now it's pouring rain outside and Elvira needs washed. There's got to be possibilities there. See ya!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 23, 2009

Advice column: Wind

Look for the conclusion of the new kind of rider discussion in the next day or two. It looks like I've raised some hackles. I appreciate the way some of you have defended and agreed with me. I also appreciate that some of you felt comfortable disagreeing and signing your identities to the comments. There's always two sides in communication. Somebody offers a statement based on what is on their mind at the time. Another party receives the message. How it's received depends so much more on where that second party is at the time than what the first person said. How we react to another person often depends on what they make us see in ourselves. Such has been the hazard in human communication that we've faced for ages.

Maybe part of it is my fault. I warned everyone that I would wander as I laid the background that leads up to the point. Perhaps the wandering went far enough people got tired of following and started drawing their own conclusions instead of waiting for mine. For example, I cite the account of the woman I talked to. My purpose wasn't to vent about how she reacted to me. I only use her to illustrate a position that's becoming more common all the time. Some of you took it another way. That, too, illustrates my statement in the first paragraph. Anyway, I"ll wrap it up soon and then you can make your judgements either way.

In the meantime, I promised someone I'd take a break to answer a riding question. So here it is.

Dear Maniac,

I have a motorcycle skills question for you. How should one deal with crosswinds? I have to ride over a couple of high bridges and the winds can be very strong. My instinct is to slow down, but traffic moves rather quickly ( well over the 45 & 35 mph speed limits ) on these bridges, and once you commit to them, it's a long ways before the first exit.

Wind Blown Wanderer

Dear Wanderer,

Wind has been the bane of motorcyclists almost since motorcycles existed. Add a high bridge to the equation and the trouble amplifies. A number of years ago I did a ride out here called the Western States 1000. One of the check points was a toll receipt from this bridge.

It's called the Bridge of the Gods and spans the Columbia River Gorge at Cascade Locks on the Oregon side. Unlike this idyllic photo, when we crossed the bridge the weather was rainy and windy. I never saw so many worried and scared riders at one place in my life. This bridge is somewhere around a hundred feet over the river. The total span is something like 1865 feet. To add to the fun, the roadway is mostly steel grating. Once you're on it, there's no exit except the other side. There is one guy who will forever live in my mind. He successfully rode the whole route on a Honda 250 scooter while wearing sweat pants and bedroom slippers!

The first step is to be prepared. Use the SIPDE process to look for clues that indicate you'll encounter wind. You may currently be riding in what feels like a gentle wind. Once on the bridge, however, you'll be subject to the full force of the wind. Another thing to remember is that things like rivers and canyons make their own weather to an extent. There may be no wind leading up to the bridge. Once over the chasm, though, the wind will likely be present. Take a firm, but relaxed, grip on the bars. Don't lock up into a solid unit. That makes the situation worse. Note: When dealing with sudden gusts, you will want to hang on tightly for the duration of the blast. The firm, but relaxed grip, is appropriate when dealing with a steady wind, bridge gratings, rain grooves, etc. Position the bike in the lane so that you have room on either side to move around a little without getting too close to the side of the bridge or other traffic.

You'll need to determine which direction the steady wind is blowing from, then lean into it by countersteering. If the wind is blowing from your right, for example, you'd be pressing forward on the right handgrip. The stronger the wind, the more pressure you'll need to exert. You may feel like you're leaning a long ways over. That's probably because you will be! You may not be comfortable doing that. However, that may be what it takes to counteract the push of the wind. I've been in the back of a line of bikes with a really strong desert wind blowing. All the bikes were leaned to what looked like 45 degrees or a little more. It was really weird to see. Ride at a steady speed while looking up and well ahead. This strategy applies whether on a bridge or a roadway. However, there's other things to be aware of at the same time.

These flags are a good clue that there's a big wind blowing! Be on the watch for things that will block or change the intensity of the steady wind. For example, when riding on a highway, be aware of things like buildings, freeway underpasses, and so on. You need to be prepared to decrease the pressure on the handgrip while the wind is blocked then reapply once back into the full force of the wind.

On a bridge, obviously, you won't find these situations. What you will find, however, are large vehicles coming at you from the other direction. Remember that these can both block a steady wind and create some buffeting of their own. Weirdly enough, the wind blast is usually the worst at the very back of the vehicle just after you pass it. I know, it gets complicated, doesn't it? Increase the space cushion between you and the oncoming vehicle. This will aid both in avoiding the buffeting and in keeping out of the draft that large vehicles produce near them. Yes, in the right circumstances, a large vehicle can suck a motorcycle right into the side of it if the bike is too close.

As to your speed, that's going to be a judgement call. Here's a bridge near my home that I regularly ride over. The wind often howls down the river.

For the most part, speed can be your friend. It's the forward motion and momentum that holds a bike up and keeps it travelling in a given direction. The old physics law of a body in motion wanting to stay in motion thing. There's also the old law of avoiding becoming a hood ornament! That being said, you'll have to decide what's right for the given situation. Taking away too much speed can make a bike more unstable. Adding too much speed, on the other hand, can contribute to riding beyond the limits of the environment and rider at the time. Earlier I mentioned riding at a steady speed. What I'm talking about here is determining what that speed will be.

Ride at a speed that is appropriate for the limit set by the circumstances. If it holds up traffic some, so be it. Like I say, it's a judgement call. Sometimes good judgement might mean not riding under certain conditions.

To review, here's the steps.

Be ready for the wind whether gusts or a steady push. Use SIPDE to identify clues early.

Position the bike to allow maximum space cushion. Ride at a steady speed with your eyes looking up and well ahead.

Compensate for the wind by either countersteering into it or, in the case of gusts, being ready to hold on tightly!

Watch for things that will either block the wind or create wind of their own and be prepared to compensate.

Many things make a difference in how wind affects a bike. Bikes and riders come in all different shapes and sizes. It's not totally true that bigger bikes are less affected by wind. Some large cruisers have solid front wheels, which become sails in the wind. Other big touring and sport touring bikes have large fairings that catch the wind and make them rock from side to side.

Scooters, which you ride if I remember correctly, can actually be fairly stable in a steady wind. They're smaller which provides an interesting contrast. On the one hand, it's a little easier to move them since there's less rolling mass for stability. On the other hand, there's less surface area for the wind to press on. The key is to remember that the smaller wheels can make them feel twitchy. It's very important to be smooth with the handlebar presses. Due to the smaller wheels it often takes less pressure to make them lean so adjust accordingly.

You're right to be concerned about wind. Wind, especially strong gusts, can literally blow a motorcycle off the road.

I still shudder when I think of what happened to me about six years ago while riding my Honda CBR600 to work. I was on a four lane highway with a median in the middle. It was early and morning and traffic was light. I'm cruising along in the right hand lane. The land all around is flat for miles. Literally out of nowhere, a huge gust hit me square in the right side. I'm an alert rider who makes good use of the SIPDE process. There weren't any advance warnings. In an instant I'm in the left lane. Fortunately, nobody was anywhere near me. It could just as easily had a nastier outcome.

You could sum it up this way. "I have no problem with changing lanes. I just like to know where and when, is all!"

That's the only time I've ever had anything that severe happen to me as far as wind goes. I've ridden in some pretty nasty winds and the application of the strategies outlined here have kept me out of trouble.

I hope this answers your question and gives you some helpful tips to apply.

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac

Monday, February 16, 2009

A new kind of rider, part 2.

I really appreciate all the response to the last post. The topic touches something deep inside us, doesn't it? I felt compelled to take it a little further. For one thing, consider it a group reply to the comments. Your expressions are all thought provoking. This is a chance to take your comments and the discussion further down the road.

Secondly, I feel like I want to make it a little more clear where I was coming from. To help with that, I'm going to break it down to three areas. Self perception, gear, and training. Consider this fair warning, though. Use the restroom before we leave as the post might get long. I can't say right now.

Self perception

Several of you mentioned the fact that you knew of scooter riders who were "type specific". These ones are clearly scooter riders and don't want to be motorcycle riders. Even within the scooter genre, they are often brand specific.

That goes on with motorcycle riders as well as scooter riders. I've been dissed by Harley riders, squids, metric cruiser riders, pretty much all of them. Although I have to say the only time I've been on the receiving end of outright hostility has been from Harley riders. I totally recognize that in each case it's not typical of all riders in each group. There just seems to be a lot of division among the two wheeled world.

However, it's not that kind of division that I'm talking about.

In the picture above you see a scooter parked among the motorcycles. I had a chance to visit with the scooter rider. He considers himself a two wheeled enthusiast. Most scooter riders feel the same way. And it's here we find the exact point I was talking about.

Whether on a scooter or a motorcycle, most of us have a passion for riding. That's what a lot of your comments indicated, also. I saw several mentions of how a scooter was a fun way to get around. You appreciate a scooter for what it is. High fuel economy is a bonus, not a critical criteria for riding it in the first place. First and foremost you're a part of the two wheeled world. The people I'm talking about look at things differently.

Dave made an interesting comment on this. He said, "Well there are people who ride scooters and there are scooter riders".

The ones I were referring to are the ones who "ride scooters".

Bear with me, but I think there's actually two reasons these people don't perceive themselves as motorcycle riders.

In the beginning these people start riding purely for economic reasons. Harv commented on how they figure up the costs of the scooter, the cost of filling the SUV, and the savings from the high fuel mileage of the scooter. What it boils down to is putting out less money for fuel. Due to the nature of riding, though, it seldom stays there.

One of two things will happen. Either these people catch the passion, or they give up.

Guess what, folks? Spring and Summer can be nice to ride in. Bad weather eventually comes. Those riding just for fuel economy soon find out that they have no desire at all to ride in inclement weather. Heck, a lot of us don't want to ride in inclement weather, either. The difference is that we plan trips, like Mr. Riepe, blog like most of us here, read bike magazines, and so on. The ones riding solely for cheap transportation put the scooter away and never think of two wheels again until the next season.

I realize that riding in the snow or deep freeze like some of us do is sort of extreme. You think? The people I'm talking about start riding a scooter with an unrealistic picture and don't usually last longer than a few months. Next Spring they'll ride again. A scooter is a way to save money but they don't want to be uncomfortable doing it. Again, these are people without the passion for riding. The scooter is just the same to them as a car but with no roof. There's the danger. Their famous battle cry, which I've heard over and over, is

"It's just a scooter". More on that later.

Sometimes, like the Anonymous commenter from NY, though, the enthusiasm for riding catches on. The scooter was their first bike. It's still up in the air if they'll move on to a standard motorcycle. Reading the comment, though, you can see the enthusiasm for riding come through. This is a motorcyclist that rides a scooter. I sincerely hope that multitudes more find these first steps to be just as compelling.

There can be a hitch in the journey, though.

The following is my own opinion. I also realize it's really easy to over simplify things. I'm not going to write long qualifying statements on each paragraph. So generalizations are going to have to work for us. Feel free to express your own opinions in a comment.

As a very active instructor I've had the chance to talk to thousands of new riders. This includes scooter riders. I believe this explanation helps understand the reaction of the lady I described in the last post. Hear me out and see what you think.

People starting to ride scooters for fuel economy are car drivers looking for a cheaper alternative. They are still thinking like car drivers. These are the people that we've blogged about. We call them bogies, or The Enemy, or brain dead people in boxes, and so on. There's reasons we write and talk about these things. These car drivers, in turn, are a part of John Q. Public. Like ideas riders have about drivers, Mr. and Ms. Public have definite ideas about motorcyclists, or "bikers". You know what these are.

Like in any other aspect of life, the group is judged by the actions of the very visible few who chose to think only of themselves. I don't have to go into the whole list here. You know what's on this list, though, don't you? Loud pipes, stunting, and other irresponsible behaviour top the list. On a more subtle level, I've probably done things myself that didn't exactly put us in the best light. Maybe you have, too. Like riding too close to the back of a car that we feel is holding us up. Once we get the chance we pass quite aggressively. What double yellow lines? While not in the same class as some other things riders do, those who don't understand motorcycles could easily misinterpret these actions in a negative light. Mr. and Ms. Public may or may not have their own personal experiences in the regard. I'll bet they have plenty of family and friends who are more than willing to fill in the blanks with their own biased stories.

Now Mr. or Ms. Public is on a scooter. Once there, they start to realize that they're on two wheels. Dangerously close to being associated with these "undesirables", they hold that image at arm's length. Reason and logic should dictate that there's a whole big group of responsible and courteous riders out there. Whoever said the human race was logical and reasonable? All people can think about are the images burned into their brains. They want cheaper transportation but God forbid anyone would associate them with any sort of two wheeled low lifes.

I can still see this lady visibly retreating from me and what I'm saying. It's horrible to her that anyone would even think this middle class business woman would even remotely be connected to "those people".

Thus the stiff arm routine. "It's only a scooter" becomes the defensive line. Most people can't relax and enjoy being what they are. Don't believe it? Ok, how many people around you can you think of that are clinging to their "status" symbols? Come on, quick, think of exceptions. Ok, admit it. Appearance is everything to most people. This is where it gets dangerous for those riding on two wheels. That's where we'll go in the next post.

Stay tuned. We're just getting started.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, February 13, 2009

A new kind of rider.

"I'm not a biker, or motorcyclist, or whatever it is you people call yourselves. I just ride a scooter because it's cheaper transportation."

Ok, lady. Whatever you say. Her statement was delivered with a bit of indignation behind it. Although it was a little difficult for her to muster too much of her own dignity. As you can see by the leaves, I took this picture last Fall. After the rider had left, of course. I didn't want to antagonize her more. A sudden shower had given us all a soaking. For my part, things were fine. My 'Stich had kept me dry. The lady wasn't so lucky. Or so well prepared.

She was wet and bedraggled. This was a lunch time trip to the mall. Sensible shoes for office work, black slacks, a blue blouse, and an all too painfully thin leather dress jacket didn't offer much rain protection. An open face helmet made sure she got some rain in the face. What ordinarily would have been nicely groomed hair was now wet and tangled where the helmet didn't cover it. I felt sorry for the poor gal. In a sincere effort to be of help, sharing my wealth of experience as a gesture to make her world better, I explained the benefits of proper "motorcycle" riding gear. It would help her avoid going back to the office looking like she did now.

Only to be met with her cutting remark. Which I can partly understand. Hinting that she looked a mess probably didn't win me any points!

Hey, I got thick skin. I'd have just brushed off her attitude if she'd been the only instance. The attitude this woman had expressed, however, isn't an isolated case. I'm seeing similar reactions more frequently. When gas prices shot way up last Summer, scooter sales spiked accordingly. I'm not alone in seeing a new type of rider. Our training program is starting to think of ways to deal with this new attitude.

Always before, in my experience, scooter riders have considered themselves to be a part of a bigger group. Scooters were often stepping stones to riding motorcycles. Even if a person decided they really liked scooters and that's all they wanted to ride, they still thought of themselves as a motorcyclist. The same thing applied to cruiser riders, sport bike riders, long distance riders, and so on. We each had our segment within the whole, but all of us considered ourselves a part of the single track, two wheeled fraternity.

For example, I still feel that draw even if it involves a different kind of riding than what I do. Tuesday night, for instance, I was in Kirkland, Washington. I don't even want to talk about riding up in the snow. It wasn't bright, I underestimated what the weather would do, and shouldn't have done it. Wednesday morning brought a sheet of ice. I nearly dropped Elvira trying to get out of the motel parking lot. Fortunately, I was staying within a mile of the home office. So I left her in the lot and walked. By mid-afternoon the sun was out and we had an awesome ride home. Anyway, I digress.

I'm sitting in the Cafe Veloce stuffing my face with Chicken Parmigiana, one of my favorite meals. This restaurant features a vintage Italian motorcycle theme, plus it serves good food. Since I was walking, I had a beer. Not seeing anything familiar on the menu, I opted to try the Laughing Buddha rice ale. Not bad, but I wouldn't order it again. I'm kind of a porter and stout guy. It's called stout because the more you drink the stouter you get.

Anyway, the Speed Channel was up on the overhead televisions. "Superbikes" was on. I tuned into that once, thinking it had to do with race bikes. Turns out it's a program about stunters. By the way, I was actually surprised to see anything bike related on that channel at all. It seems they reluctantly show some of the motorcycle races. The channel's first love seems to be Nascar. They should rename the channel "All Nascar, all the time". Oh, there is that "American Thunder" program. I've watched it a time or two. Mainly just to see if Michelle Smith will ever bend her arms. Have you ever noticed that she nevers seems to bend her elbows? It's like somebody told her the secret to looking like she was more, ummmm, "endowed up top" was to squish them with her upper arms. Now she's afraid to move her arms and spoil the effect, I think. Dang, I digressed again, didn't I?

The whole point is that, even though I'm not a stunter rider, ( at least not on purpose ) I still was interested to see the bikes. I'm a motorcyclist. It's who I am. It's what I do. I'm interested in all things motorcycle.

Not so this new kind of rider. They consider themselves to be purely practical riders. Gas is expensive, scooters get good fuel mileage, ergo less money spent on gas. Period.

These folks seriously consider the scooter to be some sort of two wheeled equivalent to a plain wrapper sedan. I'm okay with that up to that point. Goodness knows, I've been a vocal force in encouraging the world to view motorcycles as practical transportation. Scooters totally qualify and serve a great need. I want to make it totally clear that, even though I don't ride one, I'm a big fan and supporter of scooters and scooter riders. We're all "us" if you know what I'm saying.

In an interesting irony, the line between "scooter" and "motorcycle" is becoming blurred. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference as one approaches me. If bigger motors, more cargo space, and less shifting make riding more attractive to potential customers, that's a good thing.

In contrast, while the lines between machines are being blurred, the rift in attitudes is becoming more distinct. I'm meeting more scooter riders who don't think they need motorcycle gear. They use a helmet because the law requires it. No, this isn't a statement on helmet law attitudes. I see a lot of scooter riders in business wear. Slacks and dress shoes. No gloves. Just like in their cars.

Further, the biggest problem is that these folks don't think they need any kind of training at all. What's so hard about riding a scooter, they ask? A lot of these people are on scooters that don't require an endorsement in Oregon. If the scooter is big enough to require an endorsement, the skills test at DMV isn't too tough on a small scooter. Again, they get the endorsement because the law says so, not because they want to be a "motorcyclist" with an endorsement.

By the way, this scooter rider didn't really ride in the snow. This is just one of those big piles left in the parking lot that takes weeks to melt. The scoot actually belongs to a man who runs the Nail Salon where the scooter is parked. He's the typical example of just trying to spend less money on fuel.

So the question is, how do we help these folks see the need to take scooter riding seriously? We all know they can get severely injured or killed on a scooter just like on a motorcycle. Proper gear and skill training are critical to anyone on two wheels, whether the bike shifts or not. I can live with them not considering themselves one of "us". I hate that fact that they're riding without the critical tools they need. I cringe whenever I hear about a crash, let alone a fatality.

The problem sort of took care of itself over the Winter. Most of these folks found out about the harsh realities of bad weather and worse gear. Gas prices have gone down, which has helped ease the crunch a little. However, the warm weather is coming soon. Gas prices are headed back up. The economy has people cutting back on spending. Which means it's possible new scooter sales will be down, but people are going to ride the ones they already have. It would be good to find a way to reach these folks.

I'm also curious about you all. I know a lot of you who read here are scooter riders. How do you view yourself? I'm presuming that you consider yourself a motorcylist since you read my blog. I'm not personally a scooter rider so there must be some other draw and connection.

Are you seeing similar attitudes or is it just an Oregon thing?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 09, 2009

One more police bike.

Brrrrr! I'm pretty sure the mercury was over freezing. Yet, as I walked among the bikes, I felt a definite freeze. Quartering about like a dog picking up a scent, I tried to find its icy source. Back and forth, warmer and colder, I was narrowing it down. Finally, the process of elimination brought me to an unhappy conclusion. The source of the chill was a certain little Japanese beauty.

That's right. The vibes I was getting from Elvira weren't exactly going to be the prime ingredients in a morning Happy Meal. It was a strange feeling. Oh, I've lived an adventuresome life. Many's the time I've felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Many of those times I've been on a bike. What was weird was the fact I wasn't on a bike at all. I'm standing innocently getting ready to start another day of riding. What have I done to deserve all these negative waves?

Come to find out, it was what I didn't do.

They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Folks, I stand here before you to tell you that ain't nothin'! I'm telling you that no fire burns as hot as that which comes from an overlooked motorcycle. She gets plenty of attention. What this girl's after is public recognition. The look I was getting from Elvira burned out my eyeballs and formed ice daggers inside my chest. Both at the same time. Want to see what a really unhappy bike looks like? I'm warning you, be prepared. It's not pretty.

This was just before the flames shot out and burned me alive. My sleek, sexy, mistress was deeply offended. How could I talk about all those other models being used as police bikes and not mention the FJR? As long as we were on the subject, why didn't the FJR get top billing? The questions went on, beating on my head along with the fire from her eyes.

Once I managed to weakly pull my helmet on, I could finally think a little.

How do you win an argument like this? You guys know that when I say "win" I'm not always talking about coming out ahead right now. It's more like "how do I get out of this, save face as a man, and do the least long term damage down the road?"

My first thought was to do the typical "manly" thing. By golly, I bought her and I could just as easily sell her and get another one just like her. She'd better be doing what I wanted and be happy about it. Remember, that was my first thought, not what I actually said. Elvira and I both knew the power the bike has. Oh sure, a bike can be sold. It's what happens in the meantime that can hurt.

Picture a gentle cough and hiccup of the motor. Waaaay out in the boonies. Nobody around for miles. You've been on those kind of roads, haven't you? The bike knows she just has to bide her time. A rider like me will be back out there before too long. She knows I won't just leave her on the side of the road for the vultures to fight over. One way or the other, she'll get home. In the meantime, I'm the one who's going to pay. Let's try another tack, instead.

I could try reasoning. My post was about police bikes used by American law enforcement. No offense to Elvira, but there's not an American force using the FJR. Elvira's cousins are providing sterling service in other countries, but not here. She's just got to understand that. My bubble was popped because that isn't a totally true statement. The first FJR picture is being used by some American agency somewhere in the USA. Dang. I hate it when she's right.

So, in the spirit of "compromise" I'm putting some pictures of FJR police bikes around the world. The last picture is significant. It's a reminder that there's plenty of other girls on this globe. Both two-legged and two-wheeled. Are you listening, Elvira?

Miles and smiles,


P.S. Thanks to Dean for providing the links for these picture. They came from here. Click on the different country flags to see the rest of the photos.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

A new American police bike.

There have been a few tried and true brands being used as police bikes. Once in a while a different manufacturer enters the fray. Such is the case with Buell. They're now offering a bike based on the Ulysses. More on that later. First, I thought I'd share a few things you might find interesting as a lead in.

As you've read, here, I've been privileged to participate in training motor officers. That's an interesting world. It's fun and deadly serious at the same time. Police training is like working with civilian experienced riders but taken to a much higher level. Both in the skills we teach and in the extremely competitive nature of the officers. Things can get pretty intense. I've seen a few crashes when a cop pushed it a little too far. The officers are used to a chain of command so they give the instructors some respect. However, they're great at sniffing out weakness so instructors can't live on the hierarchy very long. Respect has to be earned. Like I say, this is serious business.

Taking it to a bigger track for high speed training gets even more intense. Some of the officers are probably better riders than I'll ever hope to be. And that's saying something. Take this officer. You can see Sophie in the background. I snapped the picture while getting ready to unleash him. In a "chase the rabbit" exercise, he's waiting for two other motors to pursue him. This officer could run anybody down, anywhere. Funny, too, because off the bike he looks like somebody's genial grandfather. Just don't mess with him!

This is all just training, as serious as it may be. In the real world, much is demanded of the officer and the bikes they ride.

Various bikes have been used. This isn't an attempt to list them all. Japanese police have used Honda VFR800's and British police have used Norton and Manx bikes, to name a few other examples. I'm going to stick to a few American highlights.

One of the first bikes to be used were the Indians and Harley Davidsons. Pretty natural choice to use American made bikes. I still see Harleys being used by a lot of departments. Sorry to say I've never seen an Indian bike still in use.

This photo is from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's archives. Their motorcycle patrol division still uses the Harleys. The reason I used this photo is because they also use a totally different kind of bike as a supplement to the Harleys. More on that in a bit.

If you're interested in a short history of the use of Harley Davidsons as police bikes, Harley's website has a page devoted to that. Click here if you'd care to check it out.

Weirdly enough, it's the early police bikes that helped start the old "lay it down" thing. Effective brakes were non-existent. If an emergency stop were required while riding at higher speeds, the only real way to stop the bike was to lay it down and make it an anchor. That's what officers were taught. Thank goodness that brake technology caught up to the speeds bikes are now capable of. I just wish the old wive's tale would go away!

Another bike that came along is the venerable Kawasaki KZ1000P. This bike was featured in the old TV series "Chips".

This photo is from Wikipedia and shows some "P" model bikes in downtown L.A. Just a couple of trivia things from the TV series. The bikes used by Ponch and Jon were actually the "C" models. These bikes had an oval windshield instead of the full fiberglass fairing of the "P" model shown here. On Wikipedia it claims that Eric Estrada had never ridden a motorcycle before. He took eight weeks of training to be able to ride for the series. Apparently, he didn't actually have a valid motorcycle endorsement the whole time he was involved in the series. He finally got it after three tries while trying out for a later reality show. Interesting irony, isn't it?

Anyway, the KZ1000 motor is practically bulletproof. The one big complaint is the flex in the frame. At any speed over about 80 mph, the frame flexes like a jelly spined snake. Enter the BMW.

Here's the ad used to promote the RT series police bikes.

The BMW is widely used by agencies these days. The bikes were first offered as the RT1150 version. Now most are the RT1200. I loved the look of the front end of the 1150 because it had such flowing, sweet lines. The 1200 looks like parts were just stacked on top of each other.

I took this photo of the two side by side. The 1200 is on the left and the 1150 on the right. Everyone has their own preferences so your opinion might vary.

What all the officers do agree on, though, is that the 1200 is a significant improvement in power. Both bikes have great cornering abilities and stable suspensions as I can attest to by riding and chasing them on the tracks.

One not so bright spot is the maintenance issues surfacing recently. Final drives are one thing that's been problematic. A motor officer from Southern Oregon told me that the letters BMW are starting to stand for "Buy More Warranty". I hope these things get straightened out eventually. These are awesome motorcycles. I've seen some GS dual sport versions being used by agencies in the Southern Oregon Coastal Dunes.

Another player is Honda. They've been offering the ST1300 as a police model for a while. Here's a picture of one belonging to the Oregon State Police.

Of course, you know I've been a staunch fan of the Honda sport tourers. Following these bikes on the track, it seems they scrape earlier than the BMWs. Earlier, even, than Sophie. Still, they're reliable and quite a number of agencies are using them. The one concern is instability at triple digit speeds. There have been a few officers involved in high speed crashes blamed on this problem. However, for every bike that was deemed unstable, there's a much larger number that have shown no issues at all while being ridden that fast. It's like some sort of random steering head bearing thing.

What the BMW and the Honda have going for them is outstanding ABS. The systems cycle quickly and smoothly. In fact, it was standing next to these bikes as I coached 70 mph quick stops that made me go buy a new bike with ABS. Harley Davidson is offering ABS on the police bikes, too. To the best of my knowledge, though, their system cycles more slowly than the Honda and BMW. Kawasaki hasn't offered a police bike since 2005, I believe, although many are still in use.

Speaking of the Harley, there was an officer from Milwaukie on an older Harley. In the maximum braking exercises, he was getting some outstandingly short stops. With no ABS! He didn't act at all nervous as the front wheel chirped. That's one of the bravest men I've ever known!

I mentioned the Oklahoma Highway Patrol earlier. They are still using the Harley Davidson but a new bike has been added.

Using drug money, a division has been added that uses the Suzuki Hayabusa. These bikes are used for actual patrols and other police work. The main intent, though, was to better interact with the local sport bike riders. Their motto is "No Squids".

Not all the bikes are so obviously marked. I'm sure there's more than a few sport bike riders who were totally shocked to be pulled over by one of the Kings of Sportbikes!

There's a blog that is updated very infrequently by this division. The archives are kind of fun to check out, either way. You can find it here.

It's been kind of a long journey but we finally come back to the Buell. Here's a picture of their offering in the police bike category.

This is the Buell Ulysses XB12XP bike, based on the standard Ulysses Adventure. I don't know much about these bikes. Dean W is actually the one who made me aware of it. Some magazine articles have given the standard bike positive reviews. Some people have told me the seat amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

I can see some situations where it would be advantageous to have a more so-called dual sport bike. What's really interesting to me is that the website touts the passenger capability as a selling feature. It makes me wonder how well they really know cops! The bag configuration is sure to be changed, I think.

Just in case you're interested, you can check out the specs here.

I hope this works out well for Buell / Harley Davidson. Since there's been some good, but not "perfect" bikes out there, it would seem there's room for new players. I always like to see American companies do well, too. I hope an agency around here decides to try one or two. Maybe I can get my hands on one to check it out personally!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sun's out!

Suddenly the ice and fog lifted. I ignored it for a while. What it looked like was one of those Claritin commercials. The world's all fuzzy and then the gray gets peeled away. Underneath it all is sun and clear skies. Colors are suddenly more vivid. Sad, dull, people in the commercial are suddenly rejoicing. Looking through my visor I thought it was television. Turns out it was the real thing.

I realized that fact when the driver of the van in front of me slammed on the brakes. The tires squealed and I had to reach for my own brakes instead of the mute button. I've got to confine myself to watching the Food Network. Then I'll know if it's real or television by whether there's something to eat in my field of vision.

It was a day for people to go somewhat crazy. After so much fog and cold, we actually had some sunshine. Like bugs, the riders were out to enjoy the sunshine. Everybody came out to frolic in the sunshine.

Before we go further, we need to get one thing perfectly straight. Irondad does not frolic, ever!

I admit to riding with a grin on my face once in a while. A grin does not a frolic make.

I'm out on the bike almost every day. Sometimes you get cold, sometimes you get too hot, and sometimes it's just right. Yesterday was a little short of "just right" but it wasn't bad. Having a call to make in Lebanon, I decided to try to look up an old friend.

That's a whole story by itself which I won't describe here. Suffice it to say he has several Subway franchises. One happens to be inside this Wal Mart. He wasn't there.

I did notice, looking over the parking lot, that it pretty much illustrates motorcycle commuting. One bike in a sea of cars. One day it will change for the better, I'm sure.

The area South and West of Lebanon has some great backroads. Twisties are confined to a few "S" curves here and there. If you just want to ride and enjoy some solitude, though, these are the roads where you want to be.

On a whim, I caught Highway 99 in the middle of Tangent. There's a seed company called Barenbrug something or other. My brain always wants to say "Barenburg" for some reason. Anyway, Bradley, of Troubadour on a Triumph fame, works there. I thought I'd go sneak a picture of his bike and Elvira together. I saw what I thought was his bike up by some black tinted windows. They kind of look like a Darth Vader wall. I hate to admit it, but I declined to go up to the windows and check the bike out, let alone ride Elvira up there for a picture.

I had no idea who was behind those windows. Unlike Obama and the window, I figured somebody would call the cops or something. I usually like stirring the pot, but just wasn't in the mood at the time. I've never formally met Bradley, so that was another consideration. I didn't know how he would take it. So I rode little circles of indecision in the parking lot. Finally, I hit the highway and went for easier game.

Linn Benton Community College is just down the street. I moved my targeting scope sights towards Balisada's Rebel. I believe my hunt was successful. At least some lucky Rebel got its picture taken with the famous IRNDAD plated bike, Elvira.

Once more I found myself unsure of where I was. I knew it wasn't television. I was thinking more of a nightmare. Suddenly I've become miniaturized and placed in an ant colony. I've always wondered what it would be like to live in an ant hill. Classes must have just released. Like trails made once ants have found a food source, there was a constant stream of students. I tried real hard not to get any in my tire treads. Taking this picture, I found it wasn't a matter of getting a picture with nobody else in it. It was a choice of how many people would be in the background. Squeezing the shutter quickly, I managed to get only one in the background.

You see her hiding her face? That's because I never took my helmet off. She's probably wondering what kind of pervert is doing this kind of thing. Relax, girl, I'm after the bike, not you. Come to think of it, Balisada's going to start wondering what kind of pervert is stalking her! Well, that's me. Stirring up suspicion and profligacy wherever I go.

If you look in the background, you can see a few people are riding to work or school. That's encouraging to see. There's a few more that don't show up in the photo.

Once I was finished with my stalking duties I headed for DMV. The plate expires this month for Elvira. I tried not taking my helmet off in DMV but they wouldn't serve me until I did. Oh well, I was hoping I'd intimidate some people ahead of me into leaving early. I'm happy to report that IRNDAD will be running the roads for the next two years!

Miles and smiles,