Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nobody told her.

Nobody told her you "couldn't" use a 150cc Vespa scooter for a track bike. Let alone a 1960 two stroke model. So here she was, sitting among a group of 16 riders. Front row and happy to be there. Nervous, but excited. Towards the back of the class were the Harley riders from ABATE. They made up about a third of the group. The rest of the riders were on bikes ranging from a Ninja to a CBR600 F4i to a scattering of sport touring bikes. Hers was the only really small ride.

You may be thinking that this is going to be one of those amazing stories. A story of how a person who shouldn't be able to do something came and conquered. That maybe this gal on her small scooter came in and blazed her way around the course, leaving the other riders in the dust. If so, you'd be on the wrong track. No pun intended. Okay, maybe a little.

On the other hand, it's not a story of how a rider came in and totally held everybody up. Of how they failed miserably. That wouldn't be accurate, either. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I'll expand more in a bit. For now, let's just say it's a story of how someone perhaps unkowingly bit off a little more than they could chew. It's about how someone naively jumped into the deep end yet came away with more than if they'd stayed on the side of the pool.

A quick word on photos. I know the last two photos look nearly the same. I'm exercising my blogger's privilege of including both. The top one shows Elvira more closely. She's sporting stickers sent to me by Krysta. First time I've ever put stickers on a bike. I just like the second photo. There's something about how the line of bikes points from the bottom right of the frame towards the corner in the distance.

I have no photos of Tracy, the rider of the Vespa. At the time I took the pictures of the Vespa simply because it was the first time I've ever had a small scooter in an ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) class. We've had a few MP-3's and a Silverwing before. Nothing this small, however. I really wasn't thinking about doing a blog post concerning the event. Six days have gone by since and I keep reflecting on the day. I finally came to the conclusion that underneath the surface was something worth sharing.

Tracy had a little experience riding to work and doing errands on the Vespa. Which made me like her already. Somewhere she'd seen some scooter racing and decided it looked like fun. Her enthusiasm was higher than her skill level, however. The ART class looked like a good way to raise the skill level. So here she was. Jumping right into the deep end, so to speak. I was teaching the classroom session. Tracy was fully engaged. She innocently asked a few questions that made some of the other students roll their eyes back in their heads. Which just made me warm to Tracy even more. There wasn't an ounce of pretension about her. Tracy was there to learn.

Interestingly, some of her questions weren't as strange as some of the other students might have thought. What they failed to take into account is that her questions were based on her experience riding the Vespa. There's definite differences between how a small scooter reacts and what one might expect on a bigger bike. Same basic concepts but each with their own nuances. Fortunately, I've become a lot more familiar with scooters and was able to answer her questions in such a way that it applied to her riding.

That's something I have a lot of you to thank for. So many of you in this blogger community of ours ride scooters. I've learned a lot from your posts and the discussions we've all had. The last few years of associating with you all has made me take scooters so much more seriously than in the past. During the same time period it seems like scooter sales have really increased. Which means we see a lot more scooter riders come through our classes. I beg rides from scooter riders both in class and otherwise. I want to be able to speak from the perspective our students are feeling. Through the sharing that you've done, you all have accomplished more to help your fellow scooterists than you're probably aware of! I offer my heartfelt thanks to you all.

Tracy has a personalized license plate. One of the things I appreciated about her is that she didn't come in as a "female" rider. Oh sure, she's well aware of her femininity as you can see by the plate. In the class Tracy just wanted to be treated like any other rider. No more, no less. It was funny that in one way she actually acted more like a man. Tracy wanted to take a couple of laps with me on the back of my bike. On the other hand, she really wasn't too wild about being a passenger. We made it work.

Maybe I should offer a quick explanation of my second sentence of the previous paragraph. On the other hand, maybe I'm doing a little jumping into the deep end of my own.

In order to avoid getting in over my head, I'm going to keep this narrowly focused. Men often come in thinking they know more than they do. It's not based on experience. It's based on the fact that, since they're guys, this riding thing should be in their chromosomes. Unfortunately, this common attitude can get in the way of their actually being able to apply themselves to really learning. Women often come in to classes showing the other side of the coin. They've been told that women don't do certain things. Or if they try it, the women will never be as good as the men. Back to the old chromosome thing. What really pisses me off is when a woman's male partner is the one telling her this. AAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!

How about this? Everyone comes to class. At the door we strip off all the limiting labels. Starting with an open mind, let's see where we actually end up based on our abilities. I'm pretty sure we'll all be better off for it.

That's why I finally decided to write this post about Tracy. You see, Tracy didn't "know" that our ART class wasn't the place for an inexperienced rider on a small scooter. Nobody told her that she "can't" do this. Tracy came in with no preconceived limits. Her mind was open to whatever the day would show her. What Tracy took away from the class would be based on actual experience. She would try things she might not otherwise. Somewhere in business there's a saying going around. It's something like:

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land high."

So where did Tracy land?

Her maximum braking greatly improved. At first she continually slid the rear tire. The scooter is a three speed with a clutch lever on the left front grip. There's a brake pedal on the floorboard of the scooter. It sticks up fairly high. Properly modulating the rear brake takes some work. Now Tracy knows how to do it right.

She can swerve with the best of them. As far as cornering goes, well, that can use a bit of work still. The Vespa is a three speed. Tracy rarely hit third gear. The scooter had a bit more available than Tracy did. Partly it's experience. Partly it's due to the small scooter. She hugged the inside line a lot. It's hard to just let the scooter aggressively drift out wide on the big sweepers. Tracy would pull off on the front straight to let faster riders by then go after it again.

I believe that Tracy left with a higher skill level than when she arrived. I also feel that she attained a higher skill level than if she'd attended a parking lot based class. Most of the real world happens outside parking lots. Tracy also still has some definite limits. At the end of class she told me that she knows she still has a lot to learn. More than she thought, actually. How does she know? Real life testing.

That's the point I wanted to share. We all need to know where we are in our riding skills. The question to ask is this. Does what we "know" reflect the reality or just what we tell ourselves?

Food for thought, isn't it?

Speaking of food for thought, for the next post I'm turning the keyboard over to Dean. He's going to address a topic that most riders have pretty strong feelings about. You all come back, now, ya hear?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 24, 2009

Grace under pressure!

This is a public thank you to the Security Department Staff at Linn Benton Community College. Their grace and willingness to help salvaged what could have been a tough weekend for us. I know that they don't read this blog. However, Balisada does and these are her colleagues. I'd like to ask you to pass this along for me, if you would be so kind. Feel free to point them to this post if you'd like. I've thanked them several times in person. It seems like more people ought to know what a fine and professional group this is.

Here is the class photo from our newest batch of apprentice instructors. This was taken late Sunday afternoon. The people are bone tired after a long weekend of intense concentration both on the range and in the classroom. Yet, you can see the enthusiasm for teaching in their faces. Also shining through is the satisfaction of conquest. They've passed the first big step. The next step will be teaching a real class with a Mentor instructor watching their backs.

On the lower right in the maroon shirt is my fellow trainer, Mary Kaye. We've worked together for years. MK, as we call her, has that unique gift of humor blended just right with professionalism. Backing it all up is a tremendous well of knowledge and ability. Between the two of us we've hopefully gotten this group off to a good start. May their individual journies be as fulfilling and fun as my own has been. Either way, they will always have a special spot in our hearts. One of these days we'll be saying "We knew you when you were just a baby!"

The man standing on the right is already an instructor. He and another instructor spent the weekend doing error runs on training bikes. The new instructors got a lot of practice coaching our two "challenged" students. The relationship between the new instructors and the experienced instructors doing error runs grew into a sort of love / hate thing!

This instructor prep went smoothly despite a big surprise on Saturday morning.

LBCC ( short for Linn Benton Community College ) is closed until just after Labor Day for heavy maintenance. We had been scheduled to use the college this last weekend since early in the year. So we showed up, ready to start classroom at 7:30 AM. Somewhere along 7:15 we saw a college IT guy wandering the hallways. He asked us if we knew that all the power to the campus was going to be shut down for half a day. Even worse, in our particular building, the electrical outlets would be hot, but the lights would be shut down until mid-week. I guess it has something to do with the fact that the lights are run by 277 volts and that is the part of the system to be worked on.

LBCC has put us in the Science and Technology Building. We used to be in the Health Occupations Building. Somebody decided to group classes more by type. I figure that motorcycle safety training belongs squarely in the Health category, don't you? Anyway, we got moved. We have a key to our classrooms and all works well. Except for the fact that the classroom we were using has outside windows way up high that are covered up. We would be in the dark for hours.

To top it off, we had a class of actual students due in for another session. This would be followed by yet another group of students that were currently out riding. There would be very little light and for sure no air conditioning. Tough situation. Electing to take point, I called Security and talked to a man named Jason.

I explained the situation to Jason and asked if we could be moved. For whatever reason, our office and LBCC had not communicated on the matter of the power. I don't blame the college. We're one program out of hundreds that use the campus. The important thing is that I needed a couple of different classrooms pretty quickly.

In the background I could hear Jason conferring with another individual. In hardly any time, Jason told us to hang tight and he would be over. Well, that's my summary, not his exact words. As good as his word, Jason came and led me to another building. Here's another great part.

Instead of just dumping us somewhere to get me off his back, Jason took me to what is almost the newest building on campus. I think there's only one other newer. Jason opened two adjacent rooms. Both rooms had large windows which let in abundant natural light. We'd still have no power but it would work. We'd miss out on showing some overhead transparencies. What a great excuse to practice our drawing skills on the whiteboard!

So we moved everything over for all three sets of students. I coordinated with the other instructors so everyone knew where to go. Thanks to the Security folks, and Jason in particular, we managed beautifully.

What complicated things more for Security was the fact that the rooms we now resided in contained computer equipment. The door locks could not be left in the unlocked position. If you shut the door you were locked out. Jason asked us not to prop the door open when we left. We also didn't have our own key for this building. We had to go back and forth a couple of times between classroom and range. I had to call Security again to gain access at noon. Jason came back and unlocked the door for us at lunchtime. We received prompt service with good cheer.

The class act wasn't confined to Jason. We started out in the parking lot on Sunday morning. Lunch for our instructor group was to be delivered to campus. The phone call came. Lunch had arrived. I called Security once again and asked to be let in. This time a man named Chris ( sorry if the spelling is wrong ) answered the phone. The service was so quick that Chris and I met up part way to the building.

It might not seem like much in the telling. All I can say is that the service provided by Security was huge in making our weekend a success. The schedule is packed. Time is critical. The quick service, the grace and professionalism, and the wonderfully helpful attitude pulled us out of the quicksand. These folks have my deepest appreciation and gratitude!

This was a special circumstance. It's important to note that we deal with the Security Department on a fairly regular basis. Even though we have a key to the classroom, we still need to have the main doors and restrooms opened. Once in a while we need a car towed off our range. By the way, we don't have the car impounded. We just have it moved to a nearby lot at our expense. Our relationship with the Security folks has been nothing but positive. Sometimes not so much with the people who get their cars moved. On the other hand, I'm also careful to treat the Security staff with respect and appreciation, as well. Hmmm, maybe there's a clue here about how folks should relate to each other!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, August 21, 2009

Tight squeeze!

I was up at Adventist Hospital in Portland recently. They've built a new building. Attached to it is a two story parking structure. The designers were kind enough to provide motorcycle only parking spaces. However, it seems more of an afterthought on how to use otherwise wasted space than a hospitable gesture.

There's probably a political statement to be made here but I'm not going to make it. I just thought it was an interesting situation to share.

Here's a photo of what I saw.

It looks like a pretty tight squeeze to me! The space also slopes uphill from where I was standing to take the photo. Good thing the Wing's probably got reverse, eh? It also doesn't look like more than two or three bikes would fit. Smaller bikes could pass each other to get out. If another bike were to park in front of the Wing I don't think it could do the same.

On the other hand, there's not much chance a car driver will back into the bikes! No parking charges are involved so maybe protection is why the rider parked here.

I prefer more wide open parking like this.

You know how us outlaws are. We need room to run!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Now what?

This comment just came in. It was spurred from a post I wrote in July. My objective is to provide some support and encouragement. The comment was posted anonymously. If you log in you can request to be notified of follow-up comments. Without logging in, you can't. This is my attempt to ensure you see my reply. It's a great comment. I'm sure a lot of new riders find themselves in this same situation. So this post is directed to you in particular. I hope some others will find some value in it, as well. It's also a reminder to the more experienced riders of how much benefit our reaching out to new riders can be.

Here's the comment:

I just discovered your blog, and it's making me feel much better! I took the Team Oregon BRT class this past weekend and was terrified--had never been on a motorcycle before and heard all the "you'll die" stories for years.

Toward the end of the second day, my instructor told me that I "wasn't ready for this" without further explanation. Needless to say, I didn't pass the skills test--but more disappointing was that I left feeling as if there wasn't an option for me to become a safe rider.

You're spot-on when you talk about building trust with students--it makes an enormous difference if a student feels she can trust you and that you want her to succeed, especially when they tell you how much of motorcycling is mental!

First off, welcome to my humble blog! Thank you for taking the time to offer the comment. You're not alone in your feelings, by any means. You are poised on the brink of a wonderful two-wheeled journey. My instructor journey was started in the same place, if I'm correct about where you are. I taught twenty some classes my first year at Lane Community College.

I'm sorry you didn't get more of an explanation. I'm sure the instructor meant well. I have often been faced with telling a student that they aren't ready for the street, even if they passed the skill evaluation. I figure it's my responsibility to be tactful, but honest. The other side of the coin is that a student may not always recognize that fact for themselves. The instructor pats the student on the back, hands them their card, and sends them on their way. What is the student to think?

"Must be okay, I guess. The professional didn't say anything different."

Sometimes a new rider can get into trouble under these circumstances. So I am kindly honest. However, I always make an effort to outline the next steps. This part was missing in your course, it seems. Instructors are people, too, and not all relate to students the same way I would. Maybe some instructors don't care enough. Maybe I care too much.

I'm sure that you are well aware of where you stand as to capabilities and limits. That brings us to the next thing to think about.

The best way to approach a Basic Rider Training class, or any training, is to think of it as a chance to explore in a safe environment. Sure, the instructors and students all hope the eventual outcome is passing the evaluations and moving on. Pass or fail isn't the primary objective, however. It's the journey of discovery that's most important.

Think about it for a bit and you'll see it's true. There's a variety of riders that come to our classes. Some, like you, have never been on a motorcycle before. Some have already determined that they want to ride. Some come to see if motorcycling is for them. Being in our safe environment is a great move. The alternative is what I often see. A new motorcycle is purchased. Training is eschewed. A nasty crash happens. After the newbie recovers, they decide that riding isn't for them.

Pass or fail, the new rider comes away with a pretty accurate picture of where they are. In other words, they know which skills they've conquered and which ones still need some work. They also get a chance to see how they react when under pressure. That's provided by the skill evaluation. As you vividly remember, students feel a great deal of pressure when doing the evaluation exercises. Nothing like having someone with a clip board watching you, is there? On top of it all, everyone's a bit tired. As an instructor I'm well aware of what a student is feeling. Nonetheless, I have to sit back and watch. During the course I've done all I can to be of help and encouragement. At some point it's the student's turn to show me what they now own.

It might not seem fair that the evaluation is a pressure situation. All I can say is that there is pressure on the streets. Failing there can easily mean a lot worse things than getting points in an exercise. A student might feel that they will gain experience and things will be easier to deal with then. That statement is entirely true. However, a student is going to have to ride to get that experience. Which means they will be out in traffic, etc. I'm sorry, but a left-turning car, or a corner that we got into a little too hot, and so on, isn't going to cut anyone any slack just because they're not experienced, yet. Injuries aren't on a sliding scale tied to experience. That's pretty darn critical to keep in mind. Not to be bummed out, but to be aware and prepare accordingly. So, during the evaluation, you've got to show me that you have a basic mastery of some skills.

After all, when a student gets their completion card it means DMV will waive any further testing. So guess where a new rider could be the very next day? That's why instructors will tell a student that they aren't ready for the street. It's rare that I tell a student that they shouldn't be riding at all. Really rare. I'm sure your instructor was talking about street riding but wasn't clear.

I'm sorry this seems to have rambled on a bit. It just seemed important to set the context.

So now a new rider is standing there at the end of class. They haven't passed the skills test and they're pretty sure they've barely gotten it. I hear that a lot. Students will tell me that they just started to "get" it when we moved to the next exercise. This does not at all mean that the student has "failed" in any way whatsoever. Some people live closer to Disney World than others. Some arrive earlier, some later. There's no difference in the quality of the experience. All it means is that a few people looked at a map ( a measuring device ) and "discovered" that their journey would take a bit longer to pull off. It's not a reflection on anyone's worth, only that some started from a farther away destination. Does that make sense the way I'm describing it?

As a quick side note, depending on the score, a student who didn't pass the test can do it again later. Most students do better the second time. The only thing that happens during the retest is a warmup exercise and the evaluation. Students have more energy and concentration working for them because of it. I offer my sincerest encouragement to you in this regard.

Remembering that we are separating the pass / fail from the discovery, let's talk about the next steps. Here's my advice.

I kow economic times are tough. I know it's a big expense, but big picture wise, I'd encourage someone in your position to take the class again. There's no mystery to it now. You've been through it all. You'll benefit from the added practice and coaching. Both your skill level and confidence in those skills will grow. You'll be so much better off when you mix it up out on the streets. We also have the IRT which is one day and less expensive. It's the second half of the BRT. Same exercises but we don't do the basic learn to ride stuff that you did on Saturday. We conduct the same skills test but not the written test. You could do that at DMV when you go to get your endorsement.

Barring that, I'd encourage you to go out and ride. With a permit you could do it legally. That's just a matter of taking a written test at DMV. Have somebody you trust ride with you. Go somewhere where there's as little multi-tasking required as possible. Get comfortable that you can make the bike respond to you rather than the other way around. Press on the handlebars and feel how the bike leans. Practice stopping smoothly. Work on your head and eye placement. Once you've felt these things over and over, you'll start trusting them on your own. Whether you take another class or go test at DMV, the testing will go better with some more seat time.

This is often my recommendation whether a student has passed the test or not. My focus is on how well equipped a rider is to deal with the real world.

The biggest thing to remember is to keep looking ahead. In this case, I'm talking figuratively. You see, you might feel discouraged by last weekend. Here's some encouragement. Just because last weekend wasn't "your" weekend, it doesn't mean that a weekend in the future won't be yours. Weeks, months, and years, can be yours for that matter. That was a snapshot of a place in time. It's a photo of a place you visited. You went and found out what you wanted to know. It's not a photo of where you live.

You've got a lot of great stuff in your head, now. Oh, you might not be aware of just how much there really is lurking about in there. Once you go out and ride, in whatever venue, you'll start remembering. It's not the basic knowledge that's missing. It's the cementing of the mind and body into a cohesive unit that can smoothly operate a motorcycle that's waiting to happen. Once that happens, it will form the foundation that learning by experience can be laid upon.

I'd love to help in that process. It happens that I have a bit of experience with riding a motorcycle. We all need to feel useful and sharing makes me feel that way. If you care to share your journey, it would be an honor to hear from you now and then. I used to have a blog post every week called "Share the Road". Riders, both new and experienced, shared photos and stories. I've been wanting to revive that tradition. You're invited to help with the awakening by sharing. Or to simply ask questions. I truly care.

Send me an e-mail, if you'd care to, at

That invitation goes out to anyone reading. Some of you already correspond with me and my life is richer for it. I sincerely believe that we all have the duty and pleasure to reach out to each other. We're much better off together than alone. At least in most things!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 17, 2009

When different worlds meet.

Dean W and I taught an Advanced Rider Training class together last week. Joining us were Dave and Stan. Dean's on the left, Dave's in the middle, and Stan is on the right in the red shirt. As I mentioned before, Stan's the one responsible for me becoming an instructor. Thousands of riders are either blessing or cursing him!

During the class something happened that you'll probably never see in the real world. It involves a Harley, a Yamaha, and their respective riders. More in a bit.

After dropping Elvira in a parking lot, I installed a set of frame sliders. Dean actually pointed me towards them. They look pretty slick.

The sliders mount using some existing frame bolt holes. If you have a 2006-2008 model, the body work is open here. If it's an older model things are more difficult. Anyway, here's the link to Motorcycle Larry's if you want to take a look.

I know it's kind of like shutting the barn door after the horse has galloped away. Now that the sliders are installed, Murphy will decide it's not fun to tip my bike over anymore. At least that's the plan.

Some things on a bike can be customized by buying new parts. Other things you have to do yourself. Like peg feelers. They were just way too long on Elvira. So we've had to do our own modifications.

Our normal ART class involves a morning classroom session and a track session after lunch. Since we pay for the track for all day, why not use it? So, while I'm stuck in the classroom, Dean and company were conducting a cornering clinic. Instructors are invited to hone their cornering skills. Oregon's leading cause of motorcycle fatalities is riders getting corners wrong. Even instructors realize the need to constantly hone skills. The turnouts for the clinics are strong. The idea of free track time doesn't hurt, either!

When my group dismissed for lunch, the instructors were still riding. I took advantage of the opportunity to play some more with the Nikon. This is a totally manual photo. I was trying to capture some still life and action at the same time. Things coming at you are easier to stop while things going across your lense are harder. The combination shows both. I'm pleased with this photo, but your results may vary.

This is a photo of the bikes in our class just prior to starting the track session. Sometimes I just have to grab a shot without much time to mess with settings. Bright sunshine complicates things. I know the rule of F16 but I'm not quick at changing the camera settings, yet.

A couple of bikes back on the right is a blue full dress Harley. The rider is a man about my age. Where I'm shorter and a bit stockier, he's taller and thin. Say what you will about stereotypes, but it's true here. The man has a headband under his half shell helmet. He's got a leather jacket with a club patch on the back. There's other insignia scattered about. Talk about flying the colors! His hair's long, thinning, and scraggly. When he talks I can see he's even missing a few teeth. What looks like hard living is etched on his face. During the classroom session we spend a few minutes talking about how riding impaired from alcohol negatively affects a rider's ability to manage risk. I could see him at the back of the group staring up at the ceiling.

If you were to picture a "biker" in your mind, he'd be what you imagined.

This isn't meant to be at all insulting to the guy. He's attending training on his own initiative to improve his skills. I have nothing but respect for that. I'm merely showing the contrast between how he comes across and how I come across as it pertains to our approach to riding and gear. It's the contrast that makes the next part so humorous.

I could really care less if a student looks different than me. My job is to give the students what they need. In a smaller picture of how I feel the bigger world should work, we need to look past the surface and make a personal connection with people. That's what I try hard to do with my students. Everyone has different learning styles and I have to know how to best connect.

At ART, I draw pictures on a whiteboard during the classroom portion. We have discussions among the group. We go out and ride the track. Instructors stand at corners and coach. We ride among the students and have them follow us. Sometimes it's enough to enlighten a rider. Sometimes it's not. In that case, there's nothing like putting a student on the back of your bike and doing a couple of laps. The instructor gives a running commentary which explains what's going on. Students can see, feel, and hear the elements of good cornering technique. It's an extremely powerful tool that I encourage all students to avail themselves of.

So you can see where this is going, can't you?

It became clear that "biker" was afraid to trust leaning the bike. More specifically, he wasn't making the connection on how applying the throttle BEFORE he leaned the bike would help him feel more confident in the turn. So his turns were pretty choppy. He'd gingerly lean the bike with no throttle applied. The floorboards would scrape the pavement near the apex. "Biker" would react by suddenly grabbing a handful of throttle which would pick the bike up. However, he'd then be out of shape for the next corner. We needed to help this guy out.

Stan was standing near the paddock. I pulled Elvira to the side and waited. Stan stopped "Biker" and strongly suggested he go for a ride with me. "Biker" slowly dismounted while staring at me on Elvira. I could see several expressions cross his face.

One was distaste. Clearly, he wasn't thrilled to be riding pillion in the first place. I'm sure he didn't like the idea of being so close to another man. Perhaps I imagined it, but it also looked like he didn't really want to be on a Yamaha, or any other "rice burner". After all, he was flying just about every Harley related color possible. His progress to the bike was painfully slow. I patiently waited, my flip up helmet raised. I tried to keep an encouraging look on my face.

At the same time, "Biker" was clearly there to learn. He knew his technique was poor and that he wasn't getting it from our other coaching. As if pulled by a rope in his jaw, "Biker" finally stood beside Elvira. He eyed the rear seat somewhat apprehensively.

"That seat looks small", he said. "It looks like my ass is going to be hanging out in mid-air".

For the class I take the saddlebags and trunk off of the bike. Elvira looks a lot like a sportbike like that. The seat's bigger than it looks. Much better than the back of Stan's Interceptor, for example. There's no backrest, though, since the trunk is off. It would look much smaller than the rider's seat on a full dress Harley. "Biker" would have been a lot more apprehensive if he'd known ahead of time that I was going to take advantage of that vulnerable feeling to drive home a point.

Finally, "Biker" settled in behind me. I give the man every credit in the world for doing that. I know how hard it was for him. After a couple of quick instructions for being a passenger we were off. I had told him to expect some leaning and to just look over my inside shoulder. Down the straight we went. God, I wish I'd have given Stan the camera!

Picture it. A black Yamaha sporting bike with the rider in a white helmet and Hi-Viz 'Stich. Remember, that means it's a bright yellowish green. Underneath the road grime, of course. My passenger is in a black Harley leather jacket with a big patch and several smaller ones. He's wearing black chaps on the bottom and a half shell black helmet. Two worlds uniting for a ride.

I took it easy for the first couple of corners. Until we got to the hairpin. I took it at a good pace. All the while talking to him. I kept stressing how the early throttle held us BOTH up, even in the tightest corners. I explained that he needed to do the same thing on his Harley. Why not roll on the throttle and get maximum ground clearance BEFORE he leaned? Why wait until he heard the boards grinding on the road? Chances were that the floorboards wouldn't scrape in the first place. "Biker" was so tense he felt like a piece of lumber back there. I know he wanted to hang on tighter. Fear and phobia conflicted. I didn't want to scare him, but I also needed him to see how he could actually trust the bike to stand up with proper technique. It was a careful game of "scare and rescue".

By the time we finished a couple of laps "Biker" had relaxed. I knew the point was getting through to him. We also talked about being smooth with inputs and rolling the bike around the axis instead of throwing it down. There were no surprises since we were in total control.

Shaky, but impressed, he dismounted Elvira and re-mounted the Harley. I swear he was going to kiss the fairing of his bike, so relieved was he to be back!

Was it worth it?

After watching "Biker" on the next few laps, Stan commented how the student was a hundred percent improved. As it turned out, I followed "Biker" for his evaluation laps. He'd smoothed out considerably. Not perfect, by any means, but much better off than when he arrived.

How did he feel about me at the end of the class?

We give the students a chance to provide written feedback when the course is completed. The form asks if the student took a passenger ride and what part of the ride helped them the most?

"Biker" said the most helpful part was the instructor's knowledge and explanations during the ride.


I just wonder if he's going to tell his riding buddies about being on the back of Elvira?

Miles and smiles,


Friday, August 14, 2009

Everything, the kitchen sink, and the dogs?

Out and about on an early morning run the other day, I pulled into a rest area. Seeing a group of fellow riders, I backed in close by. The usual conversation ensued. However, my eyes kept being drawn to the trailer behind the Gold Wing. Particularly to the dogs standing on top of it.

The dogs, trailer, and bike belong to the gentleman standing on the left. I asked permisson to snap a few photos with my camera phone. It was granted. In fact, the guy said there always seemed to be people taking pictures. I can see why. As luck would have it, the camera phone was all I had along for the ride. I always try to take at least the point and shoot Kodak, if not the Nikon. I figured this would be one of those routine days, all business, so I packed neither. Goes to show you can never tell. Isn't there some sort of saying to that effect?

The group was flying the colors of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. So was the trailer, as you can see.

According the to man, the dogs have been riding along for years. Inside the trailer are carpet and blankets to cushion the four legged passengers. I was told they look forward to the ride. There's a plexiglass viewing area to the front of the trailer. Venting can be provided.

Interacting with the canines, I found both to be happy and well adjusted, if not a little quirky compared to other dogs. Kind of like the average motorcyclist, wouldn't you say?

Proving my point further, notice the laugh on the face of the gal. Now notice the cheerful expression on the face of the yellow dog. Motorcycling is good for the soul, whether it be human or canine!

Anyway, just thought this would be interesting to share.

Miles and smiles, ( with some tail wagging thrown in )


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Work and play.

The plan was to take few days off. Things always come up at the most inconvenient times, however. I received a call from Rod, the Facilities Manager at Seven Feathers Casino in Canyonville. The second new hotel had just been completed and there were problems everywhere. Rod asked me to come down and take a look. The only day it could be done with all the players we needed in attendance was the first day I had planned to take off.

I've had a business relationship with Rod for years. A year and a half ago I sat in his office and convinced him to change his specification. This would put our products on the project instead of a competitor's. Rod agreed. I promised him he wouldn't regret it. That I would take care of him. Now here we are. A promise is a promise. Personal intregrity demanded I go. It turned out to be installation problems. The walk-through lasted two and a half hours. During that time I was able to show the owner, contractor, and installer, how to fix things up. Mission accomplished!

Seven Feathers is a little over a hundred and forty miles from home. I'd been on the road quite early to make the two and a half hour ride for the 8 AM meeting. Now I faced going home again. In a car I'd probably just have headed back up the freeway and called it a day. Five hours of travel combined with two and a half hours on the job makes for close to an eight hour day. There was still some paperwork to be done so it would round out the day.

What is it about being on a bike that changes our thinking? I'd already plotted a long route home. It would turn 280 miles into well over 400. I was going home via the Pacific Coast and back. Here's some highlights from the ride.

Part I would be to follow the Umpqua River to the ocean. Highway 38 is fairly heavily traveled but it has a lot of passing areas built in. I was somewhat worried about traffic. It's been hot in the valley and a lot of people were heading to the coast for cooler air. My timing must have been pretty good. Things weren't too bad. Of course, as it always happens, right when we got into the nice twisties I got behind a tanker truck. Elvira dispatched it cleanly and safely.

When you get close to the ocean there's this viewing area set up all nice and neat. Most of the tourists choose to come in here. I eventually pulled in, but only to use the facilities. Being on a bike, I like to avoid the crowds. There was a wide spot in the road that wouldn't work for a car, but was perfect for Elvira. I actually had a better vantage point as the main herd was nowhere near the viewing area!

This is zoomed in as close as I can get with a 200mm lense. I'd stashed the Gorilla Pod in the Givi trunk. The elk were to the South. To the North is the river.

There used to be an "Elk Crossing" sign somewhere in here. Recently a county commissioner had it removed. Seems that a couple of elk, in quick succession, got hit by vehicles. The commissioner, is his infinite wisdom, decided this was no longer a safe place for the elk to cross. So the sign was removed.

Beauty is where you find it. Being a person who has recently discovered enough about how the SLR Nikon works to be dangerous, I turned around and took this photo. The term "depth of field" has been newly opened up to me. Experimenting with it is a lot of fun, if not always successful!

It's only a few miles into Reedsport. Here's proof that I was there.

It certainly was much cooler here. Clouds covered the sun. Elvira's temperature gauge indicated 63 degrees (f). As is the case with most small towns, entertainment is hard to come by. Hence this sign.

Now it's North up Highway 101. Traffic is terrible. The rumors of everybody being at the coast are true. My original plan was to head up to Waldport and take Highway 34 into Corvallis. That would bring me within 10 miles of home. By the time I'd ridden 21 miles to Florence, I'd had enough. There was no way I was going to endure this for another 34 miles. At Florence I headed inland. I could snag another casino shot. The choice to head inland now would prove to be a most pleasant surprise.

Three Rivers is another casino and hotel with our product in it. One of our distributors has gotten himself in with the large contractors that build these things. After I left the casino I thought I was going to find myself in another traffic nightmare.

Mapleton is a small town where Highways 126 and 36 merge. Highway 126 is the one that heads out of Florence then turns and goes into Eugene. It's a main artery between the huge metropolitan area and the coast. At Mapleton you can turn right towards the big city. If you choose to go straight onto Highway 36 you have to wait at a stop sign. Which I did. The traffic flow turning in front of me was endless. It was like a mass exodus from Eugene to Florence. I waited for what seemed like forever for a break in traffic. It never came. I finally picked a likely gap and put the spurs to Elvira.

Highway 36 follows the North Fork of the Siuslaw River. This river is much smaller than the Umpqua. The road would also turn out to be quieter. More on that in a bit.

This dang photography thing is getting into my head. Man, I like to get on the bike and just rack up the miles. Now there's this little voice in my head telling me things like, "This would make a good photo". It doesn't help that Steve Williams is such an accomplished photo maker and keeps feeding me bits of exposure setting information. That and a tiny bit of praise for a few of my photos. Aaaarrrrgh! Anway, this small town sign was too good to pass up.

Literally a wide spot in the road, Deadwood is peaceful and quaint.

I wandered down the path a bit. The rider of the other Yamaha was asleep on a blanket in the shade. I could see his chest move so I knew he was alive. Speaking of Yamahas, here's a sweet pair.

Of course, Rebels that we are, look what was on the pole right beside us.

It was a beautiful and dreamy place. I just figured that a guy shouldn't spend too much time at a place called Dead Wood, if you know what I mean. So I mounted up and left.

During the entire time I had been at Deadwood, there was only one car that went by. Actually, it was a pale blue old Ford Econoline van. And that, folks, brings us to the best part. Take a look at this sign.

It's 26 miles from Mapleton to Triangle Lake. 26 miles of this kind of road in this kind of country.

I know. I should have been riding and what was I doing? Stopping to take pictures. I tell you, it's becoming a sickness. This was the last photo stop, though. A wonderful road in the most scenic area you could pick. There were patches of sunshine balanced by areas where the trees made shaded tunnels. Miles and miles of glorious twisties. What could be better?

It was all mine! Not once in all those miles did I even come close to catching up to another vehicle. Only three passed by in the opposite direction. Let's just say that we could take full advantage of Elvira's sport bike bloodlines. How often does that happen? Sweeeeet! The next 16 miles between Triangle Lake and Cheshire weren't as twisty but just as quiet. What a gem of a day!

When we got closer to home we had to sit for close to 10 minutes in 90 degree heat for road construction. There's no way that was going to spoil the day.

Who says you can't sneak in a little fun in while riding to work?

Miles and smiles, ( really big smiles! )


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Trail Braking.

Recently I did a post dealing with using the rear brake for speed control in low speed turns. There is often a bit of confusion between this technique and trail braking. There is a significant difference in the two techniques. While dragging the rear brake is used in low speed turns, trail braking is the opposite. Trail braking usually involves just the front brake. It's also used in cornering at higher speeds.

I'll explain trail braking so everyone understands what it is. However, I again repeat my urgings for riders not to use trail braking in street riding. It really belongs on the track. Some folks may argue that point with me. We'll come back to that later.

Essentially, trail braking involves staying on the brakes past the point where the bike begins to lean. Typically the brakes are gradually released ( or trailed off ) up to the point of apexing. Thus, the term "trail" braking. The lean angle of the bike is increasing during this time period.

The reasoning behind this technique involves accomplishing several objectives. Cornering quickly on a racetrack demands a lot of the front tire. Trail braking puts weight forward onto the front tire, increasing available traction. The weight transfer also compresses the front forks. This changes the steering geometry. The downside is that the bike becomes less stable. The upside is that the bike is more willing to make rapid directional changes. It's part of what riders call "flickability". Scrubbing speed in a corner means the bike can make a tighter turn. Quite useful if you're trying to stay tight in the corner and ride a defensive line.

Trail braking, when done correctly, can help make more precise, smooth, adjustments in corner entry speeds and line selection. Notice closely the words "when done correctly".

Trail braking is an advanced technique with a steep learning curve. In other words, there's an extremely small margin for error. That's why I strongly advise against the use of trail braking by street riders. Let's take a closer look at it.

The longer a rider stays on the brakes, the longer it is before the throttle can be applied. Remember, the idea of trail braking is to keep the weight forward. There is some overlap between braking and throttle. However, the amount of throttle application has to stay small or the weight will come off the front wheel again. The bike is more unstable which enables quicker changes of direction. So, in trail braking, the throttle really isn't applied until the apex is reached. It's the throttle application that gives the bike real stability. In racing it's a risk versus reward proposition.

One the street, however, the risks far outweigh the rewards. Applying the throttle before the bike leans is the best choice for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, rolling on the throttle lifts the bike and extends the suspension. Particularly with the front forks. This is important to street riders because the roadway conditions aren't as predictable as on a racetrack. In the real world we are going to encounter a lot of pavement irregularities, rocks, etc. If the suspension is extended, it can absorb the bumps without throwing our lines off. It's a critical aspect that's often overlooked.

Secondly, this lifting of the bike gives us maximum ground clearance. Ever feel a peg scrape? What do untrained riders do? They roll off the throttle. If rolling on lifts the bike, guess what rolling off does? You got it. Rolling off the throttle drops the bike. The scraping sound has already told us we are getting close to the extent of our ground clearance. Dropping the bike by rolling off the throttle puts the rider into deficit spending. That's when hard parts like mufflers and centerstands impact the roadway, thus lifting the rear wheel off the road and shooting the bike into the weeds, or worse.

Much, much, preferable to be on the throttle before we lean. If we're worried because we scraped, keep steady throttle while easing off the press. Eyes need to focus on the solution, not the problem. Plainly stated, keep looking where you need the bike to go!

This photo came to me via e-mail a while back. It is not of my originality. The picture was so cool I had to share it. Credit goes to the party listed in the bottom left corner. I apologize in advance if they're offended that I shared it!

Back to trail braking. Probably the biggest hazard with trail braking is that the front brake is being applied while the bike is at a serious lean angle. There's only so much traction available. It has to be shared between braking and leaning. That's why so much finesse is required. It's rarely possible to tell the exact moment when the demand suddenly outweighs the supply. It only takes a tiny bit too much pressure on the front brake lever to spell disaster. At the same time, there's another factor involved.

Remember the need to quickly change direction? Here's how it works. A motorcycle will want to stand up as the front brake is applied. This "standing up" gives the bike a head start preparing to turn in the opposite direction. The rider, though, has to maintain pressure on the handlebar to keep the bike turning until the precise moment they're ready to let the bike quickly flick the other way. That conflict of interest adds to the hazard level. Like I said, trail braking is a very advanced technique that is really best left to the track. There's really too much risk if the rider gets it wrong. And the chances of getting it wrong are huge. The rewards are pretty small in comparison.

Take a moment and think of the crashes in Moto GP racing. Arguably these are the best riders in the world on the most high tech bikes available. The two main causes of crashes are a high side caused by rear tire grip problems and washing out the front wheel. Why does the front wheel slide out? Too much pressure on the front brake lever while leaned over. Yes, while trail braking. It happens a lot. If the best riders in the world often get it wrong then the average street rider shouldn't be doing it.

I'm not saying there isn't a place for trail braking in the real world. Certain circumstances may dictate its use. The rider needs a very high skill level to use this tool, though. No matter the skill level, trail braking shouldn't be a regular habit for a street rider. A rider needs to have all transitions done before leaning the bike. During the corner, all the rider should be doing is keeping their eyes on the target, keeping steady or slightly increasing throttle, and pressing to keep the bike in the lean.

Rather than try to develop skill at trail braking, better to gain precision in cornering. The better the rider is at being precise in corner entry speeds and line selection, the less actual need there will be for things like trail braking.

Confusion is often generated because some riding schools will say trail braking should always be used. Just remember that, while track instruction has benefits for the streets, the very line between street riding and track riding can become easily blurred in these schools. It's a vital point to be cognizant of.

On the one hand, some very top notch riders run these schools. On the other, everyone will agree that Valentino Rossi is a very top notch rider himself. Interestingly, a lot of high level racers don't ride on the streets much. Rossi has, and does. Rossi himself says trail braking is for the race track and not the street.

This is probably more than you ever wanted to know. Bear in mind that a key to staying on top of things and preventing premature mental degradation is exercising the brain!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, August 01, 2009

News release!

We interrrupt the regularly scheduled posts on braking methods for a flash news release. A satellite spy photo found its way onto my desktop. You never know what you'll get when you start messing with the tuner of your XM radio receiver.

I'm sorry, I got carried away. The photo is real but I didn't get it from a satellite. It was actually taken by a member of the paparazzi. For some deluded reason he thought the world might be interested in what goes on behind the scenes with a famous blogger and insane motorcycle rider. No, not me. I would have actually been interesting. No, this is a photo taken of the backyard of a certain BMW rider in Pennsylvania. This one is fond of posting various varieties of B.S. onto the internet, pole dancing, cigar smoking, and arthritis pills. Not necessarily in that order, of course. The poor photographer somehow thought the world would be interested in seeing the "after the rally" photo from this man's backyard. It might endear him to the world more if they could only see that he puts his gigantic underwear on one leg at a time like everyone else. Well, not everyone.

I met the photographer, broken down and disillusioned, when I enrolled for my next camera class. Turns out this guy was the instructor. After seeing the photo for myself I decided this man was not a suitable role model and was determined to ask for my money back. Which may be a moot point, as it turns out.

Having tried to sell this photo to the Enquirer, the Star, Pole Dancer's Weekly, etc., and being soundly laughed out of offices, the photographer was a mess. He stated his intention to quit teaching and photographing. His new goal was to live a life of drunken debauchery and collecting dollar bills for pole dancer tips. Sort of like the subject of his photo, actually. Not understanding the true situation here, the photographer blamed it on current news. Nobody can compete with the Michael Jackson Bizarro Bombardment and Sideshow right now, he said.

I attempted to tell the guy that if he had only consulted me I could have saved him a lot of heartache and disillusionment. If I could pass on one secret it would be this: A key skill in life is learning to discern the difference between one who is actually important and one who is a master of self-aggrandizement.

While the instructor went to find a dictionary to look up aggrandizement, I stole the photo and ran. With as much dignity as I could muster, I might add. I figured it was worth risking getting into trouble. This was a chance for a laugh that was too good to pass up. So, without further ado, I present my photo. I call it:

"After the Tennessee Rally".

When the fun and games are over, there is the laundry to deal with. A man who sweats profusely from even the smallest things like getting onto his bike needs a lot of shall we say, "unmentionables". Due to the man's fondness for whiskey, his unmentionables are not unobservable. Even a man like our subject washes certain items at least once a year. People in general, and pole dancers specifically, ( no matter how badly they need the dollar ) won't come within a mile if he doesn't. A person can only afford to keep buying new stuff for so long. Swimming pools work for washing ( and thus bathing ) but no dryer in the world is big enough for this duty. In order to fully understand the photo, you must have an idea of the actual scale involved.

This was taken with a zoom lense from a great distance. What appears to be a common garden shed at this distance is actually a hay barn. The tire on the left is from one of those gargantuan farm implements that can plow seven acres at a swipe. The clothesline is cable from a defunct High Lead Logging operation. Given this perspective, you can understand the dimensions of the garments involved. Standing right up next to one, you might guess that the whole MAC-PAC could hold weekly wrenching sessions inside a single garment. With enough room left over for a picnic table and beer cooler. And you'd be right. Unless the owner of the garments was present, of course.

With our current heat wave I was tempted to procure one of these garments and use it as an awning. It would make great shade for me, my "peeps" and my "peep's" "peeps". Not to mention most of the neighborhood dogs and cats. However, I did have a couple of concerns. For instance, I really prefer any skid marks I'm around to be on airport runways. So I went and bought some King Size bedsheets. Same thing, but with no leg holes.

Well, I'd love to keep writing and help endear our hero to everybody, but I'm going to have to close out and run. I mean, go. A police car is rounding the corner with the photographer in the passenger seat. I'm going to have to stand in front of the bathroom mirror and practice my "Who, Me?" face. If only I had a dime for every time I heard that as a cop. I'd be doing something far different than stooping to poking fun at a friend and good man!

Miles and smiles,