Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Riding Among the Blind.

Only: Who's Really Blind?

Holy crap! There I was on the Marquam bridge, minding my own business. Suddenly, this blind woman driving a gold Prius whipped into my lane. I had to jerk the handlebars which almost made me run into the guardrail. I can only imagine what it would have been like to hit the bridge railing and plumment hundreds of feet into the river! Wow, was that ever close! I'm still wiping the sweat off my forehead.

Another narrative:

So the woman right beside me decided to change lanes. Where I was. No harm, no foul, I look after myself. ( this is a quote from near the end of a recent post of mine )

Two totally different accounts, isn't it? More pointedly, one rider truly had a nearly disastrous experience while, to the other, it literally was no big deal. The difference? Level 1 and Level 2 experience. Last time I included a Level 3. This time there's only beginner/intermediate and advanced.

You've probably seen something like this yourself. Take a place of employment, for example. A few people ride their motorcycles to work. Ask "Tom" about his ride to work and he will swear with wide eyes that he nearly died somewhere along the journey. Tom's stock of "close-call" stories is amazingly deep. If it weren't for luck and his quick reflexes, Tom tells us, he wouldn't have made it to work in one piece.

You've heard people like Tom. How many war stories have you been forced to endure?

While Tom is recounting his harrowing ride, "Will" is listening with a half smile. Someone turns and asks Will how his ride was. Will recounts a nice ride with some interesting things to look at. He comments on smelling somebody's bacon frying for what must have been a tasty breakfast. It sure is wonderful to be able to ride to work, Will affirms.

The questioner presses Will further. Weren't there close calls like Tom's? Will just shakes his head gently while his smile grows broader. Oh, there were a couple of minor things, but they were easily dealt with.

Both Tom and Will travel a nearly identical route to work. Yet, both riders had very different rides. What's the difference? Tom has ridden for about three years. What has he learned? That drivers are "out to get him" when he rides. That every incident is the fault of brain dead, blind drivers with bad judgement. Tom went to the Department of Motor Vehicles on a small bike to take his endorsement test. He barely passed, but thinks his built in manly skills are enough to get him out of any trouble he may face. I'm not stretching the truth. I can name names of several guys I have an acquaintance with right now that are exactly the same way. One just crashed into a car that pulled out from an intersection. What is really interesting is that this guy was riding with another man. The other man was in front and successfully avoided the car. Hmm, the first guy did fine while the second guy, who had more time, hit the car. Despite the crash, he swears he doesn't need any training despite my urgings.

Will, on the other hand, takes refresher training courses very other year or so. Not just for the physical skills, but also to sharpen his mental strategies. Will realizes that drivers do make mistakes. He agrees with Tom about most people being blind and brain dead. Where Will goes farther, though, is that he realizes it is his responsibility to take care of himself. Will has good visual skills and is acutely aware of what is happening around him. He finds possible trouble early and makes small adjustments to avoid it. When a driver does make a mistake, it literally is "no big deal". Will is ready.

Level 1 skills versus Level 2. One year's experience repeated over and over versus a rider who has truly gained progressive experience.

With that in mind, let's use my experience with the woman in the gold Prius to illustrate the difference. The woman made the mistake. At some point she was literally driving blind while making a lane change. If she had crashed into me it would have been her fault. Pure and simple. Or maybe not. Fault is a pretty big word. Does it always fall exclusively to one party?

Somebody made a comment on this blog quite a while ago about making yourself unhittable. I'm sorry I can't remember exactly and don't want to take the time to hunt it down. That statement, however is worth its weight in gold. Thank you for sharing it. Whomever it was! Without having used those exact same words, I ride with that idea as my guiding beacon.

Motorists do change lanes into other cars and big trucks. Little wonder that they do the same to motorcycles. I want to take a second to make one thing perfectly clear. What will happen if a driver changes lanes into a motorcycle?

They will violate your space. My God! That sounds so sanitary, doesn't it? They will violate your space. I'll tell you what will really happen. Things are going to get really ugly really quickly. That big vehicle is going to knock our ass off the motorcycle. We and the motorcycle are going to suffer from the impact of the car. Not to mention meeting that Super Cheese Grater a.k.a. the roadway. Imagine a block long grater. Now run a piece of meat over it at 50 mph. Make you kind of sick? I hope so. This is a situation that is TO BE AVOIDED AT ALL COST!

So listen up. Or read up, as the case may be. Take a look at this snapshot. ( Isn't that the escape word for a photographer? )


Yeah, it's a picture taken in my truck mirror. Not much to see. A car right behind me. One farther back. Some empty pavement. A few other things. I didn't take the photo to show anything at all. What I care about is what you don't see in the mirror. Take a look.

Again, this is an illustrative snapshot! Although I did spot meter on the pavement so that Elvira'a lights didn't trick the camera into underexposing the shot. No, I didn't have a graduated ND filter to take care of the sky. I did, however, cleverly include myself in the photo if you look at the trim ring around the truck's headlight. Elvira's lights are illuminated and I have the four way flashers activated. The bike was in the exact same spot and state when I took the picture in the mirror. Amazingly, the bike never shows in the mirror. Nor does the headlight glare.

Here's another view of the bike in relationship to the truck.



That's a pretty typical distance. Two lane freeway. Bike in the right third of its lane and passing by the truck. This could just as easily happen on the right side of the truck. In my riding I'm usually the one in the faster lane. As you can see, this is only a small S-10 pickup. The larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spot. I read somewhere once that researchers hid 14 motorcycles in the blind spots of a large tractor-trailer rig. Wow!

So drivers are literally driving blind at times. Yes, I know. That's what a head check is for. Drivers are responsible to check their blind spots before they change lanes. Hey, nobody could agree more! There's a lot of crap drivers are supposed to do. Like use their turn signals. It just don't happen like it should, sorry to say.

Here's the crux of the matter. We all know that cars and trucks have blind spots. Do we actually ride like we know that? Do we want to put our lives on the line by trusting that drivers will do the right things? Will we hurt less knowing it's somebody else's fault? Hold that thought a minute while you look at this.

Again, I put myself in the snapshot. It's an ego thing. I stuck long suffering Katie in the truck's driver's seat and sat on the bike. I wanted the mirror and my reflection to reinforce that. You can see Katie's hand on the steering wheel and just a bit of her hand in the truck mirror. What you can't see is any of Katie's pretty face or her eyes in the truck mirror. If I can't see her eyes in the mirror, then I know she can't see me in the mirror, either.

Basic stuff? Let me challenge everyone. How many times do we just sort of hang about in a driver's blind spot? Even further, how many times do we actually watch the mirrors and realize we're even in a blind spot? You don't have to answer here and put yourself on the spot. That's not the objective of this exercise. The objective is to raise awareness.

The Prius lady I encountered? I knew full well I was in her blind spot and rode accordingly. In this case she was to my left. Traffic in my lane had been moving briskly and it looked like I would pass her fairly quickly. Then the cars ahead of me started to slow as we were rounding a weirdly banked curve. Realizing I wasn't going to get out of her blind spot to the front, I started to back off a bit. I increased my following distance behind the car ahead of me. All the while I was watching her body language and her front tire. Just as I was clearing her blind spot to the rear, she started over. Now I was in a place where she could see me better. I know she did eventually see the bike because she corrected back into her lane. The encounter gave her a scare but not me. I recognized the blind spot and got out of it. Even if she had come all the way over, she'd have cleared the front of my bike. Because I had already adjusted for the possibility.

In other words, I made myself unhittable.

I was going to leave it here but I recognized another application of this on the freeway today. I was riding where there were three lanes. Elvira was in the fast lane. Honestly, I was only the passenger when she chose to move quickly. There were a couple of trucks in the far right lane. Having passed some slower traffic in the middle lane, I was ready to move back into the middle lane myself. I found myself waiting a bit to make the move. Blind spots cover more than one lane. Rather than change lanes and have one of the trucks decide to move to that lane at the same time, I waited until I was well ahead of the trucks before I proceeded. Just to ensure that everyone could see me when I executed the move.

This blind spot stuff seems pretty basic. The key is to actively incorporate what we know in our heads into our everyday riding. Complacency is always ready to dull our senses. You might say complacency blinds us. It's our responsibility to make ourselves unhittable. There are a lot of areas to master. Being aware of blind spots and staying out of them is only one of many things. Our progress in applying these mental skills determines if we are like Tom or Will in our riding.

As to my final advice here: We all know we look good! Quit admiring ourselves in storefront windows and start watching mirrors!

Miles and smiles,

Dan

Note: Tom and Will are not meant to be portrayed as real individuals. They are based upon composites. The situation with two riders at the same place of employment is based upon my real experience with a co-worker who rode a motorcycle to work. This guy eventually gave up riding.

22 comments:

682202 said...

Didn't Tom say "I almost had to layer down!" I think I have met a few Tom's in the past.

Unhittable is a term that works for me. I believe all cars and trucks are out to run me down, so I do my best not to make it any easier for them. I even try to make my self unhittable when driving a car.

Thanks for the reminder. GAW

Orin said...

This morning I was riding back to the house after scoring my free Grand Slam® from the Denny's at 102nd & Stark. Got on the westbound part of the couplet, stopped at the light and turned right, thinking this was the part of 205 where an extra lane on the freeway ramp would get me to another main drag.

Nope. I found myself on a ramp that swooped over 205 to meet the westbound Banfield.

It wasn't so long ago that I'd have been Tom, my life flashing in front of my eyes, a death grip on the handgrips, my mouth dry as cotton, hoping I survive long enough to find an exit.

But today, I just said "oops" and merged into traffic, which was going about 60 mph. I was merely annoyed at the driver of the white Hyundai Accent, who was doing the "after you, no, after YOU" thing as we approached the end of the far right lane. I finally cranked hard on the throttle and whipped out ahead of him (her?), though the Accent subsequently passed me in the adjoining lane.

I've become Will. I think it helps that I've put 10,000 miles on the GTS. And 20,000 on the PX before I sold it, and 11,000 on the ET4 before I traded it for the PX. I've always found my racing experience helpful, too...

__Orin
Scootin' Old Skool

Conchscooter said...

Nicely illustrated though I found the pink blobs on the sides of a couple of pictures distracting.
Of 100 employees at the KWPD I am the only regular motorcycle commuter. One city resident comes to work on a scooter and one rides a pedal tricycle (he can't balance a two wheeler). So I guess some days I have to be Tom and others Will. Talking to myself will make me mad.

abraxas said...

Perhaps a strange thing i've noticed, but the number of times i see a biker NEARLY go down, right in front of me.

At least once a week, which is actually more than i have close calls, that i see others have them. Since there's only someone in front of me for a very small percentage of time, thats rather surprising odds i think ?

2 days ago, a guy had to violently swerve left, then while still evading the one car, another tried it's luck.

Point is, that doesn't happen with me, ever. I slow down for many, which then proceed to swing out in front of me. There has to be a process that i am reacting to, which slows me, but i cannot explain what it is ...

What is this x factor? I've decided there are 3 aspects to driving/riding:

1. basic vehicle control
2. roadsigns and marking and laws
3. other road users, prediction and politeness.

The license test covers the first 2, but nothing really cover the 3rd, which IMHO is the most important to survival ...

That's a very good post irondad, forgive my ramblings, but being reminded of these things is utterly esential to anyone commuting.

peace!

Charlie6 said...

Irondad (Dan), that was me who made the unhittable comment but I can't claim credit...I wrote about it HERE

and I learned about it here:Motorbyte

Dave said...

Dan
Mirrors don’t get me started .
I am a mirror fanatic I am one of throes odd balls
Who checks his mirrors each time I get behind the wheel.

I paid for three and I intend to get my moneys worth out of them.
I have them set just right don’t even think about touching my mirrors

All to often I see folks get behind the wheel like
Mirror ? We don’t’ need no stinking mirrors.

And with almost criminal blind spots in in some SUVs
THEY FLAT OUT CANT SEE US.

Old F

Lucky said...

Great post!

I always tell people to assume that cagers are blind, stupid and out to get you. Of course, the unspoken part is "so pay attention, identify and stay out of dangerous spots."

I know I've irritated more than one driver by slowing down to get a safety cushion between me and the other cars. For some reason, people seem to like gathering up into tightly packed groups of cars. I blame NASCAR.

I don't have too many close-call stories, but I do have a lot about how nice the ride was.

Dean W said...

Ties in (extends) my "Loud Pipes" rant from last fall.

irondad said...

Gordon,

Call me slow but I just now connected Pizza Files and Scoot'n Art. You are a prolific blogger!

Yes, you mentioned one of Tom's favorite sayings that I overlooked.

See below. Dom gets credit for the unhittable term showing up here.

Orin,

I'd be curious to know how long the wait was at Denny's.

Not only do you have many miles but you've actually learned from them. You're a great example of what kind of rider I wanted to portray Will as.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Conchscooter,

Distracting pink blobs? I definitely don't remember there being any pink crocs in the photos!

From reading your blog posts, I have a feeling that you talk to yourself a whole lot more than you care to let on.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

abraxas,

The rambling is forgiven. Your comment proves my point exactly.

Dom,

You get the gold star! As well as credit. How did you do the keyword link in your comment?

old f Dave,

Mirrors? You mean those shiny things women use to finish getting ready for work as they drive? Or the guys I see shaving? Come on, you have to admit that people use their mirrors a bunch.

Oh,there's mirrors on the sides, too? What are those for? :)

You're right about the criminal blind spots. Most drivers don't seem to realize just how big those spots actually are.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Lucky,

Thank you for finishing the sentence. That's the most important part.

Nascar must be the reason they don't use turn signals, either, eh?

Dean W,

I seemed to remember you being involved in the unhittable thing, too. Your post is still getting discussion on forums here and there.

Let me know if you ever get the itch to do another one. You are more than welcome, my friend.

Take care,

Dan

Charlie6 said...

Dan

re how to create a link within a comment:

go here

cheers

dom

Bryce said...

I see a small pick me up truck, not some large hulking vehicle.
The problem with anything larger than you (and ladies in a Prius are included)is not that they don't see, they simply don't look to where they are aiming.
I was in the car (a green Honda Civic) a few weeks ago heading along one of the larger major highways.
I was passing on the inside lane, a large 18-wheeler was in the middle lane. I flicked my driving lights, honked the air horn and then tried to pass. He then figured I had passed and swung his large rig into my path. Much horn honking ensued, and he swung back real fast. Now keep in mind we are in heavy traffic and I am moving about 140 kilometres an hour, he was doing a bit less, which was slow for the average traffic speed.

Did he look first? No, although he had large convex mirrors below his large vertical side mirrors. And I have some fairly obvious specialty antennas on my car so he would've seen those before he tried to move over one lane.

Anything moving in the same direction as your vehicle has to see your vehicle, before starting the movement to change direction.

Sadly most don't look, anywhere.

Oh and the worst location for moving into somebody else's lane? Not the highway,
rather the large car park adjacent in malls and big box stores.
The person operating the vehicle is looking for a slot to park said vehicle. Seems they view any other vehicle as an adversary and hence fair game to hit, just as long as they get their slot to park.

Problem is in this game of hide and seek the hidden vehicle is like the hidden road hazard, if it moves and you don't see it, a mishap will surely follow. At any speed of movement.

bluekat said...

Thanks for the write up! I always enjoy your motorcycling posts. I practiced the mirror thing on my commute today, though I was in the car. We have a hatchback, and it has terrible blindspots. It's a much clearer view from the bike!

I noticed your pick up is rather clean. I thought, gee they take good care of their autos, then I figured no, it probably doesn't see much road duty.

Orin said...

New cars generally have much poorer visiblity to the rear and sides than older ones. The styling trend of high belt lines and low roofs is part of it, so are the rather high rear ends, so is the requirement for a head restraint for every seating position in the back seat.

Race cars were like this, too. That's why you needed to listen as much as you look.

And that's why I'm not at all shy about using my horn...

__Orin
Scootin' Old Skool

Tamara said...

Irondad,
Thanks for taking the time to share your riding experience and wisdom. As a newer lady rider who mostly rides alone I'm always on the lookout for suggestions on how to improve and things to watch out for. I try to take at least one class a year but I have also found lots of good stuff in your blogs and appreciate all the advice, tips, etc. that you share.

bobskoot said...

IronDad:

I heard Conch mention something about the "Pink" things on the side. I have looked, and looked, nothing pink that I could find. I agree that Mr Conch must be talking to himself again. Must be something to do with the fact he is the lone commuter in the KWPD.

I also worry about the blind spots. I find that the right side is more blind than the left side. We also have those NASCAR drivers here too, you know, the ones that change lanes all the time without signalling just to be one car ahead at the next light. I find it safer to just let them go ahead. I'd rather be behind them

bob
bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Mike said...

Thanks Dan for another informative post. I'm on the Marquam quite a bit so your Prius event got my attention. Not that sudden lane changes only happen there but the bottom deck of the Marquam is a confined area with a banked radius and people are jockeying for lane position. As you know there's a lot going on there. So I'm putting your instruction to use but also watching out for little Miss Prius.

And thanks to Dom, Dean, and now you for the being un-hittable reminder. I've kept that in mind since Dom wrote about it.

irondad said...

Bryce,

As you say, a lot of people don't look. Gary C once said in his blog that anybody's spawn thinks they are entitled to a driver's license. Very few actually bother to get real driving skills.

It's our responsibility to look after ourselves, I say. Parking lots are awful, aren't they?


bluekat,

Thank you for the compliment. You're right, the truck doesn't see much road time. In fact, I often end up reminding myself to drive it to keep the battery charged.

Orin,

Exactly. Have you noticed how many Toyota Camry's have dents in the rear corner of their bumpers, for example? It must be the lack of visibility inherent in the car.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Tamara,

Congratulations for finding the riding lifestyle and for continuing your education. You are truly wise. I'm honored that you graced my blog with such a kind comment.

You have made my week! There is no higher compliment than to have a rider tell me that found something of value from reading one of my posts.

Take care,

Dan

irondad said...

Mike,

It's neat to read a post and know you're riding the exact same roads as the writer isn't it? In fact, I saw a southbound rider on an RT yesterday morning just south of the Terwilliger Curves. It crossed my mind that it could be you but it seemed the jacket was the wrong color.

My eyes were busy with rapidly slowing traffic so I didn't even get a good wave in.

Making ourselves unhittable sure puts the ball squarely in our court, doesn't it?

Take care,

Dan