Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not me!

Last night I was reading the current post on Troubadour's blog. There was a write-up and some photos celebrating the arrival of his and Trobairitz' new neice, Baby Faith. Nestled among the pictures and text was this little gem.

What is it with motorcycle blogs turning into photo blogs, turning into baby picture blogs? It seems I am following a certain blogging mentor.

While the birth of Baby Faith is a joyful and sacred event, and I wish the utmost happiness, peace, and love to the family, I do want to clarify one little thing in regards to my blog.

I just want to go on record to say that I would never let myself go down this road. This is first and foremost a motorcycle blog. You will only see motorcycle content. You will never see photos like this one here.

You may see photos of motorcycles, motorcycle riders, or examples of hazardous traffic situations. You may even see other pictures that may not exactly apply to a bike but do an effective job of illustrating whatever words of riding wisdom I am dispensing. Which is to say you will never see photos like this other one, either.

You may see other motorcycle blogs turn into photo blogs and then into baby picture blogs. That will never happen here. No, Sir! Not me!

Thank you for this opportunity to set the record straight.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 22, 2010

Scenes from a sunny Sunday.

I'm finding my calling in photography. Urban settings and unusual things catch my eye. Katie and I went for a short drive on Sunday. Sorry, no riding. The plan was to get a bite at a brewery. I have this really firm personal rule about not mixing riding and any sort of alcohol comsumption. That's just my thing. Effects of alcohol aside, I would be horrified to have one of my many students see me drinking a beer with my riding gear nearby.

We parked in downtown Corvallis and took a stroll along the river walkway. Here's a few things that caught my eye and the camera lense.

Look at twin smokestacks through the trees and imagine a fire breathing creature of sorts.

Hang out with your friends and show off your blue underwear. While you're at it, wear pants and shoes that make you look like a girl.

Become airborne when the trick works.

Get a little jogging in when the trick goes sour and you have to chase your board.

Admire the architecture and wonder why anyone would pay a half million dollars and up to live in one of these condos. River view or not.

Wonder why the name on this sign looks so familiar.

Take a photo of an interesting shadow and tree trunk combination that catches your eye. Just because you can.

Bone up on some skeletal anatomy. I hope he studies hard; he's performing surgery tomorrow! By the way, this guy was more than happy to have his photo taken. Getting some attention is probably the point of choosing this location.

If you're feeling artistic like Joe and Ashlee, you can cover a cement wall with chalked graffiti. The top of the wall has written upon it:

"Masterpiece by Joe and Ashlee, give all donations to the charity of your choice."

It's refreshing to see graffiti that's cheerful and positive for a change.

Do you remember the song that the verse below is from? It will date you!

Bee happy!

Ashlee has her own tropical island. I'm thinking Joe feels a bit left out, though.

I guess if you cry enough, somebody will give you "pity power" to make you shut up. I don't know if I'm ready to try that approach, yet. It would be unbecoming a Warrior, I think.

Of course, every tropical island needs a shark. I wonder if Joe wishes it would eat Ashlee? Or maybe the other way around if Ashlee gets too fed up with Joe's crying!

One could also play "hide the bike between a car and a bush". Not sure what is going on here. This is the kind of thing you'd see at an apartment complex. There's only a couple of motels nearby and I don't think they're the kind that rent rooms by the week. Probably not even by the hour. Oh well, somebody knows what's up. I'm just the reporter.

Hope your Sunday was enjoyable!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Revved up!

Once you've crossed a line, have you ever noticed how much easier it is the second time? Maybe something like, oh I don't know, taking pictures from the bike while you're riding. With a handheld camera. Yeah, I did it again. Sometimes only the real deal will suffice.

Please bear in mind that I'm not advocating doing this kind of thing. I know, do as I say and not as I do. I happen to have a justifiably high opinion of my skill levels. These photos were also taken under somewhat controlled conditions. Even then, having great skills isn't a magic bullet.

Krysta from Milwaukee ( the place with two e's ) shared a quote with me from Harry Hurt.

"There is no magic bullet other than being smart".

What great words!

Anyway, back to the point of the post. Here's the photo:

I know, it's upside down. I'll fix it later, if you're too lazy to turn your monitor upside down.

What inspired this was riding around in Salem for work. Out of habit I keep the bike in a lower gear in order to keep the rpm's up. As Elvira and I rounded a particular curve in a street it suddenly struck me how alive she feels with the engine in a higher rpm range. You know how it is. Certain things take front and center at different times. I've written about keeping the rpm's up before, but it's such a useful tool it's worth sharing again.

Of course, now it's illegal to put up a blog post without a photo. Pretty soon, thanks to Bobskoot, it will be illegal to put up a blog post without a video. Now he's got Dom, Chris, and several others doing it. There's even pressure on me, now, in the name of "instructional videos"! Great. Just as soon as I get an instructional video in how to operate the camera and post the videos.

I could have sat in a parking lot somewhere and revved the snot out of Elvira while running in neutral. That's not the way I do things. My great friend Laurie is a vocal proponent of keeping it real. In that vein, I had to take the shot while actually riding.

First off, find a quiet country road. Stop with the flashers on. Elvira has them, so I put them to use. Put the G11 in the tank bag, turned on and with the screen flipped open. Take off the left glove. Ride for a bit and shift to second gear. Grab the G11 and take a photo of the tach while wound up in second gear. Unless you live in Key West and ride a battle hardened Triumph. Then you might not have a tach anymore. Be sure that you actually put the wrist strap around your wrist before taking the camera out of the tank bag. Take the photo, then reverse the procedure to put the camera back. Stop beside the road, zip the tank bag, put your glove back on, and breathe a sigh of relief that it went well.

Because of the angle the photo had to be taken with the left hand. Which meant holding the camera upside down. So the photo is upside down. Kind of cool, though, isn't it?

Most riders don't take full advantage of the wonderful sweet spot and dynamics available in their bike's engines. Part of it is not being aware of it in the first place. Part of it is that riders are uncomfortable with hearing the motor rev a bit more. Imagine that, not liking the sound of those sweet motors! Another thing is that loud pipes and showing off are the only reasons for riding in the first place. Never mind getting any sort of actual riding skills. Yes, that will offend some people. Get over it.

What this all boils down to is riding in a lower gear. In most instances this means using one gear lower than a rider is probably used to. Here are a few advantages.

Plan B in dealing with traffic includes both being able to stop quickly and to quickly get out of the way. If we find ourselves needing to speed up to avoid being hit, quickly roll on the throttle, and the bike says "huh?" we should have been in a lower gear.

The bike is so much more alive and responsive in a lower gear. At slower speeds, keeping the revs up will allow for much smoother control. Speed adjustments can be made with just a slight rolling on or off the throttle. Keeping the revs up while turning will help hold the bike up. Controlling the lean angle will be so much easier this way. The bike will want to stand up instead of falling down.

Cornering at speed will be much smoother with higher rpm's. When you find that sweet spot in the rev range, lean angles can be controlled with just a bit of throttle movement. Roll off a bit to lean, roll on a bit to stand it back up. So smooth and sweet. Think of one of those dimmer switches they use on lights. Why chop corners when you can carve them in style?

Rather than write about it more, I'd just encourage everyone to go out and ride. Go play with your bikes. Check it out. Enjoy. It will work to your advantage. Trust me. I'm a professional. Seriously. Go try it and then come back and let us know how it worked for you.

One caveat, though, on torque. Always be mindful of dicey traction conditions. Wet roads fall into this category. Always balance the torque on the rear wheel with available traction, especially when turning. In those instances a higher gear and less lean angle might be a bit better.

Oh, yeah. The upside down picture? Didn't you turn your monitor over? What? Too much trouble? Fine, fine, be that way. If you insist.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 15, 2010

Eyes up!

The great news? I get to ride a lot. A down side? There are bogies everywhere. More than ever. Some of these are other roadway users. We talked about that earlier. Other bogies are built-in so to speak. They're not looking to run into us. The challenge is to avoid running into them. At the least, to avoid having issues because of them. Good ole' stationary hazards.

How soon do we need to get this critical information? Just as soon as humanly possible. I know I'm preaching to the choir in a lot of instances here. That is totally awesome and I tip my helmet to you all. What I would ask you to do is to share with other riders, as well. Heaven knows there's a lot of riders who need it.

Time and again we find that the area most riders fall short in is their visual lead. These riders look 3 or 4 seconds ahead of the bike, if that. I once went nearly insane trying to teach a class of so-called experienced riders. No matter what we did, neither of us two instructors could get the students to look up from their front wheels. I know I don't have Hollywood good looks, but for heaven's sake I'm not that ugly, either!

Riders worry about what's happening at the front tire, and rightly so. What sucks is that if something is that close to our tire we're already screwed. It's way too late. Riders need to be looking as far as they can see. Instead of 3 or 4 seconds they should be looking 20 seconds ahead. The higher our speeds, the farther that 20 seconds is. Not to mention that higher speeds mean worse consequences if we miss something critical. There's another advantage of looking farther ahead that I'll share in just a bit.

Here are some snapshots of things I've encountered in the past few months.

Fall leaves are slippery, wet or dry. They always seem to end up right where we need to do our braking. Look how late that SUV dove into the left turn lane. Maybe right in front of us? Oncoming traffic needs attention, too. There's a lot going on and falling down in front of everybody is embarrassing and dangerous. Wouldn't it be better to know about the dicey traction way ahead of time and adjust accordingly?

By the way, I had a police cruiser behind me running interference while I parked in the middle of the street to take a few photos. The officer pulled in behind me to check out what was up. Once I explained he was pretty cool and got into the spirit. Wonderful person with some humor and common sense.

Geez. Just when you think you have a dry day to go strafe some twisties! This mud was left on the road from farm equipment. I think the mud's going to mess up the corner a bit, don't you? How soon do we need to know about stuff like this?

These next snapshots aren't mine. A fellow instructor took them and graciously gave me permission to use them here.

Yikes! Makes you pucker to think of whipping around a corner and encountering this, doesn't it? Again, how soon do we need to see this stuff? It also brings up a timely reminder. When do we commit to the apex of a corner? When we can see the exit. If we can't see the exit, what do we do? Stay to the outside and expect the worse. Which means slow down in case we come out of the corner and see stuff like this. We need to keep our eyes intensely working to see hazards just as soon as they become visible.

I know most of you already practice good scanning habits. Help me spread the word, won't you? There's entirely too many motorcycle accidents happening.

Another benefit of looking farther ahead? It slows the world down a bit. Try it. Look right ahead of the front wheel for a bit. Carefully; don't put yourself in danger of missing something important. Don't look for very long, but give it a shot. Notice how fast everything seems to be coming at you.

Next, look as far ahead as you can see. Things slow down, don't they? Everything seems to be coming at you more slowly. Which means we have more time to see and react to things. Instead of feeling like everything is happening at the last minute with lightning speed, there's time to scan and plan. Time to act instead of react. Time to find trouble before it finds us. A much happier situation all around.

More miles are going to be put on more bikes as the winter slides away. I care about you all. There are other riders you care about. Spread the word, won't you?

Eyes up!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, February 13, 2010

What's a little rain?

Things were a bit wet on Friday. Ok. Quite wet. So there was no question I was going to ride. Katie just shook her head and gave me this knowing smile. Kind of like you give to someone that you know is crazy but you don't know if they know it. A smile that says,

"You poor soul. You don't know how sick you are. On the other hand, I kind of envy you."

Maybe I should provide just a little more background. Ladies love tough outlaws and Katie's no exception. She doesn't think I'm crazy for riding in bad weather. What she finds crazy is the contrast. See, when the weather is as nasty as it can get, I will unfailingly ride and look forward to it. When the weather is nicer, I am finding myself a bit more ambivalent about riding these days. Not that I don't love riding in the sunshine, but for some unexplained reason I tend to waffle a bit more about it.

I took a photo of a sign at a Nike store last year and showed it to Katie. She thought it described me but with a twist. Here's the sign.

Katie says the twist is that I don't need to make other people look bad to feel better about myself. In fact, I do a lot to help other folks experience personal growth. It's one of the things I really love about being a professional motorcycle trainer, for example. Especially with more experienced riders. I find great satisfaction knowing that a rider is better off when they leave a class than when they arrived. This blog is an extension of that kind of thing, I suppose.

Just today Katie and I went to the mall to see some orchids on display. While we were there I noticed this guy kept looking over my way. Long story short, he came over and greeted me. He was one of my students from several years ago. This guy had taken a couple of long motorcycle trips since then. He told me that he still hears my voice coaching him as he rides. I like that kind of feedback.

I can't tell you why I am how I am. Maybe it's the need to establish credibility. How much respect would you give a teacher if you knew they didn't actually live what they were teaching? How well can a teacher guide their students if they don't have a wealth of experience themselves to draw from? I don't want to be looked up to without earning it.

Maybe it's my firmly held belief that we should either walk the talk or quit talking. I don't think I suffer from insecurity at all. Whatever the reasons, I always welcome the chance to pit myself against adverse riding conditions. Thus my riding on a really wet day.

How wet was it? Take a look.

The G11's swivel screen is great for taking self portraits. Have to hurry, though. Not sure how waterproof it is! There's already water on the lense.

I use Nikwax wash-in waterproofing products on my gear. Looks like it's still holding up.

What was the old Honda versus Kawasaki sportbike ad? Something like, "Even the Ninja knows he must hide from the Hurricane", I believe. Thus, it seemed prudent to come inside and dry out. I had to make a few phone calls, anyway.

Isn't it interesting that we can make our own little oasis with a few simple things? I think we serious riders are a pretty self sufficient lot. We make do with a lot less baggage than most. I also notice that there was still water on the G11 lense!

I discovered that my tank bag zipper now leaks in heavy rain. If you look just past the cell phone you'll see a pile of papers under my reading glasses. They ended up a bit wet. Not a biggie except for this one.

This is a factory machining template that I needed for my next stop. You can see how some of the ink ran and some red ink from another paper bled through. Fortunately, the information I needed was in two different places on the template so it all worked out.

While I was at the table a fellow instructor came by. Not having ridden, please note. That's ok. Scott spent a lot of years as an Oregon State Police motor officer. His dedication to riding and his skills are second to very few. What was interesting is that Scott told me he'd seen the bike in the parking lot. He wasn't at all surprised to see me riding in this weather. Pretty high compliment!

Unlike Thursday, yesterday never dried out. That's the way it goes, sometimes, eh? It's still riding!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, February 12, 2010

Impressions of a Day.

4 A.M. The alarm was set for 5. I can't believe I used to be a night owl. These days anything past 10 P.M. is beyond my bed time. Four or five in the morning has become the normal wakeup time. I was hoping for five. My crazy brain decided that it would be four. Coffee was made. The day was contemplated.

An early morning meeting in Portland was the starting item for Thursday. Heavy rain had dampened us during the night. More rain was forecast. From now until what seems forever. Most people wouldn't think twice about driving. Except for people like me. You know who you are. Still, though, you gotta wonder why we do it sometimes. I thought about it during my ride. An hour and fifteen minutes give or take.

People in their cars looked like they were still in bed, sitting up with a steering wheel in front of them. They might have been awake earlier. Now, however, the drone of the car on the freeway and the heater have lulled them back to slumber.

I, on the other hand, am wide awake and living the ride. Of course, there's not much other choice when the temperature is in the low 40's ( f ) before wind chill. I have got to get the bike wired.

Riding past Aurora and Canby, I often think of Jeff who works at the airport nearby. He's a newer instructor. Jeff's a young man with a new family. He will also make a kick-ass instructor. It's always an honor to help folks like him learn the craft of training riders.

Cold air and a lot of early morning coffee make the rest stop a desirable detour. I love the sound of Elvira's sweet motor as I roll off and snick down through the gears on the way in. While I'm there I spend a few extra moments and eat a bit of breakfast. A whole wheat bagel smeared with cream cheese. Tall trees abound as Mike shared with us earlier. I ponder the connection between so many of us. It started with motorcycles but deepened as we learn more about each other. My world is richer because of it. I value these online friendships immensely. What a blessing from being a rider and blogger!

When I put my helmet back on I feel the chill on my face. The helmet's gotten cold as it sat on the bike seat. Closely watched so it didn't fall off, by the way. Rain had made the pavement wet and it didn't look like a good place to put the helmet. Another unique experience you won't find in a car!

Rejoining traffic on the freeway, I follow the procedure as outlined in the driver's manual. One is instructed to "accelerate into the gap". Oh baby, do we ever! Don't you just love all that power on tap under your right wrist?

It's fully light by the time I roll into Portland. My destination is in the Pearl District of NW Portland. Elvira and I hit the Terwilliger Curves on Interstate 5 during rush hour. For a while traffic is more or less stop and go. I pass the time by playing a game that helps me keep my scanning skills highly polished. There are certain truths in the universe. Things like gravity and the earth's rotation. Among these truths is this one. When traffic backs up, people get Stupid.

So I play the "who's going to dash where?" game. Haven't you found that you start to get a feel for which drivers are going to start diving in and out of gaps? I feel like I can literally see the car start to twitch before the driver takes off. Why do people wear themselves out like that? I maintain a decent following distance. Which means a lot of the times, cars are diving in front of me.

When traffic comes to a stop, I entertain myself by seeing how long I can go without putting my foot down. It's fun, but you have to be careful not to put yourself in an unbalanced and vulnerable position. Nothing worse than having to react and finding the bike isn't stable enough to do so.

Some of the areas of town like the Pearl District seem physically crowded by narrow streets and tall buildings. Traffic can sometimes be tough as several main arterials come together at the west end of the district. Negotiating these areas on a bike is a breeze. There's all the room in the world. I find a parking spot right across from the building with ease. Portland has these boxes where you have to go pay then get a receipt for your window. The instructions say to stick the receipt on the curb side window. The right side of the windshield is as close as I got. I took the photo as proof that I had actually purchased parking time. Just in case some scroundrel stole my sticker and I got ticketed.

I was a half hour early for the meeting. Coming from so far and not knowing what traffic might be like, my preference is to allow plenty of time. I hate being late. So I took a few photos of the area as I was waiting. The intreprid G11 goes almost everywhere with me these days.

This little area is geometrically strange because of the way three streets come together. There's this sculpture featuring bicycles on a piece of sidewalk. If you look at the photo below you get an idea for the corner and the artwork. Up on a pole high above the jumble of bikes is one golden bicycle.

Here's a closer look at the bikes themselves. As I'm trying to get a decent photo a woman walks by. She is dressed like she lives in some fancy upper floor apartment somewhere. The woman is walking a Yorkshire terrier. Tiny little dog. Anyway, the woman asks me how the people get their bikes untangled when it's time to go home. Resisting the urge to fall on the ground laughing, I calmly look at her, searching her face. She's bone serious. I explain that the middle pole is actually a strong magnet. That's what holds the bikes up. Each person is issued a small transmitter like a garage door opener. Each box has its own code. The person simply pushes the button and the corresponding tag on the bike cuts the magnetic field enough for the bike to be removed. Each person can only take their own bike with this arrangement.

The woman nodded as if she thoroughly understood and took off walking with her dog again. I'm great at keeping a straight face but I thought I was going to hurt myself doing it. Holy cow! I don't know if the woman actually believed me or not. If she saw through me, she had a better poker face than me. What if she was married or had a partner? Can you see her explaining what she'd "learned" over supper?

Here's a photo of the building I was visiting. This was taken across the street standing beside Elvira. I'm actually quite proud of this one. Originally, the sky was really washed out. I've put the original in after the touched up one for comparison purposes.

Chuck Pefley posted a photo of some fiber-glass pigs. He had changed the background behind the pigs from a drab wall to something more pleasing to the eye. Inspired, I spent some time with Photoshop last night. I was able to change the sky to match the sky in the photo of the churchspire above. The sky in that photo is what was really there. In my building photo, the camera didn't capture the sky in the same way.

Anyway, Chuck and Bobskoot have been both inspirational and sources of photographic wisdom for me. Both are secure enough not to feel threatened by a newby photo punk like me and have willingly and graciously shared their knowledge. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate it. This is an example of the connection I wrote about above. A lot of us motorcycle people are rascals and rebels on the outside, but inside are hearts solidly grounded in decency. If I hadn't been a rider I would never have gotten to know you all.

After the meeting one of the architects took me on a personal tour of the finished building. ZGF is a prestigious architectural firm. They own the building and occupy floors two through five. All the upper floors were intended to be upscale condos. Due to the economy, the plan is now to rent them as apartments. The top floor does have eight privately owned units. My guide showed me a couple of model apartments. A studio rents for about $1500.00 a month. It works out to around two dollars a square foot. Guess I'll have to work some overtime to live here!

Up on the roof are three turbines. They are functional for generating electricity but are mostly symbolic. The turbines can only cover about three percent of the building's needs.

There are some elaborate snubber systems at the base of each pole to soak up vibrations.

There's also some sort of governor system to stop the blades from turning if the wind gets over 50 mph. I'm not sure how it works, exactly, and neither did the architect. I presume it's some sort of centrifugal apparatus that spreads out like brake shoes on a brake drum.

The view is pretty cool. Not enough to justify the price, in my mind, but pretty neat to see as a visitor.

If you look at the photo below you can see a bridge in the distance. It's called the Fremont Bridge. It's a double-decker as are a lot of Portland's bridges.

Rain was falling once more as I spurred Elvira away from the building. My destination was south so I headed for Interstate 5. This route took me over the bottom deck of the Fremont Bridge. Once again, being on a bike gave me a couple of unique experiences.

Wet pavement bears watching closely. Traction is pretty critical on a bike, as you know. Heading under cover, the pavement was dry. The transition points are pretty cool to see. Vehicle tires track water onto the dry pavement in decorative ribbons. Each tire leaves its own pattern. Big tires, small tires, and differing tread patterns are all revealed in these moisture tracks. Each trail eventually peters out as the tires dry. How many car drivers ever even notice this kind of thing?

Once under cover, I enjoyed the feeling of having a giant canopy spread over me to keep me dry. For the length of the bridge I was as snug and dry as any car driver. Of course, you eventually have to exit the other side!

I claimed my personal parking spot at Lloyd Center Mall. On the way there I stopped at a light and found myself next to a Portland Police motor officer. I recognized him from some previous training sessions. Despite the rain, we were both enjoying being on a bike. It was a brief encounter but it was nice to make the connection.

With so much contrast between the light pouring in from the open side of the parking structure and the dark interior I haven't been able to conquer it with the G11, yet. So I played with the color and now I call my bad photo "artistic". That's another trick you pros taught me!

I pulled in and then turned the bike around in the small area. As I was straddle walking the bike backwards, I noticed that the cement wall was reflecting the rumble of Elvira's engine back at me. What an awesome sound! I'm starting to really love that motor and the way it sounds. I revved it a few times just to put a finishing crescendo or two on the symphony. I'll guarantee that none of the drivers pulled into their little stalls got to hear the same kind of music.

The ride home was great. Rain kept up. Which meant it didn't come down! It was downright balmy. There's that certain temperature point where it actually feels very refreshing. What a nice ride! As a matter of fact, I want to share something with you that could be construed as slightly embarrassing. On the other hand, I'll bet some of you do this yourselves but won't readily admit it. Have you ever felt so good riding a bike that you did a little "happy dance"? You know what I mean. It's not very macho, but I find myself weaving the bike in my lane a bit out of sheer joy. It's the motorcycling equivalent of wagging your tail. Sorry, but I just can't help myself. I've been riding as long as I can remember. It still feels so darn good!

So, yes, I could have driven. Instead I rode. Yes, I got a bit wet. Not to mention cold in the early morning. On the other hand, look at how much I would have missed out on. Rain was pouring down this morning. Did I ride? Of course. Driving would be too boring!

Miles and smiles,


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,


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.