Monday, August 30, 2010

Imagined, or Tested?

"I'm a 5K specialist!" So declared my colleague. I could believe it. He's small and wiry, obviously built for running. The guy is about as relaxed as a gerbil on a caffeine buzz. I guess he's pretty successful at what he does. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I ran a 5K once. My experience was totally different than my colleague's. I could say I'm a "5K and a word that starts with the letter 's'", but that word would be different than his. Yes, folks, I'm a 5K survivor.

Interestingly, my experience has a direct correlation to riding a motorcycle. Not riding a motorcycle in 5K races. Although I'd have been better off if I had. I'm talking about riders who think they're prepared for riding in the real world. Sometimes it's just an illusion. Nobody really knows until they've been tested. Training sessions are a way to assess one's abilities. It's a much better way than being tested in a critical situation. One of my mantras is that training teaches us what we need to practice. Here's my story. As you read it notice if there isn't similarities to riders you know, or know of.

I'd been seriously into bodybuilding for about three years. My buddies Sonny, Scott, and I had done a couple of local competitions. One day a notice appeared on the bulletin board of the gym where we worked out. Well, it was really an athletic club complete with raquetball courts and a hot tub. We called it "The Gym". After all, what self-respecting bodybuilder worked out at an athletic club?

The three of us were deeply into the mystique. Most members used the weight machines. We segregated ourselves in an upstairs corner where the free weights were. Up there we were sweating, grunting, bodybuilders building muscle in "The Gym".

A brightly colored piece of paper announced that a 5K run would be held in our town three weeks hence. I decided to enter. How hard could it be? 3.1 miles. When we were cutting for a contest I "ran" 5 miles three times a week on country roads. Notice the quotation marks around "ran". More on that later. Once I'd even run 19 laps around the upstairs track with Clinton on my shoulders just to show off to the guys. ( for the record Clinton was a toddler then ) Also reading the notice were several real runners. I'd noticed that these people did nothing but run. No weights, no machines, just running. Looking at them, I felt superior. Heck, my upper arms were as large as some of their thighs. I was a muscular god among these mere mortals. I was Irondad, after all. So named by my oldest son in an 8th grade art project.

Their art project was to make something out of clay, glaze and fire it, then paint it. While the other kids were making ashtrays or imprints of their hands, Dustin was making a statue of me, his dad. It was modeled after the Sandow Trophy given to those who finished first in the world's premiere bodybuilding event, the Mr. Olympia contest. My son proudly inscribed at the bottom the title of his work. IRON DAD.

So starts the delusion.

I tried to talk Sonny and Scott into entering with me. They declined my urgings. There were more excuses than a guy trying to talk his way out of a speeding ticket.

Daylight came and went twenty some times and the appointed Saturday morning arrived. I showed up and signed in. I was given a square piece of heavy construction paper and told to safety pin it to the front of my tank top. Number 38 was an official starter in the race. An announcement was made. I and 155 other competitors lined up for the start. At the sound of a whistle 156 runners thundered off.

Early morning in August is a good time to run. The air is crisp and moist. Sunshine encourages and uplifts you rather than burning you off the face of the planet like later in the day. I was energized and surged toward the front of the pack. My pace was really fast. A relaxed smile was on my face. Zeus cavorting among humans. At least for somewhere around three quarters of a mile. I was due to start eating great quantities of dust and a lot of humble pie.

Those chiseled thighs and bulging calves suddenly started feeling very heavy. My mighty pectoral muscles were all that kept my pounding heart from bursting out of my chest. At the same time my lungs were struggling to lift those same muscles in order to expand and get air. That superior relaxed smile became a grimace. A hundred runners started passing me one or two at a time. What was even more humiliating was the layout of the course. I would soon see those who passed me coming back the other way.

The course was split between an inbound and outbound leg. We started out by weaving through a few city blocks on the edge of town. Then we turned onto a country road. The halfway point was on this road. Outbound a ways, then turn around and come back in the opposite direction. Which means that the outbound runners were on one side of the narrow road. The inbound runners were on the other. Before I was even near the halfway point those who had passed me were coming back towards me. Some were very encouraging.

"Way to go, number 38!" Hang in there, Number 38!" "You can do it, Number 38!"

Sure, easy for them. These people would be home, showered and changed, and wondering what to have for lunch before I even crossed the finish line. I tried intimidating them with a withering glare. That's much harder than it sounds when the one doing the glaring is gasping for air like a goldfish that just flopped out of its bowl.

Out of 156 entrants I finished 141st. My only consolation was that I actually finished and didn't throw up. I'm also pretty sure I beat everyone entered in the 80 years or older class. Except for that one old lady who smacked me on the butt and winked as she passed me.

I learned a valuable lesson that day. I've since applied what I learned to other aspects of my life. Including, and especially, to motorcycling. Here's the lesson.

My two buddies and I were our own peer group. We had "The Look" down. We wore what was popular in the bodybuilding world at the time. As much as I hate to admit it, we were poseurs. Not that we weren't strong. Shredded, I was 165 pounds of pure muscle. Scott was around 220. Sonny was about 155. I needed a spotter for ultra heavy leg presses. We would spot Scott when he did 320 pound bench presses for reps. The problem was that we started believing our own hype. We looked awesome in tight t-shirts with no sleeves and the neck line slit for our deltoids to show through. Because of the way we looked and the amount of weight we threw around, we thought we were real studly athletes all around. The thing is, we'd never really been tested outside of our little world.

Starting to see similarities to some riders?

Take the running thing. When we went outside we called it running. Truth be told, we were slow joggers. Scott was the de facto leader due to his superior size and strength. Scott was very competitive, as were Sonny and I. Scott would lead the "runs". Sonny and I soon figured out how to work the system. If either of us would pull even with Scott he would speed up. We'd speed up to stay with him. Pretty soon we'd all be gasping but wouldn't give up. Sonny and I realized that if we stayed a half step behind Scott the pace would be slower and we'd all work less. We had this five mile loop we covered three times a week.

We were our own peer group and measured ourselves based on each other.

I never trained for the 5K run. I based my estimation of performance on our muscle mass and our five mile jogs. I assumed I would do great things. Here's the key. I had never really been tested. My over inflated ego was based on my two buddies who, in reality, were no better than me at actually running.

Had I actually hung out with real runners and trained with them, it would have been a different story. The training sessions would have been a series of small tests. I'd have been able to see where I was strong and where I was weak. In other words, training with runners who actually knew what they were doing would have showed me what I needed to practice. I could have added strengths and techniques like pacing myself before the big test of the actual run. Make sense so far?

Let's bring it back to riders.

Having a certain look does not make for a high skill level. The same way that bursting the sleeves of a tight shirt does not make a person a true athlete.

Riders typically ride with their own peer group. It's not written in stone, but for the most part the skill level is fairly uniform among the group. Individual riders tend to measure their skills against those in the group. If the group as a whole is comprised of those with adequate, but not high, skills then the individual can think they're doing pretty well. That's a dangerous assumption because it's based on self-evaluation and not real testing. Interestingly, despite the numerous hazards out there for motorcyclists, a rider can go a long time before being tested. So the "myth" continues. The myth that a rider can deal with whatever happens when the time comes. But how do we really know for sure?

Testing can come in two forms. Sort of like medical tests. There are those routine lab tests to check on the condition of a person. Then there are those critical and urgent tests in times of crisis.

For motorcyclists the two types of tests are routine training sessions with professionals or the highly critical tests in the real world where life and limb are at stake. Which brings me to the moral of this story.

I would urge everyone to look at continued motorcycle training sessions in light of my story. We routinely get riders into our advanced classes who have never taken formal training. This despite riding for years. Some come willingly while others are there because of peer pressure from the group who is signed up. Egos often need to be put aside. Either way, it's great that they come. What happens in most cases is that these riders find they really didn't know what they thought they knew. Without fail, these riders go away with either new skills or a deeper understanding of an existing skill. Usually it's both.

Like I say, training teaches us what to practice. It's much wiser to fail a routine test and have the chance to study harder on what we're lacking. Sadly, too many riders assume they know what to do and can pull it off when facing a critical incident on the streets. The hazard is that there's a great chance they'll fail the Final Test.

Don't just assume. Better to know for sure ahead of time. Not only does training teach us what to practice, but that very same practice can actually decrease our chances of facing that final test in the first place. Don't know about you, but that's something I can run with!

Miles and smiles,


Postscript: This post was in the works well before our last Advanced Rider Training class. Those of you who signed up for this class are not included in those I describe here. In fact, just the opposite. You are awesome examples of riders looking to improve your craft and who realize the value of formal training!!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where's Rick?

I dug around in the attic and found my old eight track player. Then I ran all my raw nef file photos from our ART course through the player. The more retro you go, the slower the files play. Since this was 30 year old technology the files passed really slowly. I mean really slow. Freezing the frames meant I could finally catch the flying Rickster in action. Without further ado, I present the Kawasaki ZZR that is so burning fast it always looks like black charcoal.

All right, I admit it. No 8 track players were involved. However, I'm so slow with technical editing in Photoshop that it seems that slow. I actually took Rick out of a crowd then placed him in a layer I created that had another bike in it. I replaced that bike with Rick on his bike. I felt bad that I missed putting up a trophy photo for him. After reading Bolty and Troubadour's comments about pilfering my photos I had to do it. Pretty cool, job eh?

BeemerGirl asked about the track. Here is an aerial photo. Did you all notice me gone for a while? Remember that guy up in the really tall tree with the Ospreys? That's ok. You can thank me later for the risk I took getting you this photo!

The paddock and front straight are on the left. Notice the river on the right? Only some hay bales and a dirt bank separate the riders from the water. Good thing you didn't know that at the time, isn't it? Target fixation, anyone?

Miles and smiles,


Burning up the rubber!

I'm taking a slight detour on the way to the promised running post. Yesterday I had the great privilege of being lead instructor for one of our Advanced Rider Training ( ART ) classes. I enjoy them all but this one was extra special.

Quite a number of the Corvallis area blogger gang ( and their partners in crime ) had signed up for this class. We had a great day. At least from my perspective. I'm not going to detail the day. Just wanted to share a few quick snapshots I was able to grab in between things. The bright and sunny conditions were better suited to riding than photo opportunities.

The bloggers attending were Troubadour, Bluekat, and Bolty. They brought along Rick, Eric, and Birthday Girl Stacey. Eric had previously been one of my Basic Rider students. I have deep respect and admiration for riders who take more advanced training. My hope is that my fellow instructors and I were able to help them take their skill levels up a notch or two.

As you can see, Troubadour has some serious lean going on. I'm pretty sure his bike was lighter at the end of the day!

Coincidentally, that guy on the Beemer RT in the background is one of my business customers. This is the second year in a row I have been his instructor. Helps the business relationship immensely.

Bluekat was styling on Sam, her beautiful green Ninja. I couldn't help but wonder if there were green crocs in that trunk case.

Following Bolty and the new-to-her SV650 around the track, it was obvious that the two of them have meshed well. Her riding is very fluid and graceful. Is there a huge grin under that smoked visor?

When I get new riders in my basic classes they sort of become my "kids". Eric, I'm pleased to say, has grown up and flown the nest. I'm proud of you, "Son"!

My aplogies to Rick. I thought I had a couple of good shots. One turned out blurred and in the other you had a tree growing out of the top of your helmet. I did get you in the group in the last photo. Actually, Rick's so fast that only the fastest cameras can catch him!

For a few minutes I camped out at the end of the swerve box. Bluekat threatened to run over me for being such a distraction. Sorry about that. It is interesting, now that we mention it, how the riders turned to stare at me. I figured I better quit while I was still intact.

There's Birthday Girl Stacey. She looks a little intimidating coming at me, don't you think?

This isn't one of the gang but I target fixated on that yellow helmet.

The photos are dark, as you can see. I was in the shade. Trying to get a fast shutter speed to stop the action, I made a mistake and set it TOO fast. The zoom lense wouldn't open far enough to compensate, it seems. One of these days I'll be able to get it right on the fly, I hope! It doesn't help that I forgot to take the polarizing filter off the lense. Guess I'm still a better rider than photographer. Of course, I've been riding much longer. I just hope it doesn't take me another 43 years to get proficient at making photos.

Here's the whole group giving us some written feedback on the course. This is proof you were there, Rick! Troubadour is either smoking his pen or wishing us all a peaceful day.

Thanks for taking the class, gang. From my perspective is was an immensely enjoyable day! As riders may you live long and prosper.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, August 19, 2010

A New 'Stich and a New Revelation.

My new 'Stich arrived. More technically, a two piece Aerostich Roadcrafter. It was delivered three weeks after I ordered it. Which is good for me but no so good for Aerostich, I fear. When I ordered the last one over a decade ago the lead time was 12 weeks. My hope is that the situation is due to increased efficiency instead of lower business volume. Unfortunately, I fear that the economy has hit them, too.

I've rediscovered a couple of things in the process and learned some new things, as well. You might find some of this interesting.

One thing that really impressed me is the card that came with the suit. Here it is.

These people literally put their name behind their work. That's pride in your craft. None of this Inspector 12 crap. Real people, real names. My new Roadcrafter shows quality throughout. I thank Karen, Wendy, Luke, John, and Janet for their efforts on my behalf though I was but a nameless customer halfway across the country. Thanks, too, to those in other departments that had a hand in all this.

Speaking of quality, some changes have been made since I ordered the last one. Here's an excerpt from Andy's e-mail. In case anyone has been living under a rock and doesn't know the God of Motorcycle Gear, Andy Goldfine is the head honcho at Aerostich and Rider Wearhouse. There's a link to them on the right of the blog.

"I'm glad your old Roadcrafter gave you such good service, and that you will be replacing it with another one. I appreciate your business. You will notice a few small changes and updates in your new Roadcrafter, including better impact armor, stronger reflective material, water and wind proof zippers in all vent and pocket locations, and belt loops in the 2pc pants...and some other things. I hope your new suit will provide similar long service."

Not sure what Andy meant by "........and some other things", but I'm hoping that part of it is a material that is more resistant to shrinking! Which brings us to one of the reasons I replaced the suit in the first place.

By my reckoning the old Roadcrafter has seen a little over two hundred thousand miles of riding with me. The collar has worn into a series of little cloth rolls. The hook and loop on the right side of the pants no longer holds the flap over the pocket. The right pant leg zipper wants to creep up as the bottom snap is broken. I sent the suit back to Aerostich five years ago for a bit of refurbishing including new armor pads but I'm wearing some of it out again.

Mind you, the suit is still perfectly serviceable. These are really minor things. It's amazing how durable these suits are. I will probably send the old one back for another refurbish and keep it for a spare. So, you ask, if the old suit is still so serviceable, why did you replace it? A very good question.

A big reason is the fit thing. I'm pretty sure it's not my fault. I think that countless hours of hot summer sun and cold winter rain have caused the suit to shrink. Although Andy will vigorously shake his head and deny that could happen. He'll probably say that I am no longer the same shape as I was 11 years ago. Ouch! Ok, maybe there is a tiny bit of truth in that. I'd rather blame it on a poor buying decision. Let me explain.

Here's what the book that comes with the Roadcrafter has to say about the matter:

"Finally, remember that a looser, baggier fit will always be more comfortable and versatile than a tighter fit. Your suit was designed to fit like the coveralls that mechanics and painters often wear, not like racing leathers. ( If you like your suit's function but dislike its appearance, try to avoid mirrors, plate glass windows, etc. )"

First, let's get one thing clear. The pants I ordered this time are exactly the same waist size as I ordered 11 years ago and they fit fine. It's the jacket that was the concern. Last time I ordered a size 42 jacket. I wanted the sleek fit. My chest was larger than my stomach. I was working out a lot. It all worked out just great. Then two things happened.

I took a desk job for the first time in my life. Sometime during that three and a half years gravity also got stronger. Due to a much longer commute my gym time suffered. My large, muscular chest and sleek stomach started to sort of blend together. Ok, to be brutally honest they somehow switched places. The jacket still fit okay due to strong zippers, but there wasn't much room for extra insulation under it. Sure, I boast about being a tough guy and not using an electric vest and so on during the winter. Hey, what choice do you have when that stuff won't fit under your jacket?

Thankfully, I have been away from the desk job for a while. So what's my excuse, now? Let's just say it's been a long winter. I plan to go back to the gym, let's see, any day now.

Once I worked with a guy who used to remark about the gruesome faces runners would be displaying. He said it looked like fun. Dripping with sarcasm, of course. His statement is that the only time he'd run would be from sheer terror. I used to enjoy running. That's a lead-in to my next post, by the way. Please take note.

This time I ordered the jacket a couple of sizes larger. It does feel a bit baggy. However, I will reserve judgement until much colder weather hits. In the meantime I've gotten quite good at avoiding my reflection so all is well.

I have come face to face with something I had forgotten about. A new Roadcrafter takes some time to break in. In other words, this super tough material is stiff! Picture trying to hug somebody in a suit of armor. The material density causes problems with proprioception. Go look it up. What? Just because we're motorcyclists we shouldn't have an intelligent vocabulary?

Getting on and off the bike is somewhat pathetic but totally funny. As long as you're watching and not the one getting on the bike, that is. My brain gives the signal to my leg telling it to bend a certain amount. The leg gets the signal and tries to obey. The suit stiffness allows about 85 percent compliance. Oh well. Eventually the Roadcrafter will get broken in. I'm confident it won't take too long.

There was a certain mental revelation in the process, as well. Take a look at the photo below.

It should be obvious which one is the new one. The new jacket is bright! Let's quickly comment on the Hi-Viz thing while we're here.

There are those who swear by bright colors and those who say that bright colors aren't all that effective. That discussion could take up a whole post by itself. I'm a professional rider. Between my own experiences and studies like the Hurt Report ( where it stated that in only 5 percent of the motorcycle accidents they studied was the rider wearing a conspicuous color ) I believe that bright colors make a positive contribution to rider safety. I also firmly believe that many riders make the mistake of thinking of conspicuity as a magic bullet. Like anything else, bright colors are only one tool in a tool box that should be well stocked otherwise.

Besides, the Hi-Viz and black sort of became a trademark of senior instructors in our training program. Which brings me to the last point.

I fnd myself sort of embarrassed to be wearing such an obviously new riding suit. Oh, I'm proud to be wearing such an item as a 'Stich. That's not the issue. I find I've become overly attached to the romantic image of a rider in a well worn riding suit of any sort. Kind of like the old Western theme of the dusty cowboy walking through the swinging doors. He may look a bit scruffy but you know he's seen it all and you shouldn't lightly mess with him.

That's an apt analogy. Like I 've told you all, I grew up a cowboy. Grandpa had me riding a horse before I could walk. We did the rodeo thing followed later by horseshows. I grew up around horses and real cowboys. Grandpa called me "Dude", never Dan. Back then it wasn't just another expression for a guy. It referred to a sort of apprentice cowboy. That's what I feel like in this brand new Roadcrafter.

I always thought I was a pretty secure guy. Now I somehow feel like I've lost a bit of credibility. It took me several days to work up the nerve to even wear the new suit. I want my image back.

That revelation really struck me. Maybe I should lighten up a little on some of those riders I've been inwardly giving a bad time. You know what I'm talking about. Those who wear certain things to present a given image. Dang. This honest self-examination thing can be a bugger sometimes. You never know what you're going to discover!

Stay tuned. The next post will be about an experience I had running. I'll leave you wondering what in the world that has to do with riding a motorcycle well.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

DVD Review: Ride Like a Pro: The Dragon

I made a promise a while back. I am admittedly late in fulfilling it, but the promise is hereby kept, nonetheless.

Back in the early part of March I won a trivia contest over at Jay Green's blog, Road Captain USA. The objective was to match 18 bloggers listed by Lady Di with their occupations. The prize was this DVD that I am writing about today. Being still possessed of investigative skills I went to work. Putting the matches together required a lot of digging. I submitted my answers to Jay and Lady Di, pretty sure they were all correct. I don't know if I'm the only one to get all 18 but I was the first. You can see the post here.

Jay honorably followed through and sent me the video. On it was a note asking me to write about it on my blog. While not specifically writing back to make a promise, I didn't send anything saying I wouldn't. Thus, it became a case of implied agreement. So, Jay, I'm finally catching up.

This is the DVD. Literally. It's a photo of my copy.

I had seen a previous video by Jerry Palladino. Jerry comes from the background of a motor officer. The video I had seen before covered low speed control skills. I thought the video presented the material in an easy to understand and logical manner. So I had similar expectations for this one. The quality of the presentation manner did not disappoint. I really appreciate that Jerry keeps himself in the background. It's about the instruction, not him. As good as he is, the video is about the riding. A tip of my helmet to Jerry for that.

As to content. You might have guessed that this video is about cornering correctly. You would be right. The viewer is allowed to watch riders as they corner, both correctly and not, by means of a helmet cam. The footage is courtesy of a guy who specializes in filming riders at Deals Gap. He's called Yellow Wolfe after the name of his production company. Yellow Wolfe is a big guy who rides a big yellow Goldwing GL1800. More on that later.

I'm not going to give you a blow by blow account. That would negate the urge to go out and buy the DVD, wouldn't it? Here's some highlights.

A lot of emphasis is on proper cornering technique. Part of that correct technique is riding at a pace that is correct for the individual rider. Riding your own ride is a hugely valuable piece of counsel. Another aspect that gets attention is being prepared for unexpected emergencies. You won't believe some examples shown on the video! Riding smart is essential anytime, especially in a place with a lot of curves.

One part I really enjoyed was watching Yellow Wolfe following a couple of guys on sport bikes. Remember, he's on a Goldwing! It's interesting to watch a really good rider using proper technique and honed skills run down the sport bikes. What's even more intriguing is to watch the way the sport bike riders let their egos rule. They are reluctant to let the big bike pass so they ride harder and harder to stay in front. Unfortunately, as they push themselves they start to ride over their heads. They don't crash but it's a miracle.

There's several very valuable lessons in this footage.

I do have a couple of areas where I think things could have been done either differently or stated more clearly. As a person who trains motor cops myself, I feel qualified to offer this feedback.

Firstly, it's probably a semantic issue, but there's a couple of statements that I think can give riders the wrong idea.

Jerry talks about the proper line through a curve. Outside, inside, outside. In the narration, Jerry states a couple of times that the proper place to enter a corner is to the "extreme outside". I don't feel a rider should be right on the edge of the road. Doing so takes away room for a Plan B, just in case. I'm sure that Jerry wasn't telling a rider to hug the fogline, but that's what it comes across as.

The video stresses having braking done before the curve. However, a statement is made to the effect that "just before we enter the curve we let off the brakes and roll on the throttle". I'd be happier making sure riders know that they should be back on the throttle before they lean the bike. What Jerry says is workable for more experienced riders. They change the basics for a specific reason, not just to be sloppy. I'm pretty sure a lot of riders watching the video either aren't experienced or as good as they think they are. Some could go away with the wrong idea or feel justified in being sloppy from hearing the sequence stated this way.

Part of the footage deals with crashes. Some are as they happen and some show the aftermath. At first it seemed like the footage was backing up Jerry's statements that the consequences of screwing up can be costly. After a while, though, I began to wonder if some of it wasn't just gratuitous titillation.

All in all, I would recommend watching this video. There's value in reminding us of the need for practicing what we already know and learning something new. In addition there's some entertainment thrown in if you like watching motorcycles. Who of here doesn't, after all?

I believe you can purchase this and other videos by Jerry "Motorman" Palladino at the Road Captain USA store. I have no deal for commissions or anything. I simply feel that Jerry goes a good job of covering some skills riders need. We can't learn enough when it comes to getting it right on a bike.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Suddenly, there it was!

You're riding along enjoying the morning. Oregon's High Desert just east of the Cascade Mountains offers awesome and engaging scenery. Suddenly, an unexpected piece of scenery presents itself. Looking through your windscreen you see a bucket that has blown out of the back of the pickup ahead.

Maybe it's empty, maybe it's not. You certainly don't want to hit it and find out. You need to decide pretty darn quick what avoidance action to take. The preferred choice is to stop. That isn't going to happen. Stopping, even at maximum braking, takes room. Room you don't have. Choice number two is to swerve around it. This option takes less space. It also opens up other hazards if done incorrectly. Unfortunately, a lot of riders get it wrong.

Are you thinking the bucket thing is a bit corny or stretching it? Let me tell you about a recent motorcycle accident. It happened on the last day of the BMW rally in Redmond. The day after the first annual International Moto-Bloggers Convention ( copyright T-Bolt ). As part of the gang was heading west toward the Pacific Ocean they saw the accident scene. Here's the reference. Look at the sixth paragraph.

Briefly, here's what happened. Two BMW's being ridden two up. Both on the same road traveling in the same direction, but not actually together. A bucket bounced out of a pickup ahead of the bike in front. Yep, a bucket flew out of the truck onto the road. The first rider successfully swerved around the bucket. The second rider got around the bucket but ran into the back of the first bike in the process. Both bikes went down. All four people on two wheels went to the hospital. Those on the first bike with minor injuries. Those on the second bike with serious to critical injuries. Would you like to reconsider your opinion of my bucket photo and illustration, now?

I'm not going to dissect this particular accident. I wasn't there although I have talked to an officer that was on scene. Judging by the number of swerve attempts that end up in crashes, a lot of riders don't have a full understanding of the maneuver. Many riders in my classes who claim to have a lot of experience don't fully understand it, either. So I figured it might be a good idea to take a look at swerving correctly.

It's often easier to break a process down into parts. In the case of swerving we can break it into these parts: The presses, where we look, and traction management.

There's confusion about the presses in two different areas. The first is about actually realizing that a rider needs to press on the handgrip in the direction they need the bike to move. Some riders actually try to STEER around the hazard. In their "every bodily orifice tensed up" state they fall back on driving a car. Ironically, attempting to steer around a hazard actually countersteers a bike right into the very thing they were trying to avoid. Interestingly, Youg Dai made a similar comment on my post about Visualizing Success. Here are some excerpts.

Now dial in an :'Oh my god I am going to die!',bend that is tighter than you first thought. The if that is what is swamping your concious thought, as you have said before, the rest of the body is running on learnt muscle memory and reaction, so you try to steer towards the bend, as you would in a car. ..... where in fact you are applying counter steering input to the bike and in entirely the wrong direction.

This happened to me 12 years ago at less than 20 mph, so I healed and the bike was repaired. Now for many years I thought the cause of the bike running wide was me braking in mid corner.

We then had a presentation from an accident investigator at my riding group, about the number of single vehicle accidents on corners involving middle-aged men on summer Sundays, where he put up that theory. I thought back over my own accident and I now firmly believe it was me introducing the wrong steering inputs that actually put me across the kerb and into the wall.

Young Dai was talking about finding oneself too hot into a corner but the same principle applies. Tense situations often cause people to revert to ingrained habits. Good or bad.

Having established that we actually need to countersteer the bike in the direction of our escape route, let's talk about the actual presses. A swerve is two consecutive countersteers. A press in one direction followed by a press in the other direction. So what does each of the presses do?

There seems to pretty much be general agreement about what the first press does. The first press moves the bike into the new path of travel. Obviously, we want that new path to be one that is clear of the obstacle and that doesn't put us into worse danger once we get there. Hold that first press long enough to totally clear the obstacle. It doesn't do us much good to have the front tire clear the back end of a truck, for instance, only to find that our saddlebag hits the bumper. Or to catch a mirror in the visor.

Notice the term "hold the press". The amount the bike moves doesn't depend on how hard you hit the handgrip. It's the length of time we hold the press that determines how far the bike moves. Think of the press as standing in the doorway of your house. Then think of putting your palm flat against the storm door. ( of course, on the bike your hand will be curved around the grip ). Now push the door straight away from you to open it and let the cat or dog outside. It's that simple, because all you're doing is moving the front wheel slightly to one side. The faster the bike is traveling the more resistance you will feel to the press. Higher speeds require a firmer press.

Don't worry about a lot of upper body movement. There isn't time for that, anyway. Only the hands move. Let the bike move independently underneath you. In my classes I call it the "Elvis Presley School of Swerving; just let your hips swivel, Baby!"

Then my joke is "Notice I just said it, I didn't do it!" In my last Advanced Rider Training classroom I had a couple of Harley gals pull out some dollar bills and offer them to me if I did it. I might have blushed. Where's Jack R. when you need him?

Back to the presses. The first press moves the bike into the new path of travel. What does the second press do?

I've had a lot of riders tell me that the second press puts you back onto the original pathway. What if you can't go back? What if it's a fifty foot fuel slick? How about a quarter mile of nails spilling out of a truck? Or a line of stopped traffic? How do you go back?

The second press simply cancels the first press. In other words, it straightens the bike back up until we decide what to do next. That's it. A long press to move to the new path of travel followed by a short press to straighten the bike. Press and hold. Press to cancel. Long press, short press. Whichever way is easier to remember.

Where do we look? The answer to that should be thundering across cyberspace right now. WHERE YOU WANT THE BIKE TO GO!!! Keep your eyes up. Many riders who were unsuccessful in their swerves ran right into the hazard because they stared at it. It's called Target Fixation. A thing to be vigorously avoided, to be sure.

Ok, we've covered the presses and the look part. Let's take care of the last part. Traction management.

A swerve at any speed eats up traction. Higher speed swerves eat up more. Simple logic. Braking eats up traction. Look at the compressed forks and the squished front tire on the BMW above. Now we have two actions, each with its own large appetite for traction. Those two things should never be allowed to eat at the same table. There's a greater than average chance that there won't be enough food, or traction to go around. Never brake while swerving. Never attempt to swerve while braking. A lot of riders have tried and a lot of riders have crashed in the attempt.

You may need to swerve and then come to a quick stop. You may need to slow to see which way the object in front of you will roll ( such as a rolling bucket ). Do one, then the other. Brake, then swerve. Swerve, then brake. Never together. Separate, separate, separate.

Pop quiz. How many brakes does a bike have? Right away most people say two. Do I hear three? Yes, engine braking is the third one. So what do we need to do with the throttle through the entire swerve? A lot of riders start to roll off the throttle as soon as they start their swerve. It's a natural reaction. Danger = Slow down.

Isn't rolling off of the throttle braking during a swerve, though? Even if engine braking isn't enough to put us over the edge traction-wise, here's something else to think about.

What holds a bike up when it's moving? Speed, momentum, all that good stuff. So we're asking the bike to quickly lean over to one side and then pick itself up again. That's hard enough. To make it even harder, though, we're going to roll off the throttle as soon as we start to swerve, thus taking away the bike's power, speed, and momentum. In other words, all the means the bike uses to hold itself up. Somehow that just doesn't make much sense to me.

Hold the throttle steady all the way through the swerve. Don't roll off and don't roll on. You may need to refresh your roll-on afterwards, but in this case I'm talking throttle, not anti-perspirant!

Put it all together. Visually lock onto your escape route. That's the most interesting thing in your world right now. ( obviously, don't fixate and miss something critical around you ) Press the handgrip in the direction you need the bike to move. Hold that press long enough to totally clear the hazard. Once clear, execute a short press in the opposite direction to straighten the bike back up in the new path of travel. Hold a steady throttle until the bike is back upright. If braking is involved, do it before or after the swerve, never at the same time.

Swerving is like a fire extinguisher in your house. You pray you never need it. If the time does come, though, it's much better to have figured out how to use it correctly ahead of time. Therefore, go Thee, and practice in a safe place!

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, August 08, 2010

For Bluekat

This is probably the reason for the officers you saw. It wasn't green Ninja day. For the rest of us it's a reminder of the drivers we share the road with.

I ran a simple errand today after changing Elvira's oil. Looking for something to throw on the grill. A very fat lady in a white minivan tried to take me out. She must have smelled the beer sausage in the saddlebag! Actually, she screwed up and got into the wrong lane. Instead of being inconvenienced by her mistake, she tried to go straight instead of turning. Only thing is, her lane on the left and my lane on the right were both left turn only lanes. I guess it was all right to endanger other people as long as she wasn't put out any. No harm, no foul. I have a much superior brain to whatever the stuff she has in her head. I noticed the eddy in the current and didn't commit to the turn based on my sixth sense. We need to use our brains and all our senses as we ride. Most people don't use theirs while driving.

Here's an article about a local law enforcement effort. The sad thing is the number of citations in a four hour period with four officers.

Head ups and stay alert out there!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, August 06, 2010

Class photos.

Somehow what little blogging time I had this week went into organizing photos. I had backed up a bunch of photos on an external hard drive. The same hard drive that suddenly developed an I/O port issue which makes access slower than a bike with two flat tires. Guess I will have to start building redundancy into my backups.

Anyway, since I have a lot of my pics somewhat in order, I thought why not share some? This post is mostly pictures with just a few thoughts thrown in. Hope you enjoy. I'm spending my weekend on the bike doing some quality control functions for our training program. May you all get to ride, as well.

Bluekat should recognize the rider in the photo below. The instructor is my buddy Laurie.

The rider in the photo above is Susan, aka The Empress. That's my nickname for her. I use it with the deepest affection. There's a story behind it but I won't share it here. Susan works in the training program office. She's intelligent and very capable. I recently had the great honor of being her instructor. Check out that awesome head turn!

Actually, I've now been privileged to have four of the office girls in my classes. I don't want to picture how badly things would run without them. This group takes great care of the instructors and students. Since they control the schedules they can chose which class to enroll in. I take it as a great compliment when they choose one of my classes.

There are all kinds of riders coming to classes. The guy below is a young racer wannabe. It can be a trick to keep these guys engaged in the learning process. In this young man's case, all went well.

Then there are those who rode years ago but quit for decades. Now they are coming back. A training class is a wise move.

It's always interesting to see the concentration in the students' faces.

A gratuitous photo of Elvira in working mode.

More instructor bikes.

It's always my goal to make learning fun for the students despite their being a little stressed and tired. You can see the student smiling under his helmet as he's coming into staging.

Even the pros come for training. What does that say about the rest of us? If you ever get caught by a motor cop after a chase you can thank me and all my fellow trainers!

Jeff is not only fast but you would never outrun or outlast him. After all, he finished second in last year's Iron Butt Rally.

Add nerves of steel to stand so casually while pumped up cops go whizzing by within inches of him!

Training on an airport taxiway can lead to some unusual companions. This jet landed on the runway next to us then taxi'd to the airport facilities. Successfully swerving into a jet engine blast is worth extra credit!

Big helicopter? No problem. Just make sure your faceshield is down when it lands next to you.

Before setting off we should all take a moment to get our heads into the ride.

Some choppers are handy to have close by when training at very high speeds. Like this medical unit. Fortunately, we had no need for it.

The number of female students in our classes is on the rise. That's a great trend.

How long has it been since you've seen a Yamaha Venture Royale on the road? This guy handles his very competently on the track. Skillful riding starts with the rider. A fact that is too often overlooked, in my humble ( ok, maybe not so humble ) opinion.

Finally, here's an "artistic" photo to wrap this post up.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Miles and smiles,