Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just for Fun!

Last week a certain somebody saw me at a university in a car. This was because I had a factory guy out from Missouri.The dude just wouldn't ride pillion! It happened that a fellow blogger was also at the university and was riding. Full of themselves for catching me driving while they were riding, comments were made on my last blog post. Those comments were to the effect that perhaps I didn't every really ride but just wrote about it. Sometimes it is better to just savor small victories rather than try to push things farther.

You see, I also happen to know that this same individual had to go to Eugene on the day after he saw me driving. This is the city that is home to the University of Oregon Ducks. This same fellow blogger decided to drive instead of riding because they wanted to stay warm on the trip. The lamb should know better than to show the wolf their soft underbelly. These photos were taken on what I believe was the next day after our blogger friend decided to drive. They prove that once a year or so I actually do ride the motorcycle. Please consider this as good natured ribbing between friends and nothing more. That's certainly my intent here!

I certainly didn't get the last laugh, though. These photos were taken at around 9 AM. About an hour later rain started falling and got heavier as the day wore on. Let's see. What melts in the rain? Iron? Noooo. Candy? There are Ironbutts. And there are other..... Like I say, simply some "poking fun" between friends. My target is probably a better man than me. So I have to get my digs where I can!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Four Levels of Competence

As you all may have figured out by now, I sort of live, eat, and breathe motorcycles. Spending all these years as an instructor has also given me a unique insight into the process of acquiring riding skills. What I've come to discover is that the learning process can be divided into four steps. I'll share those steps in this post as seen from a new rider's viewpoint. In another post I'll share how it relates to those of us past that basic stage. I feel it's critical for us to understand the process and what it means to us on the streets.

Let's take a look at a typical basic class as we go through the process.

LEVEL 1: Unknowing incompetence

This is exactly what it sounds like. You've heard the saying that ignorance is bliss. We don't know what we don't know. In other words, we don't yet know that we aren't very good at a particular skill set. Mostly because we have no idea what skill sets are involved in riding.

Our basic classes are filled with scores of students who've never ridden a motorcycle before. They've certainly been aware that motorcycles exist. For the most part, however, these individuals have no idea of all the skills involved in riding a motorcycle. Therefore the students also have no idea of all the things they're not going to be very good at.

Here we see a batch of training bikes warming up early in the morning of the first riding day. Bike and student have not yet met.

LEVEL 2: Discovering incompetence

This is where the students begin to discover the things they aren't very good at. Clutch and throttle control, balance and coordination, smooth braking, countersteering, and a whole list of other things. The students are given directions from the instructors and allowed to practice under watchful eyes. In a safe environment the students get a large dose of self discovery.

In the photo below the class listens intently as the instructor explains what they'll be working on during the upcoming exercise.

What the students usually discover is that their competence level is pretty low for most skills. The difference is that they can now put names to the things they need a lot more practice on. At the first level the new riders were mostly unaware of what skills would be required. Thus they had no clue at what they weren't good at. With me so far?

This is perfectly ok, by the way. It's exactly what we expect from new riders. These folks are right in line with the grading curve. Now begins the journey of mastering the required skills. As instructors we are happily tasked with helping the students do just that.

In the photo above the rider contemplates as he waits his turn to take a run to the braking chute.

LEVEL 3: Discovering competence

At first glance this looks exactly like Level 2. Look closer and you'll see the difference. In the level 2 the students discover what they're not good at. During Level 3 they begin to work with the instructors during the exercises. As they do so the students start to discover that they're actually improving!! Yee haw!! They are starting to discover and experience competence.

This is the level that never fails to inspire me. It's at this point that the thousand watt smiles start to show. A student can struggle over and over with a skill and then it finally falls into place. I give them a big thumbs up and help them celebrate the victory. During that moment, no matter the actual weather, the sun comes out.

See what I mean about thousand watt smiles?

LEVEL 4: Automatic competence

This is where the student moves from having to intensely concentrate on skills towards an automatic response.

Call it autopilot, subconscious response, embedded motor skills, or whatever. The bottom line is that the ability to execute the required skills moves from being mostly a function of the conscious mind to becoming more a function of the subconscious mind.

We take this process into account as we coach students. For example, notice how the rider above is able to start looking through his turn. This is the first riding day. Earlier this rider needed to be looking down at the controls to make it all work. This is true of most new riders as they work on the skills needed to make a bike smoothly get underway as well as bringing it to a stop. As instructors we let them look down. It would be counterproductive to coach them to keep their eyes up at this point.

One of the illustrations we use in training new instructors is that of a whiteboard. You know, the new age replacement for the good old chalkboard. Each student has their own whiteboard. The size of the board may vary from student to student but each one has a finite amount of space available for writing upon. This whiteboard represents the amount of conscious processing space in a student's head.

At first the whiteboard is crammed full of notes pertaining to the basic riding skills. In the beginning it's clutch and throttle control. So we spend a lot of time letting students practice this skill. Eventually the information is moved from the whiteboard to the file cabinet that represents the subconscious storage system. As information is thus moved more room opens up on the whiteboard. So now we start writing down the information having to do with shifting gears, for example.

Once again, repeated practice begins to move this information from the whiteboard into the subconscious filing system. Now room becomes available for the next batch of information. And so the process goes. The skill required of instructors is to maintain the optimum amount of information on the whiteboard without overwhelming the space available.

I took this photo while standing next to an apprentice instructor whom I was working with. This was deep into the second riding day. Notice how the student is performing the swerve, which is an involved maneuver. Despite being in the middle of the swerve, the student has enough conscious concentration left to look right at me while I'm taking his picture. No, he didn't run into me, either!

At the end of a class the student is just starting to have an idea of what's involved in reaching Level 4. However, the skills are still at a very basic level. Sometimes the student doesn't know which filing system to look at. We see this during the riding evaluation. There's a bit of stress and suddenly the whole system falls apart. Instead of looking where they want to go in a turn, for example, they stare at the cones in an attempt to avoid them. You know what happens. You go where you look.

Getting to Level 4 and staying there is critical to those of us riding on the streets. Especially so to those who spend a great deal of time out there facing bogies. Unfortunately, a lot of riders never get past Level 3. To really be effective at the last level, we also need a thorough understanding of the previous steps. Yes, even Levels 1 and 2. In fact, if we don't do a great job at Level 2 our subconscious filing system will be lacking some important information.

I sure hope I managed to somehow clearly get my thoughts across. It's been a long week of 14 hour days. Due to having a factory guy out from the Midwest I've been forced to drive a car. My brain has become stagnated because of it. Yesterday I saw Mike in Vancouver, Washington. By coincidence we were calling on the same facility at the same time. Mike was riding his bike. I was so embarrassed to be in a car that I nearly crawled under it! Thankfully, I'm back on two wheels tomorrow!!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Navigational prudence.

This post has to do with something that some folks have thought about and some probably haven't. It's about where we set the "home" location on our GPS units.

One of the things I like about the GPS is that I can wander all I want to without any worry about getting home. Not that I would actually get lost, mind you. My internal navigational system is quite functional. The GPS, however, will direct me via the most direct route. By the time I've wandered to my heart's content I'm usually running late and need that advantage!

This past week I've been navigating all over the area south of Seattle following the big truck around. I wrote a while back about the smaller RV that was touring our area. This week the 53 foot custom trailer was available to us. We worked with some distributors to set up product show and training days. Thus I found myself relying on the GPS to get Elvira and I where we needed to go.

This trailer has a huge slide-out on one side which nearly doubles its width.

I'll get back to the GPS thing in a minute but I wanted to share a couple of photos from the week. It was "all hands on board" for our team. Brian and I, being blessed ( or cursed! ) with the gift of dazzling verbal skills led tours through the mobile showroom again this year. Inside the building were a product fair and various educational classes. Anyone from maintenance folks to architects could come away with something of value.

This is an amazing trailer. The viewpoint above is looking to the rear from the front. As you can see, it's dark outside. Our days started before sunup on site. This was after anywhere from a 30 to 60 minute run from my hotel in Kent. It was too dark to read directions stashed in the window of the tank bag. Voice commands coming through the earpiece of my Scala Rider com system worked well.

The previous snapshot shows the side with all our electronic wizardry. This side is the architectural portion. On the right are the displays of designer levers and such. On the left are 8 full sized and operational doors of various configurations. There's another area in front right behind the tractor that has another 4 full size doors.

Taking people through the mobile showroom sounds like easy duty. It's a lot of work, however. Brian would take the group down one side and I would take over at the nose of the trailer, bringing the group down the side with the doors. As soon as I took over another group started at the back. We averaged 11 tours a day, pretty much non-stop except for a break at lunchtime. A full tour took 40 minutes from entry to exit. We did this for four days plus set up and tear down.

It was also great fun, though. By the end of the stretch my voice sounded deep and raspy. Kind of like James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader. "Luke, I am your father!"

Back to the GPS. As you see, I had plenty of reason for having the GPS on Elvira.

One morning I allowed way too much time for travel. My internal alarm goes off at 4 AM and this particular morning I was restless to get going. So I saddled up Elvira. Tacoma traffic can be good or bad, even in the wee hours of the morning. Traffic is surprisingly heavy early in the morning but we sailed on down Valley Freeway 167, merged onto WA18, and hit Interstate 5 southbound.

I've named my Garmin Zumo 550 Emily. I know I frustrated her a little bit. She told me to take a particular freeway exit. I, however, knew there was a coffee shop two exits down. My plan was to pass time there since I was so early. It would be Emily's job to re-direct me from there. I know she's just a machine that runs circuits but I'm positive I heard of bit of exasperation and annoyance as she said, "recalculating!". I'm even pretty sure she said "idiot" under her breath. As punishment for her snippy attitude I left her out in the rain.

Anyway, I usually sit where I can see the bike. In this case the layout precluded that. It wasn't in my plan to stand in the parking lot so I put my helmet on a table and my jacket over the back of a chair. I then sat and pondered the world while enjoying my coffee.

Emerging from the coffee shop into the still dark parking lot I observed ( most regular people would say they "saw" something, but us cop types have to say "observe" ) a fellow messing with the GPS unit on the bike.

You can see the temptation as the unit just sits out there on the handlebar. The mount has this retention lever that slips down and is secured with a set screw that has a sort of security head. So the guy couldn't just do a grab and run thing. Which is why he was still standing there when I emerged from the coffee shop.

I quickly caused the fellow to have a change of plans. The plan changed to rabbiting down the street as fast as he could go. In this case it was no harm, no foul. I don't leave the GPS on the bike if I'm going to be inside somewhere for a long time. This was one of those instances where I figured it would be okay as the coffee stop would only be about twenty minutes or so. I don't know if this guy prowled the local lots or was simply taking advantage of what he saw as opportunity.

This brings up the point of the post. Since most of you insist on there being a point rather than just reading as I ramble, I've put one in here.

GPS units have the ability to mark waypoints for regular reference. One such point is where the "home" location is. Most people sit in their driveway and push the button. The good news is that the GPS will then lead us right to our driveways. However, if someone were to steal the GPS unit, it would also tell them where it was and how to get there.

Considering that the thief knows we weren't at home when they stole the unit, that could be a bad thing.

My own GPS has been led to believe that my home is a chain coffee shop about four miles from where I actually live. See, I'm pretty sure I'm smart enough to figure out how to get home from there. It's kind of like Mapquest. Why don't they start at about step 5 as I know how to get out of my own neighborhood?

The thief will surely be disappointed but at least they can console themselves with a double mocha latte or something!

Just something to think about, for what it's worth.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Buried, but alive!

Listen! Did you hear that? Wait. There it is again. Did you hear that rumble? Look over there. Did you see that mound of dirt move? Accompanied with much creaking and groaning, the pile of dirt slowly gives way to the figure of a man. Rising up out of the ground he sits up and looks around. Finally he stands. What's revealed is a man in a rumpled 'Stich with a motorcycle helmet tucked under one arm. A little worse for wear. Buried, but alive.

That has been my life, lately. This blog has been sorely neglected. It cannot be totally ignored, however. Like a cat rubbing against your ankle, the blog demands attention. Or, in my case, like a 14 month old blond haired blue eyed cherub who chases me around and lifts his arms up for me to hold him.

And so I return.

I heard a saying recently.

"If everything seems under control, you're not going fast enough!"

If that is true than I am near escape velocity.

This has been a common sight in my life, lately. Corporate has decided I should be be sent around the country for management and leadership training. Up the proverbial ladder a vacancy will open next year. I am heir apparent. I'm leaving my options open but preparing as if it were to take place.

Connecticut, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Tennessee have been on my itinerary. Yes, Nevada included Vegas. I was one of several held captive for a week in Vegas. Sounds like a great time. We were told that what happens in Vegas would not happen with us. To increase the odds of compliance we were tasked from 6:30 AM until 10 PM.

This is from the window of my hotel room. I was on the 19th floor of Planet Hollywood.

Which was pretty much my entire view of Vegas. Why plan the training in Vegas if they didn't want people on the streets?

We did get out one night. Our handlers took us to see the Blue Man Group. Which was a stimulus rich experience.

Especially for the folks in the first few rows.

The establishment kindly provided plastic slickers for them. Security was pretty proactive about preventing people from taking photos during the show so these are all I have.

I did decide to walk back from the theater so I got an hour or so to see the sights.

One great thing was getting to meet Dick Vermeil. He spoke to our group for a little over an hour and then we got to mix socially. Dick is still a very dynamic person at 74 years young.

There was this whole Star Wars, Yoda, and The Force theme to this training session. There always has to be some sort of gimmick, doesn't there?

Training of a different kind is in full swing here. Both in teaching motorcycle students and train the trainer modes.

As if there isn't enough going on already, I'm going to start the book I've been threatening to write forever. Krysta keeps kindly offering to help me edit the thing and I may take her up on it. She's certainly been a motivating factor in keeping the idea alive. There are a lot of interesting and funny stories from the years of training. It will be fun to relive them as I work on the book.

I'm also chasing a modified RV around the Pacific Northwest. The corporation I work for is an industry leader in developing electronic security products for the commercial door world. The RV has been converted into a mobile showroom. Rather than one large event, the plan is make a lot of stops and hold smaller show and tell sessions.

This was taken at a community college on Monday. Yes, it does rain here in Oregon.

Inside the RV it's very nice.

I find the blue glow very soothing.

Besides being busy as all get out, one of the reasons I let the blog rest is that I felt I may no longer have much of value to share. I don't want the blog to become a newsletter of my life. I know blogging is a great way for people separated by long distances to keep in touch. I totally applaud that. Personally, I don' want to take up space without there being value added.

Interestingly, as we age our perspectives keep changing. Sometimes it's like getting a bad stain on a shirt and letting repeated washes set it in real good. On the other hand, a lot of times it's for the better as we gain wisdom. We also find new ways to apply the things we've already learned. This is what has happened for me with what seems like an accelerated pace lately. I find myself brimming with new insights. All the time on a plane has provided a lot of opportunity for reading and reflection.

In addition to all the training I've been to, I've also had the chance to spend some time with other people who have shared their insights with me. As my view of the world expands I have found much of value that applies to motorcycling that I would like to share.

As you may remember, my grandmother had her right leg amputated above the knee due to cancer. She is 91 years old. During her recovery and physical therapy she has been in a care center. I've spent a lot of time there with her. At 91 she's learning to walk with a prothesis. She has taken it in stride, no pun intended. Got to admire her courage. She has made friends in this place.

I am a big hit with the very elderly women. I mean, what's not to like? I'm male, not all the way to ugly, ambulatory, and alive. Besides, sometimes I make chocolate chip cookies and bring them along.

It's been enlightening to ask these people to share their insights, regrets, and wisdom with me. They're looking down the barrel at their last years on this planet. It's a unique perspective. One older guy named Del lived in this facility with his wife for many years. They had been married 70 years. Del shared a lot with me in the past month. Last week he passed away. Some of his soul will live on with me.

One thing I am bringing to motorcycling is that our motivations for riding have a lot to do with our attitude towards rider training. As well as influencing the decisions we make while riding. I'll share more later.

Speaking of training and riding, as I've reflected on training riders I've come to realize that there are four steps to competence. I'm looking forward to writing about these steps. The fourth step is critical for successful riding. I've counseled many of my students on getting to the fourth step without really realizing it was the fourth step in a process. Now I know and it won't sound so confusing next time!

Something else I've become very aware of is how cognitive dissonance affects our lives in so many ways. Both in how we deal with other people and how we react to events that unfold while we're riding.

Upon further reflection, then, it seems there may still be things of value to be shared after all.

Miles and smiles,