Thursday, July 28, 2011

If you're going to shoot, shoot........

Talking about things can serve a certain purpose. Eventually, though, the real answer is to just go out and do something. One of our mantras in motorcycle training is that students learn by doing. They will learn more from the wind passing by their ears than from the wind passing by our lips. I might also add that they'll learn more from actually doing something than by talking about it amongst themselves.

One of my all time favorite movie lines comes from the Clint Eastwood film "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".

Very briefly, the setting is around the time of America's civil war but in the West. One of the characters is the one called The Ugly. Played by Eli Wallach. He's a bandit named Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez. Call him Tuco for short. Tuco is trapped by three bounty hunters. He escapes by shooting all three. Two are killed and one survives.

In a town that is being rapidly evacuated due to heavy artillery fire, Tuco finds a bombed out hotel and takes a bath in a claw footed tub. Sitting in the sudsy water Tuco is surprised by this third bounty hunter. The bounty hunter pauses in the doorway and tells Tuco how much he's been looking forward to catching him and turning him in. Dead or alive. While the bounty hunter pontificates Tuco pulls a gun up from the side of the bathtub and shoots him. With a shrug Tuco utters this line:

"If you're going to shoot, shoot. Don't stand around and talk about it!"

Wise words, actually. If you're going to do something you've eventually got to quit talking about it and go do it. It applies to a lot of areas of life. The two I care about here are photography and motorcycling.

As to photography I've been reading about how to successfully take photos of moving subjects while panning. I've heard people talk about panning technique, shutter speeds, aperature settings, where to focus, and so on. Good panning photos are much harder than they seem to get right. I'm not saying mine are anywhere near perfect but they are getting better. The real secret isn't that secret. You want to know what it is?

Repetitions. Do it. Do it again. Do it again. Here's a couple of photos from a class I was watching. Probably need a few more repetitions but progress is definitely being made.

Motorcycling is no different. Except for the fact that a bad photo can be deleted. Get it wrong on a bike and, well.....Let me share an example with you. This stresses the importance of actual physical practice when it comes to acquiring good accident avoidance skills.

The example is from Jay Green's blog Road Captain USA. There was a post wherein the discussion was held on the two finger braking versus four finger braking thing. Jay didn't really start it but the commenters sort of took off with it. I'll share the link to the post in a bit so hang with me.

Since the initial thrust was a sort of rebellion against convential motorcycle training that advocates four finger braking I put in a comment. You'll see it but the gist of it was that a rider was free to do what they wanted. The main concern, however, is what the rider would do in a high adrenaline situation. If a rider preferred to use two fingers in everyday riding, fine. Just guarantee me that in an emergency the rider would also use two fingers. My experience has been that a rider will often give in to our natural human reflexes in an emergency and grasp the brake lever with all four fingers. That's a variable the rider just doesn't need right then. Always using four fingers eliminates that variable.

Coincidentally, Jay had an experience with emergency braking during this time that he shared in a comment. Jay and his wife Diana were riding together. Jay in front with Diana following on her own bike. A very large dog ran out in front of them and Jay made the decision to brake rather than swerve. He was concerned that, while he might escape the dog, Diana might get bitten.

I asked Jay in a comment how many fingers he used on the front brake. His reply is the gist of this post. Jay had a moment of self discovery that is of benefit to all of us.

Before I share the link I want to set a tone. You see, I asked Jay if I could use his experience in a blog post. Jay graciously granted me permission. A person could look at the situation one of two ways. Here's the one I want everyone to use.

Jay is worthy of much respect. I've known him through blogging since he started his own blog. Jay and Diana are members of a local HOG chapter. Not only that, but Jay worked hard to become a Road Captain. I believe he also served as Chapter Director. Diana has worked to become a Road Captain in her own right. Both of these people have made a huge investment in helping other riders enjoy motorcycling and in promoting safe riding.

It's hard enough to face our own shortcomings when somebody else points them out. It's another matter entirely to be the one pointing a finger at ourselves. The very fact that Jay shared his experience on his blog speaks volumes about his character and integrity. Add to that Jay's allowing me to share his experience here and you get an idea of how much regard I hold Jay in.

I really want everyone reading this to come at it from that same level of respect.

So, here's the short story. Jay found that he didn't reach for the front brake at all during his experience. He's not alone by any means. Think about the reasons manufacturers came up with linked braking. The reason we teach braking in our training classes is that a huge number of riders were using too much rear brake and not enough front brake. Or any.

We can discuss proper technique ad nauseam. Seems like every rider has their own strong views on several subjects. I guess that's one of the things that make us so interesting, eh? However, when the fecal matter hits the fan and we don't use the front brake, or stare at the side of the road when we are a little hotter than we intended to be in a corner, or any number of things, the discussion is pretty much moot, isn't it?

I've written about the value of constant practice and developing muscle memories before so I won't go into it again here. Just take away the idea that the only way we can be sure we'll do the right thing is to do it. Over and over again. Embed it deeply into our responses. Remember that amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. You don't have to be a professional rider to train like a professional.

Now, in the words of one of my favorite newscasters, the late Paul Harvey, if you click here you can read the "rest of the news".

Remember, if you're going to shoot, shoot!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, July 18, 2011

Yamaha FJR recall notice.

I just received another recall notice for Elvira. The earlier one was for the actual ignition switch. This one is for the ground joint connector on the wire harness.

Affected years and models are 2006-2009 FJR1300A/AC/AE/AEC model motorcycles. According to Yamaha not every bike is affected. I am one of the lucky owners.

Here's the statement from Yamaha:

The reason for this recall: On affected motorcycles, the ground joint connector of the wire harness could overheat and become deformed, possibly causing an intermittent ground wire connection. If the electrical system is not properly grounded, the ignition system and / or other electrical components could malfunction, which could cause the engine to stall. If this happens while the motorcycle is being ridden, there could be a crash resulting in injury or death.

What Yamaha and your dealer will do: To correct this defect, your authorized Yamaha dealer will install an additional wire sub-lead, or, if the ground joint connector has already been damaged from overheating, will install a new main wire harness. There will be no charge to you for this procedure. Installing the addtional wire sub-lead takes about 1 hour and the wire harness, should it be necessary instead, takes about 3 hours to install. Your dealer may need to keep your motorcycle longer depending on their schedule.

If you own an FJR of the listed years and models and are not the original owner you can call Yamaha customer service at 1-800-962-7926 with your bike's serial number so they can see if your bike is affected.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, July 15, 2011

Appreciate "Now".

This is how my life looks lately.

Between work, looking after two widows, photography schooling, and teaching motorcycle classes my life is a blur. There are more candles burning that I have fuel to feed. At the end of the day I'm pretty much like this.

It's easy to become unbalanced. One of the things that helps us justify it is a familiar thing we tell ourselves. "I'll do this other thing 'later'". I had an experience the other day that brought me up short. It can be short-sighted to live for today. On the other hand, it's very important to realize that we have "now" while we're breathing, but there's no certainty about "later". I'm making some changes and adjusting my priorities. It's time to regain the balance.

I took most of a day recently and spent it with Grandma. We did errands and I introduced her to the joys of Starbucks. At 91 years old she's a bit set in her ways. However, in honor of the the special day she ordered something "fancy". Which turned out to be hot chocolate, but what the heck?

This isn't about what we did that day per se. It's about the end of the day. We'd been to the cemetery and put some new flowers on Gramp's headstone. Which is also meant to be hers. More on that in a bit. It was during this time that I took a photo that was really poignant for me. Afterwards Grandma wanted a bite to eat. Happened to be at a tiny little place that we'd been by a hundred times but never stopped at.

Prices are very reasonable. Quite so, in fact, considering the large portions. The woman who owns the place takes orders and serves. There is a cook and a dishwasher. Cash only, no credit or debit cards. Everything is done to keep overhead down. Including skipping upgrades to make the place fancier. Most of the customers seemed to know each other. Some helped themselves to the coffee pot. There is a counter and seven tables. I had some photos but, of all days, I had forgotten the G11. My old Razor phone has about a 2 megapixel camera with no adjustments. The photos are horrible and it's not about the place anyway. I did come back to take these photos to illustrate a point.

You can see the ramp and steps. There is a tight turn at the top. Grandma has only one leg and is in a wheelchair. Her remaining leg and arms aren't strong enough to hold her up with a walker. I got her up there and we found a place to park the wheelchair next to a table. Least I could do, especially after my experience at the cemetery. Here's the photo I took that had such an impact on me. Again, it was bright sunshine and my ancient cell phone camera. Despite the lower quality of the picture the message and impact is loud and clear.

Under the headstone is her husband of forever who passed away seven years ago. On the left, as you can also see below, is the inscription awaiting her date of passing. She'll be joining him under there in what is probably a relatively short time.

This is a photo of a woman facing her own mortality. She very quietly sat there for a long, long, time. I waited and gave her as much time as she wanted. Grandma is 91, like I mentioned. Cancer has cost her many surgeries and ultimately a leg. It's back in her lymph nodes which are rapidly growing in size. There's not much left to be done for her. This is a photo of an old woman who knows every day could be her last. She talks to me about that fairly often. She's well aware of how each additional day is a gift. Seeing her like this was pretty powerful for me.

Yes, she's lived a long life. Not all of us will. Witnessing these moments of a woman to whom I'm very connected put me in a spot where I was nearly the one in her place. Her mortality and mine are one and the same. Neither of us knows for sure when, only the "for sure" part. There was a combination of sadness and refreshment. The moment with her seemed much brighter, like a shiny treasure. It's a gift we can have and hold onto, if only for now.

So you see the point about the restaurant. Yes, it was hard to get her in there now. But that's what we had now. "Later", when they might get around to building a ramp may never come. It was worth the trouble after seeing her enjoy herself.

I spent the next few days making opportunity to tell some people I cared about how much they have meant to me. Some are family and some have become like family. I know it sounds corny in a way. On the other hand, I'd regret dying without having told them. When Grandma takes her final rest I'll not have regrets to add to the sorrow. Once again, whether she meant it or not, she has passed along the wisdom of her years to me in another lesson. I'm just glad this one wasn't accompanied by the thump alongside the head that I experienced so much as a child!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, July 08, 2011

Food Porn and Other Stuff.

There seems to be a thing with food porn, lately. Bobskoot appears to have been one of the original instigators. At first glance he seems to be merely a mild mannered scooter rider. It would appear there's a dark side hidden under that inscrutable grin. If we're honest, though, we can't say much. We've all been willing disciples. Some of us have even begged him for more.

One of the things I've noticed about a lot of the photos out there is a certain lack of creativity. I mean, there's a lot of variety in content but not much in approach. Real masters of the craft know that one of the keys to good boudoir food photography is seductive lighting. Show off your subject, certainly, but leave a little to the imagination, as well. In that spirit I've decided to share some of my own work. A person can't be on a motorcyle all the time, after all. Being balanced requires sometimes parking the bike and enjoying some of life's other pleasures. The setting for this post is a recent trip over the mountain range to Bend.

We begin with the light sources. You want seductive photos? Start with seductive lighting. This was located right over my head. Understated and pleasing to look at by itself.

The soft lighting is such a welcome contrast to the bright and garish world of the small bar. You can almost see the blur as sensory input comes rushing towards us. Shapes, colors, reflections, and glare threaten to overwhelm us. There's nothing sensuous about this setting. It's a very in-your-face experience best left to others.

Rest your soul by immersing yourself in the restful lighting and setting of our temporary studio. No need for defenses that shield us from the massive waves of sight and sound of the bar. Shields down, Scotty. Open yourself to the hint of delights to follow.

Notice the hint of reading glasses and a book in the lower left corner of the photo above. That sets the tone. Not everything is glaringly laid out for us in total blatant detail. No, one must open the book, to explore a bit at a time. See the glass of cold beer that is revealed to us under the soft lighting. This is obviously the reason the bike is parked safely at the hotel across the way.

There is enough information shown to clearly establish the enticing aspect of this lovely cold beverage. You see a hint of the richness of the brew as alluded to by the deep, dark, color. Yet, much is left to the imagination. How cold will it really be? What will it taste like? You see how properly done food porn entices you to want and to wonder?

Let your eyes move to the photo below. There is a hint of naughtiness without explicit detail.

Surely the presence of this exotic dish and two friends suggests a culinary threesome. Yet, there is no explicit detail. Will they, or won't they? Looking past the star will reveal the back of a blonde head. How does she fit in? Does she sense the tension building behind her? Will she politely ignore the goings on or become an observer? Will she even perhaps feel a longing to participate? Again, we are left to wonder and imagine the possibilities on our own. Rather than have the outcome dictated to us we are left to weave our own story as it suits us.

In the photo above we find the perspective has changed. Two of the players have closed the gap between them. They are so close but we don't know if they're actually touching or if the contact is simply implied. Now we're more up close and personal to the star. More is revealed to our eyes. Still, though, this view is far from showing us everything. We are now even more enticed and tempted. Our eyes tell us we yearn to experience the delight of consumption. Yet, we are still denied total knowledge. Perhaps we will even experience the frustration of unfulfilled desire.

If we are honest, though, we will agree that this is best. Always the image of "what might have been" will ultimately be more satisfying. Far better to ponder, imagine, and dream. How often has it been said that the wanting is often far better than the having? A true artist helps us to experience that.

Enough of that. Let us change subjects to a menu posted in the window of a steak house. Even observed through the glare of glass pounded by the late sunshine the prices of the steaks effectively deliver their shock. Perhaps the omission of the dollar signs before the prices was somehow meant to disguise the high price. I know little except that I won't be taking food porn pictures anytime soon.

As a parting note I wanted to share another window display.

There are many places to ride dirt bikes in Central Oregon. Apparently this is the latest offering from the Madonna line of chest protectors. I almost feel like I'm putting actual porn on the site but I somehow couldn't restrain myself. Worn on the street it would almost qualify as Hi-Viz!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Ride to Work: A Deeper Look.

I start off by asking Andy Goldfine to forgive me for using his trademarked phrase in the title of this post. It's for a good cause and I did provide attribution. This isn't a polished post and the photos aren't anything to brag to Art Wolfe about. I'm just letting this one rip and writing what's on my mind.

To all who rode a motorcycle on Ride to Work Day this year I offer sincere thanks. Rather, maybe I should say that Andy thanks you. Actually, we should all thank each other because we're comrades working for a common cause. I, along with a lot of you, have been observing this day for years. That is a totally awesome thing. As Paul Harvey, a radio broadcaster of much note in the USA ( and God rest his soul; he passed away a couple of years ago ) used to say,

"And now you're going to hear the rest of the story!"

Riding a motorcycle to work on Ride to Work Day is a great thing. After all, it's the riding to work that makes the day possible, right? I mean, if we all walked to work, for example, then it would be called "Hoof it to Work Day". Which could be confusing because we'd not know if the day were about, cows, sheep, pigs, or whatever. Can't you just see a Ride Your Hog to Work Day? Would that be HOG, Hog, or Hawg? Even though you could conceivably ride a real pig to work, there could be complications. Like getting home after lunch time, if you get my drift. I'm not sure how we got here, exactly. I think my visor is sealed too well and I'm suffering from lack of oxygen or something.

So what was the point? Oh yeah, riding a motorcycle to work. I'm crossing into that dicey no man's land of speaking for Andy ( who started this whole thing in the first place ) so let me offer this disclaimer that I'm giving you my intrepretation of what I think Mr. Aerostich is shooting for. By the way, you might be interested to note that it started as a cheeky variant of the Ride to Live, Live to Ride slogan. Andy's slogan was "Work to Ride, Ride to Work." Geez, take some guy with a weird sense of humor, put a twisted slogan on a t-shirt, and see what happens. You end up with guys like me spending, who knows how much time, supporting your cause. As if I didn't have other things to do. Like go research the cost of buying my own t-shirt silk screening machine. Now if I could just come up with some great sayings.

Like I said, riding to work on the designated day ( and hopefully more often than that ) is awesome but there is more we should be trying to do. We need to change people's perceptions of motorcyclists. More specifically, we need to help non-riders ( and maybe some riders themselves ) see the value of using a motorcycle for practical things like everyday transportation.

Here's a couple of examples of what I find out there. They are also examples of why we need Ride to Work Day in its full expression.

I encountered this woman, her kids, and her mother in a rest stop. She asked me where I was headed. The gal seemed disappointed when I told her I was on my way to a business meeting. I'm sure she had visions of two-wheeled adventure. It could be the fact that she was hungry for adventure herself being the mother of some very active kids. I grabbed one of her little tykes who was running to the restroom by himself while Mom was distracted. The trouble was that he was dashing in front of a car in the process.

It could also be that there's this stereotype associated with how I looked. A sleek sport touring bike with luggage. My Aerostich riding suit added to the look. People don't see "commuter", they see "traveler". Or, in my case, "Dashing Adventurer!"

I get this reaction a lot. Rest stops like this one in Wilsonville are a regular part of my routine. This stop is particularly valuable because a few minutes down the road lies the southern part of Portland. Some mornings will see us sitting in a traffic jam for a long, long, time. It's very prudent to drain a cup of coffee or two before such an encounter.

If Elvira were a mid-sized UJM with a milk crate strapped to the back seat folks might think "commuter". That's certainly not what comes to most people's minds when they see my sleek and beautiful Elvira, though.

These kind of impressions and stereotypes lead to bigger things. Like this example I encountered recently.

This is a photo I took early in 2010. I may have published it on the blog. Who knows? I'm over 50 and have too much on my mind to try to remember such things. The point is that this is a city street next to a state government building. There are many such buildings in this area. Being in the state capitol there are hundreds and hundreds of people employed in these buildings. A whole section was reserved for motorcycle parking. In a city where it costs to park, this area is free to motorcycles. Notice the nicely indented area, too. The bikes are well out of traffic with some safe room to maneuver. Elvira is by herself. On the other hand, it's a rainy winter day. You probably wouldn't expect many bikes that time of year.

However, when you would expect bikes there really weren't many. So much so that the parking area was changed recently. Now it looks like this.

There is still motorcycle parking here. In fact, there are nine spots. Notice how they're now all crammed into one end, however. The slots are much narrower than they were. Not nearly so friendly a place as it was. On the other end are now four parking spots where four wheelers can park. State government wants to be "Green". It's sad that the perception is what it is. How four cars or SUV's with car-pool permits can be considered more friendly to the environment than many motorcycles is a mystery to me. You know that most car pool arrangements are usually made of two people and seldom more. On the other hand, the four vehicle spots will probably see more regular use than the motorcycle parking area.

In fact, there doesn't actually have to be two or more people in the car for the vehicle to legally park here. I took these photos on a Friday morning when folks were just starting to arrive for work. A guy in a big Toyota SUV parked at the end away from the bikes. There was a sticker on the back bumper that qualified him for the spot. Except he was alone. I couldn't help but ask. You know me. One of these days I'll learn not to be so shy. I challenged him on the matter. The man told me that all you had to do was fill out an application and state that you sometimes had somebody else with you in the car.

I can't blame the guy for using the system that was in place. My concern is with the system itself. People in "official" positions do not see motorcycles as a valuable means of transportation when it comes to being environmentally friendly. They don't often see the benefits to the overall traffic system, either. We're still mostly seen as recreational riders and get treated as such.

So what can we do about it? We have to be hens and not sturgeons.

Ok, now I'm sure you think I've lost it. Let me explain.

I was riding for work and stopped to pay respects to my Grandfather. Like most parents he gave me a lot of advice. Some of it was shouted at me during heated moments. Other times it was disguised as sage expressions of wisdom. There's a mix of helpful advice and pure bulls**t so parents can get their own way. Control issues, you know. Scattered in the mix are things that you're just not sure what to make of. Like a little story Gramp told me once. It was started because of a noisy hen we had.

This creature would lay an egg and then squawk like crazy. Just like she wanted to make sure everyone and everything around was aware of the wonderful thing she'd done. One day I was told to pay attention.

"You see, she lays one egg and makes a bunch of noise. Makes sure everybody notices. Take a sturgeon, now. She lays thousands of eggs under the cold, deep, water. Who the heck ever knows about that? "

We were cowboys. We liked chicken eggs for breakfast. The rest of the day we were disciples of things that started with the letter B. Burgers and Beer. When it came to fishing we went to warm shallow ponds and stalked Bass. Neither of us had ever fished for sturgeon in our lives. Granted, mine had been much shorter than his. Caviar wasn't a word we knew although we used to go up to the hatchery and see Moe, the giant sturgeon once in a while. We knew fish eggs made good bait but our experience was limited to trout and salmon eggs. So I'm pretty sure Gramps was repeating something he'd heard elsewhere. There was still a nugget to be mined in there somewhere, either way.

I guess what Gramps was trying to tell me was that sometimes it paid to advertise.

That's the rest of the story behind Ride to Work Day, I think.

Not everybody can ride to work every day. Although more folks could do so if they put a bit more thought into it. Those of us who are hardcore committed motorcycle commuters have learned about the right gear and riding skills that enable us to do so. Share these with other riders so they can commute more, as well. Sometimes that's the only thing holding some back. Help them get over the hump, as it were. Others may decide to remain as recreational riders. That's totally acceptable. It's a personal choice, after all. There has to be some passion for riding that leads to our dedication to do something different than the majority of folks. My thought is to show everyone the possibilities and provide help to take advantage of them as needed. Then their decision will be based on facts and not stereotypes and such.

In the July issue of American Motorcyclist Magazine an article featured three riders who have made the decision to use a bike as much as possible. Andy Goldfine was one of those featured. In the article Andy is quoted as saying,

"By definition, motorcyclists aren't normal. The clinical term is 'non-normative', which means that riding a motorcycle is not the normal choice, because the default in our culture is cars."

This means that most folks aren't going to see the world as we do. They won't see the great benefit to riding. We all know about the mental benefits and the stress reduction that comes with riding. We know how riding a motorcycle asks so much less of the earth's resources. We know how many motorcycles can park in a space designed for just one car. We know how much better traffic would flow if there were a lot more motorcycles and a lot less cars. We know how riding makes us so much more self reliant and able to handle things that go wonky. The list goes on.

We know, but the general public doesn't. Sometimes as riders we can act like sturgeons in the deep, dark, waters. In other words, we quietly ride to work, park the bike, and attend to business. Then we ride home. Despite the great satisfaction we personally feel, it's not often seen by non-riders. One of the goals of Ride to Work Day is to get noticed. Hopefully we'll get noticed on a smaller scale all along. Make sure we spread the love, so to speak. One of the reasons for a formal Ride to Work Day is to call attention to the matter on a larger and very public scale.

Look at the Ride to Work website. On it you will find a lot of promotional material. These are designed to publicize the event beforehand. I think that's where we might be missing part of the point.

This is a gentle urging to take some time to look the website over. Think of ways to make our riding to work more prominent on Ride to Work Day next year. Could we get the local newspaper to run an article announcing the day? Do we have connections at local radio stations to get a public service announcement broadcast? There are promotional materials on the website designed to be given to city officials. Some riders get their employers to allow an extra long lunch break. At Hewlett Packard for a couple of years there was a part of the parking lot set aside for an informal bike show and bar-b-q. See the potential issue with Hoof it to Work Day or Ride Your Hog to Work?

Bottom line is that we need to provide education and awareness among both our fellow riders and non riders alike. People who vote. Officials who make laws. Employers who set company policy. At the very least we want to be taken seriously as people contributing to the well being of the planet and infrastructure. Having our employer recognize the smaller space motorcycles take up in the parking lot and giving us parking right next to the building wouldn't be bad, either. After all, not all of us are as fortunate right now as Troubadour, who parks right outside his office window.

This year I commuted over five hundred miles to a company meeting. I certainly got the attention of a couple dozen co-workers. That was cool but I need to do more to promote the event locally. So I'm making bigger plans to get the word out next year. You are all cordially invited to join me. Let me know if I can help.

Miles and smiles,