Friday, May 26, 2006

A change of plans

I had something else in mind today for a post. The weather is so rotten right now that I can't really get the pictures I want for illustrations. It's a law in Oregon that the weather has to get bad for a long holiday weekend.

The following came across my computer screen. May is motorcycle awareness month. This seems fitting on a weekend with heavy traffic. Please feel free to pass it on to your friends who ride or those who have lost a loved one in a motorcycle accident. Even though it is written more from the perspective of a "biker" we all have a stake here. Whether biker or motorcyclist there is more in common here than differences.

From bikers to the general public:

I saw you,
hug your purse closer to you in the grocery store line.
But, you didn't see me,
put an extra $10.00 in the collection plate last Sunday.

I saw you,
pull your child closer when we passed each other on the sidewalk.
But, you didn't see me,
playing Santa at the local mall.

I saw you,
change your mind about going into the restaurant.
But, you didn't see me,
attending a meeting to raise more money for the hurricane relief.

I saw you,
roll up your window and shake your head when I drove by.
But, you didn't see me,
driving behind you when you flicked your cigarette butt out the car window.

I saw you,
frown at me when I smiled at your children.
But, you didn't see me,
when I took time off from work to run toys to the homeless.

I saw you,
stare at my long hair.
But, you didn't see me,
and my friends cut ten inches off for Locks of Love.

I saw you,
roll your eyes at our leather coats and gloves.
But, you didn't see me,
and my brothers donate our old coats and gloves to those that had none.

I saw you,
look in fright at my tattoos.
But, you didn't see me,
cry as my children were born and have their name written over and in my heart.

I saw you,
change lanes while rushing off to go somewhere.
But, you didn't see me,
going home to be with my family.

I saw you,
complain about how loud and noisy our bikes can be.
But, you didn't see me,
when you were changing the CD and drifted into my lane.

I saw you,
yelling at your kids in the car.
But, you didn't see me,
pat my child's hands, knowing he was safe behind me.

I saw you,
reading the newspaper or map as you drove down the road.
But, you didn't see me,
squeeze my wife's leg when she told me to take the next turn.

I saw you,
race down the road in the rain.
But, you didn't see me,
get soaked to the skin so my son could have the car to go on his date.

I saw you,
run the yellow light just to save a few minutes of time.
But, you didn't see me,
trying to turn right.

I saw you,
cut me off because you needed to be in the lane I was in.
But, you didn't see me,
leave the road.

I saw you,
waiting impatiently for my friends to pass.
But, you didn't see me.
I wasn't there.

I saw you,
go home to your family.
But, you didn't see me.
Because, I died that day you cut me off.

I was just a biker,......
A person with friends and a family.
But, you didn't see me.

If you travel on 4 wheels, please look out for the motorcycles. Be aware of us on the road.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Class report.

Last weekend brought 24 prospective new riders into my classroom. There weren't really any dramatic stories coming out of this class. Even so, 24 lives are affected one way or another through riding. Class members had varied experiences, backgrounds, and goals. Out of these I did find food for thought.

In the post about the Mercedes kit car, I wrote how you never really know about something until you figuratively "looked under the hood". This lesson was driven home to me this weekend by four young men.

Two of the young men looked a little rough. One looked like a white Mike Tyson. Tattoos and piercings ruled his young body. His head was shaved on both sides with a 2" mohawk type haircut. The other young man appeared to be the classic sullen youth pissed off at the world.

The other two young men appeared to be just the opposite. Their clothing was "preppy" and they were well groomed. All outward signs pointed to these young men being "all American boys" with a touch of "beach boy" thrown in.

If one were to believe in stereotypes it would be presumed that I had trouble with the rough looking boys. The same reasoning would lead one to believe that the "all Americans" were model students. One could believe that but it would be dead wrong.

I've learned long ago to look past the surface. My "modus operandi" is to let folks show me what they are made of and respond accordingly. There have been times when I've been both pleasantly surprised and disappointed by what I'm shown. In this case, the "rough" ones proved to be great students. "Mike Tyson" was a dirt rider who wanted to ride on the street. He was cheerful and coachable the whole weekend. The "sullen" one warmed up to me on Saturday. The kid rides a CBR600 and wanted to get legal. Somewhere on Saturday I showed him something he didn't know. After that, he participated in class, was very coachable, and kind of fun to be around. Both these guys proved to be good riders and students.

Flip back to the "beach boys". Turned out to be a case of "spoiled little rich boys". Insolent would be a good word to use. They were only there because the law says the course is mandatory for those under 21. A lot of the focus is on rider responsibility. We show them the proper skills and coach to success. It's up to the student to apply themselves or not. If the student choses to ignore me but isn't presenting a safety hazard I don't get all anal about it.

The safety factor got broken after the range portion was done. The morning group was clearing out and some of the afternoon students were arriving. Spoiled little rich kid number 1 went to get the very expensive black Lexus from the parking area. Spoiled little rich kid number 2 went to the shed to return helmets. Meanwhile, the Lexus driver proceeds to charge through the coned off area to pick up the second kid. Totally ignoring the cones and the other students in the supposedly "safe" area.

As you might imagine, I was there quickly and told the driver to get the car off the range and that I better not see it happen again.

"I didn't know I couldn't drive over here", is the reply I got back.

"What do you think the big cones are for that you dodged through?" I countered.

The boys started giving me lip. Now it's time to set the record straight.

"Let me share something with you boys that you might not have been aware of. Whether you pass or fail this course won't make any difference to me or the other instructor at all. If we're satisfied that we've done our job properly our consciences will be clean. It's your endorsement and tuition money that's on the line. On the other hand, I will not tolerate anything that threatens the safety of any of the students. Things such as this car being where it is right now. I WILL take you out of the class. The other instructors will back me. The Director of the program will back me. The head of the Department of Transportation will back me. The State Attorney General will back me. This program had been around for 20 years. If you think that after that many years this policy isn't enforceable then you better think again."

Let's just say that for the rest of the weekend the boys weren't models of cheerfulness. On the other hand, they behaved themselves.

You just never know. What's interesting is that people bring their attitudes to motorcycling, whatever they may be. Steve Williams had a post on his blog about personalities of both drivers and riders. Sorry to say, we can't hold up riders as being the example of the "good guys" in every situation. There's good and bad in both arenas. It's just that bad attitudes make bad things happen to the rider more easily. Natural selection?

Motorcycling is still a family affair. We had a mother and daughter combination. Typically we see fathers and sons. With the years I've spent teaching there's also been quite a few times when part of a family comes through. Later on, some other family members come through. I guess their experience with me wasn't too terrible because the new arrivals seem happy to have the same instructor. Tuesday night Katie and I were at Red Robin. A couple came in and passed us. The gal greeted me warmly. She took the class one year and her husband took it the next year. I had the pleasure of being the instructor in both cases. Happens all the time, anymore.

There's more females coming through classes these days. Quite often up to a fourth of my classes are comprised of women. It's a good trend, I think. Manufacturers are being forced to take women into consideration. Especially with clothing. Speaking of gear, I had an interesting experience regarding a young woman's helmet on Sunday.

This helmet is pretty distinct. It's an Arai. The color scheme is unique. The background color is sort of a purple or fuschia. All over the helmet are white orchids. A young gal took the class last summer. The helmet was so striking that I took a digital picture to show Katie. Now I see a helmet just like it. So I mention it to Shania ( pronounced shay-na ), the gal who's using it. I tell her I've only seen one other like it. Shania tells me it belongs to her girlfriend. I ask her if her girlfriend took the course last summer. Turns out she did. So I describe the girl and it turns out to be the same exact helmet. Of course, the women around accuse me of only remembering the helmet because of the girl. All in good fun.

One of my students is an engineer. His understanding of things seems to be tied to physics. I was explaining the path of travel through a corner. I ask the class if everyone understands which way is "outside" and which is "inside" in a corner. My engineer states that the outside is opposite the "direction of lateral acceleration". This is how the guy relates to the world.

As an interesting aside, I actually argued that the outside is the same direction as lateral acceleration. Not the opposite. If one is turning right, the direction of lateral acceleration, as dictated by centrifugal force, is towards the left. After he thought about it, the engineer agreed with me. I may not be an engineer, but I understand motorcycle dynamics pretty well!!

What I'm getting at is that sometimes I feel people think too much when it comes to riding. I see this all the time when I try to get students to understand how countersteering works. No matter how much intellectual effort goes into it, the only way to really understand it is to "feel" it. Obviously, managing risk is 80 percent mental. But the physical act of riding has to come from deeper inside, in my opinion. I think the truly great riders are expressing something far more visceral then mental. What do you think?

Motorcycling still has an international appeal. We tend to look at the big picture based on how it is in America. Here, the majority of riders are in it for recreational and social purposes. It's not the same in other parts of the world. As great as America is to us, there's a bigger world out there. We're all God's creatures on the green planet.

One of the men in my class is from Nigeria. As a student he rode in London 15 years ago. Now he wants to get back on a bike. He was a very good student. Very polite while concentrating on his success. He attended with his girlfriend. She had never been on a bike. She came a long ways but ultimately proved too timid to pass the class. It's ok because I think she was doing it for him, anyway. He never put pressure on her. He accomplished his goal of getting endorsed. She got to explore in a safe place and discovered that maybe this wasn't for her. Win-win.

Sunday morning saw the arrival of a visitor. Thada is a college professor from Thailand. She spent some time with me on the range. It seems the plan is to set up a motorcycle safety training program through the university she is associated with. Since our program was rated number one in the nation by NTSHA, it was determined that ours would be the model.

Thada is very tiny. Also very intelligent. Her English is good. Her English is much better than my Spanish. I always respect those who are fluent in two or more languages. In Thailand it is a totally different situation. The vast majority of the bikes are small. Scooters abound. Most of the riding is commuting. Some of the principles will be the same. Some will need adapting to their unique circumstances. Thada had a meeting with the Director of the program on Monday. I wish her and her staff success.

I prize one thing she said to me.

"You are a very encouraging person".

The big bad motorcycle guy can be your best friend in my class.

Speaking of big bad motorcycle guy, I visited the school where Katie works yesterday to have lunch with her. I've been off work starting Wednesday. There's vacation time that needs to be used so I have a really long holiday weekend. Getting a little riding and spending some time with my sweetie.

Katie works at an elementary school. I ride up on the ST and park on the street. Talk about creating a sensation! The kids in the cafeteria were in awe. A lot of the teachers came by to see who the "motorcycle guy" was. I think Katie was pleased to be the wife of this rogue that caused such a stir!! Kids are great. The bike is always such a bridge to friendship.

The vacation will be my excuse for spotty postings this week. I might write one more post. This blogging thing is still so much fun!

Miles and smiles,

Monday, May 22, 2006

One road; two rides.

Friday turned out to be a much better work day than expected. Two thirds of it was spent on the bike. No picture this time. I figured I had plenty of time to find something photogenic. As it turned out, the circumstances turned rough and I got out of the mood for pictures.

We did a project a while back in Medford. This is a city with a population of around 66,000 inhabitants. More pertinent to this post is that Medford is a little over 200 miles from my home. There's been a nagging problem with a product we supplied. In the typical endless loop, fingers point in a circle as to who is responsible for the repair costs.

You know the story. We supplied it. The Contractor installed it. The problem appeared to be a manufacturer's defect. We sent a replacement for the first failure. When more failures were reported it became a manufacturer's area of responsibility. However, the manufacturer always wants to blame the installation. Around and around it went until it now became critical. The factory rep said he would make the trip but there would be a hefty bill if it turned out to be an installation problem. Just as an aside, this is the same manufacturer's rep agency that I almost went to work for earlier this year. That fact shows they have a little confidence in me. I figured they would take my word towards resolution.

Thursday afternoon saw a heated discussion come about as regards to taking care of this problem. Customer good will seemed to be shoved aside. Now, I haven't always claimed to be the sharpest razor in the package. I am, however, pretty crafty when it comes to sniffing out opportunities. Let me tell you, I had the scent of this one firmly fixed in my nostrils.

"Tell you what. Let me make a quick run down on the bike. I'll take a look, troubleshoot the problem, and take pictures for documentation. My experience will let me determine if the product is installed properly. If it's a factory issue my credibility will convince them to take care of it."

I tried to look innocent of any ulterior motive. My face attempted to take on a pained look that said this would be a great bother but I would do my best to take it in stride. Not sure how it actually came across. There's a high probability that my horns were protruding above my halo!!

That's how I came to find myself waking up Sophie at 5 AM to go for a ride. It was admittedly a little disappointing to find that rain had come overnight. We had enjoyed several days of very warm temperatures in a row. Until the day I had the chance to go for a long ride, of course. Let me state in no uncertain terms that I HATE THE RAIN!!! Always have and probably always will. Why I live in the Willamette Valley where the rainfall is so plentiful is a mystery. The only reason I ride in it is because the alternative is not being on the bike. Having my riding time dictated by the weather is intolerable. So I ride and grumble about it.

Seriously, we get a LOT of rain here. It's always amusing to see bikes advertised for sale in this area. The ad will state "Never ridden in the rain". One can count on the fact that this will be a bike with few miles on it. Most of the riders around here are fair weather and recreational riders. Proof lies in the contrast between Friday afternoon and this morning.

I'm getting a little ahead of my plot layout here, but it was raining Friday afternoon while I rode home. Nonetheless, being the day before the weekend, I saw a great number of bikes headed South. Many were in groups. In contrast, this morning the weather proved to be rainy once more. During my whole commute to work I saw absolutely no other bikes.

Back to the story. Like I said, it was drizzling when I left home. The drizzle turned to rain farther South. Sophie and I needed to stop off at the office to get supplies. I would have taken them with me Thursday night but the saddlebags were already full. Thursday night was the first night of the weekend motorcycle class so my materials were taking up all the space. Not long before we turned off the freeway we had passed a flatbed semi with plywood side boards. We also passed a white Ford pickup truck with Washington plates. It was pulling a small trailer. I had noticed the trailer in particular because the tail lights seemed extra bright. Almost like the brake lights were stuck.

Sophie was loaded with what I needed and I was back on the freeway at 6:02 AM. Twenty miles later the skies cleared and the sun emerged. Yes!!!

Just after we broke out into the sunshine we passed the same semi with the weird side boards for the second time. The driver should have recognized us. I had chosen a darker colored jacket and put a retro-reflective vest on over it. The vest has the TEAM OREGON motorcycle safety program logo on the back. Thirty miles later we passed the white Ford truck with the trailer. The trailer lights still looked bright.

It was absolutely glorious riding in the early morning sunshine! One of the best parts is that the freeway climbs up and out of the Southern end of the Willamette Valley. That means sweeping curves as we climb. First comes Rice Hill which starts the climb upward. Next up is Canyon Creek Pass. The top of this pass is at 2015 feet above sea level. Stage Creek Pass peaks at 1830 feet. We actually have a pass called Wolfe Creek Pass topping out at 1725 feet. Southernmost is Sexton Mountain Pass at 1956 feet.

What always amazes me is how something that can be so much work in a car can be so much fun on a bike. Trucks were literally crawling up the hills. Many move over to the shoulder on their way up. Cars do a little better. I've been up these passes in a cage before. It's a series of long, lumbering, climbs any way you look at it. Unless you're fortunate enough to be on two wheels. Sophie and I were partners in a graceful dance up the hills. Traffic was still light enough that our progress was largely unimpeded. Slow cars were easily dispatched. It would be a totally different story on the ride home.

One quick pit stop was made after the hills. One dance partner is mechanical and the other human. It's a bad sign when the mechanical one loses fluids. The human side of the partnership, however, desperately needed to "drain the radiator" as it were. There's something about pulling into a rest area on a bike that seems to be an invitation for company. An older man came over to share some of his stories of past riding adventures. There was no rush on my part. These days people seem to be too divided into age groups. We miss out on so much richness in life by pushing old folks off to the side. Maybe it's because I was raised by my Grandpa, but I've always found much of value in my interactions with my elders.

All too soon we arrived in Medford. By the way, we passed the Ford truck with the trailer one more time. Wonder what the driver was thinking seeing me go by for the third time. Being totally engaged in the ride made time pass quickly.

Having had no breakfast, I looked for the nearest fast food place. A sign indicated that there was a Burger King a mile off the freeway. It's 8:15 AM. Commuter traffic was fiercely heavy. As we pulled into the driveway of the Burger King I had to both laugh and shake my head. One man's choice of commuter vehicle was a small scooter. I'm sorry to say I couldn't tell which brand it was. The rider had a three quarter face helmet, t-shirt, shorts, and deck shoes. What was both sad and funny was that he held a cup of coffee in his left hand. With the throttle and front brake being on the right grip I guess it would work. Just didn't seem like a good idea, you know?

As usually happens when I'm on the bike, life seems simpler. I went inside to order a breakfast sandwich. Eschewing sitting inside at a table, I took my meal outside. One of Sophie's saddlebags held a thermos of hot Starbuck's coffee. I called Katie to say good morning while I sipped my coffee, one foot resting on Sophie's peg. High dining, indeed! I was totally content. A bike will do that for you.

Business got taken care of. Just to put closure to it, the problem actually turned out to be the factory's. Go figure.

By now it's close to 11 AM. Medford has sort of a high desert climate. With a higher elevation and being surrounded by hills, the weather is drier. I've taught classes there in past years. It's not uncommon for the afternoon sun to bring the thermometer over 100 degrees in the summer. Friday morning saw the first rain in a while. For the first few minutes the air had that smell of water drops on hot cement. Then it changed to a wet dust smell. You might describe it as refreshing. Refreshing lasted a few miles and then turned into its ugly sister named "Oppressive". With the advent of the heavy rain I abandoned my plan to take a more rural route home. From this area, the "long way" is literally that. Hours longer.

Moving briskly along sent most of the water to the sides. This wasn't always possible as we are now solidly into the road construction season. I guess those big machines can grind pavement in any weather. Being motionless in a line of stopped cars doesn't do much for shedding rain. More adventure was to follow.

The same sweeping curves that were so fun on the way up the hills became treacherous on the way down. Sophie and I were now steadily making our way to the lower elevation of the valley. The North side of the passes consist of long stretches of 3 or 4 percent downgrades. Just as you get good momentum the road takes a literal turn. The corners are posted at 50 mph. Shouldn't be much of a problem for a nimble bike, right? Wrong.

Standing water combined with a heavily loaded front wheel of a bike headed downhill makes for issues with traction. Adding to the thrill is the fact that the road is heavily rutted from the traffic. There's no great line available. The dashing and daring pilot of the wondrous ST is reduced to being very careful. Oh, no so much, at first. The second curve found the front tire drifting out from under us a little.

"Ok, wheel, you can come back under the bike any time, now!"

I quickly became a convert to being a conservationist. Conserving traction, that is! There was a couple in a little Saturn Ion who must have been real tired of me. On the straights we would pass this car. On the curves they would pass us back. It must have happened eight or nine times. Oh well, you do what you have to do. Standing rain, ruts, curves, and limited visibility made me a careful man. The Saturn had four wheels, after all.

Sophie and I arrived home sodden but satisfied. Our little field trip totalled around 430 miles. It beats being chained to a desk any day. It was a day of one road and two very different rides.

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Finding new treasures.

I can't believe how quickly this week has gone by! Last night was Friday night and I was still finishing Monday's newspaper. I feel badly that I've only done a couple of posts here. Right now it's 6 AM. I'm wolfing down two fried eggs on a toasted bagel. Time to go teach in a little bit. In order to not be too neglectful I'm doing a short post. Not that a lot hasn't happened this week. I just haven't had time to play scribe.

Wednesday night I went home through Brownsville. This is the small, quaint little town on the long way home. I noticed that the Russian side-car rig was parked downtown again. It seems to be there often. Right beside where it's parked is a bar and grill. Wonder if the rider comes in for supper and a pint. One day I might look them up.

Since there wasn't any rush to get home and the weather was great, I tooled around the small, older, part of the town. I'd seen this car with a tarp over it before. This time it was uncovered so I parked the bike to look. As I'm standing looking it over, an elderly lady came out of the house. We had a pleasant conversation about the car. Turns out it's a kit car. The woman told me that the kit was based on a 1937 Mercedes. Underneath it all is a Volkswagon motor.

Years ago the woman went to California to pick it up. She'd seen it advertised and went to look at it. Then she drove it home to Brownsville. It's always cool to find a kindred soul. A sense of adventure shouldn't have age limits. The motor is "dead" as she puts it. Selling the car or fixing it is the decision of the moment.

The car reminds me of some other situations in life. You can't always make an accurate assessment based on looks. You really won't know the truth until you "look under the hood".

If I were commuting in a car I probably wouldn't have seen this in the first place. It just seems we get in a car and take the direct route. Chances are great that, even if I had seen it, I wouldn't have stopped. There's this psychological barrier to having to find a bigger place to park, open the car door, and pull oneself out of the vehicle. With the bike being small and nimble, it's no job to turn around and go back. I'm already out in the open. Sliding off the bike is just a small thing. So many adventures we have are a direct result of being on a bike instead of a car.

Ain't it great?

Miles and smiles,

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A little
break from the heat

A close call ( pun intended)

New England has had torrential rains and flooding. I'm riding in hot weather that's breaking records. Yesterday it reached 86 degrees(f). That's one degree warmer than the last record which was set in 1958.
A little break from the heat.

When I got to Albany the temperature was even higher. 95 degrees to be exact.

Riding in warm weather presents its own challenges. Putting on all the riding gear when the heat waves are shimmering off the pavement can be daunting. The temptation to ride in jeans and t-shirt is strong. I don't give in to it, but I'm also in a hurry to get on the bike and get some air flowing!

In reality, the t-shirt thing doesn't do anyone any favors. Short term it can feel cooler. On longer rides the constant rush of warm air can cause heat dehydration. A person gets loopy and starts making questionable decisions over time. The symptoms are very similar to becoming slowly intoxicated. Not to mention the pain of sunburn! It's important to keep the moisture in next to the skin. Everyone knows that accidents only happen in cold weather, too. Right?

These are things that we all know on an intellectual level. Faced with a warm ride it's amazing how easily the "smart" thing to do is put aside. This is the time of year when the Roadcrafter jacket is so amazingly versatile. I can keep comfortable in the mornings when the chill is in the air. When it's time to ride home in the heat I just open the side and back vents. The jacket flows enough air that I really don't feel the heat too badly. As long as I keep moving, that is!

Speaking of the Roadcrafter, I've had mine a long, long, time. No advertising plug intended but this is THE best gear I've ever had. Eventually, even the best stuff gets worn. The jacket went back for some zipper repairs and sprucing up last winter. The price was quite reasonable. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the front pocket access zipper on the pants finally broke. The hook and loop strip won't keep the flap closed by itself. Which means that on some of these chilly mornings I'm getting cold air into the front of my jeans!

Just in case Andy or Shane is reading this, I'm making a shameless plea for some "very extended warranty" repairs!!

The cell phone wielding driver epidemic continues to spread. I'm not sure at what point it can be called "pandemic" but I think we're close. The ride home last night provided an unwelcome opportunity to get sort of up close and personal with one such driver. There was no crash but it could have gone either way. I credit my frequent teaching for making me more aware than I might be otherwise.

Interestingly, I was thinking of cell phones at lunch time yesterday. To drain the tension that builds up at the office I've been going for rides. On the way back I had to wait at a stoplight. I'm in the left turn lane and first in line. Traffic on my right got the green light to do their left turns. Their path of travel caused them to cross in front of me and then proceed opposite the way I was facing. Four out of four of the cars had drivers talking on cell phones. Does anyone actually just DRIVE anymore?

As I got into town last night I had to wait at another light. It seems like I spend half my life waiting at traffic lights anymore. At least this time it was more entertaining. Old Hwy 99 is two lanes each direction with a middle lane for turns. There's a light at the Target Distribution Center. Traveling in the same direction as me and waiting to turn left was a couple two-up on a Harley Glide. Behind them was a pickup. I'm second in line next lane over and waiting to continue straight on. The lane to my right has three vehicles waiting. The car in front of me is a Triumph Spitfire convertible with the top down.

Now that I'm stopped I'm feeling the effects of the full gear in hot sunshine. For a very brief moment I almost think a convertible would be the better way to go. Such blasphemy! Anyway, the car's nice but it's what's inside it that catches my eye.

Have you ever heard of "distraction"? The driver of the convertible was a very good looking blond girl. She was wearing one of those white baseball caps and her ponytail was hanging out of the little space in the hat between the back and the strap. I could see her face in her rearview mirror. Nice. Next to her was a little blond munchkin in the passenger seat. Being a highly trained rider my survival instincts managed to overcome the distraction factor. In my mirrors I saw a white Dodge Caravan coming up behind me. At the last minute the driver of the Dodge swerved over into the left turn lane.

Behind the Dodge van was a green Toyota van. Due to what happened next I have to presume that the Toyota's driver was following a little too closely to the Dodge. You know what it's like to follow a vehicle that you can't really see over or around? When the vehicle in front suddenly moves over whatever's in front of it can become a surprise. That's what happened to the Toyota driver. In my mirror I could see that the Toyota was coming up too quickly behind me for my comfort. I made a quick decision and moved up in between the convertible and vehicles in line to my right. In the next few seconds several very interesting things happened in rapid succession.

The lady in the convertible gave me a look that plainly said "What the hell are you doing?"

Screeching tire sounds followed next. Followed, in turn, by the blond looking over her right shoulder. Now her wide-eyed look said "Oh sh*t!"

Next event featured the driver of the Toyota van. As good fortune would have it, the Toyota did not impact the convertible. The memory I took laughingly with me was the look on the Toyota driver's face. The driver was an extremely large woman. She was staring at the very small space between her and the convertible. If i hadn't moved Sophie and I would have been in there somewhere. The look on her face said "How did that happen?"

The cell phone was STILL glued to her ear!!! Take one wild guess, lady!

This weather has brought out a lot of bikes. Instead of being the Lone Ranger I'm now just one of the herd. I'm ok with that right now. Judging by the number of bikes I see early in the morning it seems that quite a few are being used as commuters. I can't remember if I mentioned it the first time I saw this particular rider or not. Today I saw him for the second time.

Wouldn't it be interesting to be able to talk to each rider and find out where they're coming from? You know, things like their experience level, why they ride, is their gear always like that or are they working up to more? I'd like to talk to this guy. The reason I find him amusing is his gear.

Stereotyping isn't really a good way to size people up. Yet, when I see this man the mental picture I get is of some roly-poly German or Bavarian man. The ruddy cheeks crammed into his full face helmet. A short body with a lot of beef crammed onto it. Since I started the stereotype I'll finish it. I've always considered myself an equal opportunity offender. The bike should be a BMW but he's perched on a silver Suzuki Bandit 1200. This bike has the windscreen and upper fairing but no lowers. From the waist up this rider looks, well, like a rider. Full face helmet over a nice Joe Rocket jacket. A little tight fitting, mind you, but nice. Gloves cover the hands. All real spiffy. Until you look farther down the body.

Lace-up work boots cover the feet. It's between the feet and jacket where the ensemble gets interesting. Sweat pants. Not just one pair. There appears to be about six pairs on him. Last time the outer pair were bright blue. Today they are black. Is he waiting to be able to afford the pants to match the jacket? Is the jacket enough for the majority of his riding? Is the sweat pant bundling just to keep warm in the chilly mornings? Does he care about the incongruity of his gear? Certainly not life changing areas of discussion. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to chat with this rider.

Almost time to head home. We're sitting right around 83 degrees(f). Can't wait to see what adventure awaits me. Sure beats getting in a car and zoning out for an hour, doesn't it?

Miles and smiles,

Monday, May 15, 2006

Field of Dreams Revisited.

The reluctant students and the Patriot.

I want to tell you about the class I taught this weekend. In a post a few months ago I called the parking lots we teach in "The Field of Dreams". ( see February 7, 2006 ) This weekend showed both extremes. Dreams realized and not. Although only one dream belonged to a student. The other dream was someone else's.

Thursday night was the first classroom session. By the time I left home and went to work, rode from work to Salem, and back home again under the full moon, I had about 150 miles. A good riding day. There's a picture above I've called "Sophie goes to college". Sorry for the blurry focus. I was snickering to myself and couldn't hold the camera still. One of these days I should get a tripod. The reason I was snickering was that I was parked on the sidewalk in front of the Campus Security Office. We have to go there to get a parking permit for the evening. Like a little boy up to no good but getting away with it, I was sort of giggling as I was parked on the sidewalk where I wasn't really supposed to be. Not only that, but including one of their cars in the photo.

Actually, we have a great working relationship with Campus Security at the community colleges where we teach. I've always had them act like we're all partners in this venture. Their help can be invaluable when people try to park in our lots, etc. Thanks so much for that, folks!

The first night of class is just sort of an introductory thing. I get to meet the students, find out a little about where they're coming from, and take care of administrative things. The students have a variety of reasons to be taking the class. The most common are wanting to learn because someone else they know rides, using the bike to commute and save gas, and the good old "need to get legal" thing. This time I had a little variety thrown in.

There were 7 females out of 24 students. Two of the females were there because their boyfriends wanted them to learn to ride. This is a mixed bag. Sometimes the student catches the enthusiasm herself and a new rider is made. Just as often, the would-be rider really doesn't want to be there and doesn't have the physical skills to be successful. They don't pass and really don't belong on a bike. If it were left there, life would be good. I just always worry about how the "boyfriend" takes it when she goes home and reports.

This weekend our two females showed both sides of the coin. I also had a chance to speak with one of the guys, which was interesting. We'll come back to that later.

One female student was a lady in her late 50's with a big dream. I tried to take her picture but kept getting the back of her head. She was so engrossed in watching the other riders and trying to learn that she wouldn't look away. She also seems to be a little camera shy! Our gal's at the end of the line at the left showing us the back of her helmet.

The lady's name is Mary. Or, as she likes to be called, MJ. I use the word "Lady" with a great deal of respect. MJ and her husband suffered the loss of their son in Iraq. He was the 9th boy from Oregon to die over there. Their son was actually a little older than the typical recruit. He'd served as a helicopter pilot over several terms of enlistment. MJ's husband, Clay, is a fellow Vietnam vet. Here's MJ's big dream.

MJ and her husband are part of a group that attend the funerals of all the soldiers from Oregon killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Anti-war protesters have taken to showing up at these funerals. No matter one's stance on this war, people should have the decency to let the families bury their dead in peace. To counter the protesters, a group of vets on bikes rides escort. They call themselves the "Patriot Riders". This group numbers in the thousands. From the sounds of things, the turn-out at funerals is impressive. The riders fly flags and create a barrier between protesters and mourners.

MJ wants to ride with the Patriot Riders.

I'm all for it. Bikes are freedom machines. Everyone has something they want to realize from riding. MJ's dream is noble. It also means everything to her right now. There's more. A memorial to fallen Oregon soldiers is being constructed in a plaza at the State Capitol of Salem. The creation of the memorial looks to be spearheaded by a non-profit group founded by MJ and her husband. The memorial is arriving shortly in Southern Oregon. The plan is for a number of riders to escort it for about 250 miles North as it makes its way to the storage site.

Here's a link to the website should you be interested:

No pun intended, but a lot is riding on the outcome of this class for MJ. The odds don't favor her. The age and sex factor put her in a group that typically doesn't do well. MJ's riding experience is limited. She hasn't been on a bike since about 1990. MJ has shown me in conversation that she's wise enough not to go outside her limitations. If she fails she will accept it. I'm sure she'll also be crushed. I want her to succeed in the worst way. It's personal for me on a couple of levels. As a professional I have to put my own agenda aside. Although, I do determine to use all my skill as an instructor to help MJ find success.

An instuctor can coach, cajole, command, communicate and congratulate. In the end it comes down to what the student has brought to the table. The skills evaluation is all about what the student shows us.

We will leave MJ and go back to our reluctant students.

Here's a picture of one of them. This one actually took well to riding. Once she realized she could do it Mitzi started having fun. Once her heart was into it there was no stopping her. Mitzi transformed from a reluctant student to an enthusiastic rider. Mitzi was actually pretty good, too. We'll leave her with an honorable mention for her efforts.

The other reluctant student didn't do well. I wont't use her name or picture for her sake. After all, she didn't really want to do this and doesn't have the processing and physical capacity. ( what I'm trying to politely say is that she seems to be a 50 watt bulb in a hundred watt world ) This student was only here because of pressure from her boyfriend. In other words, she wasn't here to fulfill her dream. It was someone else's dream that involved her. Speaking of which, I got to talk to this person during a break on the second day.

This guy rode up on a big bagger of some well-known cruiser brand. He dismounts. The helmet is a novelty helmet. Standard biker t-shirt, leather vest, bandana, jeans, chaps, no gloves. His physical stature is short. His belly knows what the weather is like outside before the rest of him does.

Now, I've had a lot of experience in sizing people up. It's clear to me that this person is wearing his "biker" gear like a suit of armor. The bike is his step ladder, if you know what I mean. His girlfriend, and my student, is over by the bike. As I walk up I hear her telling him how hard the shifting thing is. He's true to form and telling her to try harder. I put on my friendly, professional, face with the steel gleam of a cop's eyes.

After introductions are made, the boyfriend and I have a little chat. I state this his girlfriend is trying real hard, but as he can hear, she's struggling with some things. Then I look him right in the eyes.

"I would feel much better knowing that if she decides this isn't for her that she will be allowed to decline with honor. If she's not comfortable with riding and she's pushed into it, she's GOING TO GET HURT!! I'm sure you don't want that for her, do you?"

The man stutters and stammers and assures me that she's free to decide on her own. Maybe it won't make any difference in the long run. The thing is, I've put it there out in the open. As predicted, the girlfriend failed miserably. I take a personal interest in each student's success. This time the soil wasn't ripe for the seed to grow.

You've been hanging long enough. How did MJ do?

MJ proved to be extremely coachable. Her physical skills improved immensely. She's not what I would call a strong rider. I would have no problem with using the word "competent". I'm comfortable with her working her way to riding on the streets. MJ has the foundation to build on. A foundation that her dream can realistically be built upon.

I didn't tell any of the students about their pass or fail status until the final debriefing Sunday afternoon. If they all pass I will sometimes tell them so they can celebrate and it takes some pressure off them. Otherwise, I wait until I do the private end-of-course debrief. I always try to arrange it so the students don't have any sort of clues who's passed or not. It's my own way of preserving dignity, I guess.

When I told MJ she passed, she smiled. Then she gave me one of the most crushing hugs I've ever had. MJ thanked me. I helped, but it was her heart and effort that led to success. For MJ the dream will become reality.

That's one of the things that's so cool about teaching motorcycle classes. Sometimes it's just more of the same pleasant pursuit. Last year I taught around 30 beginner classes. I saw 720 students in the first night's class and worked directly on riding with 360 of them. Multiply that by the years I've been teaching and it adds up to thousands of students. Most are going through the normal process a new rider goes through. Nothing out of the ordinary although each is having their own special experience.

Then you have weekends like this one. A rider with a big dream who gets to realize it. A rider who shouldn't be on a bike and is made aware of it in a safe place. Either way, the greater good has been served. I never tire of it. I'm teaching this next weekend. I can't wait to see what will develop as the curtain rises on the next act!

Miles and smiles,

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Big steps and little 'uns!

Wow! Back to the normal blog posts. By "normal" I mean actually writing about riding to work. The weather's been so awesome for riding these last days. I fall in love with riding all over again.
It looks like the nice weather's been inspiring other commuters. Time to brush the rats and spiders aside, blow the dust off the bike and ride! Despite the variety of riders I haven't really seen any "regulars". I did see the man on the old Goldwing whom I've seen over the last three years. So far he's pretty much the only one.

There's been a blast from the past for me the last two mornings. Not long after I leave the house and get onto old Hwy 99 I've encountered another rider. This is a young man on an old Honda Twinstar 200. We both head out the same direction but his trip's only a few miles. Good thing, too, for his sake. This little bike has no fairing. The young man hasn't been wearing gloves the two times I've seen him. He's got a jacket but no riding pants. His slacks flap in the breeze. That leaves a lot of space between the bottom of the pant leg and his tennis shoes. With the clear skies the morning temperature is hanging around 38 degrees(F).

When I look at this rider my first thought is "He must be freezing!"

I know from personal experience. In the mid 80's I had a bike just like it. Figured it would be a good commuter bike for running into town for work. We lived just out of town in a semi-rural area. This was in Yakima. Even in Winter the roads in town are passable for the most part. The crews up there do an excellent job of scooping off the snow. So I could ride most of the year. Yakima is in Central Washington. Sort of a high desert setting. Hot in Summer and cold in Winter. Did I mention cold in Winter?

This was before the days I had good gear. Most days it was a leather jacket and jeans. Yes, I pretty much arrived at work frozen. I remember getting snowmobile pants with a bib top. To go with them I got a jacket made by Arctic Cat. Black with snazzy green stripes here and there. Not motorcycle specific but what an improvement!!! The jacket came with one of those thermometers that hang from the zipper pull. Now I could see how cold it really was and how much the gear helped. By the way, does Bieffe still make helmets? They were inexpensive but worked well for me.

So seeing this rider the last couple of mornings has me thinking of younger days. Oh, the good old days! You know what's really scary? THESE will be the "good old days" for our children. Blows your mind, doesn't it?

I've gotten into the habit again of riding to work on the freeway and then wandering home after. Blame it on this blogging thing. I want to keep somewhat current on posts. There's just so much going on anymore. With it being just Katie and I at home we're spending a lot of time bumming around together. What's been happening is that I get up early in the morning to write and drink coffee. Then I take the more direct route to the office.

Backing up what Gary wrote about on his blog, the freeway is a more intense environment. I'm not so much bothered by other vehicles. In fact, it's very entertaining to take bets with myself on what I'll see next. Today I saw some young gal braiding her hair. Both hands. She must have been holding the steering wheel with her knees or something. Everyday is some new spectacle to behold.

My problem with the freeway is that The Monster wants to emerge. The Monster's name is "Impatience". I hate being help up by traffic. Those spots where everyone's bunched up together for Eternity. Drivers who are doing 2 mph faster than the right lane traffic and won't get out of the way. A convoy of trucks with the last truck in line deciding to pass all the others. Sophie and I suffer for miles and miles. I have to keep clubbing The Monster down for fear it will drive me to do something stupid. It's not about the speed, it's about the flow. Being on the freeway reminds me of how some old farmer described his first visit to a big city. He wondered how anyone got anywhere walking around there. This man had a lifetime of walking in wide open spaces with nothing to get in his way. Here's how he described walking on a crowded sidewalk.

"I couldn't get anywhere. I had to keep taking big steps and little 'uns".

Commuter traffic does the same thing to me. It denies me the "flow" I find so relaxing.

Speaking of flow, it crossed my mind this morning how much I enjoy the familiar flow of the streets I regularly ride on my commute. While there's still so much that's new each morning, woven through it all is the fabric of familiar. I see the same weird fellow waiting at the bus stop. There's a lady who jogs. The way she runs it looks like the only thing that can bend is her legs. There's Darnell, who works at the bank. He lives in some apartments nearby and walks to work a lot. Speaking of banks, the old bank guard's been riding the 'Wing off and on. Looks like he hasn't given up riding after all.

And then there's the kids waiting for the bus. At one corner there's a whole group of grade school age youngsters that gather. Several of the boys always wave enthusiastically at the bike. That's one cool thing about commuting on the bike. The kids see car after car that blend into each other. The boys probably don't pay them much attention. I'm not just some faceless figure in the steady line of cars. Ok, I'm faceless because of the helmet, but you know what I mean. To the youngsters I'm "that guy on the bike".

After I pass the group of kids I turn right onto a new little street connector. There's brand new cement. The road makes a sweeping "S" turn. A lefthander that I late apex. Followed by a righthander that I center apex. It flows so beautifully when I have it to myself. I look forward to it everytime I get close to it.

Commuting on a bike is so awesome to me. I experience the world in a unique way that would never happen in a car. Speaking of commuting, time to saddle up and head to work. I'm teaching this weekend so it will be a busy, but fun, weekend for me.

Miles and smiles,

What was he thinking???!!!

It's time for the mild-mannered blogger to look for the nearest phone booth. It might be a long search. ( there are fewer and fewer phone booths these days ) There's a flurry of struggling and a string of profanity. ( the uniform seems tighter these days ) Finally, he bursts forth and is transformed into Super Ranter!

Yes, I have finally had enough of stupid riders. That's right, not motorists. I said "riders". This is my blog so I'm using the space to rant. I was actually in bed for the evening. This thing kept churning over and over in my mind. I finally had to get up and get it out of my system so I could go to sleep. You can choose to read it or not. Your choice.

Got a call from my brother really early this morning. He's my brother so he takes these kind of liberties. Jim is a reserve officer for the Portland Police Bureau. There was an accident involving a motorcyclist. So Jim called me. Kind of a "Bikes R Us" thing, I guess.

Here's the scene. It's late night Tuesday night. Not yet Wednesday morning. Two bikes in SE Portland. This is a town of over half a million people. This particular area is comprised of streets with two lanes each direction plus a turn lane. Five lanes of roadway. The cross streets are just as big. Traffic is relatively light for a city this size. Which means there isn't really any quiet times. Just not as many cars as the 5 hour afternoon rush hour.

At a stop light on Division at 122nd sit two bikes. According to a handful of witnesses one's a Harley and the other a Suzuki. Hard to tell about the Harley. Could have been a cruiser with loud pipes and the witnesses just assumed, you know. We might never know because the Harley rider fled the scene. We do know about the Suzuki. My brother was one of the officers on the scene. No doubt about the Suzuki. The demolished bike was readily identifiable.

The light turned and both bikes took off. The Suzuki in the lane nearest the curb and the Harley next to the turn lane. Witnesses say the sport bike did three wheelies in the next couple of blocks. ( they probably saw the front wheel lofting under acceleration ) Enter one Ford Explorer SUV. It's at 125th, waiting to turn West onto Division. The bikes were heading East on Division. The SUV got the light and started making the turn. Didn't get far before the Suzuki crashed into it. The rider was, and forever will be, 34 years old. Jim says he was DOA ( dead on arrival ) but I guess it takes someone more medically trained to make the official pronouncement. The rider was transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital and pronounced dead there. The other bike fled.

Personally, I have no sympathy for the deceased rider. I know it seems harsh. A person might think it's a travesty to pay for a stupid mistake with one's life. I say, there's Stupid, Really Stupid, and Criminally Stupid. This rider didn't make a mistake. He deliberately chose to take a path somewhere between Really Stupid and Criminally Stupid. Like the old saying "You pays your money and you takes your chances". The rider placed his bet and lost. The gene pool just got cleansed a little bit.

I don't know if there was a wife or kids left behind. Either way, someone, somewhere, probably loved this guy. For them, I have empathy. It's like parents with kids who make bad choices. The parents always hope the kid will learn to make better choices. Through it all the parent loves the kid. When a bad choice leads to fatal consequences, knowing it was the kid's own fault doesn't make the loss any easier.

It seems really weird for me to say this, but I also have empathy for the driver of the SUV. The Ford had a green light. The official statement says the driver of the SUV innocently ended up in the path of the bikes. The bikes were established without a doubt to be racing at high speeds. End of story. I have questions. Shouldn't the driver have seen the speeding bikes and waited a little longer? Did the driver actually see the bikes but have trouble judging the speed as many motorists claim? Did the driver assume the bikes would stop at the light? I don't know. I wasn't behind the wheel.

What I do know is that the person who WAS behind the wheel of the Ford thought they were right. All of a sudden the Suzuki crashes into the driver's side of the SUV. The news photo is above. There were some physical injuries. A crash like that has to leave a scar. An emotional scar. Forever remembered how a rider crashed into their vehicle and died. For that, I have empathy.

My biggest rant is how it affects the community of riders as a whole. Oregon's only had two fatalities this year before this crash. Down from 10 this time last year. After a while this rider's death will be just another statistic. Nobody's going to remember that it was his own stupidity that killed him. It will be just another fatality. Enough of them and the Government will step in and try to do something. Oh, they'll use the ammunition that these riders' deaths will provide. Waving the Flag of Public Safety, new rules and restrictions will be put in place. It never was, and never will be spurred by genuine concern for people. One of the biggest lies ever told is this: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help". Yeah, right.

Personal agendas and interests is what will be fulfilled using the disguise of safety. We don't need it, we don't want it. Unfortunately, given the number of riders who maim and kill themselves, it will probably be a foregone conclusion. Even though I like to think that a lot of us are some sort of "Noble Group", motorcyclists are a representative slice of humanity. I'm disillusioned to think that there will always be "those" among us.

The other rant is that this kind of thing adds fuel to the already blazing "motorcycles are too dangerous" fires. Again, public perception is slanted because it's these kind of riders that always seem to take center stage. The news media never reports on how many riders sanely commute and have fun on bikes. It's always the sensational they're after. People unfailingly buy into the falsehood. For instance, there's a kid in town who really pisses me off. He's got a blue Yahama R-1 trick sport bike. The guy goes all over town and spends a lot of time with the front tire in the air. I can hardly go to a gas station or store on the bike without hearing about how stupid this kid is. I agree, but who will they remember? Not me in my Aerostich gear, full face helmet, and quiet sport-tourer, that's for sure.

Guess what? Who do you think is going to vote on legislation and restrictions for bikes? Yep, these same people who only remember the idiots who do stupid things or proudly irritate everyone with their loud pipes. These same idiots will defiantly declare that they have the right to do what they want. Dream on, people. The sooner they realize they're outnumbered at the polls the better. I don't want to kiss anyone's ass just to avoid restrictive legislation, either. I do believe in being courteous and respectful of others. I ask the same in return. The reality is that we can't afford to be deliberately calling attention to ourselves by being stupid. Let alone being Really Stupid or Criminally Stupid.

If I have the opportunity to cross paths with one of "those" I politely but firmly point out the error of their way, so to speak. It might piss them off, but think about it. Do you really want someone like that as a friend or ally? Do you want to be associated with them? If they see the light, great. If not, at least I had the courage to say something. For me, it's a matter of implied consent. In other words, the absence of "no" means "yes". I've been a motorcycle safety professional for a long time. A lot of the local motorcycling community knows me as such. The situation puts me under obligation to take a stand.

Ok, that's it for now. Time to go back into the phone booth and try to get out of these ridiculous tights. My duty has been done, for now. At least this rant has released the pressure valve of my righteous indignation for a while. It's well after midnight. I think I can go to sleep, now. I've kept the cape for a blanket.

Miles and smiles,

Monday, May 08, 2006

Finding Hemingway

Monday morning. I never seem to sleep well on Sunday nights anymore. Trying to wake up, I hit the shower. Katie knocks on the door and says I have a phone call. Who's calling me at 6:15 AM? Turns out it's my youngest son, Clinton. You met him in a post last week. Clinton's freshly done with High School. He's moved up to Salem with my oldest son. Clinton has a job in Albany which means a 20 mile or so commute. This morning his car's broken down. The water pump had been leaking for a few days and today the car over-heated.

Funny about the young guys. They so badly want their independence and to be their proverbial "own man". Then trouble hits, the kid's stranded, and who gets the call? So Dad fires up the truck and rescues the son. We find a shop who can work on it and take it there. It's ok. The boys are my family and that's what family does. None of them have moved back in nor have they asked for money. I'm pretty much just back-up for emergencies.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with commuting by motorcycle. Well, as you've probably guessed, I was late in getting to "the office". The weird thing is that I seemed to be worried about it. It's like, God forbid, the wheels of commerce should come to a screeching halt because Dan Bateman failed to report to his assigned slot at the assigned time. When I did get on the bike to go to work I travelled down the interstate. This whole thing had gotten my mind churning and I needed to think. In the process I saw another angle to the "why I ride" picture.

This is a commuter blog so I won't go into political commentary. Ok, just a tiny bit. The way we live combined with the way society is set up conspire to force conformity. Very few of us live on large, rural land parcels. We tend to live in cities and towns in relatively small dwellings. Viewed in the bigger picture we all go home to our assigned slots. Much of the employment available is in offices or facilities of some kind. Which means we leave our dwelling slot to go to our work slot. Our lives become filled with work hours and to-do lists. The "man of action and adventure" we'd like to be becomes subjugated. Now we're called "good providers" and "law-abiding".

Don't get me wrong. Once a person commits to another and makes a family that needs to come first. My opinion, at least. When the children come along the responsibility intensifies. If we need to work and live in slots to take care of our family, so be it. The arrangement just leaves very little room for us to go find the adventure our soul craves. I can accept that. On the other hand, I think about when the final tally for me is taken. If someone could sum up my existence by saying I left this world with a pot belly and a good credit score then why did I live in the first place?

Some folks are lucky to be able to combine making a living with adventure. That doesn't happen for the majority. I had plenty of adventure earlier in life but have chosen to tone it down for the sake of family. At the same time adventure is burning a hole in my heart, as they say. Riding allows me to give it an outlet.

Every day I can steal a little time away from conformity. I can choose to break out and be different from the masses that commute in cars. So much of what people experience today isn't really direct experience. They read about something. They see it on television or movies. They hear about it from ones who have had the adventures. Most people just never really experience life as it was meant to be. Oh, there's a familiarity, but not the hard won knowledge that comes from living intensely. That kind of knowledge is what I'm after on the bike.

I've experienced that kind of intensity in different circumstances. It was certainly intense to be finished with high school and have my Senior Trip scheduled for me. A bus to Basic then a loud, creaky, airplane ride to a foreign jungle. Working for years as a cop in a crazy place. I carry memories, knowledge, and experience with me that I never would have come by any other way. I hate to say it, but I sometimes long to be living like that again. It just wouldn't jive with raising a family for me. Problem is, the flame still smolders. Katie says that there's still an outlaw just beneath the surface. Life seems too tame, sometimes.

Riding isn't as dramatic as what I've experienced in the past. That is, after I quit racing. Still, I get just enough adventure and drama to keep the edge off. Every time we ride we face danger. We get to plot strategy. We look for "bogies" and "incoming". We can face weather conditions as adverse as we can stand. We can push ourselves and be surprised at how much we can really achieve when pressed. Riding can be as intense as we make it. In the process we gain that hard won knowledge that only comes from first hand, tough, experience. There are other things that can give us this intensity. There's not many you can experience every day. Commuting on a bike is one you can.

I know it's kind of a wordy description. Many of you have summed it up by saying things like

"I never feel as alive as when as I'm on the bike".

It's the intensity and what you gain from it. As I'm riding I'm thinking about all this. I'm sort of disjointed due to the intense fatigue and hardly any sleep. This isn't cleaned up and sanitized. It's a look into a tortured mind that I'm sharing with you. The title of the blog should have warned you. Sometimes my writing will just be musings. Some things in life are better experienced raw as they happen.

Look at Hemingway. Have you ever read him? That was a man who was a "man of action" and lived the talk. By age 26 he had lived more than most did in a lifetime. People are drawn to his writing because he lived what he wrote. A lot of Hemingway's writing is raw. The man paid a price, to be sure. Four different women took him down the marriage aisle thinking they could change him. All four failed. Papa Hemingway ended his days as a paranoid, depressed, old man with angina. Eventually he killed himself. But what a legacy he left. A lot more than a pot belly and a good credit score.

I'm no Hemingway, to be sure. Commuting on a bike lets me ride in his shadow. It's intense, it's real, and, oh so satisfying!

Miles and smiles,

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Is "good enough" really enough? ( conclusion )

Definition of an "expert" motorcyclist:

A rider who uses expert judgement to avoid using expert physical skills.

In part 2 I wrote that I think a lot more people would commute by bike if the fear factor wasn't there. Two-wheeled commuting is a great experience. It's also true that it can be a dangerous environment to ride in. Now you're probably more nervous than ever. Don't be. Have you ever heard of sitting down to "pencil out the cost" of a project? Same thing here. We need a realistic picture of what we're dealing with so we can bring the right stuff for the task.

Take a deep breath. Relax. Smile. There's good news just around the corner. It's possible to not only enjoy the commute but to actually thrive on it. Let me take you on a tour of our Tool Store. Pick out what you need and make it yours. This could be a long trip but I didn't want to break it up into another part. I wanted it to all flow as a unit. I'm putting it together as it comes to me. It takes a long time to condense everything down into something short and sweet. To quote Mark Twain: "I don't have time to write you a short letter so I'm writing you a long letter."

First, an overview. The following statement seems so simple and yet it's the most important thing you could ever do to manage risk.

Know your limits and ride within them.

Think about it. There's three things that are going to impose limits on our riding. The rider has personal limits. The bike has limits. The environment has limits. What would happen to the accident rate if everyone rode within their personal limits at any given point in time? What if they always rode within the limits of the bike? What if they always rode within the limits of the environment at the time? While there's no saying for sure, it seems reasonable to presume that the accident rate for motorcyclists would plummet. So, you ask, if it's that simple why doesn't everyone ride within the limits? Why are there still so many accidents?

Good question. One of the problems with riding within the limits is that the limits are so fluid. Not so much so with the bike as with the other two. The limits of a bike do change. Barring mechanical failures this change is more gradual over time. The other part of this picture is that the TYPE of bike we're riding will affect what we can and can't do. Sometimes the bike can fool a rider into thinking their limits are higher than what they really are. Here's an example.

In an earlier post I wrote about the young guys on liter sport bikes. I'm not putting all young guys into the same category. These are select individuals. A number of them come through my classes with very little riding experience. After graduating the class these guys go out and buy the sport bike. Here's what happens. The young man rides the bike then comes back and says

"Whoa, I'm good!"

No, the BIKE is good. His limits are the same as they were yesterday. He's still the same young man who just graduated my class two weeks ago with no riding experience. With bikes being so capable it's easy for riders to get sucked into situations where they end up in over their heads. This is just one example. Certain environmental conditions can be deceptive, as well.

The upshot is that it's critical to evaluate and recognize what these limits really are. Then we respond appropriately. The good news about rider limits is that they can always be expanded in our favor. Increasing our physical skills is a tremendous factor in improving our odds. Every rider should strive for having expert skills. It can only be accomplished by constant practice and outside training can be invaluable. In the end, though, it's up to us. The skills will only stay at whatever level we practice them to. I want to use this post to dwell on another type of skill.

Refer back to my definition of an expert rider and you will see that mental skills are even more critical. The idea is to use mental skills to deal with potential hazards before they become critical to the rider. Riding a motorcycle is more about the eyes and mind than about hands and feet. I'd say the ratio is about 80 / 20. So let's explore the aspect of attaining superior mental skills.

Start by looking at yourself in the figurative mirror. Do an assessment of what we could call "Rider Readiness". It's just a way to check on how mentally and physically ready we are to ride at any given moment. This is an ongoing process, not just something done at the beginning of a ride. How's our gear? How's our mental state? Are we distracted? Has it been a totally stressful day at work and now we're getting ready to ride home? How are we physically? Tired, hot, cold? Maybe getting over being sick? Are we taking prescription medications? Think about IMPAIRMENT.

Sometimes we tend to associate impairment with alcohol or illicit drugs. Separate impairment from intoxication. Speaking of alcohol, we're consistently seeing around half of the fatalities being related to drinking. What you might not know is that only a third of them were legally intoxicated. We're not talking drunk. We're talking impaired. Impairment can take many forms. I've seen accidents where the cause was impairment from low blood sugar in a diabetic person. I've also seen heat dehydration, people distracted by their stressed-out state of mind, people on long rides who didn't pay attention to their deteriorating skills, etc. When a person's on a long ride and sees shifts and other inputs being less smooth that's a warning sign.

So what I'm saying is that some impairments don't automatically mean we shouldn't be on the bike. It's just that we need to do an honest assessment, recognize the impairment, then take steps to compensate. Rider Readiness evaluations should be a part of our mental tool box and used regularly. Too many riders suffer from neglecting this simple measuring tool.

Let's move on to mental skills specifically related to managing risk from other road users as well the road itself.

One of the things I hear a lot is that riders don't stand a chance. There's just too many fools out there in four-wheelers. It's true that motorists fail to do things like look for bikes. After all, what's the number one thing a driver says right after they run over a bike?

"I didn't see the bike".

It's so tempting to leave it there, isn't it? We all have so much fun saying bad things about cagers. We even call them "The Enemy". Sure, it's good fun but it's also sad. You see, too many riders get so into it that they don't look at the things WE"RE not doing that we should. The only thing is, our neglect comes with a higher price tag then when the cagers are neglectful.

Riders fail to actively scan for motorists. We fail to anticipate space violations. We fail to communicate with other motorists. We fail to command attention. Sometimes we put ourselves where motorists don't expect to see a motorcyclist. So many things we can do but don't. My goal here is to show riders what we might be missing and encourage filling in the blanks, so to speak. Fill up the tool box.

Scanning for information is vital. It's not just looking around. Think of it as an aggressive and purposeful search for critical information. You'd think that would be a given and not need discussion. Yet, a study of accidents where another vehicle impacted a motorcycle shows a very interesting fact. In close to 75% of those accidents the other vehicle came from in front of the bike. Specifically, from 10 to 2 o'clock in relation to the rider. Doesn't that blow you away? You'd think the rider would have a great chance of seeing and reacting but it's not true. The classic is the "left turning car". Do riders assume the car won't turn? I think it's because there's a key ingredient missing in the mental recipe of riders. I'll come back to that in a little bit.

By the way, I have my tombstone all picked out. It will read "At least it wasn't a left-turning car!"

I don't think riders are nearly aggressive enough in their scanning. I also think that the rest of the process is missing. Scanning is just the first step of a powerful mental strategy available to us. Here's an acronym that will help. Some of you may already have heard of this.

This isn't unique to me. It's something that the MSF and TEAM OREGON have been teaching for years. It's just a way to stay organized in your search for, and processing of, information.
Scan ( aggressively and purposefully searching for information )
Identify ( possible hazards like other vehicles, pedestrians and animals, fixed objects )
Predict ( is this going to be critical to me as in "will a collision occur?" )
Decide ( I have three choices: adjust speed, adjust position, or communicate )
Execute ( actually doing the above three, like roll off / on throttle, press, etc )
The whole idea is to use the mental portions ( the first four items ) to get information early enough to react before the hazard becomes critical. Most of the time I see riders always in the "Execute" mode because they're always surprised. This means that a rider needs to look farther than three feet ahead of the front tire. ( Seriously, a lot of riders are like this, especially those who grew up on dirt bikes ) Ideally, a rider should look 20 seconds ahead with an aggressive scan going on in the area 10 seconds ahead. Get the eyes up and look further ahead!
The last major study of motorcycle accidents was the Hurt Study in the late 70's. There's finally been funding approved for a new study which will be conducted by the University of Oklahoma. In the Hurt Study it was shown that the average elapsed time between a rider's getting a visual clue and having to react or crash was 1.9 seconds. It happens very quickly. Like Bill Cosby says, first you say it, then you do it. Which accounts for why nobody has clean underwear when they get to the hospital! It reinforces the need for an aggressive scan.
Scanning is also complicated because what our eyes see and what our brains tell us can be different. Our brain interprets the visual information based upon past experiences and prejudices. In other words, we often see what we expect to see as opposed to what's really there. Becoming "superior" in our information gathering skills means training ourselves to see the actuality, not the interpretation.
If a rider were to adopt the use of SIPDE and become proficient at it, the rider would be "good enough". I don't think that "good enough" is enough. Like I wrote in Part 2, riders start at a disadvantage. It's not enough to be competent. We need to be superior to our opponents. How do we do that with mental skills? Here's a thought that may be new to you. To me, it's something that riders fail to take into account and it leads to problems. This is just my opinion but my experience has proven it to be true.
Riders fail to think like motorcyclists.
Hear me out. Most riders spend a lot more time in a car than on a bike. Most riders learned to drive in a car. If you compare the time spent behind the wheel of a car to the time spent on the bike, the hours and years in a car will comprise the vast majority. Which means that the prevelant thinking of the rider has been shaped by time spent as a driver, not a rider. This works in a car but not on a bike. The same situation can have two vastly different implications depending on the number of wheels. I think that most riders don't recognize this as much as they should. More importantly, they don't make the mental switch when they get on a bike. Here's an example. Look at this picture:

This is what we see from the seat of the bike. What things catch your attention? You probably see the car on the right and that takes up most of our attention. The space ahead looks clear so no worries, right? A car driver will leave it at that. Now, think like a motorcyclist. What do you see as the biggest hazard, now? Do you see the little truck in the refuge lane on our left? There's no signal so we don't know what the driver wants to do. If I'm on a bike, I'm looking at the space ahead of me. If that driver wants to come into traffic where do you think they're going to shoot for? I'm thinking that the space ahead of me is going to be the target. The driver probably won't see the bike both because of the smaller size and that fact that most drivers don't look for bikes in the first place. Oh, they'd probably see a car, but I'm betting that the bike will be a surprise. Or worse, that the driver of the truck thinks they can squeeze me out. The car on my right will complicate matters if I wait too long to react.

You see the difference in thinking? Most car drivers wouldn't even think twice about the truck. Thinking like a motorcyclist, I'll adjust now. Well before I find myself in a critical situation. This is just one example of how I think riders get into trouble from still thinking like car drivers.

Here's one more example. Look at this situation:

Here we have two cars, either one of which could pull out. We might be ok, we might not. I'm covering the brake and clutch to reduce my reaction time, just in case. It's entirely possible I might have to do some heavy braking. It's ok, I've practiced, so I'm ready. Now think like a motorcyclist. Did we miss a piece of the puzzle? See the crack sealant in the middle of the lane? We call them "tar snakes" out here. The stuff the road departments use to seal pavement cracks. Slippery when hot, slippery when cold and wet. Thinking like a motorcyclist makes me realize that I will have to move to one side or the other for the sake of good braking traction.

Does this make sense? We must unplug our car driving caps and plug in our motorcycle riding mindset. Things that make little difference in a car are critical to us on a bike. Thinking like a motorcyclist will help us be better than "good enough".

Go back to scanning with me. We might be proud of ourselves if a car's about to pull out and we spot it early. As well we should be. How can we be better than "good enough" when scanning? Move the process ahead a couple of steps. Here's one more picture to look at.

This is a digital rendering of an intersection near Oregon State University. Put yourself on the bike and identify the hazard. Forget the pedestrian. Most folks will zoom onto the truck and tell me the hazard is that the truck could back out in front of us. True. Look some more. What's the real hazard? What's on the other side of the truck? An intersection, you say? Good for you. Not only an intersection, but a BLIND one. How did you know there was an intersection? You might say it's the fire hydrant. Ok, but not all intersections will have those. Let me give you the clue.

The real clue is the break in the fog line. How often do we look for clues like that? Is a blind intersection a hazard? A thundering and resounding YES!! Do we want to be aware early? Of course. We might be "good enough" if we spot the front of a car nosing out. We might be a little better if we know to look under the truck. We will be positively superior if we look for the clue that alerts us to the situation as early as possible. In this case, the break in the fog line. This will also hold true on rural roads with trees blocking the view.

Do you see how we've put ourselves in a superior position to anticipate possible hazards by looking for clues? We get notice of an area where we might find a hazard before we see the hazard itself. It's like getting informed of an enemy's presence before we see the enemy himself. Thus we become technologically superior. Thus we are better able to protect ourselves. Thus we are able to have a higher enjoyment level. We're not running scared. We are more in control.

I know this has been a long post. Having superior mental strategies is the biggest key to managing risk on a bike. Being "good enough" isn't enough. It's a high stakes game out there with equally high rewards. I hope this has helped to either motivate you to develop these skills or has served as a tune-up.

As time goes on, I'll try to weave in some aspects of developing physical skills.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Day of Contrasts

All too soon this morning the alarm went off. One of the first things I do after kissing Katie good morning is look out the window. It's a habit common to people whose day is affected by the weather, I guess. Today my yard, which is mostly dandelions, is white instead of its usual green and brown. Frost in May. I look over to the thermometer to verify what my eyes have seen. The LCD number shows 31 degrees (f). Over the first cup of coffee I decide that the only concession I'll make to the cold is to add a sweatshirt under the Roadcrafter jacket.

It's fair to say that it's nippy outside. The temperature isn't as cold as what I've ridden in over the Winter. Despite that, the cold is very bracing. I think about it as I ride. In the winter a person steels themselves to the fact that it's cold. I think we build up a tolerance to it. It occurs to me that it's almost like being a heavy coffee drinker. The caffeine doesn't affect you as much since you're used to the dosages. Quit drinking it for a few months, however, then go back to it. A smaller amount of caffeine gives you a bigger buzz. That's how it is today. We've had a long spell of warmer days. Suddenly the temperature drops to freezing again. I feel the invigorating effects, you know. Yee freakin' haw!!

After riding a few miles with the faceshield of my helmet down, the inside of it starts to fog. There's a vent in the front of the helmet that's supposed to direct outside air in to help with this problem. Maybe the excitement of riding's causing me to breathe more heavily, but the shield's fogging nevertheless. I'm doing about 60 mph when I pull the shield up. Wow! The freezing air, made even MORE freezing by the wind chill factor, hits my face. I feel every muscle in my face contract and my forehead hurts. I'm glad I'm wearing a full-face helmet so people can't see my face. I must look funny with my face all scrunched up. Have you seen those old beer commercials? The ones where the guy drinks Brand X beer and suddenly it looks like he just ate the most sour thing imaginable. The announcer calls it "Bitter Beer Face". That's how I feel.

Interestingly, by noon the temperature was up to around 60 degrees (f). There was still a chill North wind blowing but the sun was shining nicely. For the ride home I put on lighter gloves and opened a couple of vents on my jacket. The Darien is awesome for Winter riding but I think the Roadcrafter is more versatile for Spring and Summer. I'm just lucky to have been able to purchase both over the years. Tomorrow the low is predicted for 32 (f) with a daytime high near 70. What a contrast, huh?

Speaking of contrasts, I experienced another one that was totally unexpected.

Partway down the highway I make a right turn. Sometime before that I noticed a bike coming up behind me. It was some ways back and just slowly gaining on me. Glad of the chance to exchange a morning greeting with another rider, I slowed before my turn. I wanted to give the bike a chance to catch up to me. Sure enough, the rider caught up. He was on a beautiful blue Goldwing. I waited for him to get even with me. Then I offered a cheery wave. No way the rider didn't see me, as he pulled over left a little to go around me. Not a wave, or even a nod. I'm pretty sufficient unto myself and don't really care a lot if the other rider waves. I mean, I like the brief time of kindred souls sharing the moment. It's just that the tone of my day doesn't depend on being acknowledged. This morning, however, I felt totally rebuffed.

I guess it's because I've come to expect this kind of thing from riders of certain cruisers. Riders of almost every other kind of bike DO wave, almost without fail. The fact that he was on a 'Wing and didn't wave despite being right next to me is what threw me. Since I don't know where the guy was in his space I won't be too critical.

The sunshine at lunchtime beckoned me so Sophie and I went for a ride. We hadn't been to a certain bike shop recently so we decided to go look around. Sophie gets into it once I assure her I'm not looking for her replacement. I think she's naturally insecure about those things. This shop has a huge inventory of Honda and Kawasaki bikes. I just hate going in there most of the time. Whoever owns this shop subscribes to the car salesperson theory. There's always fresh new salespeople to swarm over anyone who comes in. Still, it's a great place to see the new bikes as well as the interesting used bikes. Just have to swat the salespeople away.

On the way back I swung around by the University of Oregon. I saw that our second season had begun. Oregon has two seasons. Winter and Road Construction. Everything was torn up for miles. At one point I had to wait for a while while flaggers directed the traffic. A guy on a chopped v-twin with apehanger bars as high as his helmet worked his way up to me. The bike had no rear suspension and I watched the rider bounce up and down. Finally he was beside me. Looked like a desert rat. Tall, thin, missing a few teeth, and covered in scraggly facial hair. The helmet was DOT legal at one time. That is, before someone carefully scooped out the foam to make it fit tight to the head. The standard denim vest with the patch covered the black t-shirt. He was wearing gloves, though.

The dude actually wanted to be friendly. That blew me away more than the Goldwinger that didn't. You have to picture the contrast between the chopper rider and me. Here I am on the ST1100 with full Aerostich Roadcrafter gear. A full face helmet. Next to an ape-hangered chopper with a desert rat who loves loud pipes. The dude commented on how the ST must be a smooth ride. I told him I commuted a hundred miles a day and just couldn't see myself doing it on a bike like his. He told me that it was something I had to work up to. My answer was that I didn't have time to spend re-tightening all the bolts and fasteners that shook loose. He admitted that it was sort of a pain. So we're actually having something of a pleasant conversation.

That is, until my attitude peeked out. I told him the biggest reason I had for not riding a bike like his was that I just couldn't bring myself to be so rude, what with the loud pipes, and all.

Damn, did I say that in my "out loud" voice?

I figured if I pissed him off I pissed him off. Somebody's got to stand up and tell the truth. Besides, in a fight, I know a few moves gleaned from military and police training. On top of that, who has the most padding here? It's easy to be brave wrapped in a full face helmet, gloves, and a Roadcrafter suit!! I'm actually sure I pissed him off. Very shortly after that the flagger turned the sign and the desert rat tore off. I suffered the most because the raw fuel coming out of the straight pipes made my eyes water for a while.

The afternoon at the office drug on, and on, and on. I noticed that across the street a guy was mowing the tall grass down. That strip gets mowed about once every six months. The same guy comes and uses a regular mower that throws the grass out the side. I debated going over and moving the bike which was parked next to the curb over there. A long while back I had talked to this guy and threatened him if he ever threw grass and rocks at my bike. I told him that I understood he needed to mow. All he had to do was come over and tell me and I've move the bike. No harm, no foul.

Today he was mowing but leaving a huge swath around the bike. When I went out to get on the bike to ride home the man came over to me. He had remembered the conversation from earlier.

"I wasn't going to mow over there until the bike moved", he said. "I didn't want to get my ass kicked!"

Oh it's good to be a "bike" guy and instill fear in other people, no?

Going through Brownsville I stopped to take a picture of the hack rig above. I've seen it parked here other years. I can't remember what the bike's called. It's a Russian copy of the BMW airhead boxer. There's even the hammer and sickle logo on the tank at either side. Just thought I'd share the picture. By the way, this is the main street through Brownsville.

I'm seeing a lot of bikes on my rides, now. Relatively speaking, anyway, compared to none in the Winter. For the last couple of days I've seen a guy I call the "Old Mariner". This is the third season I've seen him. It looks like he works in Albany, the town I live in. His home must be in the countryside South of town because I always see him when I'm almost home on Old Hwy 99. The reason I've given him the nickname is because of the bike and his gear.

The bike's probably from around 1980. It's a GL1000 in that brown color Honda was so fond of back then. There's a stark white Vetter Windjammer fairing adorning the front. It looks big and heavy but Craig Vetter built good stuff so it can't be that bad. This guy has work clothes as in a denim jacket, brown duck pants, and tan work gloves. He wears the gloves when he rides. His helmet is a bright red three quarter face with a bubble shield. The man is older and never fails to wave. The bike looks like the only purpose it serves is utility transportation. It reminds me of an old man and his equally old boat. They just keep floating despite the passage of time.

When I got home my youngest son, Clinton was here waiting for me. He's a bike nut, too. Wonder where my boys got THAT? His GS500 Suzuki was in the driveway. After riding all the way home I had to go ride with him. What torture!!! Now we're both stuffed with spaghetti. I'm finishing this post and Clinton's visiting with his mom. Life is good.

Miles and smiles,