Friday, September 29, 2006

Ride to teach.

Fully loaded, and with my mental state being tranquil, I fire up Sophie and off we go. She's always eager to play. I feel like I'm neglecting the other bikes but she's really my favorite. It's 5:45 AM. About now the Sun's checking the alarm clock and deciding its still got another hour and a half or so to sleep. Most of my neighbors are probably doing the same thing. Only a couple of houses have any sort of interior lights on. It's Saturday and pretty soon the town will be buzzing with activity as people head out to play, shop, or do errands. For now, it's silent and peaceful in the darkness.

Sophie and I roll quietly through the residential streets. I'm happy that my neighbors still give me friendly waves as I come home in the evenings. To them I'm a fellow homeowner, not some rude motorcyclist who's desperate need for attention over-rides the rules of civility. I like it that way. Riding more silently doesn't hurt my self-esteem at all.

This time of morning it doesn't take long to negotiate the stoplights and get out of the city. I still have to keep my eyes open, though. As we roll underneath an overpass I notice that the landscape sprinklers have been running. Water sits on top of the street striping. It's double trouble because the city is using vinyl stripes glued to the roadway. They're not painted lines with that sparkly grit on top. Water on top of vinyl makes it interesting if you pass over them while leaned over. Some of them are right where you need to brake to a stop. I've seen them long before I get there. No harm, no foul.

Summer's come back. We're having 85 degree (f) days with cooler nights. This time of morning is refreshing and invigorating to ride in. All too soon the ride's done and it's time to think about setting up the range. ( that's a fancy term for the parking lot we'll be training on ) Before I get there, though, it's time to put the tank bag to use.

I always like to make people's life more surreal if possible. I've planned ahead by putting money in the sleeve pocket of the 'stich. The helmet I'm wearing is a flip-up. Guess where I go for breakfast? I do the drive-up thing at McDonalds. Two steaming hot breakfast burritos go into the tank bag. Taking a motorcycle through the drive-up is a fun way to add a little spice to my day. Come to think of it, it's a great way to add some variety to some other people's day, too! After all, who takes a motorcycle through drive-ups?

( Dawn Patrol )

We're the first to arrive. Here's another place that will soon be buzzing with the sound of excited chatter and small bike motors. I'm savoring the serenity of the early morning while I can. Birds are just starting to wake up and call greetings to each other. I'm sure I hear one screech to his fellows to "shut up and let me go back to sleep!" The feathered creatures are fun to listen to but I'm not going to be so happy with them if they crap on Sophie.

For the most part it was a normal class. Except for the enthusiasm level. Like I reported earlier, these folks were excited. To their credit my students kept it up most of the weekend. The synergism was tremendous. Each year I have a couple of classes that stand out and this will be one of this year's. I'd like to share the story of one student in particular. His story illustrates in actual life what I've claimed metaphorically for years. It has to do with having a reason to live and finding a way to feel alive.

It's not uncommon to have students who are there on special missions. Some of the folks who come through the classes just want cheaper transportation, to ride with friends, or to explore the sport. Oftentimes, though, there's deeper water flowing under the bridge. Once in a while I have a rider who comes in to take the class in honor of a loved one who died on a bike. Sometimes they've had an accident themselves and come to class to conquer their fears. Remember Ann? She was the older woman who wanted to learn ride to spend more time with her beloved son. Remember MJ? She wanted to be able to ride with the Patriot Riders in honor of her son who was killed in Afghanistan. Individuals filter through who've been close to death. Now that they've faced the final enemy of man they're not so afraid. Empowerment to "be a little wild" seems to come after surviving the close call. And so it goes. There's much to see beneath the surface.

The young man's sitting down between the two windows. That's his father mugging for the camera with his leg on the chair. I wish this was a better picture. At the time I hadn't thought of writing about Alex. It was just supposed to be a candid shot. I had a hard time keeping the camera still enough for some reason. Remember all the caffeine for "high energy"? It must be contagious because the camera got the shakes. Sorry, but it's the only picture I have. "Dammit, Jim, I'm an instructor, not a photographer!" ( shades of Star Trek: by the way, what kind of bikes would Captain Kirk and Spock ride? I'm sure Spock would be on a BMW! )

Alex turned 17 on Sunday. On the adversity scale, he's much older.

Alex's father approached me early on Saturday morning. He told me that this class meant a lot to Alex. I'd already heard a comment from Alex that made more sense after his dad talked to me. When I was helping Alex pick out a helmet he told me that his mother had discovered he was taking the class and had a fit. She wanted to know how he could do something so "dangerous". Alex said he'd already faced death and only had one life to live, so why not?

Now the father is telling me how Alex was diagnosed with terminal cancer. It nearly took him out. Delivered from the brink, the doctors thought it was in a semi-permanent remission. For a while things seemed to back that thought up. Then, worse than ever, it was back with a vengeance. For a long time it didn't look like Alex would survive. The treatments killed the cancer before they killed the body. Things seem stable for now.

Somewhere in all this process Alex's mother took off with another man. I wasn't told any other details. My own thoughts are that prolonged stress in situations dealing with mortality can change people. Sometimes for the better and sometimes not so much. I've seen it happen to young friends in a certain Asian jungle. I've seen it happen to cops. It happens to people dealing with terminal illnesses. Something happened between Alex's mother and father. Exactly what is their business. It's just sad to see.

All of it combined together caused Alex to lose interest in everything. He just didn't care anymore. His dad said he went from an honor roll student to a GPA of 1.56. Then Alex found motorcycling.

Thinking about riding brought Alex out of the slump. The grades started going up. He started taking an interest in life again. Father and son decided to take the class together. They were healing and bonding once more. Alex's dad just wanted me to know the situation and how much this meant to the young man. Heartstrings were purposely being pulled, he admitted. Now I had to contemplate how to reply. Professionalism takes precedence over emotion.

As much as I might want to, I can't just pass a student through. I explained that to Alex's dad. Much to his credit he wasn't asking for favors. He said he just wanted me to know where Alex was coming from. That it might help explain some of Alex's reactions. I offered assurances that we would do our best to help them both succeed. It was something we made a commitment to do for every student that comes through the classes. The rest would be up to Alex. He'd have to earn the completion like everyone else.

Alex was kind of quiet during class. He proved to be coachable, however. I put them both on matching dual-sports. I thought it would help them relate and share the experience if they rode the same kind of bikes. Both father and son passed the class. They earned their successful completion status. My thoughts will wander their way once in a while. It would be nice to know how things are turning out. In reality, I probably won't hear of them except by chance. I wish them luck and peace on their further journeys.

I guess it's this kind of thing that keeps me coming back for more. I love teaching and feel good about sharing rider training with so many motorcyclists. I'm sure it saves lives but that's a general statement. Much of life happens below the surface. Riding has always helped me to dig down and see what's really there. We just don't pass by. We're an active part of life's flow, not just spectators. That's why we commute on two wheels. We've tasted the richness of the soil beneath the surface. We crave the substance, not the fluff.

In the same way I've found a whole world of treasures waiting for me in each new group of students. Some instructors, while being competent, never see past the surface. It's just a group of people coming to learn to ride. I wonder if they know what they're missing. It's possible they don't. If you've never dug for hidden treasures, would you ever know they were there? Once you'd found some, would you ever stop looking for more?

Somehow I've developed the knack of getting people to open up and talk to me. It lets me see underneath the surface. They're not just students, they're "seekers". True, some are there just to learn to ride. Most, though, have goals and dreams that reach far beyond that paved parking lot. Riding and commuting on a bike has primed me to see what's really there. My life has been ever richer because of it.

Riding has given Alex a new life. At least a new zeal and determination to live fully. It's when I ride that I feel the most alive. We're not so different, that young man and I. The world is chock full of wonders. For both of us a bike is the vehicle to go find them on.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Where to put my stuff?

Snap! That's the sound of my eyelids popping open. It makes me think of those silly vinyl roller shades people put on the windows. You're supposed to pull down gently and then let the thing roll up. Sometimes they slip out of your hand and go crazy. That's how my eyelids felt. No gentle opening here. I'm suddenly awake with a bang. The alarm's set for 5:05 AM. The red numbers on the clock taunt me with 4:33. Trying to go back to sleep now is futile. Time to just give in and get up.

I don't mind, really. Waiting for me later this morning is a group of twelve riding students and an eager, bright new instructor. I told you about this class a few days ago. They're enthused and lively. Now it's time to go start their adventure.

A steaming mug of "good-morning" coffee sipped while looking out into the darkness lets the fog of sleep clear. The upside to waking up earlier than planned is that nothing's rushed. I'm a firm believer in Karma. The start of a day will dictate what tone the rest of it takes on. To me it's criticial to realize that, as riders, we have the power to control our own minds and moods. It's our choice how we react to things. Serenity and anger are both within our reach at any moment. Choose wisely for the circumstances and we are rewarded. Choose badly and we are punished. I think a lot of motorcycle accidents come from bad response choices.

For a man who's such an independent soul, I'm surprised how much I love small routines. Take the subject of carrying cargo on a bike. Daily commuters are always faced with how to get our "stuff" from home to work and back gracefully. Packing to go teach or for work has become a small ritual for me. There's a certain sense of calm and order that directly correlates to how prepared I feel for the ride to work. It's kind of like a craftsman laying out their tools. Everything's in place. Not all the tools will be called upon but they're there just in case. As I put the physical things in place the mental tools are laid out, too. Over the years I've fine-tuned what works well for me.

A long number of years ago I found this bag. It's perfect for what I do. Take a look:

First off, for what you don't see. The main compartment has a zipper that opens it up like the rear door of a C-130 plane. I just happen to use a lunchbox every day that's really a cooler. It has a large, hard plastic box covered by a liner with a zip up top. On Friday night I dump all the stuff out of it. I swear my lunchbox has become more like a woman's purse over the years. The box is perfect to hold a can of V-8, a Nalgene water bottle, and a couple 20 z. bottles of Gatorade. There's room left over for a couple of those little blue ice things to keep it all cold. The front compartment has small things like a stopwatch, my Rolaids, aspirin, sunscreen, a pair of small magnifying reading glasses, a few mints, a couple of pens, and a dry-erase marker. By the way, the reading glasses are for the combination padlocks on our file cabinets.

At each college we have a designated classroom where we also have a file cabinet with our materials. A couple of the rooms are kind of dark and the numbers have worn off the wheels. I just can't see the darn things, sometimes. On the one hand, I get frustrated by the slow physical deterioration. On the other, I take comfort in the fact that old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill every time!

Back to packing. The side pockets have hook and loop fasteners to hold the flaps down. Notice I didn't write "Velcro", since that's a trade name and not the generic description. Whatever. What counts is that the flaps have never blown open, even when the bag has been hooked to the back of the CBR. In the left side pocket I stash snacks. Usually cookies ( I love Fig Newtons; and I DO mean that brand ) , trail mix, jerky, or granola bars. In the right pocket resides a very important piece of equipment.

The drinking lid always goes into the right pocket. When I brought this thing home the first thing I heard was,
"What! You spent $40.00 on a travel mug?"

Hey, this wasn't a purchase, it was an investment. The thing's lasted for years. Hard rubber and stainless steel are difficult to destroy. The mug has a solid lid that makes it into a leak proof way to carry coffee. As long as I pre-heat the thing by letting hot water sit in it for a while, coffee stays drinkably warm for about three and a half hours. My ritual makes sure I always have the drinking lid with me. Works much better that way. I've been called a "coffee hound" before. Come on, how do you think I stay in the "high energy" mode with students?

So that finishes out the bag that goes on the seat. This bag has bungee hooks. A couple of years ago I built a rack that I thought would be a clever way to add carrying capacity to Sophie. Here's a picture:

Over the years I've managed to learn a thing or two about a thing or two. Knowing which end of a welder is the hot one, I've done some fabrication. The expensive part was getting it powder-coated. Total investment is around a hundred bucks.

Trouble is, I should have made it a little longer. At the time I had this real aversion to anything hanging out there very far in the back. Sort of an aesthetic thing, I guess. That's why I've never installed a hard tail bag back there.

Most bags don't sit securely on the shortened distance. The rack turned out to be a fancy place to secure the rear bungee cord hooks for the big seat bag. The front bungee hooks go around the passenger grab rail I installed. You can see that in the picture of the bag up above.

There's also a slim compartment on the back of the bag. It's just right for sliding some papers into it. A zipper keeps things from flying away. I've usually got a current instructor assignment schedule and contact list in there. Three of us rotate emergency call duty for the weekends.

Next in line is saddlebag loading. The left saddlebag gets my Camelbak, coffee mug, and hat. This portable hydration system is a real life saver to someone beating feet on hot blacktop, let me tell you! I've heard of some riders who use them on the bike. Personally, I don't like feeling like a hunchback with the thing crammed under my jacket. The right saddlebag gets the things I don't want to get wet in the event my Camelbak suffers a leak. I've been lucky so far. My buddy Patrick had the bite piece come off of his. Flooded the whole saddlebag!

Everything's laid out the night before so there's no sense of scrambling at 5 in the morning. It's all a part of the mental preparation for me. I can't stress enough how important it is to create an empowered mental state for riding. The fewer distractions, the better.

The last piece of the cargo puzzle is the tank bag. I bought this one because of the mounting system. Sophie doesn't have a metal tank so magnetic mounts aren't an option. This bag has a strap mounting system that works on this bike. There are buckles on each corner of the bag. That lets me take the bag off while leaving the mounting system in place.

I've seen a lot of bikes with tank bugs stuffed to the gills. Mine doesn't get used much. Once in a while I'll put driving directions or a map in the clear pouch. Sometimes a small portable radio. Today I'm going to use if for something in particular. I'll tell you about that in the next post.

Everyone's got their own system. Two-wheeled commuters are a resourceful bunch. I just wanted to share what has evolved over the years to work for me. You've probably got your own little rituals, as well. Share them if you care to.

With the help of my pre-planning and the calming effect of my packing ritual I'm ready to ride. Mentally I'm relaxed which, interestingly enough, increases the ability to stay alert. My head's into the commute. I'm ready to "lock and load". I'll tell you about the ride and the class in the next post. This one seems to have turned into a novelette!

Miles and smiles

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Irondad rides a scooter! ( and something else )

It's been an interesting three days. Gonna' take a couple of posts to fit it all in. Started out on Friday. The picture is of a Yamaha Grizzly utility atv. Don't let the word "utility" lull you into thinking this thing is tame. Far from it. I'm still grinning.

I stopped by a Yamaha dealer in a small town about 15 miles out of Salem, our State Capitol. The reason for my visit was to reconnect with my old friend Lon. For around 15 years Lon had been the Sales Manager for another dealership. As it too often happens, sales numbers became more important than being a "bike" shop. I'm not making judgements, here. It takes a lot of money coming in to support a business. I can see an owner feeling pressured. Lon just plain got tired of dealing with the pressure and moved on; joining two sales guys that had already gone to the Yamaha dealer.

Actually, things have changed too much at the old dealership for me to be comfortable, as well. I had been by earlier in the week. Two of the three mechanics were new for the second time in the last 6 months. There were two new parts guys. Once upon a time us hard core riders would just go hang out at the shop. Coffee was always on. On any given day there would be a combination of two or three riders drinking coffee and shooting the bull. We were all loyal customers and spent a lot of money over time. I always thought it increased sales, too. We'd take newbies under our wing and help them sort out this new world. Always put in a good word for the dealer and Lon never let us down. Sometimes Lon would refuse to sell bikes to certain folks who weren't always making the right choice, if you know what I mean.

Things just aren't like that anymore, in my own personal opinion. I'm not comfortable sending new customers there these days. Sadly, I've actually heard from a couple of fellow instructors who've had bad experiences there lately. Not that we're special but it just doesn't make sense to alienate folks who see hundreds of new riders evey year. So I figured it was time to go see where Lon went.

Going into the dealership was like "Old Home Week". Damon, Chris, and Lon were the three salesmen. All back together again. I had to give Damon a bad time because his hair actually looked normal this time. This young man always had a flair that included funny colors in his hair. It was great catching up on old times. I spent some time sitting on the new FJR1300 with no clutch lever. How weird is that? Don't you dare call it an "automatic". It's an electric shifter, mind you.

Anyway, to the ride. Lon was showing me some of the stuff hanging around. The new Grizzlies have 700cc motors and power steering. Fancy that. One of the units was a demo model. There just happens to be a very large open field with short mown grass right next door to the dealership. Land that is owned by the proprietor. The store is on top of a hill. The field is flat and then goes down the hill. Lon grabbed a dirt bike helmet and told me to go check it out. "Don't worry", he says, "it's a demo. One of the mechanics takes it out and wheelies it up the hill all the time!"

With his words still in my ears I go have fun. Have to get used to the thumb throttle thing again. I haven't ridden one of these since I was a kid, and back then they were three-wheelers. What a blast! After getting a feel for the thing I pause at the bottom of the hill. I gauge the distance to the top. Two thirds of the way up there's a gravel road that runs across the face of the hill. Looks like a good launch point.

I'm talking to myself. "Am I manly or milquetoast"? "Do I take the sane way or full speed ahead"? "Isn't this the best way to go thrill-seeking? On someone else's machine"? I talked me into it. Here it goes. Select "High" on the transmission lever. Mash the right thumb to the stop. Hold on tight. Just before the gravel road stand up on the floorboards. As all four wheels leave the ground let out a jubilant rebel yell. When the tires touch down let it ride until we get close to the bushes next to the parking lot. Leave a couple of deep ruts in the grass as we slide to a satisfying halt. Damn, Lon, can I get a job application?

Ok, so the Grizzly was fun. Can't commute on it, though. I don't have open property right next to my house. I do have a place to leave it where I could also ride it. Don't want to always have to "go somewhere" to ride it. Pretty easy decision. Fun, but it's not for me. Still, there's this other avenue of exploration that remains untapped. THE SCOOTER THING!

Curse you, Gary and Steve. And by association, all you who write in with favorable comments about scooter riding. You see, up until recently I was secure in my bikehood. I was happily and positively a "motorcycle guy". Confirmed without a doubt. Like a tantalizing fruit you just keep holding this scooter thing in front of me. Now I'm often wondering, "What would it be like"? "Would it really be considered unfaithful if I tried it just once"? "Wow, this one has really nice curves"! "You looked, don't go there"! Too late. You see, I have to come clean.

I rode a scooter and I liked it!

Shudder. There. I've said it. Catharsis is good for the soul, they say. Trouble is, I want to do it again. Here's what I rode. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera. This is a picture from the manufacturer's website.

It's a Yamaha Majesty. 400cc's of fun in a 61.6" wheelbase. Single cylinder and fuel injected. The scooter belongs to one of our students. We had three classes going on this weekend. There was the beginner class which I was teaching. My class used the parking lot in the mornings.

Our program also offers one day classes for those who already know how to ride but want to get legal. Starting last year we began letting these
students use our bikes instead of having to use
their own.

The idea was that a lot of riders were holding off for fear of dropping their bikes during the training. Truth be told, most riders who have been riding unendorsed have pretty minimal skills. I'm often surprised that they've managed to live this long.

Anyway, some students still wisely bring their own bikes. I'm all for this. It makes sense to me that if you're riding already you should develop skills on what you're actually going to tackle the real world on.

So this man trailers in his scooter. We were done a little early and there was some time until the next group took to the range. I politely asked this man if I could ride his scooter on the parking lot for a while. My approach was that I wanted to have a better feel for how it handled so I could be more effective at teaching scooter riders. Actually, I just wanted to play with the thing. With his blessing I rode a while. The instructor T-shirt probably helped convince him. You know, the old "Trust me, I know what I'm doing" thing? I set some cones for exercises we do to see how the scooter handled. What I found more than anything was that I needed to sort of think farther ahead.

This particular scooter has a 120/80-14 front tire and a 150/70-13 rear. There's a fair amount of rubber on the road. The scooter just feels long with a low center of gravity. In the low speed manuevers I started thinking about initiating my turns four feet sooner than normal. It seemed to take the scooter about that long to react at low speeds. As long as I applied that strategy things were fine. I've seen some of my scooter-mounted students struggle with a smooth throttle application. I don't know if this one had a concentric pull on the throttle cable, if the fuel injection was mapped perfectly, or it was just my experience level, but I didn't have problems with abrupt power delivery. Maybe it's a combination of all three.

After watching me ride I guess the guy felt braver. He told me to go ride farther. In back of the college are some neighborhoods and typical city streets. This scooter felt pretty stable with some zip to it. I also discovered the joy of no shifting and thus no worries about which gear I was in. Point and shoot. And that seat! Dang, I could almost grab my slippers and the TV remote. Storage space under the seat looked pretty usable. Practical? Sure. Also, these things are fun!

So there you have it. I've lost my scooter virginity. ( I kinda liked it ) There are frequent discussions in this household about getting something smaller to do errands on. You know, important things like going to Starbucks. Something light to slide out instead of lug out for short trips. Ok, they're not really discussions. More like me telling Katie while she rolls her eyes. Whatever. Words come out of somebody's mouth. Sounds like conversation to me.

I never imagined I'd be saying this but I'm seriously considering a purchase. Nothing too large. That would defeat the idea, I think. I can't forsee commuting on one in the near future. Not unless my circumstances change. It's just too far. Still, there's a space next to the CBR that looks perfect. I might even buy a Yamaha Majesty and start another blog. I could call it,

"His Majesty rides again"!

What do you think?

That part is humorous. ( at least it's supposed to be ) I'm serious about looking at scoots. It's going to be fun shopping this fall. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Miles and smiles

Monday, September 25, 2006

Spectator or star?

I was reading an article in Motorcyclist Magazine written by Dan Walsh. He's a Brit who left a conventional job at a magazine and went on the road. He's still somewhere in Bueno Aires as I understand it. Here's an excerpt from that article. The article appears in the October 2006 issue. I just felt compelled to share it with you. It describes so well some of what I feel. Having given full credit to Dan and explaining that this is not of my origin, here it is:

"Motorcycle travel doesn't really make much sense. Expensive and exposed, often filthy and frustrating, there's no obvious reason to pick two wheels over four. More comfort, more room, more security, and no one ever fell off a jeep, right? Maybe on paper. But we don't ride on paper. We ride in Mexico. 'In a car, you're watching a movie--on a bike, you're starring in it', as some cowboy poet slurred. A starring role that's maybe produced by the rider's unique opportunity to be two things at once--sat still while swooping swift, heavily armored but almost naked, dagger-proof but always vulnerable, fully concentrated and miles away".

Granting that I'm not facing the same conditions as Dan, I can still totally identify as an urban warrior commuter. Why do we call ourselves "Road Warriors"? Facing the 180 miles that constitutes a round trip to my office feels like a struggle for survival at times. Rush hour freeway riding full of mentally unarmed but still deadly dangerous cagers. Many of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Haven't you come home and declared,

"Man, what a battle today!"?

So why do we do it? There's the beauty of it, isn't it?

I'll sign off with a contrast of my own. Nowhere else do I feel so vulnerable and close to facing physical disaster. Nowhere else do I feel so invincible and full of life!

Miles and smiles,

Friday, September 22, 2006

From parking garage to parking lot.

Work took me to a large hospital. This is a view from the parking garage. Which you notice is now a LONG ways from the hospital itself. The building that's my destination is the light colored one on the left. I'm always fascinated by the construction process. This used to be a parking lot. Now the crews are digging a pit. Eventually this will become an eight story medical tower. Cool, huh?

It was rainy as I visited. That's the main reason I noticed how far away the hospital was. About a third of the way into my walk the skies opened. It pured buckets. Can you spell "drowned rat"? Anyway, I had the chance to explore the parking garage looking for bikes. The only bikes I found were in two spots designated for them. I'm going on the assumption that most of the two-wheeled vehicles were hospital employees who commute. Here's a peek at one section.

Not a lot of bikes, but at least there's a few. Two scooters, two cruisers, and a Suzuki DR dual-sport. If you look just over the seat of the DR there's an opening in the chain link. That's pretty much the main walkway towards the hospital. I thought I was going to die of old age before I actually got a picture with no pedestrians in it.

Ok, maybe the rainy weather limited the number of bikes being ridden to work. There is a parking lot around the back of the building I was heading for. I never thought until now that there could be motorcycle parking closer to the building. It just wouldn't be under cover. I'll be back sometime and I'll let you know.

This is a picture of what really amused me.

Far away from all the other bikes is this lone scooter. This is the bottom level and it was dark and wet. Maybe this was a visitor. Not far from here is a waiting area for a patient shuttle. I just found it humorous that it was huddled down here all by itself. Quite the pretty thing, I have to say.

I have to quit thinking about scooters. I find them drawing my eye more and more. I'm even looking at subtle differences between them. I may just have to go ride one. That's how it starts, isn't it? First a test ride on a 50cc. Then you have to have one. After that you can never get enough. You move to a 125. Then a 250. Then a 500. Next thing you know you're strung out on 650's. Shudder!!!

There's an experience out there I've never had. One of my sons had a Hondra Spree. I can only say I've lived scooters vicariously. Soon, my friends, soon.

Another class of new riders is starting out this weekend. Last night was their first classroom. It's been a long season. I am really tired. Bone tired. Just when I'm ready to call an end to my season I teach another class of newbies. They were so enthusiastic! This class and I have a neat rapport. There's a synergy between the students. After the break I had to actually call for an end to the happy chatter and get them back on task.

This week there's only twelve instead of twenty four. That's due to there being a couple of classes in the afternoons for folks who know how to ride but want to get some training and get legal. My partner is a fairly new instructor whom I've worked with before a few weeks ago. He shares my passion and caring for students. When I signed him off from his internship at that time, the young man actually hugged me!

Five of the twelve are women. We have a mother / son combination. The son's 16. Neither of the two have ridden before. Dad rides and he wisely sent them to us for training. Speaking of Dads, there's a father / son combination. The last time the father rode was on a 1965 BSA that was still fairly new. He can't understand slipping the clutch on our bikes for low speed control. I told him we actually have oil-bathed clutches now. Unlike the dry plates on the old BSA. The son's in his early twenties and eager to go. One of the men wants to ride because so many of his co-workers ride to work. Another commuter is born. We have a boyfriend / girlfriend. The boyfriend rides a Honda CBR 600RR. He's young and I was slightly worried. I'm relieved to find he has a coachable attitude. They're all eager and enthused. I'm in love with teaching all over again.

At the end of the course we offer the students the chance to share feedback. There's quite a few comments about me being a "high energy" instructor. Sometimes when they're slightly frustrated and exhausted I carry the enthusiasm for the class until they find it again themselves. It can be draining. You might think it's a one-way street. Truth be told, I get as much as I give. Watching the students master new skills is priceless. I watch them and coach them through their struggles. Finally, they get it. I always offer hearty praise in recognition of their accomplishment. I'm surprised we don't have more split helmets from the size of their smiles! The student has pleased the master. They almost float back into line to try it again. Hearing their appreciation for how we've helped them and feeling the bond we've forged is just as priceless. You can't put a price on how the foundation we've helped them build will help keep them safe on the roads.

So I'm going from the parking garage today to the parking lot this weekend. The weather's supposed to be mid seventies to low eighty's by Sunday. I can't wait for morning. I'm jazzed all over again. I never get tired of it. I love this game!!!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shiny side down ( not mine )

What a day! It began with a ride to Olympia, Washington. I had an appointment that might lead to working full time in motorcycle safety. That's all I'll say for now. I figure it's perfectly acceptable to ride in those circumstances.

The rain's back for a few days. I mentally pull the "operating on dry pavement" program card out of my internal computer. Time to insert the "operating on wet pavement" program card. It really does take a conscious effort to adjust for the different conditions. After months of riding on dry pavement in warm weather response habits can become subconsciously ingrained. In other words, you're likely to react based on recent but not current parameters. If the road's wet and our response is based on dry weather traction it can be very bad! Riders in general and commuters specifically need to always reprogram our brains based on the actual conditions at the time.

Just to drift slightly for a minute, it's kind of like ABS on a bike. Using ABS in a straight line versus in a corner are two different animals. ABS doesn't shut off when the bike's leaned. There's no switch that measures lean angle and turns off the computer. Just be aware that the computer assumes that full traction is available for braking. It just thinks you're straight up and down. It's up to the rider to realize that leaning takes traction. Traction in our leaning budget means there's less in our braking budget. We need to discern the true situation and adjust reactions accordingly.

Having reprogrammed my mental computer I set forth. It's going to be about three and a half hours and two hundred miles of riding in the rain. The area up there always seems to be wetter than here. Plus, no matter which way I look at it, I'm going to hit Portland right during the morning rush hour. As expected in a city of over half a million, it takes me 45 minutes to get through the traffic.

Before I even leave my home town, though, I brush up against another rider's misfortune. As I roll along a four lane street that takes me out of town I'm finding the need to pull off to one side. Two city police cars are coming up behind me with lights flashing and sirens blaring. Hey, I'm only five miles per hour over the limit, that's pretty severe, isn't it? They're not after me, of course. A quarter mile later I come upon the cause for their being dispatched.

There's an intersection where four major thoroughfares converge. Can you say "mega busy"? Part of the intersection's blocked off which makes me go the longer way to the freeway. Passing slowly through I can't resist the natural human urge to look over. What I see is the bottom of a motorcycle on it's side. That's not a view we're really supposed to see. Later on I'm able to ascertain that the bike is a '89 Honda. Not sure what model. My impression was a 'Wing. Given the time of day I presume the man is commuting. My contact tells me the name but I don't recognize it. Our commuter was passing through the intersection on a green light. A man in a Ford Escort ran the light and hit the bike on the right side. The rider's treated for minor injuries and released from the local hospital. I'm relieved it's not worse.

I don't know what evasive actions or mental strategies the commuter was using. The police report will clearly lay blame on the cager.

In an opposite case, here's what happened later that afternoon.

Having made the long trip, why not check out some of the local bike shops? Why on earth a bike nut would do such a thing is beyond me, but there I was. A man who looked to be about 60 years old and weighing around 300 pounds was mounting up his BMW K1200LT. The bike had been fitted with new tires. Rain was still drizzling down. Temperatures in the low 60's are about 15 degrees cooler than normal for this time of year. Can you see the pending outcome?

In front of the shop is a two lane street. If you're standing with your back to the building the street is a one-way running from right to left. I heard the mechanic remind Mr. BMW about new tires. Our soon-to-crash rider pulls into traffic using the near lane. Trouble is, the oncoming car seems to be closer than he realized. I'm a helpless spectator as the rider moves for the right lane while whacking on some throttle. This particular street is crowned more than usual for a city street. Just over the centerline the pavement is off-camber as it curves downward toward the gutter. Camber, rain, and new tires combine into a treacherous brew. Mr. BMW spins about 270 degrees around and crashes hard to the blacktop. The good news is that nobody runs into him from behind.

Weirdly enough, there's an off duty motor officer in the shop. I'm pressed into traffic control. An ambulance arrives. The paramedics think there's a broken shoulder and pelvis. Shop guys and a salesman get the bike upright. Pieces of bodywork tinkle down as the bike's pushed back into the lot. Sad ending that could have easily been written another way by using common sense. There's an oxymoron for you. Not much common about sense any more.

Sophie and I arrive home safely. I'm confident in my skills and in my bike. I'm aware that as a two-wheeled commuter I voluntarily expose myself to greater risks. I also take responsibility to develop and sharpen skills and strategies to help even out the odds. Still, I find myself wanting to tread gingerly on the wet ride home. Especially coming back through the Big City. I'm hyper alert and have to fight the urge to tense up whenever it looks like I might have to stop quickly or take some other evasive action. I just chalk it up to the day's experiences.

Somewhere in the rain I have a horrible thought. God, I hope I'm not some sort of catalyst that makes people crash when I'm in the area. That would be totally ironic, wouldn't it? A rider who's passion is teaching people to ride skillfully and stay alive becoming a lightning rod for disaster? No, I'm not even going there. Must have been the fact that I was totally water-logged by then.

Miles and smiles,

Monday, September 18, 2006

Popping the Cork.

The other evening we had company over for supper. There was a wine bottle sitting on the counter with the cork inserted loosely. One of the children of a guest accidently knocked over the bottle. As we cleaned it up I saw the bottle in one spot with the cork not far away. Picking up both, I had an epiphany. No, that doesn't mean a fit of anger!

I recreated the situation ( minus the spilled wine, of course ) so you can see what I saw. Being one who's always thinking about riding, a thought sprang to mind. My philosophical side which I call The Ancient Mariner came to the fore. Here's the thought that started it all.

A motorcycle can either be a means to cork oneself in a bottle or a means to uncork our personal bottles and set us free.

Think about it. There's a lot of pressure from society, government safety-crats, and peer groups to conform to a certain predetermined mould. You might liken it to being stuffed into a bottle. Whatever's in the bottle is forced to conform to the bottle's dimensions. The cork keeps the contents trapped. Only by popping the cork and escaping can one be free to take back their own shape.

Motorcycles have always been the means to keep the cork popped for me. I feel the same pressures to conform. Sometimes it serves our own purpose to fit in here and there. For example, having a job to support ourselves. It might not be what we would choose but we accept it as a means to an end. During the day I slide into the bottle's shape. After the day's done, I crawl onto the bike. Commuting on two wheels help ensure I don't stay trapped in somebody else's idea of what I should be.

Riding helps me explore and discover who I really am. Or to become what I really want to be. Many of my finer attributes have come from the freedom that being on two wheels offers me. I'm free to turn this way and that, to try this road or the other. What happens literally on a bike also happens figuratively in my life. A lot of personal growth has happened due to the freedom I find in riding. The physical act of riding translates to the mental aspect. I refuse to be boxed in. So I may be sharing the same place of employment as others, but I will always be that "bike guy". The same, but different, somehow.

In a situation that's the polar opposite, many turn to riding to conform to a certain image. By the act of buying a certain type of bike, wearing certain types of gear, and associating with a certain group of riders, they are purposely inserting themselves into a bottle. The dimensions and shape are dictated to them. These folks claim to be expressing their individuality. In reality, it's a case of "let's be different together". I used the word "case" purposely. They all want to be of the same vintage and in the same bottle. When you look at them it's like looking at a row of wine bottles on a shelf. All with the same label, shape, and color. You could put them all into a case and send them to market.

God forbid if you try to either tell them the truth or pull the cork out of their personal bottles. Some sort of great personal need is fulfilled. It's not for me, but I'm happy they're finding what they need. I'm not happy that they seem to think they're better than me or what they do to the reputation of motorcycling in general. Sometimes I get the chance to try to impart some two-wheeled wisdom to some of them. That part, I care deeply about.

On the other hand, I don't really care what they think of me. You see, the cork's off my bottle and I see the world from a larger vantage point. It's all relative to the dimensions of your world.

Something to muse on while you ride, no?

Miles and smiles,

Disclaimer: No actual wine bottles were harmed in the creation of this post. Nobody rode a motorcycle after drinking wine. Please separate any "popping of corks" and riding. Any written blending of references to riding and consuming alcoholic beverages is purely for illustrative purposes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A tool against tailgaters?

Speeding tailgaters are the scourge of my commute these days. They're either tailgating me or diving into that empty spot in front of me so they can tailgate someone else. I think people have lost their freakin' minds!!!

Law enforcement has typically somewhat retreated from issuing citations for tailgating, aka "following too closely". Reason being, that unless it's blatant, an officer's statement of the following distance is much too subjective. No matter how experienced the officer, and no matter how accurate their assessment, there's no hard figures to show in court. Most cases get dismissed. Until now, that is. It's about time. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, tailgating has become the leading factor in crashes in the state. One sure sign you're following too closely is bashing into the vehicle ahead of you! Keeping in mind that only blatant tailgaters get convicted, Oregon had roughly 4,000 convictions for following too closely. What that means is that tailgating happens far more than what gets convicted.

I was tooling along I-205 and saw one of my motor friends sitting under an overpass working traffic. At the time I spotted him, my friend had laid the Lidar across his lap and was just looking things over. Relieved to find that I hadn't apparently been in his sights, I pulled off to visit a minute. Sort of a "stopping to let my nerve endings quit sparking" kind of thing. That stretch of I-205 is quite busy. A couple of miles earlier I had finally cleared a traffic jam. My friend was looking for drivers trying to make up for lost time.

On the Southbound side a pickup pulling a long travel trailer had managed to turn over and jack-knife the trailer in the process. Don't ask me how on earth the driver did that. Actually, I know. Let's just say there's folks driving rigs that should not be allowed to. For a couple of hours the Southbound side had been closed since the wreckage covered all three lanes. I was heading North but rubberneckers had reduced our side of the freeway to stop and go for miles. I was ready to stop and have a pleasant visit by now.

My friend demonstrated his new toy for me. It hasn't been too long since cops got Lidar. In case you've been off on a sabbatical somewhere, Lidar is sort of a combination of laser and radar. What happens is that the gun shoots a beam of light at a reflective surface. Motor vehicles just happen to have several to chose from. The light bounces back to the gun and gives a reading on how fast the vehicle is traveling. Detectors will pick up the laser but it doesn't do the driver much good. The pulse is so fast that by the time the detector sounds the cop already has the speed reading. The good news is that a single vehicle can be pinpointed. In the full radar mode, there could sometimes be some uncertainty as to exactly which vehicle the reading is from. In heavy traffic the cop will get a reading and then match the evidence of their vision for a citation. Most cops are conscientious and won't issue a ticket unless they're sure. Nonetheless, sometimes the wrong driver gets stopped.

Now the laser has been slightly modified to measure relative distance between two vehicles as well as the speed. From this the unit can provide information on the following distance. Hard numbers are produced using preset parameters. Should stand up in court much more consistently.

Thanks to a Sergeant in the Clackamas County Sheriff's office, ( gee, one of our instructors is a motor and a Sergeant with this agency; coincidence? ) the manufacturer agreed to a trial in Oregon. The technology has been used in Hong Kong, Australia, and parts of Europe for years. Now it's gotten some exposure in the United States. Oregon was first. The new device has been in use since last year. Arizona, New Mexico, and Tennessee are also in trials of the tool, so be forewarned.

Police target the first car's bumper and then the second car's. The device measures the traveling speed and distance between the two cars. So far, Portland, Gresham, Clackamas, Salem, Grants Pass, and Lane County have the new Lidar guns. That covers a lot of heavily populated area. It will be interesting to see the results of the trial. With concentration given to targeting taligaters the number of citations should go up. You know how the traffic officers will be with their new toys! If things go according to plan, the rate of conviction should go up, as well.

I'd like to think that the incidence of tailgating will go down. After all, people are intelligent, right? Even if they can't come to grips with just how unsafe tailgating is, they'll quit doing it to avoid a ticket, won't they? Excuse my temporary absence, but I just fell off my chair in a laughing fit. I think I may have bruised my tailbone, as a matter of fact. My prediction is that tailgating will be an ever increasing problem. No law will ever be formulated that will stop people from acting like idiots.

I will continue to closely watch my mirrors and stay on high alert. There's still going to be plenty of drivers trying to read a bumper sticker I don't have. They're still going to dive in front of me like there's a big neon sign that says "Vacancy". Once in a while, though, I'll crack a slight smile knowing that at least more people will pay for their stupidity.

Miles and smiles,

P.S. The picture above is not the actual Lidar gun being used in the trials. It's a representative model in common use among agencies around here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

More Reading.

I'm safely back from Idaho. Total mileage was 1403. No matter how you cut the trip, there's a lot of time spent riding in a straight line. Although, given a week and a map I could find an awful lot of fun roads in some of those areas I skirted. Sometimes I just had to content myself with looking over the top of the hills and remembering fun rides from the past. Time is always an issue these days, it seems. I need to throw my clock off a cliff and navigate by the passing of moon phases, I guess. As it was, the trip home was 9 hours with just a couple of small detours.

Spokane was a trip. It's been so long since I've been there. How it's grown! I saw a motorcycle class in progress right beside I-90 near what looks like an abandoned airport control tower. There's a crane next to the tower so maybe it's being updated. There were several Yamaha TW 200's that caught my eye. They're white and showed up well in the hot sunshine. I thought about stopping to chat but I wasn't sure they'd appreciate me. I've been a trainer to instructors for so long I probably would have started to offer unwanted feedback. The instructors would probably have staked me out in the sun and let me cook. Well, at least they could try.

Right now I'm busy catching up on other things. In the next couple of days I'll post some stuff from my trip. Some of the trip was play, but the whole reason was a sales retreat which means it was work related. I have to say it's the first time in my life I've attended sales training in shorts and barefoot, though.

In the meantime, here's another link you should find thought provoking. It's still on the subject of us middle aged riders.

I knew this guy. You'll have to look past the sensationalism and liberalism the press seems to wholeheartedly embrace. I promise to keep off the subject for a while after this. As a professional in the motorcycle safety business I just keep looking for answers. If we know the problems we can offer the correct solution. That's why I share it with you, I guess.

To my friend working nights at the Port of Seattle, this will help pass the down time!!

Miles and smiles,

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Going to Idaho.

I'm leaving early Thursday for a three day sales meeting in Sand Point, Idaho. It's unlikely that I'll be able to post from there. I do, however, plan to take the bike and explore, if possible. It's one of those weekends where we spend half a day working and the rest of the day on a boat or golfing. I don't golf and I'm not too thrilled with the idea of being trapped on a boat with a bunch of guys drinking beer and trying not to drown. Unfortunately, the meeting is mandatory. Maybe I can tell them I'll see them for supper and take off riding for the afternoons!

In the meantime, here's some figures I ran across on fatalities. Knowing who's crashing and why can do a lot to figure out how to attack the problem. Provided, of course, that riders actually want to avail themselves of training, education, and gear.

I've been thinking about this subject for a few hours. I just heard of a 54 year old man who died on Mary's Peak Road. This is a wonderfully twisty road that goes up the side of Mary's Peak. Hence the name, huh? He was riding with some other folks and they were all on sport bikes. I believe he was riding a Honda RC51 but I'm not positive. Long story short, he "failed to negotiate" one of the corners. Ran off the road and hit a tree. Rumor has it that he was decapitated. Must have been one hell of an impact. This really hits home because this road is only about 20 miles from where I live and a favorite ride. The view from the top of the peak is extraordinary!

Corners keep looming large in rider fatalities. That's why I wanted to post my own input on this blog. A post on lines and apexes is coming soon. I can't stress enough how critical it is to get the skills right.

The following information is from a NHTSA report. The report is titled "Recent trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes: An Update." If you would like some reading while I'm busy in Idaho, you can find the report here:

According to the findings the fatality rate per 100,000 registered motorcycles has increased by 12.2% since 1995. You may be comforted as a motorcycle commuter to know that the weekend fatalities have increased to an average of 16 per weekend while weekday fatal crashes average 8 per week. Look at the predominant usage of bikes and you can see the reason for the difference.

More fatalities are associated with larger engine displacements. The greatest number of fatalities involve engine sizes between 501-1000cc. This is just a large grouping that NHTSA uses, but most fatalities involve bikes at the larger end of the range. This changes somewhat if you look at specific age groups. For riders over 40 the engine displacement is 1001-1500cc. Sort of directly relates to buying habits, doesn't it? It's not so much the bike as the riders and what they purchase the most of.

What was somewhat surprising to me was that the 20 to 29 year old age group still represents the largest number of fatalities. At the same time these riders only make up 22.1% of motorcycle owners. This is just my opinion but I would have figured it was middle-aged "watering hole" riders on cruisers. With the prevelance of "high dollar" customizing going on, these riders are particularly reluctant to leave a bike in a parking lot. This leads to taking chances they might not otherwise take. A person doesn't need to be intoxicated to be impaired.

Proportions in the various categories don't seem to have changed much in the past 10 years. Helmeted riders make up 55% of the fatalities while non-helmeted riders are at 45%. Rural versus highway settings are split nearly evenly in half. Single-vehicle fatalities make up 45% of the numbers while multi-vehicle fatalities stand at 55%. The classic "left-turning car" still accounts for a lot of fatalities. What really gets me is that in 75% of the multi-vehicle crashes, the other vehicle came from between 10 and 2 o'clock to the rider. Right where you would think a rider would see them. A tiny bit more than 90% of the fatalities are to the operators themselves. Passenger fatalities account for about 10%.

Most riders perish ( about 72% ) on undivided roadways. ( picture your standard two lane road ) 17% find their end on roadways that have medians but no median barriers.

How about the difference between the sexes you might ask? Men still account for 90% of the fatalities. This means that women account for10%. What's interesting here is that women make up about 12% of the riding population. That makes it seem like women are proportionately represented, or slightly under. However, NHSTA has stated that the number of fatalities to female riders has doubled in the time frame this report covers. There's some areas where I wouldn't suggest women strive for equality. This is one of them.

In 2003 the median age of motorcyle owners had increased to 41 as opposed to 32 in 1990. I don't have exact figures for today, but the age is increasing. I think I saw it at 44 or 47 some while back. This is one of the reasons manufacturer's like BMW are marketing bikes like the F650CS. They're trying to appeal to younger buyers. Us older guys aren't going to ride forever as much as we'd like to think so!

Of the riders who perished, 75% were properly licensed. Of those not properly licensed, the majority were under 20 years old. There's no available figures for how many of the riders who suffered fatalities had some sort of formal training.

I'm not sure what conclusion to draw, but speed-related fatalities decreased 6% from 1995 to 2004. Alcohol involvement has also decreased by 8%. If fatalities have increased but these two factors have decreased, what are the contributing factors, now?

Knowledge is power. I just wanted to pass this information along for whatever good you can get out of it. None of us actually belong to the "can't happen to me" club. Stay aware, keep building skills, stay alive. Ride safe but have fun.

Miles and smiles,

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I get the point...several times!

Looks like a peaceful and tranquil scene, doesn't it? Under normal circumstances it would be. It's open farm land beside a quiet road that gently winds it way around the various fields. Life would be perfect if it weren't for those little white boxes.

Take a closer look.

These little white boxes shelter thousands of air-borne honey makers. Thing was, my encounter with them wasn't especially sweet. I have felt the pain!

Turns out I had some extra time. One of my appointments had fizzled out. It was shaping up to be a good time to start exploring back roads in my new surroundings. Although there are clouds over against the foothills, it was actually warm and sunny most of the time.

I found this road by following the navigational advice of Yogi Berra. His words of wisdom are "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!"
Seems perfectly suited to a natural born wanderer like me.

I tell you, this road is a perfect stress reliever. Except for the bees, of course. Small farms fill every acre. The road is narrow. I suspect that if you met a big tractor coming the other way you'd have to just stop near the shoulder and let it pass. I think how the road was laid out was by natural selection. I've seen architects do the same thing with college campus sidewalks. No pavement is laid in the beginning. After a while some tracks appear where folks have walked. In this case, driven. Once the usage patterns are set the blacktop goes down to make it official.

Curve speed postings vary between 10 and 35 mph. Straightaways are fairly short. It's impossible to get up much speed. That's the whole point of a road like this, isn't it? For the locals it's a matter of just meandering from here to there. Outsiders either buy into the philosophy or crash. Let its magic settle over you and it's almost healing. Certainly soothing, to say the least.

I've succumbed to the whole effect. After a day of work the relaxation is similar to sitting in a hot tub and letting the bubble jets do their thing. This is truly bliss on two wheels. Since it's warm I have my 'stich zipped down fairly far in the front. Those wonderfully long side vents are open. I want to see the sights and inhale the fragrances of farming as I peacefully tool along. Ok, so some of the fragrances aren't as pretty as others, but it's part of the experience. The face shield on the full face helmet is open.

Now and then a bug of some sort or other will glance off the fairing or somewhere on my person. It's fertile farm country, after all. My speeds are low enough that splatting is generally avoided. Much to my harm, it turns out. Bug hits are getting more frequent. Suddenly I feel several impacts, one right on the heels of the other. The last one hits me in the face just above my sunglasses. There's a crawly sensation coming from a number of spots. And then pain.

I ended up getting stung four times. Three were inside my shirt. Did I mention that I also had a button-up shirt with a few buttons undone for ventilation? The worst sting was on my right eyebrow. Thank goodness these were honeybees and not wasps. One sting and the honeybees are done. Not so with wasps. I figure I crossed an area that was in the path of travel to return to the hives. If the little critters would have kept to the field they were hired to pollinate it would have been a case of "no harm, no foul". I guess the flowers somewhere else looked better.
What was really interesting was that the bees came at me from my left side and not from in front of me. It just struck me as I write this. I hope they didn't think I was some sort of huge sunflower. Andy, does the Hi-Viz 'stich look like a big flower to bees?

After rounding a bend I saw both a place to pull over and the home to my attackers. At least, the former home of my attackers as stinging me probably killed them. I carry a Micro-Leatherman (r) tool which has tweezers. I stripped down. Sorry, I know that sounds gross. Let me put it this way. I pulled off the jacket and my shirt. Does that sound better? With the tweezers and my reading glasses I pulled out the couple of stingers hanging from my skin.

Since I was stopped, anyway, I took some pictures. Curiously, I noticed a black helicopter circling overhead. There's an airport about ten miles distant. This chopper looked almost military in origin but I couldn't tell. I do know that it circled near me for a while.

The way I see it, the pilot and co-pilot were either laughing at me or they were part of some sort of Pollination Police. I decided to take their picture, too. After all, it seemed to be "flying things" day. Having lost a camera over a wall and down a cliff to cavorting squirrels, and having dropped another camera on the pavement, I bought a rather inexpensive camera this time. The zoom isn't overly savage on this one. As you notice, this is the back end of the helicopter. As soon as I raised the camera the thing shot away from the area. Draw your own conclusions.

Being stung was painful and they still itch a little. On the other hand, I'm still smiling about the ride and the adventure. That's the way life works out, isn't it? It just seems that being on two wheels magnifies the effect. By the way, I've had this tremendous craving for honey, lately!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, September 04, 2006

Finding the limits!

Yeah, I finally did it. After girding my loins I went out to the track to see just how far my marvelous Sophie could lean. For those of you not aware of who Sophie is, she's my Honda ST1100 sport-tourer. For most of her life she's been exposed to more "sport" than "tourer".

The evidence is in the photo. I always wondered if the tupperware or the hard parts would scrape first. I can now honestly tell you that the hard parts come first. This is an amazing bike if you have the nerve to explore!

Let me back up a step and fill in the rest of the story. This happened at a recent ART class. That's the acronym for Advanced Rider Training. ART is our flagship, or premiere offering. As one of our newer instructors put it,

"Ah, ART, the top of the food chain".

It really is, actually. The instructors are hand picked by our Director, Steve. I don't know how I got invited, but I'm privileged to be able to teach these classes. We rent a track on some Monday's. Anywhere from 14 to 18 students will be present. They'll wind up with somewhere around 40 miles worth of seat time. There's work on higher speed accident avoidance skills. We also spend a lot of time on cornering skills. Entry speeds and linking corners are two of the big things. It's always amazing how much is lacking in the average rider's cornering skills. If you commute, this type of class is extremely valuable. After all, how far wrong can you go practising accident avoidance skills at real world speeds? What commuter can resist the call of a great twisty road?

Here's an arial view of the track. One of the perks of teaching the class is that we get to play in the morning hours when the students are in the classroom! I know, tough duty, but somebody's got to do it. The track's about 60 miles from my house so I get a great ride commuting to work and hours of play time on the track.

There's usually one instructor in the classroom and three riding the track. We claim to be hard at work honing our skills but I admit that it's also a lot of play time. Getting paid to play on a track? Somebody wake me up.

One time I took the CBR 600f4i to play with. Coming off the last turn and onto the long straightaway, we were over a ton before we had to haul it down for the first turn. I've also had great fun with the VFR. As awesome as the track is on a sport bike, I usually take the bigger bike. There's a few students on sport bikes. Most are on some sort of other bike. We see dual-sports like the Suzuki V-strom's, cruisers, sport-tourers, and once in a while the big luxo-tourers. This time we had a gal on an FJR with an auxiliary fuel tank and an Ironbutt license plate frame. She's spent so much time covering great distances in a straight line she forgot how to corner!! I feel like I have a little more credibility riding a bike that's not a sport bike. You see, I pay a price for my fun!

One of the things we offer students is a chance to ride on the back of our bikes. This gives them a chance to see the correct lines and feel when the transitions happen. Once I gave a guy a ride on my sport bike and he nearly fell off the back of the bike in panic! I forget that not all riders are comfortable with large lean angles. Most are pretty secure on the back of Sophie with the nice passenger saddle and backrest.

Isn't it funny how play can so quickly turn into competition? Testosterone is a funny thing. I was riding behind Ray. He is one of the best overall riders I have ever seen. He also happens to be my boss in the motorcycle safety program as he's the Director of Training. Ray has an ST1300 but prefers to bring the '93 VFR to class. Well, one thing led to another and pretty soon both of us are doing some serious scraping. We're not hanging off the bikes. We ride like a normal rider would on a twisty road. Only, we're not so normal. More like wacko, actually. There's no windows on the track side of the classroom building so we're pretty sure none of the students can see us. Mustn't scare the kids, you know.

We both turn around and ride the track backwards, or clockwise. There's this hairpin that's both technical and satisfying at normal speeds and almost terrifying at higher speeds. I've even run Sophie off into the grass once when I totally tanked my approach. Hey, crap happens. You'll never improve your skills as a rider if you don't take calculated risks. This time I nail both the really high entry speed and the line. I never knew you could scrape the sidestand on an ST1100 but, as you can see, it's possible. It almost felt like I could turn my head and scrape my nose on the track. It was kind of itching and both hands were busy at the time.

This is not something I would ever purposely do on the street. When your sidestand or centerstand hits the asphalt, you are in real danger of lifting the rear tire off the road. Responsible riders will always maintain a useful traction and lean angle reserve.

On the track? Yee freakin' haw!!

Miles and smiles,

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Scooter input please?

Thus is the destiny of an instructor's bike. Doomed to spend weekends parked just out of reach of the action. Wishing, but not going anywhere. At least I parked Sophie nearest the shed and farther away from the dumpster. Last year I taught 33 classes. Not to mention the updates and instructor training weekends. That's a lot of time for a bike to sit patiently waiting on a weekend when it could be out carving twisties. Well, at least a commuter's bike gets action during the week!

I taught a beginner's class last weekend. As in most beginner programs we supply training bikes. If a student wants to use their own bike they are welcome to. The restriction is that it must be mechanically safe and be under 300 cc's. Last weekend one of my students took the class on a borrowed scooter. She has a scooter of her own. Being a Honda Silverwing 600, it's too large for our class. Besides, she had recently crashed it in a parking lot. Makes it kind of tough to ride with crash damage, you know. Somehow she talked her daughter-in-law into letting her use the small scooter for the class.

The scooter was a TNG Milano model with a displacement of 150 cc. Very pretty yellow color and whisper quiet. The thing surprised me with its sophistication. As an example, the headlight could be switched to a position where it would not illuminate until a certain rpm was reached. I was glad to see that in a class because a lot of idling with a lit headlight can drain a battery fairly quickly. Four way flashers were included. I wish some of my bikes had that feature!

You have to hand it to the student. After crashing her Silverwing she was ready to jump back into riding. This time she decided to get a little better start and take some training. I don't get many scooters in classes but the trend is growing. If a student's going to ride a scooter it's better to take training on what they're going to ride. We have a class where students can use their own bikes and not be restricted to the 300 cc limit.

Having scooters in a class presents more of a challenge to an instructor. The majority of us are motorcycle riders and have limited experience with scooters. Most of the principles apply either way. Scooters, however, have their own unique responses and characteristics. In addition, some exercises, like shifting, don't apply directly. I try to find other things for the scooter rider to work on during these exercises. Things like head turns and being smooth. Lack of smoothness seems to be one of the most common traits of new riders whatever they ride. The exercise may not apply directly, but they get seat time.

What I'm asking you all to share with me are tips on how a scooter rider can be more successful in slow speed manuevers. For example, we have an offset cone weave and a sharp 90 degree corner that we run. My student was having difficulties with the throttle. At low speeds there's more torque so the throttle is more like an "on/off" function. She'd end up with too much speed. There also seems to be more of a problem getting a small scooter to roll on its axis. The small diameter tires don't help much, either.

Normally I would coach a student to slip the clutch and use the "friction zone" to control the speed. By using the clutch a rider can keep steady throttle. In some cases I will tell a student to sort of ride the rear brake as a rudder. I coached my scooter rider to ride the rear brake which was on the left handlebar. She still needed to be able to control speed with the throttle as there is no clutch. I also told her to start her turns earlier. I'm not sure if it was my coaching or her lack of ability but my rider really struggled.

Care to share tips on low speed control and making these kinds of turns? Especially those required for the offset cone weave? For your information, the cones are about twenty feet apart and offset from each other about three feet. It's a fairly tight pattern. I appreciate the feedback. As we see more scooters I'd like to be more effective in my instructional skills!

Miles and smiles,