Monday, December 11, 2006

Ridin' in the car wash!

It's back. The Pineapple Express is once more pelting our little corner of the world. Interestingly, I talked to one of my counterparts in Florida today. When I told him I was trying to stay dry despite the Pineapple Express blowing through, Mark said he'd never heard of that term. It must be due to the fact that Florida's a long ways from Hawaii. That's supposedly where all this is coming from. It actually is a little warmer than normal right now. Considering it's early December, 50 degrees (F) isn't so bad.

Mark told me his car thermometer indicated it was 71 degrees. Hm, I wonder if they have any openings down there?

I've always wondered what it would be like to ride a motorcycle through a car wash. Haven't you ever spent a little time musing about this yourself? What if your bike and riding suit were really soiled? Wouldn't it be cool to just ride through the tunnel? Take away the brushes and it could possibly work. Ok, maybe you're nowhere near as peverse as me. Or maybe you just won't admit it!

Well, here's a carwash with no brushes. Come on in. No thanks, been there, done that, didn't like it. I didn't literally ride through a car wash. It just felt that way. Picture a tunnel eighty miles long. Now imagine that it's three lanes wide. You're not alone. The proprietor has recruited hundreds of lunatics to keep you company in a variety of vehicles. That describes my ride home today.

First off, I know I should be really happy that it's early December and I'm still riding to the office. None of this "winterization" stuff. Unlike some of my fellow bike commuters I'm rarely dealing with snow. On the other hand, there's plenty of fog, freezing fog, some ice, and rain. Lots and lots of rain. I should be used to riding in the rain by now. Truth be told, I accept it as part of the cost of riding all year. This however, is starting to be a bit much. What's weird is that every year seems to bring more rain than the year before. They talk about global warming in the media. That may be happening elsewhere, but what I'm dealing with is local wetting!

As you may have gathered, it was a wet ride. "Wet" actually doesn't do it justice. "Soaked" doesn't cut it. I'd have to say that "Drenched" is the word for the day. The rain was literally blowing sideways and was so heavy that visibility was down to about 1/8 mile at times. Sometimes much less than that. At one point, for example, I started passing by a UPS truck pulling three trailers. I took a deep breath, aimed for the open spot ahead of me, and pulled the trigger. It was literally blind faith that I'd make it. If you've been there you know what I'm talking about. I'm pretty sure there were a bunch of guys in brown uniforms standing on top of the trailers dumping buckets of water down on me.

Did I mention the idiots? You'd have thought it was a sunny summer day the way they were driving. What is it with people? This is my first Winter doing this really long commute. If this is a taste of the Winter ahead, it's gonna start getting real interesting soon! The weirdest part of all is that it was already soaking wet when I left home this morning. I could have driven a car. Days like this I ask myself, "Remind me. I'm doing this...why?" Yet I keep riding. Maybe I'm afraid to give in to creature comforts.

It's like my cat. When the weather turns cold she wants to come into the house and sack out under my computer desk chair. She loudly protests when we have to leave and put her out. Maybe I'm afraid I'll be like that. Don't let me get too comfortable or I'll never want to go back to the hardships. Inertia is a foe, momentum is a friend. Right now I still find it repugnant to be thought of as "soft".

Remember the expression "Most accidents happen within 25 miles of home"? Today it was more like 25 blocks. As I'm topping the rise of an overpass I'm watching traffic at the bottom. To my right a street from downtown feeds onto this main drag. People act like they'll die if they have to wait just three more seconds to merge. Instead of waiting for a safe gap they'll pull out pretty close to the cars coming down the overpass. I'm always expecting this and adjust accordingly. It's one of those things that piss you off and yet you know it's going to happen. So you prepare for it. You know how you sort of set a point in your mind? When you reach that point you're pretty sure it's too close for even a really stupid driver to take a chance? Not that you can ever let your guard down completely, but you kinda figure you're almost home free.

As soon as you make anything idiot-proof somebody creates a better idiot. I met one today. Almost intimately. Two women in a mini-van. The one driving could barely see over the wheel. Not only did she want to merge, she wanted to go clear across to the turn lane. I'm doing about 35 mph. My speed limit's 45 but I'm hedging my bets. The space between us is closing down. 500 feet. 400 feet. I see her face. 300 feet. 200 feet. She seems to be looking right at me. I'm at about 150 feet when she pulls out. Still looking right at me. You'd think the first thing on my mind would be stopping. What actually came to mind first was trying to figure out if she was purposely doing it because I'm on a bike. Or is she just not registering the fact that I'm there?

Bottom line is that because she wanted two lanes I didn't need to come to a complete stop. I'd briefly considered a swerve but cancelled that impulse when I saw the nose of the van cross the center line. I was in the right lane with a lane beside me. One of my strategies is to always keep a running inventory in my head about where all the vehicles around me are at any given time. There was more time and room than it looked like there was. Under favorable conditions a competent rider should be able to stop a bike in 60 feet from 35 mph. These conditions were a little less than favorable with everything being so wet. Still, the good news is that if you don't hydroplane and lose traction, the rear brake is more effective in the wet than the dry. That seems weird but there's less weight transfer to the front wheel due to the reduced traction. The rear wheel thus keeps a little more weight on it which gives a little more traction for braking.

Which basically means that since the front tire was already pointed downhill I could use the rear brake more which meant less chance of a front wheel skid. The bike itself squatted more than dived. I guess I'm going to have do a post on how weight transfer in different conditons affects braking and how to use it to your advantage. Maybe it will be a little more clear then.

The second thing I had going for me was that Katie was behind me in her car. She watches my back as well as allowing some following distance. I'd stopped by the school where she works so we could come home together. The elementary school kids love the motorcycle guy! Actually, I think a couple of the female teachers do, too. You know how ladies love outlaws! I was able to scrub off speed and go around the back of the van. Besides worrying about myself, I was more worried that Katie would have problems. Turns out that by the time Katie had reached the same point the van was out of the way. While it all came out ok, I'm still incredulous about the people we're forced to share the road with.

My Roadcrafter pants are draped over the shower rod. My jacket is on a hanger dripping onto a towel. It's amazing how a driving rain eventually works its way through just about any gear. The 'stich is better than most stuff but still seeps a little after long exposure. It's time for some food and Monday Night Football. We'll see how my Bears do tonight. It will be fun to watch a different type of Warrior do battle.

Miles and smiles,



Anonymous said...

Nice goin'. I am just in the process of putting mine to sleep for the long Minnesota winter. I have an uncle in Mercer Island, but he can't correspond much. Interesting to be able to ride all winter.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

They're the ones that freak me out the most - the ones who look at you and pull out anyway. What the hell are they thinking!?

Combatscoot said...

Had almost the exact thing happen to me this weekend, except that I was weak and sick instead of being wet and miserable. Old lady in a Camry looked at me and pulled right out into the left lane, as I was turning, on a green light, into the right lane. Never even acknowledged my presence.

Balisada said...

I remember being in school and laughing when I learned about the early days of cars.

If memory serves, in the very early days someone had to precede the car on foot and make some kind of noise (I don't recall what they had to do, toot a horn or bang cymbals).

Now it seems like a reasonable precaution. They were trying to make sure that everyone involved was being seen.

I rode my motorcycle all summer, and when I got into my pickup for the first time in months, I actually caught myself not thinking much about my driving. It was like I was in my own little world. I was horrified.

I think that culturally, we are conditioned to look for cars and trucks, but not motorcycles.

As young kids, we are taught to look both ways for CARS.

As teens we are taught to look for CARS when change lanes.

Perhaps when drivers see motorcycles, the motorcyclist is filed away mentally under "bicyclist", and since bicycles are on the side of the road, and usually unobtrusive, motorcyclists are ignored, like their distant bicycling cousins.


Anonymous said...

I am lucky to be able to ride all year. Not that the weather's nice, but there's very little to stop the actual riding. Hang in there during Winter.

mad and combatscoot,
One of the reasons I decided to share this is because these people ARE out there. Drivers are getting worse all the time. It's gonna happen that somebody's going to do doing something stupid and put us in danger. And it always seems to be when there's something else going on like bad weather or being sick. Just keep the skills sharp, both physically and mentally.

Can you imagine how silly a person would feel being the "front door" for a car? You're right about the "what are they looking for?" thing. I get to talk to teen-agers just starting to drive. I tell them I want them to count how many red bikes they see on Tuesday and how many blue bikes they see on Thursday. I don't care about the count but they start looking for bikes because of it.
Are you going to put ears on top of your truck? :)


Steve Williams said...


I keep waiting for a happy story. Sounds like you are in one war after another if not with other moving masses of steel then with some character of the weather. Damn, you are a warrior! My scooter putters seem like kindergarten stuff.

Ride safely and take care of yourself.