Friday, December 28, 2007

Slippin' in the rain...

'Twas the day before Christmas,
And Dan's on the bike.
All who know him are sayin',
"Yes, that's about right!"

This half-assed attempt at poetry has very little to do with this post. Yes, I was on the bike. A couple of the pictures were taken on that day. That's not the point. Rather, it's an exercise in control. The letters do my bidding. Upon my command they form themselves into words. The words, in turn, create the structure of sentences. I am relieved that I can still make them say what I want them to. I still possess a modicum of control.

Control. How I love the sound of that word. I relish the way it rolls off my tongue. The two syllables flow so well together. They make a lovely sound as the combination of vowels and consonants create a melody. Control. Say it slowly. Savor it. My ownership of it is fading. You see, I am slowly going mad.

It's the rain. Weeks of rain feels like years. Pictures of a swollen river taken a month apart look nearly identical. The first is of the river by itself. In the second Sophie poses. Water levels are practically unchanged. My yard is a swamp. A week and a half of vacation that should have been spent riding for the sheer joy of it. Spent, instead, in a constant dance not entirely of my choosing. On the one hand, a nearly desperate need to ride. On the other, an increasing hatred for the constant wetness around me. What should be a time of cold and clear is, instead, a deluge. Except for one brief glimpse of sun. Of which, I shall write another day.

The Great Wetness is endangering me beyond the impending loss of my sanity. My enemies on the road have become more menacing to me. It has been said that there is nothing more dangerous than incompetence. Hah! Add rain slicked roads, fogged windows, and less visibility to cell phones, eating and other distractions. Ride a bike among these people strained to the breaking point of their abilities. Then tell me about dangerous!

The Weather Gods have tantalized me at times with snow flakes. Rain is suspended momentarily. Beautiful, fluffy, white morsels of snow dance in the air. Like downy feathers freed from the birds, these angelic apparitions descend slowly to earth. Aware of their eventuality, nonetheless they gently play in the air. Small breezes become playgrounds for the snow. It is wondrous to behold.

I plead with the Weather Gods for more than a taste. Please, let it snow instead of rain. I will show my gratitude for the change by playing in it. I'll ride in it, I'll make snowy statues of cheerful countenance. Just bless us with something besides this rain. With a sneer I am handed sleet and hail. What could be sensuous beauty is replaced by evil and treachery. How much can a rider take before the veneer of civility begins to crack? Always, it comes back to the rain.

Water. Clear, clean, and life-giving. It is an element essential to our survival. I'm told that we're physically constructed of mostly water. A steady supply keeps us who we are, then. In dark contrast, when reduced to droplets, water can rip a person's sanity from them. Water used thusly makes one become someone else. Cunning and evil tortures using water drops have broken the bravest of souls. Is a Road Warrior any less immune?

Drops of water by themselves amount to little harm. A splash here and there is casually brushed off. Like one brushes off a small gnat that rests upon one's skin. In a more imaginative moment, one could picture Gulliver. His hand idly scratches at a small irritation. A Lilliputian arrow has caused nothing more than a fleeting sensation. There is no hint of the mind rendering doom to come.

Doom in the form of thousands of tiny arrows, gnat swarms of Brobdingnagian proportions, and water drops in uncountable numbers.

Drops plunging from the sky are joined by their eager brethren. Each knows this attack will not mean the end for them. Water strikes then flows to the ground. Nature's cycles will see the water drops at full strength once more. It is this cycle that provides the ammunition for the nefarious warfare we experience. Sheer numbers and relentlessness enable this sodden army to claim its victims. There is no shortage of zealous kamikazes. The attack has continued for weeks. There is no end in sight. Not in the foreseeable future, at least. How much longer can I hold out before the last vestiges of control wash away with the water?

There are those who say I should retreat. They try to make a case that I am contributing to my own growing insanity by continuing to fight. I am told I have only to stay indoors or leave the bike at home. Away with them, I say! I have signed on to bear the King's standard. We ride to work. We ride for work as much as possible. Two wheels are emblazoned on our Coat of Arms. A true Warrior does not fight only when things look favorable. We are trying to affect a change in our world. Greatness does not come without sacrifice. The more cheaply a thing is acquired, the less it is valued. Retreat is not an option. I will continue despite this adversity.

Each day will bring a new assessment of my diminishing control. It will be a race to see which resource expends itself first. The liquid ammunition of the Weather Gods or my own mental strength. I shall either prevail or go quite mad. Time will tell. For now, I am back into the rain. My sodden cat is out of food. Her belly and mine drive me to the store.

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 20, 2007

There are no words for this!

I kinda hate to share this with you all. It's not politically correct. Some might even say it's in poor taste. Yet I find myself inexorably drawn towards this fate. It is your destiny, Luke! Just make sure you haven't eaten yet. Don't worry, it's not about blood and guts. No, it's far worse! Read on if you have the fortitude.

You encounter all kinds of things on the freeways. Recently I saw a railroad boxcar being transported on its side on a flatbed truck. Was that you Dave T? Then there are sights you just can't describe.

There I was, doing 65 mph ( the legal speed limit ), when there suddenly appeared a huge crack in my windshield. I swerved left, then right, but the crack remained. Have a look for yourself.

Like I said, sometimes words just can't be found. I pretty certain, however, this can't be too safe. Both for the passenger or other drivers!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. This was actually passed along to me by a fellow instructor. He's as warped as I am!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It's not them!

Since we were talking about drivers who slam into school buses and fire trucks it seemed like a good time to dig a little deeper. As motorcycle commuters we face having to deal with drivers every day. We're literally competing for a space on the roads. In this case the competition is cell phones, inattention, the inability to have divided attention, rudeness, stupidity, and the list goes on and on. In yesterday's paper under the "Court records" section, there were 12 people listed as having been sentenced to driving under the influence. Yikes! We all know what it's like out there. The real question is "Who's responsible for us out there?" To find the answer we go look in the mirror.

Maybe the fact that we ride motorcycles as alternate transportation makes us just a little bit smarter about taking our skills seriously. Maybe it just makes us smarter, period. Today I both experienced some pretty rough riding conditions and had some time to think about things.

A trip to Eugene was in order today. That's about an hour South as the Honda flies. It was pretty wet this afternoon. Due to time constraints I hit the Interstate. Have you ever noticed how much water the big trucks launch into the air? Yeah, I'm pretty sure you have! When you're in the spray it feels like the middle of a monsoon. One particular driver really riled me. There's a 16 mile stretch between the Highway 34 exit and the Highway 228 exit at Brownsville. This driver was doing 62 mph. Doesn't sound too bad until you hear the rest of it. He was in the left of the two available lanes. In the right lane was a string of other big trucks. 23 of them to be precise. They were doing about 60.5 mph. We were stuck in spray forever. I say "we" because I'm including a jackass in a white Chrysler who insisted on tailgating. My kingdom for a rear facing rocket launcher! I'd take a front facing one for that matter!

Despite the bad weather, drivers were doing exactly the same things they do all the time. Speeding, tailgating, changing positions without really being able to see, all of it. I shake my head at them so often I have a permanent sloshing sound in my brain. I even had a close call in a parking lot. I'm parked, sitting on the bike, getting ready to dismount. Still in the pouring rain. This man in a Ford minivan started backing out of his spot. And kept coming. I had my helmet in my hands and was looking for a plan. I flipped the key back into the ignition and gave him a blast ( relatively speaking ) of the horn. The brake lights came on and the van jerked like the driver had been really startled. Jeez!

Night time found me still on the bike, doing my own personal business. Here's a sort of abstract picture.

I put my point and shoot digital camera on the night setting and let it fuzz a little. Or maybe my photo just turned out badly. No, it was on purpose. At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it. The photo is supposed to illustrate how we are mostly lone riders in a sea of cars. Pretty good, huh?

Back to the question of who's responsible for us. Some states have tried to educate drivers about sharing the road with motorcycles. Other states, like ours, have put a big push on to get riders trained. Training drivers just doesn't work. What it boils down to is that we're the ones who need to develop whatever mental and physical skills it takes to protect ourselves. I'm alluding to skills used in mixing it up with other traffic. In multi-vehicle accidents, our data gathering here in Oregon shows that the other driver was only at fault in 13 percent of the wrecks. I'm not saying that the drivers didn't initiate situations more often than that. What I'm saying is that the ultimate reason the rider crashed was by doing the incorrect thing or nothing at all.

I recently came across an interesting contrast between our state and another. In Oregon we concentrate on giving the riders what they need to protect themselves. In the other state ( which will remain anonymous here ) the big push has been on trying to make drivers more aware of motorcycles. Their driver's manual has sections on sharing the road with bikes and there are a lot of public awareness campaigns. It's a noble cause on the surface. How do the two states compare?

As of the end of October we had 44 motorcycle fatalities. That's 44 too many. In the other state, though, there had been 147 to date. The number of endorsements and registrations are nearly identical. Both states have similar populations and traffic congestion. The only thing we can't track is the number of miles traveled. That's the only really accurate way to measure effectively how things compare. Unfortunately, that's not easily tracked so we make do with whatever parameters we can track.

We know we're not going to change drivers. It's just going to continue to get worse. If they can't see school buses and fire trucks, how can we expect them to see motorcycles? Might as well be pissin' in the wind to reference a song by Jerry Jeff Walker.

The one thing we can improve is us. I know you all are serious about your riding. Otherwise you wouldn't be reading here, right? We can always improve. Look how your riding has improved over the last five years. And you were a competent rider then, weren't you? Ray's our Training Manager. I've mentioned him before. Ray's also a pilot. So a lot of feedback he gives me is couched in those terms. On those rare occasions when I get cocky, ( not often, I swear! ) Ray lays some pilot talk on me. He tells me that no matter how high the number is on the altimeter, it could always go a little higher. Point taken, Ray!

Where experienced riders can make a real difference is in setting expectations for newer riders. These newbies need strong mentors. We all know of someone who comes to us for riding tips or advice. By all means, reach out and share. They need all the help they can get because the deck's stacked against them. Ride safe out there. By the way, don't forget the number one rule I have for my new instructors. It applies, too, to any rider.

Don't forget to have fun!!

You just knew my day would end up here after shopping, didn't you? Do you see my protective strategy for this situation? Yeah, the big Givi trunk isn't mounted. Sound thinking, huh? Actually, there's three small, but expensive items secreted on the bike. I will bar you from this site if you tell, but I bought Katie diamonds. You now those things they call Journey Diamonds? A necklace and earrings make up a nice set. Katie hasn't read the blog in a long time and I'm hoping she continues the pattern for a while longer. It's just a good thing my credit card is Platinum. I hear that has a higher melting point!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Frost and freezing fog.

I worked from home Tuesday and Wednesday. Weird as it may seem, I did my early morning 45 minute or so ride. It's just something I need to do. Last night I had a meeting at TEAM OREGON headquarters. A nice brisk ride home from Corvallis in the dark and foggy air ended my evening. Tonight on the way home I killed something.

Other than the cold and the killing there really hasn't been much drama to report. Isn't it strange that we say we want to avoid being victimized by rude and stupid drivers but find it boring if we aren't? At least it seems so to me from the blogging viewpoint. How interesting would you find it if I just reported another routine ride? Day after day. The classic formula for great literature has been that of struggle and conquest. It makes for great reading doesn't it? Unlike literature, though, I'm not writing a novel. I just tell it like it happens. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

I'm happy to say there's just enough struggle to keep things interesting without being crazy. Like Tuesday morning, for instance. This is a picture of Sophie's windshield after I came back from the ride. By now it's just past daylight's emergence. We're at that time of year when I wish the weather would "shift or get off the lot" to amend a popular phrase. The temperature is right at freezing or a little above. With the cold comes a lot of fog. I'm tired of riding around in foggy mid-thirties conditions. I know it's not like what some of you are dealing with, of course. I counting my blessings not to be experiencing the ice storms and heavy snows happening farther East. Still, though, I wish it would either warm up or get a lot colder. These foggy days in the thirties feel much colder. The cold seeps right to the bone. Must be the moisture. As a bonus, we're dealing with freezing fog.

What looks like frost in the grass becomes black ice on the roads around here. Tuesday morning, in particular, there were several accidents blamed on the slick conditions. Personally, I think the problem is stupid, speeding, and tailgating, drivers, but what do I know? I guess it softens the blow to fragile egos to say it was the fault of the weather instead of driving with one's head up one's ass. Although I'd like to know how the driver of the car that rear-ended a school bus up by Newberg on Highway 99 this morning would explain it. How DO you explain the fact that you rear-ended a big yellow school bus with flashing red lights? Not only that, but hit it so hard it shoved the front of the car well under the bus?

Anyway, I'm not a huge fan of dicey traction but I go anyway. Actually, I haven't had much of a problem with it. I just watch for clues like shiny spots in my headlights or those of other cars. I know which areas are more likely to be affected. Plus, I leave plenty of space cushion around me. Not so much for my reaction times, but to avoid being like a pool table bumper for cars sliding around me.

Yesterday morning I was out by my Mother's place. While sitting at the stop sign and waiting to turn back towards town, I made the acquaintance of a woman in a big black Chevy Tahoe SUV. The pleasure was all hers, I'm sure. She was turning onto the street I was on. A phone was glued to her ear. Long, painted fingernails contrasted with the silver of the cell phone. Her blonde hair was done up in a fancy hairdo. Bright lipstick adorned her lips. She looked like a class act. Sort of like a knockout dame you'd read about in a Phillip Marlowe novel. Curse you, Gary, for getting me started on those! Problem was, her driving skills fell far short. Her attitude seemed a bit aloof, but that was just an impression.

You see, the blonde was trying to turn this big SUV with one hand and not doing a very good job of it. Her approach speed was a little too high. That was either arrogance or ignorance induced by being on the phone. Her left hand was occupied with the phone. Her right wasn't too good working as a single instead of a pair. The SUV was taking a really wide corner. With me sitting at the widest spot. As she got close I moved up a few feet. Kinda like a matador with a gleaming black four wheel drive bull. What really annoyed me was the lack of reaction on her face.

Usually a person's eyes will go a little wider, their face will briefly register chagrin, or something. There was no change in her expression. Did she not care? Was she so occupied that there wasn't room in her processing circuits for anything else? Did she deem me so low that I wasn't even on her radar? Who knows? I don't really care, actually. I just sort of wondered, is all.

Today was a bonus. I rode 186 miles in the cold and fog and I got to spread some cheer. It's that time of year when I deliver goodies to distributors. Today I was delivering boxes of smoked salmon like the one below.

By putting the boxes up on one side I can get just enough for a day's worth of visits into the bags. Some places get several boxes, depending upon the size of the company. It's kind of neat to pull up at a place on the bike. I shake off the cold, grab some salmon, and play Santa in a Hi-Viz and black suit. It's the one time when everyone's really happy to see me. Imagine that. If only I could figure out how to get those big desk pad calendars on the bike!

At the end of a great day today I was riding home down Interstate 5. By that time it was already dark. I think we get about eight hours of daylight right now. The fog makes it worse. Not far from my exit, I was behind, and to the right, of a faded red Oldsmobile being occupied by a couple of Mexican guys. This car caught my attention because it had entered the freeway a few miles back. Some people have absolutely no idea of how to get onto a freeway properly. What part of "accelerate into the gap" can't people seem to understand? That certainly doesn't mean get right to the freeway and then slam on your brakes!

Anyway, I watched this car sort of swerve onto the left shoulder and then come back. At the rear of their vehicle I saw what looked like a black plastic bag fluttering in the air and coming closer to me on the bike. Right as my headlights illuminated it, I saw it was a large bird. The thing was flying in a bizarre pattern and just up off the pavement. Then I hit it with the front tire. Two big thumps later I looked in the sideview mirrors and saw a flurry of feathers surrounding a rolling body. It was either a duck or a hawk. I'm really sorry to have probably been the one to finish it off. On the other hand, I'm not going to swerve a bike on a dark and foggy freeway inhabited by speeding drivers. I still feel bad, though.

I want to leave you with a quote. There's been some discussion of whether a person should ride due to risk, is it irresponsible, do we have an obligation to try to survive longer, and so on and so on. All I know is I like to ride. I can't fully describe what it does for me and what it adds to my life. Even in the cold and rain. I love riding and try to do it as skillfully as possible. This quote was in Men's Health magazine.

"Don't do things to not die, do things to enjoy living. The by-product may be not dying". Bernie S. Siegel M.D.

It applies to a lot of things, doesn't it?

Miles and smiles, ( and live well )


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Who are these people?

The first weekend of December saw the last training class of the year being presented. Who would be crazy enough to take a motorcycle class in December? On second thought, who would be crazy enough to teach a class then? To the second question I proudly raise my hand. My partner was new to this teaching thing so he didn't know any better. Besides that, he's a fireman. They're almost as crazy as cops but more well loved!

As you can see, we got some snow on Saturday. Sunday brought gusty winds and a lot of rain. Sunday was the first day of the two day storming that brought so much flooding and damage to the Northwest. We didn't have flooding in our parking lot. With all the rain, though, I did catch myself a couple of times looking over my shoulder for Noah's ark!

I like teaching class in conditions like this. That probably sounds weird when it's unquestionably more pleasant to teach in dry conditions and comfortable weather. I won't let a group ride if I deem it dangerous to them, of course. Sometimes I have to remind myself that most of these are beginners. Where I personally would keep riding these folks aren't at that point, yet. It's good for the students to be exposed to difficult conditions right off the bat. Here's why.

The classes we teach, especially the basic classes, aren't about pass or fail as far as I'm concerned. It's about the discovery. People come to us for a lot of reasons. Some want to join others in the social aspect. They've never ridden before. We provide a safe place for them to explore. Some find that motorcycling isn't for them. If they have the wisdom to accept that fact, then Score! Much better than buying a bike and crashing in an intersection.

Other folks want to ride to work, are coming back to riding after a long absence, as well as a variety of other reasons. I prefer not to make it too easy for them. Not that I'm harsh with them. I just want my students to get a realistic picture of riding. When the weather conditions are difficult a lot more of this kind of learning goes on. This group learned a lot about themselves this weekend! Some prospered while some quickly found their limits.

This idea of a realistic picture is why we made a change a few years ago to the requirements for new instructors. As a first step they need to come and watch two complete classes. That includes standing on the pavement beside the range for the entire weekend. They experience what it's like to be in the sun, the rain, and on their feet. When they take the next step they have a better idea of what they're getting into.

The same applies to the students. They're going to ride in the rain. Especially where we live. They're going to be cold. Sometimes it will be hot. That happens here like on July 27th. Students discover their limits. Can they be cold and wet and still concentrate on riding skills? Most find that they can't really handle the adverse conditions well. I'm great with that. A person who declares themself a "fair weather rider" based on experience is being honest about their limits and desires. I respect that. My goal is to give them a chance to make those kind of personal discoveries in a safe environment.

Wet pavement delivers another kind of bonus. Despite a rider's best efforts, we're going to get caught in occasional rain storms. Having been exposed to riding in the rain, a new rider isn't going to get as freaked out as one who's never faced it before. Sometimes in our classes a rider makes mistakes with braking in the rain. They fall down, we pick them up and brush them off, then send them back out. No harm, no foul. Next time be smooth on that front brake. Precious learning moments in a safe environment made possible by difficult conditions.

I'm suddenly feeling the urge to share something in the Father / Son category. While students have a chance to learn about themselves, I have the chance to learn about the students. Mostly it doesn't affect me once the students leave class. In some cases it does. Katie took a class that I was teaching. She's not actively pursuing riding. Her preference is to snuggle behind me. A couple of my boys, however,are eager riders. I've shared Clinton's adventures in his bike purchases in the recent past. I also had the privilege of having him as a student. Or maybe he had the privilege of having me as an instructor!

Anyway, Clinton took a class about four years ago, I'm thinking. Things blend together, you know. I do remember it was very cold and rainy all weekend. At one point I thought all my students had died. To a person they were laying forward on the gas tanks. Turns out they were holding their hands next to the motors desperately trying to eke out some warmth! It was a perfect example of difficult conditions. At the risk of it seeming like bragging, I have to say Clinton handled things well. Despite the cold and rain he maintained concentration both during practice and for the skill evaluation. If I remember correctly, he was one of the very few, if not the only one, who actually stopped within standard on the braking chute. Of course, it's really my doings, you know. I lent him my Aerostich Darien lite riding pants for the weekend. By the way, I never realized the waist on those could be adjusted for "slim"!

The point is that I feel better about his riding having seem him under these conditions. I can hardly tell my boys that being on a bike is too dangerous for them. How could I ride for so many years and then tell them I don't want them to do the same? Being a father, I naturally worry some when either one of them is on a bike. Yet, I've seen how both of them react to adverse conditions. I'm reassured by what I've observed. Insights that would never be possible if all the riding was done in "perfect" conditions.

Hey, I'm know I'm rambling somewhat. If you haven't noticed the title of this blog, yet, that's not my fault. The word "musings" is there. Don't say you weren't warned! Besides, sometimes the best insights come, not from scripts, but conversation. Once the conversation's allowed to go where it wants to, real communication starts to take place. All right. Now that I've marked my territory in the best Alpha Male tradition, I'll get back on track.

Like I wrote earlier ( was it that long ago?) the students learned much about themselves. This group was really like any other group. Maybe a little hardier but pretty much the same as all the others. Each had different reasons for being here.

I won't give you a rundown on everyone. This post is getting too long as it is. Here's some highlights.

A couple of the guys in class were coming back after thirty some years away. Both found out that if things were "just right" they could ride. Riding conditions are seldom like that, are they? It's a particular quirk among humans that our hearts and spirits never seem to age as fast as our bodies. As a result, they write checks our bodies can't quite cash. I see it so often. As a man, I deeply feel their disappointment. As a professional trainer I sleep well knowing I helped them discover the truth. I only pray they can accept it gracefully. It's sad, but safer. We experience the same type of discoveries in many aspects of life as we age. Ignoring the truth won't harm us in a lot of things. In riding there's very little forgiveness for mistakes.

One man was in class because he'd gone to DMV and couldn't pass the riding test. After watching him for a while, I could see why. He ended up passing our skill evaluation but never really made any big gains. We only managed to knock off some of the really rough edges. I'm afraid he'll always be what he is. A rider who is basically competent but with no ambition to progress further. He'll have a lot of company out there, unfortunately.

Another man was more of a success story even though it didn't look like it at first. He was there because his daughter was taking the class. He made no secret of the fact that he'd been riding a long time, didn't expect to learn anything, and was just there to support her. I love these kind of guys! You might as well slap my cheek with a glove and challenge me to a duel!!

I let him alone for the first day. Towards the end of that session some glaring deficiencies in his riding surfaced. Day Two brings more complex exercises based upon the basics covered in Day One. As I would coach this guy he had a million excuses. Sometimes it's risky to get into someone's face. At least from an instructor and student viewpoint. Ok, maybe anytime. I'm really good at reading people and decided to take a chance. I got on his case hard. I told him I wasn't buying his excuses anymore and he had better apply himself. He was cold to me until break when he came to see me. He apologized for his attitude. I told him I was sorry to have been so direct but we didn't have time to sit over tea and have a cozy chat about things. Sometimes I just have to cut to the chase right away. He was a changed man after that.

The rest of the day saw tremendous improvements in his riding. Years of bad habits were crumbling under what he was learning. As he experienced success he was even more eager to be coached. It's a perfect example of what I tell my new instructors. If you can teach someone one thing they didn't know you've captured them. What's really cool is that if this man takes what he showed us to the streets, he'll be leaps and bounds ahead of where he came in. I find that really satisfying!

Another student went from enthused to whiny and pouty when her socks got wet. Chalk up one more discovery moment!

One last story was the biggest surprise to me. During the first night's classroom session this woman seemed to be timid. She'd only ridden as a passenger with her husband. Her neighbor across the street happens to be a dear female friend of mine who's also an instructor. That might have influenced this woman somewhat to explore riding for herself.

I didn't know at the time that this woman knew this other instructor. I simply took the time needed to make her comfortable like I would for any student. There's this thing we call the Circle of Success. A new rider needs confidence to succeed. The only way they can get this is to trust the instructor in the beginning. That trust allows us to show them success. That success, in turn, builds their confidence and makes them trust us more. The goal is to keep that circle moving all the time and not break it.

It worked perfectly with this woman. She trusted, succeeded, gained confidence, and had a ton of fun. Despite the bad weather I literally had to talk her into taking breaks. She didn't want to get off the bike! I love seeing my own enthusiasm reflected in some of the students. On Monday night I got a call from my instructor friend. She told me how her neighbor came over and gave her a big hug. My student had all kinds of wonderful things to say about the course and how much fun she'd had. That call was the first time I'd heard about the neighbor thing. Doesn't hurt my reputation much, either!

So crazy as it seems, when you have a passion there's rewards to be reaped no matter the weather. It applies to both training and riding. Which I did both of that weekend. That's one of the reasons I commute and ride all year. Besides, the worst weather conditions make the best war stories, don't they?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Storm rider.

I'm sure you've heard the news by now. We had some pretty intense storms pass through here. Actually, not just one, but three. The Weather Guesser on the news station said we had the remains of three typhoons dumped on us by the jet stream. He likened it to being at the end of a firehose. Days of torrential rain, tropical air that melted a lot of snow, and hurricane force winds that battered us for a couple of days combined to wreak havoc. Now these same storms are bringing heavy snow to the East. What an amazing amount of power!

The brunt of the attack fell upon the Northern Oregon Coast. There were hurricane force winds for two days. Near Tillamook the sensors recorded a gust of 129 mph. Winds near the 100 mph mark were common. Tens of thousands of people are still waiting for phone and electrical service to be restored. As the waters recede people are returning home to houses full of silt and mud. How discouraging to be dealing with that. Most of the roads from our Valley to the Coast have been shut down. A couple of main highways are just now being re-opened. Hats off to the ODOT folks who worked round the clock to end the isolation the coastal residents endured. There was an unexpected benefit to me from a flooded freeway.

Interstate 5 has been closed near Chahalis, Washington. Ten feet of water cover both lanes for a distance. I have been spared a trip to Kirkland. I am free to ride for my own pleasure.

My neck of the woods wasn't as affected. I slept in a dry house every night. That didn't mean I didn't go out and about in the storms. I rode to class Saturday and Sunday through snow and rain driven by high winds. Look for the next post where I'll tell you about this special group of students taking the last class of the year.

I couldn't resist going out and about on Monday. The storms were still in full cry. Some would call that irresponsible. Even a fellow blogger or two might decry what I do as reckless. Far from it. This Road Warrior has seen over forty years of two wheeled battle. If one cannot or will not achieve something do not say it is wrong for another to do so.

Sophie and I were thoroughly soaked by the time we returned home for the day. On the other hand, there's a sense of adventure and victory only achieved by facing the enemy. His name is Risk and he can be a formidable foe. There is a minuscule margin for error. One cannot afford at all to be careless or reckless. However, if properly prepared and girded for the battle, victory can be won. It's all the more sweeter for the struggle. Even if my victory cry can scarcely be heard by me. No sooner is it uttered than it is swept away into the wind. Only to echo into someone else's ears far away.

The cheaper something is obtained the less it is esteemed.

There's a tremendous amount of flooding in our area. We live in an area surrounded by rivers. I didn't encounter any water over the roadways I travelled. There was, however, a variety of botanical specimens that littered the pavement.

You never know where these "gifts of the wind" are going to be. Risk has scattered them around like little booby traps. His hope is to catch the rider unawares. This Road Warrior is ever vigilant.

Looking as far ahead as I can see, there is no respite from the downpour. I can literally see the next wave coming at me. This Road Warrior is not easily discouraged. Some survive until the next sunup by thinking what good things will come on that day. It's the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" hope. One could hurry towards it only to find the light is the front of an approaching locomotive. The trip down the tunnel will have been completely wasted. A person can either wish their life away waiting for something else or learn to find what treasure they can in "Now". I do not wish to waste any part of a precious day and thus I ride this day. I see ads for motorcycles that say they have never been ridden in the rain. Where I live that translates to many wasted miles that could have been spent enriching themselves upon that bike. Then again, perhaps it's best that riders with no heart for adversity not expose themselves to added risk. It's a personal decision based upon one's own philosophy. I wish not to speak disparagingly of these ones. May they go in peace.

Their philosophy, though, is not shared by me. I choose to make my own path in the hope that others will follow. It is not in me to follow the path already shared by so many.

Wet and windswept though we may be, Sophie and I revel in this day's ride. We know how fortunate we are to be riding this day. While others suffer badly from this storm we are free to move about in it. Where good hearted people are kept from riding by bodies that have betrayed them, I enjoy good health. There is a bitter sweet element to riding. I feel the pain of those whose hearts are screaming to ride but they cannot. Do I honor them by holding myself back from riding? Like a Warrior I choose to honor my fallen comrades by conducting myself bravely in battle. Our kind must remain ever visible to the world.

Risk had one more surprise attack in store for me. There is a wonderful series of curves on the Old Corvallis Highway. The approach speed is very fast coming off a long straightaway. Just before the need for a quick press on the left handlebar, the bike descends into a sunken grade. Crack the throttle open to climb up into the turn. One is barely out of the curve before it's time to flick the bike back to the right. Once more to the left, to the right, back left, and then wait a few seconds to make the last turn to the right. My steed is continually leaned through this stretch.

What the road engineers have given Nature complicates. Tree and brush covered banks line this roadway. Visibility is mostly blocked. An age old song of the spirited rider lilts through my mind. It is a song that speaks of a common struggle. How fast can one ride battles with how much room one needs to respond to the unexpected. The Siren Song lures me towards the rocks while the Old Mariner's hard gained wisdom holds me back. It is good that the Old Mariner is persuasive today. My speed stays lower and my line remains towards the outside. I will not commit until I can see what lies ahead.

A truck the size of a large moving van is coming towards me. Is the driver distracted by a cell phone? Does food being conveyed to his mouth cover his eyes? Perhaps he is not comfortable that he knows where the truck is exactly. Maybe a frenzied schedule makes him push the limits. I am not certain of anything except that the truck is a third or more of the way into my lane. I am prepared. Risk has not scathed me with this attack. Rather, I am forced to smile broadly as the truck passes close.

On the side is painted a large green Oak tree. It is a familiar logo. A certain fabricating facility in Batesville, Indiana sports this logo. It is that of the Batesville Casket Company. Risk has a sense of humor, after all!

This Road Warrior is aging. Though as fierce as ever, home and hearth call more loudly than in younger days. It has been greatly invigorating riding in this storm. Still, though, I am weary as I dismount for the last time this day. To do battle is good. Hanging up wet gear and snuggling in with sweet Katie for the night is a great thing, too. Sohpie and I have survived heavy rain and 60 mph wind gusts. We are ready to call it a day. Am I slowly becoming more a creature of comfort? I think not.

Maybe it's just that this Warrior feels he no longer has anything to prove. Four decades or more of hard riding stand by themselves. He rides for the sheer joy of it. He chooses to face risk on his terms. Few have travelled as many miles and in the variety of adverse conditions as he. His passion is sharing what he's learned with other riders. This Warrior gladly extends a hand to invite others to join him. If he wishes to face Risk, let none call him out as reckless or irresponsible. When a day comes and he passes up riding for sitting by the fire, let none call him soft. Leave him in peace and go in peace yourself.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, December 03, 2007

An advantage to no gear?

There may finally be an advantage to not wearing
motorcycle gear.

This is from the November / December issue of
American Cop Magazine.

"They Do Things A Little Differently There"

In Bath, England, a guy whose motorbike was stolen, had insult added to the injury when he kept seeing the thief riding his scooter around the area. This happened several times, and each time, he reported it to the local police.

Then one day he spotted the thief riding his scooter again, and this time, there were officers present! He gleefully pointed out the suspect, quickly explained that it was a stolen motorbike, and waited for them to take off in hot pursuit. Instead, they watched the scofflaw tootle away.

Officers explained they could not pursue the suspect as long as he was riding the scooter because he wasn't wearing a helmet. If officers gave chase, they explained, this could upset the rider and he might crash and be injured, perhaps even severely. Then they'd be liable for his injuries, because they'd knowingly precipitated a dangerous situation. They promised to regain possession of the scooter - if they could find it sitting stationary - and even chat with the miscreant - if he made himself similarly available. Now, if only he were wearing a helmet and appropriate protective gear. Well, then, by Jove, they'd give him "the what-for", wouldn't they?

That humming sound: it's Winston Churchill turning over in his grave - like a dynamo.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, December 01, 2007

Just a little more before I let go of this.

I had an experience today that I found quite interesting. It involved one of my students from early this year. His wife is in the class this weekend. She's a driver's ed instructor, by the way. I'm not really trying to put anyone down by relating this. It's just a real life experience that happened to cross my path. By the way, we got snowed on for a while this morning but it didn't stick. Cool to watch the bikes among the snowflakes.

Anyway, this guy showed up at lunch time to visit his wife. He's the proud owner of a new Harley Glide series. I don't know all the models and I don't apologize for it. I commented on the guy's gear. His full face helmet is yellow. His jacket is black on the lower part with yellow and black mixed in the upper part. It's good looking and provides some visibility.

The reason the guy took the class in the first place was to ride with some of the guys from his place of employment. They had gotten him enthused about riding. Since they all rode Harleys he bought the same brand. Today this former student of mine expressed his disappointment to me.

Seems that when he showed up for a ride with his new bike and gear, he was promptly told he'd not be allowed to ride with them. Here's his quote on what they said,

"We wear black. Nothing else is allowed. We also don't wear full face helmets. If you want to ride with us, you have to look like us."

To my student's credit, he stuck to his guns. He told me he just didn't think it was worth it. If his gear made him visible to one in a thousand drivers he was better off than these other guys who were visible to one in ten thousand. ( his statement )
He also didn't want to wear a half shell helmet. What was the use of saving the top of his head while his face got ripped off if, God forbid, he crashed?

So his wife is taking the class and they are going to do their own thing. I'm sure they'll find other riding companions soon.

I wish you could have heard this guy tell his story. He sounded like a child who'd been rebuffed by one of his heroes.

This sort of reminds me of an old ballad. I've slightly changed the words of this line. To the tune of Streets of Laredo imagine this line.

"I see by my outfit that you are a biker. I see by my outfit that I'm a biker, too!"

Just thought I'd share this for whatever it's worth. I was amused by the situation.

Have a great rest of the weekend.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, November 30, 2007

Loud pipes....again?

Once more I had someone stand in front of me and make the tired old claim of how loud pipes save lives. What is it with these people? In this case, inspiration hit me and I was able to make a reply I'd never thought of before. I think it was the fever. Back to that in a minute.

Ok, I'm guilty, I confess! I've severely neglected this blog. I had an excuse over the long Thanksgiving weekend. This week has been one for the books. I won't waste your time with all the gory details but here's a couple of interesting highlights.

Tuesday was supposed to be spent watching some folks bring a manufactured home onto my mother's property. She has two acres out in North Albany. Grandma just turned 88. Long story short, due to circumstances, we applied for a hardship permit to put this home on some existing property with the intention of having Grandma live there. She's closer to us than in her old home. I offered to have her move in with me but she wants her own abode, still. There was some delays in the permit process. So here we are, end of November, in rain soaked ground.

This is a 15 x 52 foot unit. Sounds easy to hook the crawler onto it and bring it down the sloping driveway. A man from the dealer came and inspected the drive. He proclaimed it wide enough. Then came reality. I spent time playing logger with a Mac chain saw. Yep, all the trees and big bushes lining the drive needed serious pruning. It was a bad day. The end of Tuesday saw the home mired up to its axles in mud. That's how it spent the night. Let me say right here that my mother hired a contractor to prepare a pad for the manufactured home. I had nothing to do with this! Although I should have.

Back at it early Wednesday morning. Interestingly, the job had somehow gotten turned over to the old timers. The guy who showed up to supervise is a white haired man with 40 years experience. Instead of the younger man who handled the crawler, his step father showed up. Between the two of them and their crews, they had the situation corrected and the trailer in place by 1 PM. Experience will tell!

Like I say, I was initially there to watch. I ended up actively involved and down in the mud. As the stress and frustration built on Tuesday I played the role of peacekeeper. Language got a little rough and I had to remind them to watch it in front of the ladies. The finger pointing started between the set up crew and the contractor. I stepped in and made it clear that I was the customer and they had better get on the same page to make it happen for me. Tuesday was ugly.

I made up for my hard guy attitude on Wednesday by keeping them supplied with hot coffee and donuts. It was in the upper thirties all morning. Pretty darn cold and they spent a lot of time in the mud. Sorry there's no pictures but I took video, not still pictures.

When I left on Wednesday afternoon I was chilled to the bone. Turns out that whatever evil sickness bug that had been attacking me took full possession. When I went to bed Wednesday night, Katie said she was sure if she wet her finger and put it on my skin it would sizzle. Most of Thursday was spent in a fevered blur.

It was one of the set up crew that made the statement about loud pipes on Wednesday. Stereotypes aren't a good thing but this guy looked like a "biker". Somehow the conversation came around to motorcycles. How does that always happen around me? I mentioned being an instructor and this guy told me he didn't believe in training. His loud pipes were enough to keep him safe from other drivers. Here's the gist of my reply. I've put it into general terms. Have you all ever thought about this particular inconsistency?

I've always said that people just use this for an excuse to be rude. Somehow the statement of pipes savings lives is supposed to make their own desperate need for attention honorable and justified. Follow along with me on this and then tell me if you agree or not.

If a person makes a statement that loud pipes save lives you would presume that this is a safety conscious rider, right?

My question is why the rest of their riding doesn't reflect the same philosophy. If they're concerned about being "safer" why do they usually have minimal or no gear? Why do they bar-hop on their bikes? You'd think they'd be lining up to take training targeted at experienced riders. Yet I see extremely few of them come through any of the courses I teach. And I'm involved in the majority of the advanced training. Would a rider who's really concerned about the preservation of their own life and limb rely solely on one tactic? That of making a lot of noise?

It's a huge inconsistency, in my opinion. What do you think?

Miles and smiles,


P.S. I'm teaching the last class of our training season this weekend. What kind of folks are these who are taking a motorcycle class in December when we have a chance of snow? Look for a class report the first of the week!

Monday, November 26, 2007


Here's something to ponder as you come out of the stupor from a long holiday weekend.

Do you consider our riding endeavours as a lifestyle or a way of life?

Last week we had some family over. My middle son had spent three weeks in Europe. During the course of the gathering Travis had the chance to show his pictures. They were on three CD's which we were able to show on our television.

In Paris there's this big square with the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe in near proximity. Travis' picture of the Arc de Triomphe showed quite a number of motorcycles. Having the reputation of a motorcycle nut, the assembled group turned to me and made motorcycle related comments. What stuck in my mind was the comment someone made about me living a motorcycle "lifestyle".

Personally, I've never considered my enjoyment of riding and the use of bikes in my world as a lifestyle. To me, riding is a way of life. Here's the difference according to my mind.

The word "lifestyle", to me, denotes putting something on. My Merriam-Webster desktop dictionary has two definitions. The first definition is when the word is used as a noun. It states: A way of living.

The second definition is when the word is used as an adjective. It states: Associated with, reflecting, or promoting an enhanced or more desirable lifestyle.

To say someone lives a motorcycling lifestyle would then mean they were using the bikes to get somewhere they think is more desirable or enhanced than where they are. A lot of people do that very thing. There's a large group of riders to whom the bike is a prop in a play. When they put on their carefully contrived costume and sit on the bike the acting starts. These people use the bike to try to convince others that they're something different than what they really are. Ever notice that this extra "something" is more enhanced? Like it makes up for what they lack. They try to appear more "bad", "brave", "cool", or an "individualist". Among other things. I love this "let's all show our rugged individualism by dressing and acting exactly alike". Woe to anyone who actually has the nerve to be "different". They soon find themselves exiting the group.

I consider what I do to be a way of life. A bike is a tool the same as anything else. Sure, the bike is a lot more fun than a kitchen knife, but it's still a tool!

Here's the big difference I see between a way of life and lifestyle.

Riding a motorcycle has, indeed, added to the quality of my life. I've gained perspective and insights from riding. There's been added skills, a sense of confidence, and a satisfaction in overcoming adversity. These things are added to what I already have. Once added, they become mine. With or without the bike I am now a more complete person. One of my philosophies is,

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

Those who use the bike as a means to "pretend" will never find what they're after. There's no real struggle, no humbling that comes from attempting something and not making it the first time or two. There's very little real sacrifice involved. Their instant gratification that comes from adopting a "lifestyle" is like a painting. It looks good but there's nothing behind it.

For those to whom motorcycling is a way of life, the depth comes a little at a time. Getting up and facing the cold ride each morning. Dealing with commuter traffic. Performing frequent maintenance on the bike because we actually put miles on it. Struggling to master a new skill and finally conquering. These are all things that are real; built upon by a series of small steps every day. Added to what we already own in our lives.

That's my take on it. Of course, I'm a motorcyclist, not a philosopher. This is only my own opinion. What do you think? Lifestyle or way of life?

Feel free to use the comment section to express yourself!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From one extreme to the other!

A few days ago I posted the link to the scooter with the VW bus sidecar. For those who didn't like that one, maybe this one's more your style!

Moving from the vespa with VW bus sidehack, I take you to the "world's
heaviest motorcycle"- 10,450 pounds, including sidecar. Powered by the
800hp motor from a Russian T55 tank. Can you imagine getting this thing through DMV for an endorsement?

Want to take a look? Click here.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, November 19, 2007

Big winds and dicey traction.


Circumstances have conspired such that I haven't been able to ride since last Tuesday. I'm about to go nuts. As I write this I'm looking out the window. Rain is blowing sideways and water's puddling up in big slop holes. I don't care. When this post is done I'm out there! It will be a lot like last Monday.

Wednesday thru Friday last week were spent shuttling various factory people to and from Portland International Airport. I don't know why everyone suddenly needed to visit Oregon at the same time. In between airport visits I played taxi and took them to the places they needed to go. A couple of the nights included evening functions. At least I got some free meals out of the deal. Late nights and early mornings meant being banished to four wheels. I guess it will be a while before two wheels can totally replace four. Sigh!

A week ago today we had a major windstorm. Here in the Valley gusts were around 50 mph. An hour away, at the coast, wind gusts reached 90 mph in some places. With such strong wind and rain I stayed in close to home, near the fire and warmth. Exercising prudence was my first priority. Did you really believe that? Sounds cozy, doesn't it? How long have you been reading this blog? Have you ever known me to do the "prudent" thing and stay out of bad weather?

I love riding in storms. Romantic pictures of quiet heroism flash through my mind. The brave captain at the wheel of the ship personally tackling the forces of nature. Captain Ahab putting all dangers aside in his pursuit of Moby Dick. Will my own singleminded pursuit of my passion eventually lead me to a similar ruin? Perhaps. Rather than scare me off, the thought of my end spurs me to savor the moment even more.

By Tuesday morning the worst of the storm had blown out. I took off early on Sophie to make a couple of calls in Portland and then visit the office. The wind was gone but it had left behind a hazard of another sort.

A couple of cups of "wake up" coffee combined with temperatures just above freezing caused me to need to make a stop. You know the kind I'm talking about so I won't go into too much detail here! Pulling off the freeway into a rest area found me dealing with a whole different traction situation.

The pavement was covered in wet evergreen needles that had been "liberated" by the high winds. It would be dramatic to say I peeled off the freeway and suddenly found myself sliding all over as I fought for braking traction. I've been called brave, borderline reckless, but never stupid. How many times have I preached from this pulpit about keeping our eyes up? How often have I beat the drum of getting critical information as early as possible? The earlier we get information the more time we have to make better decisions. Practicing what I preach, the dicey traction was not a surprise to me. It was, however, still interesting. There was a pretty clear path for braking. Pulling off the tight maneuvers required to turn around and back in was kind of cool.

My comfort level with this kind of thing is pretty high. Years of riding in every kind of weather and conditions have made such things second nature. There's no substitute for experience and exposure. That's why I always encourage riders to stretch their comfort levels little by little. Check out riding in questionable traction under controlled circumstances. Don't wait until you're in an emergency situation to figure out how to react. No matter how much one prepares mentally, it's not going to be enough. Knowledge seems to evaporate in high adrenaline situations! I think it's a side effect of sphincter clenching, personally. Habit will rule. What that means is muscle memory. The only way to ensure the muscles have the proper memory is to train them by means of repeated practice.

The rest area wasn't the only place showing the after effects of the high winds. Thousands of leaves have been hanging onto trees, waiting for the right moment to drop to the street. The wind storm took the decision away from them. Many of the streets I rode were covered in the multi-colored fabric of autumn foilage. Thousands of leaves experiencing their last moments in their current form. A brief splash of color to enhance the street's drab gray. And to foil those looking for traction upon their sodden surfaces.

The main drags were relatively clear due to the relentless stream of cars. Turning off onto side streets revealed a different scenario. You can see leaves covering the road all the way across. Stopping at the intersection can be a little tricky. So can encountering the wet leaves as you bend the bike through the corner. I saw several cars sliding on the leaves. Sort of made me wonder what I was doing out there on a bike. Well, for a nanosecond or so, at least.

I managed to avoid problems by aggressively scanning the area coming up. Small adjustments made early kept me out of trouble. I never even slid a wheel. More than could be said for those around me in cars.

It's easy to see why some riders choose not to ride once conditions get more difficult. More power to them, I say. A person needs to weigh the risk and see if they're up to it. If not, they avoid it. What more can a person expect than that someone ride within their limits? However, if a person's willing to work to increase their skills, the riding season can be extended. Why miss out when they could play some more? I love helping riders discover that their limits might not be as low as they think.

Speaking of training, that part of me wants to share just a little more here. At the risk of making this post too long, this little voice inside my head tells me that I haven't really helped like I could here.

It's saying, "Folks know that leaves and stuff can make the streets slick. What do they do about it? You told them to get information early and make adjustments. What do they do if something makes them have to do a lot of braking in these conditions?"

In order to quiet the voices in my head I'll share this.

Maximum braking without skidding either wheel on dry pavement requires more front brake combined with less rear brake. Remember weight transfer? As a rider applies the brakes weight is transferred to the front wheel. The added weight provides more traction for braking. Traction being defined as friction between the tire and the road. Since the weight transfer doesn't happen instantly, the pressure on the front brake lever is smooth and progressive. At the same time, weight moving forward means the rear wheel gets lighter. Less weight means less traction. This requires a rider to gradually decrease pressure on the rear brake pedal. Or, in the case of a scooter, one hand squeezes more while the other hand lets up pressure.

Ok, we all remember that. What changes is when overall traction is reduced. As is the case on pavement covered in pine needles, for instance. The front tire isn't going to get as good a grip. Which means that less weight will be transferred forward. We can't use quite as much pressure on the front brake lever. With less weight being moved forward, the rear tire will retain a little more traction. In situations with less overall traction, the rear brake is more effective for a longer period of time.

When stopping normally in dubious traction conditions try using more rear brake and less front brake. I'd much rather take a chance on sliding the rear than the front on slippery roads. Skidding the front means an almost instant crash. That's something to be avoided very vigorously!! Skidding the rear allows a little more margin for error, should that happen. Keeping one's head and eyes up and looking well ahead will help the bike stop in a straight line. Of course, the real key is to practice braking without skidding either wheel under a variety of traction conditions.

For quick stops, try applying the rear brake slightly before the front. This will help keep the bike level. In a normal quick stop the front will dive while the rear will rise. Using the rear brake first will mitigate this to some extent. It's critically important to be smooth and progressive with both brakes. Never succumb to panic and do the "grab and stab" thing that gets so many riders into trouble. Use a little more rear brake and a little less front brake than you would on dry pavement. Paying attention to the bike's feedback will clue you in to how much pressure is appropriate.

Just to recap, when braking in situations where traction is questionable, it's even more critical to be smooth. The rear brake will be more effective because there's less weight transfer. It will be easier to skid the front wheel so use a little less pressure than normal then modulate as circumstances allow.

Ok. Gotta go. Must ride. It's who I am, it's what I do. While I was writing this the rain stopped and there's even a little sunshine! Time to go kick up some leaves in my own whirlwind.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Can utilitarian go too far?

In my last post I wrote about scooter folks being more practical in a lot of ways. Utility takes precedence over flashiness. Can this be taken too far?

Here's an example of "utility" combined with a little nostalgia. Come to think of it, the VW bus was pretty utilitarian itself. Is this the best of both worlds? Have a look and decide for yourself!

Click here.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, November 12, 2007

Quietly taking care of business.

I attended the Veteran's Day parade here Saturday. Around town, and dispersed in the parade, I saw a lot of cruisers with flags on the back. These were roaring around. I use the word roaring on purpose. What a lot of noise from those pipes! I'm not intending to take anything away from the patriotism shown by these riders. In fact, this has nothing to do with them other than the fact that another thought was triggered in my head.

There's basically two kinds of riders I see in my journeys. There's those that I call "Show" and those I call "Go". The latter are those who just quietly take care of business. Which is usually commuting, errands, and the occasional ride for fun. Scooter folks seem to really exemplify this attitude. The "Shifter" riders show it, too, but I think it's mostly the smaller size of the scooters that make it more apparent.

You know what I mean by the "Show" crowd, don't you? This group's trademark is a lot of chrome, loud pipes, and the donning of elaborate "costumes". They want very badly to be noticed. For them riding is a production number, not a utilitarian pursuit. I'm okay with recreational riders. I don't agree with what most of them do or where they're coming from, but they do have that right here in America. My personal vision of why people should ride is more closely aligned to the utilitarian side of things. It's that vision I try to promote here in this blog. Bikes should be able to successfully replace cars for the most part, not just be used as props.

I've been collecting some photos over the past month. Mostly scooter pictures taken with my digital point and shoot or my camera phone. My photos are to me an illustration to accompany my words. Some are good and some not so good. So be it, they serve my purpose. I'd like to share some photos and some comments that drive home my statement regarding quietly taking care of business.

These are pictures of a husband and wife who recently took a class up at our Swan Island site. This is a ship yard. You can see the crane in the background. Here we are in the middle of a huge industrial complex teaching folks to ride bikes. The contrast between the huge ships, trucks, and the small scooters is quite evident. He's on a Honda Ruckus and she's on a Yamaha Vino. They're not going anywhere real fast on the scooters. The husband's got a short commute to work and she can run errands at nearby businesses. I'm please to say they both had fun all weekend and a couple more riders are unleashed upon the world.

You knew Sophie would end up in here somewhere, didn't you? Here's what I often see when I park on an errand. A lone bike in a sea of cars. Wouldn't it be cool someday to see this reversed? Lone cars in a sea of bikes? The point I'm really trying to make is this. Right across the street is a Starbucks. At the other end of the block is another Starbucks. I know, a great block for me, isn't it? The city has graciously provided motorcycle only parking even though it can be tricky to get into these spots.

The "Show" crowd frequents the Starbucks at the opposite end of the block from this. They arrive in a large group and take up three or four regular parking spots along the street. In contrast, those who just quietly take care of business use the motorcyle only parking at this end. We don't put on a big show. We just slip into these spots among the cars. Not that we're meek by any means. Our goal is different. We're conducting life's business, not out for a lot of attention.

Speaking of slipping into places among the cars, check out these pictures.

Looking from inside the parking garage that space looks empty. Going around to the other side we see the People scooter proudly, but quietly, waiting for the rider to come back. On the opposite side of the mall I saw this.

You can just see the scooter parked by the cardboard boxes. Close to the front door and under shelter. Try that with a Hummer!

Here's another example of a bike in a sea of cars. I stopped by the libray ( I'm reading Walden by Thoreau ) and saw this Honda scooter again. I say "again" because it's often here. I believe it belongs to an employee but I haven't verified it, yet.

I had reason to go TEAM OREGON headquarters the other day. It's located on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis. Here's the occupants of the small motorcycle parking area near the administration building.
The scooter and the shifter are coexisting peacefully. Probably a lesson for us all.

By now it might seem like riding a scooter or a shifter for work and errands can easily become a boring thing. Folks might think we're sort of a bland lot. For one, I'd ask them to read posts from this blog's archive. Some of the scooter folks I know are far from a tame lot! Adventure burns a hole in our hearts. The difference between us and the "Show" crowd is that we understand what riding's really about. Bikes are not a fashion accessory to us. They are a part of our life and we use them for their intended purpose. As an extra statement of this fact, check out the sticker on the back of the gray scooter above.

Male or female, the principal applies. Who knew that quietly taking care of business could also be so much fun?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Slowing things down- low speed maneuvering.

Here you go, Dan. Be careful what you ask for because you might get more than you wanted!

The dreaded cone weave in the skills test! I hear so many stories from folks who've gone down to their local DMV office for their endorsement test. Never have 5 to 7 traffic cones, spaced 12 feet apart and a foot off centerline from each other, caused such terror to the motorcycling population!

I'll offer some guidance for controlling a bike at low speeds a little farther along in the post. For now, though, let's talk about why this exercise is even in the skills test.

Almost all of the licensing agencies use a modified form of the MOST ( Motorcycle Operators Skills Test ). This is a test that was developed by the MSF ( Motorcycle Safety Foundation ) in conjunction with the National Public Services Research Institute. Each of the exercises was designed to evaluate a rider's ability to control a motorcycle in different ways.

Initially the test course used electronic timing lights in the applicable exercises. For example, the approach speed for the quick stop and the swerve were timed. So was the speed through a marked curve. Like anything exposed to the weather for a long period of time, the electronic equipment would eventually fail. This would cause the test to have faulty or inconsistent time readings. At other times it would become necessary to totally cancel testing. Despite their fear of the cone weave this would leave a bunch of disappointed endorsement applicants!

A modified version of the test was developed, called the ALMOST ( Alternate Motorcycle Operators Skills Test ). The primary difference is that the examiners now accomplish the timing functions by use of stopwatches and painted timing zone marks. As you can imagine, there's now a little room for operator error in the timing. Here in Oregon our Department of Motor Vehicles is very conscientious about accuracy. The person in charge of applicant driving tests regularly gathers groups of examiners, both new and experienced, for training. That's where I often come in.

There's a few of us instructors who regularly volunteer to ride the test circuit over and over so the the examiners can practice their craft. I know, talk about your gluttons for punishment! Weirdly enough, most of us are either current or past motor cops. What the DMV wants is not just riders. One manager in particular wants us to make minor mistakes on purpose at certain points. Not only do we need to be concerned about making the sharp turn for instance, but we're expected to do something like let the front tire drift over onto the painted line just slightly. It's one thing to screw something up and be able to claim you did it on purpose. It's quite another to be expected to make a specific mistake at a specific point! It also helps to have a basically sound but devious attitude.

The training really helps the examiners. This, in turn, greatly contributes to riders getting a fair shake in their skills test. Most examiners don't ride and so don't have an understanding of a motorcycle's dynamics. We try to help impart this along with their practice in scoring accurately. One other thing we do is respond if a rider claims the test is impossible to do on their bike. The DMV will call us. One of us will arrange to borrow an identical bike if possible. Once in a great while we'll use that person's bike. Then we take it through the course to show it really is possible. From small bikes to big cruisers to full dress tourers they will all make it through. We've had only one bike that wouldn't. It was a customized Ducati cafe racer with an impossibly small amount of handlebar lock.

Perversely, one of my favorite things to do with new examiners is to mess with them in the braking chute. By the way, the folks moving into the motorcycle testing are already experienced automobile examiners. Back to the braking chute.

The objective in the braking chute is to get up to a certain speed on the approach, start the braking at a given point, then stop within standard. The proper approach speed is verified by the time it takes the leading edge of the front tire to pass between the two lines in the timing zone. Examiners then look to see where on the distance scale the front tire ends up. So almost all of their attention is on the front wheel. Too bad. We'll fix that.

I'll do quite a few consecutive runs for them. My speed is correct. My stopping distance is within the standard mark. On each run, though, I start my braking a little earlier. So after several runs I'm still within standard but I'm now starting to brake way early. The person in charge knows what I'm doing so they can verify it when I point it out to the examiners. They learn that, not only do they need to watch the tire, but they need to keep an eye on the front fork for where it starts to compress. These kinds of lessons help keep it fair for everyone.

As an interesting side note, it was while participating in this activity that I nearly crashed Sophie in front of everyone. A couple of years ago I was in Corvallis. It happened that the motor cop who was going to work with me got called onto duty. That left just me to do error runs. In order to give the examiners as many runs as possible in the time available, I would cut very short corners during the turnaround. It had started to sprinkle. At the tightest point of my turn was a big, wide, yellow painted line that ran perpendicular to my path of travel. You can imagine what the rain was doing to it. I really hadn't felt any traction loss so was pretty confident. Just as I quit worrying about it, I felt Sophie's front tire start to slide sideways along the paint stripe. Right in the deepest part of the lean. My first thought was unprintable. My second was,

"Okay, tire, you can come back underneath me anytime, now!"

Fortunately it did. Furtively looking around to see who was watching , out of the eight or so people there only one noticed what had happened. I'm glad of that. How humiliating would that have been for the so called "expert" to drop the bike?

Anyway, I got off track, here.

The reason that the cone weave is part of the testing is that the powers that be feel this exercise is a good way to assess a rider's balance and clutch control. The 90 degree sharp turn that follows the cone weave assesses the same thing with the addition of head and eyes. I agree with their premise. While nobody is going to ride the equivalent of the cone weave in real life, riders will do similar things. Think about turning around in the width of a road. Or contemplate going on a poker run. These usually start in a dealer's lot that's crowded with bikes. A rider can look like a dork while trying to park the bike. On the other hand, having low speed skills, a rider can look pretty cool!

In order to be successful at low speed maneuvers, a rider has to correctly answer two questions.

1. What holds a bike up when it's moving?

2. How do you make the bike go in the direction you want it to?

The answer to question number one is power from the bike's motor. Oh sure, there's a lot of fancy engineering terms for what happens. What it boils down to, though, is the stability provided by the motor's output to the rear tire.

The answer to question number two is: You go where you look, so be sure you're looking where you want to go! The bike will go where you look, I promise you. Whether that's where you intended the bike to go or not.

Let's look first at the cone weave. Again, I don't expect someone to be riding this often. God forbid you should spend your riding career in a parking lot full of cones! We can , however, take away a couple of principles that we can then apply to other situations.

The secret to being successful in the cone weave is two fold. Firstly, let's look at the head and eyes. No pun intended. What's your target? It's the end of the weave, isn't it? The cones aren't really set very far off the centerline so there's no need for a head turn. It's essentially a straight path with some very small turns. Head and eyes up looking well ahead to the end of the weave. Eyes level with the horizon. This provides stability from a directional control perspective. A lot of riders get worried about hitting cones so they stare at the cones. If you go where you look, then what's going to happen as a rider stares down at the cones? The bike will respond by trying to fall down towards them, that's what. Eyes up and level will also help the bike "lift" out of the small weaves.

Secondly, remember the part about power holding the bike up? Most of the trouble riders have in the cone weave relate to this part. They end up putting a foot down to catch the bike or go wildly off course due to the bike's instability. Use the clutch! More specifically, the friction zone. Just in case you're not familiar with exactly what the friction zone is, here's a reminder. The friction zone is that place in the clutch lever travel where power is just starting to be transferred to the rear wheel. The zone is very small. It's a place where we're literally slipping the clutch. Most bikes have wet clutches so it's not a problem. Once in a while I get older riders who learned to drive a stick shift from Dad or Grandpa. These words are still ringing in their ears.

"Get your foot off the clutch. If you ride the clutch and burn it up I'm going to break your leg!"

Slipping the clutch for control on a bike is not a bad thing for short periods. Even on bikes with a dry clutch. So here's how we use the friction zone for slow speed maneuvers.

Remember the fact that power holds the bike up. We need power but it needs to be modulated somehow for speed control. A lot of riders try to do this with the throttle. Since we're in first or second gear there's a lot of torque. Using the throttle for speed control causes too much jerky bike movement. This, in turn, transfers to the rider's throttle wrist. Which makes the bike lurch even more. Things just keep getting uglier.

Some riders try to modulate the power with the clutch. They're on the right track but lack the proper execution. Most pull the clutch in all the way and then fully release it. Again, it creates too much movement. It's the same thing as full power on and full power off. The key is small clutch lever movements, keeping the bike right in that small friction zone.

The actual turning of the bike is done by physically steering the bike. At higher speeds we need to use countersteering for turns. At low speeds, somewhere below 12 miles per hour or so, the rider must steer by turning the bars. The bike still needs to lean to turn but the method of initiating the turn is different here. So let's put it all together.

Approach the weave. Fix our eyes on the end of the weave. Keep them there. Do not look down at the cones during the weave. Eyes up and looking well ahead for the entire drill. With the right hand roll on a little throttle and hold it steady. It won't take a lot but closed throttle won't work. There would be nothing available to pull the bike out of the lean. As we approach to the right of the first cone we're going to need to lean the bike to the left. Start the turn slightly before we might think we need to. The bike will need a little time to react. Turn the bars slightly left and pull in the clutch just a little bit. We're taking away just a little bit of power to let the bike lean. When it's time to come out of the lean let the clutch out a little bit. Since we're holding steady throttle there's be a little power available to pick the bike up. Pull the clutch in just a little to take power away while we turn the bars slightly right. The bike will lean right and then we give a little power to pick the bike back up once more.

Do you see the difference? Power is steady and we use very small clutch movements to control speed. Think of the throttle as the electricity coming into the house. It needs to remain constant at a usable voltage. Not too much, not too little. The clutch is a dimmer switch. Not all the way on or all the way off. Just a little brighter, just a little darker.

By the way, if we find ourselves in a low speed maneuver and feel the need to put a foot down, let the clutch out a little more or very gently roll on a little more throttle. Let the motor do the work instead of our relatively fragile lower leg, ankle, and foot.

Now jump forward to something we're more likely to face. We often need to make turns in tighter spaces. As an example, picture pulling a U-turn within the width of a standard two lane road. The majority of riders can't do it. Taking what we've learned from the cone weave, let's break it down.

This is really just a turn on a motorcycle. Tight, true, but just a turn. The four step process for a turn is Slow-Look-Roll-Press. It's the exact same process at slow speeds except we need to substitute steering for the countersteering press.

Decide where we're going to make the U-turn. Since we usually ride in the right lane here, our U-turn will be to the left. Like any corner, we set our entry speed and line while the bike is still straight up and down. Then we look to our target. Which is now going to be behind us, right? Make like an owl and look clear over our left shoulder. Come on, you know your neck will flex more than that. Ok, despite the alarming cracking sounds we have managed to look over our shoulder and fix our eyes in the opposite direction from which we're currently travelling. It will feel really weird at first but it's the only way, trust me!

Now it's time to make the bike move. Just like in the cone weave we need to roll on a little throttle and hold it there. That makes us go too fast to make the turn but we need the power to pick the bike up at the end of the turn. Resist the urge to move the throttle. Hold it steady and slightly squeeze the clutch. Remember, not all the way. Just enough to let it slip so it takes away a little power from the rear wheel. What holds a bike up?

Just like steady throttle should be applied through a curve steady power needs to be available during the entire U-turn. Take away enough with the friction zone to help the bike lean but leave enough to hold the bike up at the same time. Yes, keep looking clear back in the direction we want the bike to end up facing. It will follow your eyes if you trust it. Once the bike is pointed in the new direction, give it back it's power gradually by easing the clutch through the friction zone. Think about rolling the bike back upright around it's center axis rather than snapping the bike back up suddenly. Once you're heading in the new direction you can take your hand off the left handgrip to massage your sore neck. Your neck will hurt less each time you make these big head turns!

Here's where we really see the power of these head turns. We started by looking clear over our shoulder. Remember the eyes up and level with the horizon thing? My repetitions are designed to drive home a point, did you notice? As the bike turns we are still focused on our target. Which means that what essentially happens is we end up looking forward again without consciously moving our head. Our head is turned a lot at first but our body and the bike will pivot underneath our head until everything comes back into straight alignment. Sounds weird, doesn't it? The interesting thing is that by keeping our eyes focused up and well ahead, it will contribute to helping the bike come out of the lean. As you ride, experiment with it. Notice how you can use your eyes to "lift" the bike out of a lean.

If we're forced to make an even tighter turn, use the same principles but help the bike's center of gravity by something called counterweighting. In normal speed turns we would lean with the bike. In slow, tight, turns we should remain upright and let the bike lean without us. To enable an even tighter turn we can either put weight on the outside foot peg or actually shift our body slightly towards the outside. Again, the reminder is that a big head turn and steady throttle are required the same as any other turn.

Now that we're armed with the basics of slow speed maneuvers, let's go on that poker run. We arrive on our bike into the crowded parking lot. First task is to find a place to park. There's already a lot of riders there. These folks are drinking coffee and munching on the free donuts. We don't know what their skill level is but we know for sure all eyes are on new arrivals. We watch another rider try to park their bike. Finally, resorting to paddle walking, they manage to see-saw into a spot. A couple of times there was silence as the crowd though the bike would tip over. We, on the other hand, know how to do this. Our parking spot is targeted but we need to make a couple of tighter turns to get there. We know to use a big head turn to control where the bike goes. We know to use steady throttle and the friction zone. Looking left for directional control, we squeeze the clutch slightly to help the bike lean, then give it back some power to pick it up again. Now we need to make a right turn so we end up with the back of the bike towards our parking spot. Cool riders back in, don't they? Big head turn right, a little clutch squeeze, steer the bars right, move our head to look well in front of us in a straight line, give the bike back it's power through the clutch, straighten out, square the bars, and all we have to do now is push the bike back a few steps to park. We're stylin' 'cause we got skills!

Squaring the bars goes back to that thing about holding the bike up. The bike's barely moving by now so we are taking over the holding up duty. Do yourself a favor and don't come to a stop with the bars still turned. It might be more exciting than we wanted that early in the morning. Squaring the bars is a little thing that helps the bike stay balanced. Now go get some coffee but not too much. Who knows how far apart bathrooms will be on the poker run?

Miles and smiles,