Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wheels and wings

After days of not riding it was time to get back on the bike. You never actually realize how much a part of you riding becomes until you're deprived of it. That same principle holds true with a lot of other things, doesn't it? We have to enjoy things while we can because a person just doesn't know about tomorrow anymore. The older I get ( not that I'm actually old, mind you ) the more I ponder on these kinds of things. Seeing a war first hand at an early age impressed upon me the fleeting nature of our lives. It's been a blessing in disguise because it's caused me to plan for the future but live in the moment.

One of the biggest rewards I get from riding to work is priceless, and yet, totally intangible. It's a thing called Perspective. Making a living these days can take over our life. Problems, worries, and tragic events can dominate our thoughts. Riding, in general, helps. Commuting on a bike gives me a booster shot every day. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a boxing ring. Life delivers a series of blows. My opponent uses anything from firm jabs that test my resolve to body punches meant to floor me. I'm a warrior and I always fight back. Riding lets me feel another kind of touch. Being on a bike is like getting a pat on the back that reminds me life actually has a lot of good things, too. Be of good cheer and go look for them. When I feel beaten up riding is like a gentle massage that eases away the pain. I can't imagine dealing with life without riding. One of these days I may have to face that prospect. Not today, though.

Coming home after a tough time in Arizona, I really needed a dose of therapy. I'll write about Arizona later. This day I had business in McMinnville which is about an hour North. Time to make those bike wheels turn. I'm counting on Sophie to help me find the good stuff again.

As you may have guessed by now, I'm a great fan of back roads. Today was no different. I planned a route through a tiny town called Hopewell via Lincoln Pass. It's not really a pass. Some of us riders have a private joke about this road. We're only a few hundred feet above sea level. This road goes a couple of hundred feet higher. During borderline conditions when the rest of the roads are clear Lincoln Pass can have ice. I'm having to go farther and farther afield to find peaceful rides. Our valley is getting more crowded every week. I hate it. I need elbow room.

Luck is with me and I find peace on this part of the ride. There's farm land almost as far as I can see any direction. Traffic on the road comes from other drivers seeking relief from the mad congestion of the main roads. It's this farm land that I'm enjoying. There's a crop duster at work not far off the road to my right. I find myself admiring how graceful the plane looks as it transitions between passes. The plane's an unusual orange color and the wings come out from underneath the body. As it banks and twists I'm reminded of how sport bikes look on well executed corners. Watching this plane is pretty mesmerizing, actually. As I'm entranced by the sight on my right I catch a flash of brown out of the corner of my left eye.

A Red-tailed hawk has swooped down to the left shoulder a little ways ahead of me. With a flurry of beating wings the hawk comes out of its dive. I'm wondering if this thing is going to collide with the bike. Brakes are applied. By me, not the hawk. The bird is flapping hard after discovering it miscalculated all the risk factors. Impact is narrowly avoided. In the fray the hawk has released its prey. I'm suddenly faced with a foot long garter snake with yellow stripes. It's on my tank bag and sliding for my lap. In an ideal world I could tell you I took hold of the snake, stopped by the side of the road, and gently placed the snake back in the grass. Life ain't ideal. Didn't happen that way.

This snake was on a fast slide. I'd slowed down but was still moving at about 40 mph. After hitting the "V" of my spread legs, the snake started sliding down my right leg and toward the road below. As I'm watching it slide away, the snake and I had eye contact for a fleeting moment. If ever a little face said "God, I wish I could start this day over again!" it was the face of this snake. I never knew a reptile could look surprised and scared.

I arrived at my destination without further incident. A snake in the lap was excitement enough if you ask me, anyway. My goal was to look at a situation and make recommendations for a solution. When I introduced myself to the receptionist she was looking at my riding gear. I explained that I rode a lot for work. The gal told me that their IT guy had done the same. The other rider and I met in the hallway. First thing out of his mouth was "Do you remember me?"

Turns out the guy was a former student. He's riding the Harley V-Rod in the picture above. I love it when my students find the same passion for riding I do!

After finishing my task it occurred to me that I was only a few miles down the road from the Evergreen Aviation Museum. Evergreen is a major player in the industry. Their international headquarters are in McMinnville. A recent acquisition to the museum is the Spruce Goose. You may remember the venture started by Howard Hughes. The plane now rests in this "built to size" museum. You can just see the nose and wings of the plane through the window in the picture above. I chose not to actually pay to go inside the museum. I'd never have come back out and would probably be fired for not working. The glass is specially designed to protect the contents from UV rays, etc. It also does a good job of keeping light in!

The Hughes helicopter, or "Huey" may not look like much in this picture. There's no way to express how much this aircraft meant to some scared and lonely boys just out of high school. You hear the little sonic booms of the rotor tips long before you see the helicopter. The Huey's not the potent weapon today's attack ships are, but back then they were pretty special.

Hey! You want a piece of me? Bring it on, buddy. Just remember, though. You're not only going to have to deal with me but also my two friends, here!

This would be a great arrangement for dealing with traffic, too!

Time to go back to work. I see this sign as I'm leaving. Never realized that Evergreen was in the wine business. This is the heart of Oregon's wine country so why not, I guess. Pretty soon there will be a space museum on the grounds, too.

I headed East out of McMinnville towards Portland. Just out of town the road narrows from two lanes each direction to one lane each way. Not far in front of me is a big black Hummer. I have a choice of passing or tucking in behind. The driver is doing the speed limit. What would a sensible person do? That's a bad question. What would I do? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count. The Hummer was going down. These things and their drivers shouldn't be on the road in the first place.

Now and then the picture of that poor snake's face would pop into my head. I can imagine how the snake must have felt. Just minding its own business and warming itself on the blacktop exposed to the morning sun. Only to be grabbed by a hawk and then dumped onto some sort of speeding monster. Being violently flung back onto the roadway with a sorely aching back. All 12 inches of it. Wondering what the hell it was all about. I've had days like that. Thank goodness I can shrug it off by riding!!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hanging by a thread.

Well, we're back home. We weren't scheduled to return until Saturday but I found a chance for us to leave early. Katie's brother is coming up in a couple of weeks so they can visit more then.

First thing I had to do was jump on the bike. Sophie got new tires recently and I have to properly scrub them in, don't I? Withdrawal has nothing to do with it, I swear. I wanted to put Dunlop D205's back on this time around. Dunlop has been strange on the supply end, though. There was a strike that affected production. The 18 inch front wheel seems to be available sometimes and other times not. This time it was not readily available.

Sophie got to go back to Metzeler tires. I've run the ME-Z4's previously. Now I'm trying the new Roadtec Z6's. Me like a lot!!! Very predictable and consistent. The feedback's excellent. The tires are pretty well scrubbed in by now except for those pesky chicken strips. I'll have the chance to take care of that real soon. I'm scheduled for two police trainings on the go-cart course and the drag strip in June. Come July 3rd we'll be on the race track at Portland International Raceway, again, with the police motors. I guarantee that the tires will be thoroughly scuffed from one edge to the other. Not to mention Sophie will be missing some weight that got scraped off. I like to use Sophie as she's the same size as the police motors. More credibility when the cops see us on bikes like theirs, you know!

Speaking of tires, I can't believe some of the tires I've seen on bikes lately. Take a look at this:

The picture's a little funny colored because I snapped it with my camera phone. This bike is an early 90's Honda CBR F2. The rest of the bike's in as bad as shape as the rear tire. It looks like the bike's been down more than once. The rider must like turning left more than right!! That's typical of riders by the way. Ask your friends who ride and see what they say.

Here's another one:

Snapped this with the digital at the motel. Big deal, it's a Beemer bike from another state. What's the deal? Here's a close-up of the rear tire:

Judging by the license plate the bike's about 1200 miles from home. What do you think the chances are of this bike making it home like this? We never saw the bike move that we know of. There was a big yellow disc lock on the front wheel. Nobody was hanging around the bike. Stolen and abandoned? Maybe they had a tire on order and were just chilling. I hope so.

I must be spending way more money than I need to. Letting my tread get down even with the wear bars makes me nervous. Although, the wear bars are in the middle. As long as I keep the bike leaned over there's plenty of tread, right? I just kinda worry about things like quick stops on wet pavement when there's not much tread in the center of the tire. What if this rider had to make a maximum braking stop in the rain? Would the ABS make up for the fact that this tire is literally hanging together by a thread?

On the other hand, if I let my tires get like this I could probably save the cost of a set of tires every year. Am I tempted? Not on your life. Or my life, for that matter.

My ride today was quite interesting. A predatory bird dropped a snake into my lap. Sorry, you'll have to wait for the next post to read the story!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, May 21, 2007

Gone this week.

I wanted to let you know that we are flying out this morning for Phoenix, then on to Prescott. The funeral for my nephew is tomorrow and we're going to spend the week with the family down there. We'll be back Saturday night. It will be unlikely that there will be posts during this time. Who knows, though, something really interesting might come up and I will have my laptop.

Bear with me and see you later.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Now we can be just as stupid as cagers!

Warning! I am going to be politically incorrect in this post. If you read on you agree to the condition that you may be offended. It's been a real tough last few days and now I come across this helmet.

I have to tell you that every few days I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the things in my life. Not in the sense that I can't handle them. In fact, it's just the opposite. I'm always in attack and conquer mode. It leads me to a point where a lot of my time is filled with activities that take a lot out of me. At those times things I could cut out of my schedule cross my mind. This blog is one of them. Time and again, though, I am drawn back. Blogging is my pop-off valve, I guess.

Contrary to what my involvement in teaching might lead you to believe, I am not a "people" person. I like my own company, thanks, and I neither need nor want someone else's complications. I come home to Katie. She fills the part of me that's missing and makes me complete. When I say complete I mean I don't much need anyone else. My middle son drives me crazy because he likes his life to be a social freeway. He and I are polar opposites. I have empathy and enjoy personal interchanges with others. It's just that I don't feel a "need" for socializing. This blog has become a strange creature, though.

Grandma reminds me that she used to get on me because I didn't socialize much. My reply to her was that "only animals were meant to be in herds". In life I keep to myself and seldom let others get a glimpse under the Warrior surface. Weirdly enough, though, blogging pulls things out of me that I don't share otherwise. It's become sort of an alter ego. I can't stay away. I've become addicted to whatever adventure I find in this format. I'm on a journey of self discovery that I've never undertaken before. I have to keep coming back to find out where this road goes.

Today the road goes toward Condemnation Corner.

The picture above is of a Dianese Air Stream Bluetooth Helmet. Yes, you read this right. This helmet has a microphone, earphones, and a rechargable battery built in. A rider can talk to a passenger, receive MP3 signals with a device manager, listen to the voice outputs of a GPS type device, or talk on a cell phone!!

Yes, now you, too, can be just like a cager. Only dumber. Forget the fact that riding is a lot more dangerous than driving in the first place. Forget the fact that riding is a lot more complicated in the amount of attention it demands. Cycle World calls it a "Brave New World". Right. If you are as incredulous as I am, click here to go the website.

Here's my succint opinion on the matter:

In my opinion, for a company that prides themselves on a history of providing safety gear to riders, this is totally irresponsible. Sure, people will say, if a rider wants to talk on the cell phone while on the bike they'd find a way. At least they'd have to work a lot harder to be that stupid. By making it much easier to do Dainese has compromised their integrity. The only thing that can be behind this is money. Sooner or later some manufacturer was going to stoop this low. Why not be one of the first and reap the financial rewards?

This is totally wrong and I am outraged both as an instructor and a veteran rider. In an ideal world riders would band together in protest. Dainese sales would take a nose dive. You and I know that isn't going to happen.

Once again, a quote from a Starbucks cup sums it up. I can't remember it exactly so this may butcher it up a little. But it goes something like this:

"Morality is the picture of what we would like the world to be but the reality is that economics determine the actuality."

Like I say, it is most likely butchered but the truth rings out however a person writes it.

We now have a new motto: "Boycott Dainese. Friends don't let friends ride distracted!!"

Miles and smiling, ( or maybe grimacing )



I've been neglecting the blog for a few days. It's possible that this will be the only post this week. You can go along in life doing your merry little personal dance and then, like a whirlwind, life picks up the pieces and puts them back down in an entirely different order.

Interesting things have been happening that I'm making notes on and filing away for posts here. If I hadn't been watching out for myself I could easily have been hit by three left turning cars. One guy was coming through an intersection and watching a girl with a, shall we say, interesting figure. Looking right while turning left. Katie and I rode to Salem on Tuesday night for dinner. I'll have to tell you some day about River Road. It's a road that you could almost call motorcycle heaven. Except for one thing. Where is this beautiful road? It's a commuter road between bedroom communities and Salem, the second largest city in Oregon.

Twice I started to roll the throttle to pass a car when they suddenly slammed on the brakes and decided to turn left. I always watch for clues and aborted the pass milliseconds after it started. Twice in one night.

During last weekend I was literally climbing walls and had this sudden illumination regarding motorcycle riding. I'll share it later. For now it will have to stay on the list for future reference.
Like I say, I've had all these ideas and then life has thrown in a couple of hits and a slam dunk.

The reason we rode to dinner was relaxation for Katie. During a physical the doctor noticed some things that weren't totally normal. You know how it goes. Medical people love to use their fancy machines and tests. In this day and age of "cover your ass" they assigned all kinds of tests. Some benign, some invasive and downright awkward for Katie. I've been with her and I'm afraid to say, slighty combative. It all just seems overboard when the medical folks forget they're dealing with a human being with feelings. One test leads to more tests as the doctor is trying to cover all the bases. It will probably turn out all right in the end but we won't know for a while and at least two more procedures. On top of all that we received a call yesterday.

Katie's brother's only son was killed in a fiery accident. He was 18 years old. I gave him his first street bike ride. It was a little after midnight on his way home from work and the police think he crossed the centerline. His Volkswagon Jetta hit an oncoming car head-on. The driver of the other car was also killed. My nephew's car burst into flames. His body was burned so badly that only DNA testing will confirm his identity. The kid didn't show up for work so that's another bad sign. Things are complicated by the fact that Katie's brother lives in Arizona, now. We will probably be heading down there next week. Katie's parents and sister live close to us so at least they have each other near. I'm sure Katie's brother and his wife are going through their own private hell.

All things will pass. We will be all right. This post isn't about us. I just wanted to share this for a couple of reasons. Postings might be sparse for just a bit. also, use it as a reminder to find the joy each day in life. Whether it's riding, a hobby, time for loved ones, or whatever, don't wait for "later". I'm not saying to be irresponsible since we don't know what tomorrow brings. None of us are guaranteed a certain number of days on this earth. "Later" might never come. Make the most of "Today".

Miles but not too many smiles today,


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy Mother's Day!!

Gang, don't forget. As hard as it is to believe, there is more to life than motorcycling. Balance is the key, and not just in riding. Use the day to connect in a meaningful way with Mom and / or family.

Maybe I'll take Katie to a fancy restaurant. On the bike, of course!!!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, May 11, 2007

I'm getting paid for this?

True, so true. Not only that, but I'm getting mileage reimbursement at forty five cents a mile! Somebody pinch me 'cause I must be dreaming. Actually, I'm wide awake and enjoying every second of my work day. Picture your perfect work day. Does it involve riding in some of the most gorgeous countryside imaginable? Does it involve the feel of a faithful steed under you? Warm temperatures and gentle sunshine? Does it include having a foolish grin breaking your face in half; separating top and bottom by a band of teeth? You're getting close to my day on Wednesday.

How did I come to find myself in the midst of this two-wheeled nirvana? Frankly, I don't care. The mere fact that I'm here is enough unto itself. I like to think it is my due. A Warrior battles faithfully day in and day out. Rain, sun, cold, or warm, the Warrior flies the King's standard. In this battle the standard bears the coat of arms of Motorcyle Commuting. I have faithfully defended it all during this past winter as well as winters past. It is now time to share in the plunder. Only by having engaged in battle can one rightfully partake of the rewards. There is no guilt. All is good and right. I have earned the privilege of enjoying the spoils of this day.

One of the things that continues to amaze me is a fundamental difference between driving and riding. What can seem like so much work in a car is literally play on a bike. Miles of curvy roads in my truck ( which I seldom drive ) can be a never-ending chore. Slow down for the corner; lumber out the other side. Slow down for the corner; lumber out the other side. In contrast, on the bike I'm grinning like crazy at the end of the stretch. It's the difference between stomping and waltzing. At least on the bike. On foot, you'd never tell the difference by watching me. I'm even likely to go back and ride it again just for the sheer fun of it.

I'm blessed to share my life with a woman who understands and shares my passion for riding. Katie's not as "into" riding as I am, but she definitely knows about the fun factor. I had the weekend off from teaching but was "on-call". If any instructor around the state calls our equivalent of "911" I'm the voice they hear on the other end of the line. There's four of us who rotate duty. The other three are the Director, the Training Manager, and the Operations Manager. All staff persons. I guess over the years I've gained the Director's trust and confidence, somehow. Kind of a good news / bad news thing.

Despite the beautiful weather I needed to stay accessible by cell phone. Sunday afternoon, though, Katie knew things were winding down for classes. She suggested we ride somewhere for coffee. Actually, she drinks tea but it's quicker to say "going for coffee" than "going for coffee and tea". See, just writing it took up valuable space and time! When I asked her where she wanted to go she gave me a location. 80 miles later we dismounted and ordered our beverages. Like I say, riding long distances is just play for us on a bike. By the way, I put the phone on vibrate and stuck it in a shirt pocket. So I was technically "available".

Something else that amazes me is the difference between how I talk and write. In "Speech" mode I'm direct and to the point. When I'm conducting business or teaching using too much verbiage dilutes my objectives. Important points get lost in the "noise" of too many words. When I sit down to blog the words leap off the keyboard onto the screen in abundance. Maybe that's really why I started blogging. All the words I hold back build up inner tension. Sooner or later the pressure needs releasing. Perhaps this is my pressure relief valve. Even Yoda recently told me I was long-winded. Look how far we are into this post and I haven't started on the work day described in the opening paragraph.

I had a series of small stops, a motorcycle, and a mid-seventies sunny day. The stops were all at distributor's offices. Showing up on a bike would be a great conversation piece. People who were otherwise chained to desks would get a chance to transport their minds to more pleasant places. This wasn't at all about me having fun. No, Sir! I was only doing this for the humanitarian value of bringing joy to other people. Ignore that smirk on my face, please.

Digging out my county maps, I plotted a route. Backroads as much as possible. The more back, the better. Yes, that's how I navigate. I have Manual Analog Positioning Systems. Better known as MAPS. Some folks swear by GPS. I can see its merits. Technology is a wonderful thing. Used wisely technology is a wonderful tool. Unfortunately, for most people, technology replaces personal skills, in my opinion. In my one and only experience with GPS I was making a presentation to a university with one of my colleagues who was visiting from Corporate.

When it was time to return to the office Brian pipes up and says,

"Let's have Lola give us directions the back way to the office!"

Lola is what he has named his GPS unit. I have to admit, this thing speaks in a sexy female voice. I was driving ( sometimes I'm forced into using a car ) and listening for Lola's directions. She did an awesome job of getting us where we wanted to go. Lola also gave us advance notice of when and where to turn. If she had eyes and arms she could have driven. Next time I was at the University I tried to duplicate the route. It soon became apparent that I was so involved in listening for Lola's directions that I was not an active participant in the navigating. I couldn't find the roads. I'll navigate on my own, thank you. At least I can retrace my route. If I get lost it will be my own fault. Although I figure you're not really lost if you don't care where the road goes.

Having manually plotted my course, I set off. Since I started this trip in the Big City I had to navigate through traffic to get to freedom. I had a very interesting experience during this leg.

Once I dropped down into and through Hillsboro, I used Highway 18 for a while. My plan was to jump off into wine country and head South. The snag here is that Hwy 18 has now become a main route to the Pacific Coast. ( the ocean, not the motorcycle ) This is still an old farm country road that probably never asked to become popular. Along the way are several small towns. This highway becomes the main street of these towns. There are also wineries and antique shops in abundance in these areas. You can begin to see the problem.

I was hoping that the middle of the week would yield less traffic. Wrong. There are around 250 million vehicles registered in the United States. About half of them were on this road. There is a small stretch in Lafayette where the highway has two lanes in either direction. Believe it or not, this town actually has a stop light. I was waiting at the light in the right lane. Beside me was a small sedan with what looked like a Mother and Daughter. Daughter was about 10. The little girl gave me a small wave. Both the sedan and I were second in line in our respective lanes. As the light turned green we both proceeded. Mother started over into my lane. Not in front of me, not in back of me, but right into me.

Now this was no big deal. I watch mirrors and front tires. It's become an automatic habit. Mirrors tell you if you're in the driver's blind spot. Front tires offer important clues to a vehicle's impending movements. I'd seen the tires bend my way. Mother wasn't diving my way. It was more of a gradual thing. I had room and just kind of moved with her. Suddenly the Mother looked like she had just jerked awake. I'd seen the daughter say something to her mom. No harm, no foul. Although I wondered how Mother had missed me when we were sitting in line. My Hi-Viz 'stich is dirty but not black, yet!

What cracked me up was the daughter's reaction. The road was narrowing back into one lane each direction soon. For a brief moment, I was looking into the daughter's eyes. She gave me this funny look and a shy wave. It's as if she was trying to say,

"I know my Mother just tried to run you over but I hope we can still be friends!"

You just gotta love kids!

Once free of the urban congestion I reached the rural country. The rightful place for a man and a sporty bike. Sophie's a sport-tourer but she prefers you to call her Sport. As you can see, there's some great stretches of twisty roads. Some of it is a series of curves that touch each other like links in a great chain of pleasurable riding. Other areas are like the picture above. 20 mph corners at each end of a short stretch. One after another, after another, and after another.

One problem with farm country riding this time of year is farm equipment. Hey, it's their land that makes these kinds of roads necessary so how can I be too upset? Not that I enjoy just creeping along behind some slow moving piece of machinery, mind you. Talk about Zen all you want but I'm not that kind of guy. I have patience when required but I much prefer to be riding briskly. My low speed control is great but my natural rhythm is tuned for higher speeds. I'm ever so much more graceful then. So don't look at me like that. I was born that way.

Natural rhythms and urges aside, all must become subservient to two words: Ride Prudently!

Passing on a double yellow line bothers me not at all if done under that guidance. Sometimes you can safely go around. Other times you just have to be patient and wait for the right opportunity. One old boy in a big white pickup was ambling along pulling a flat trailer loaded with wire and fence posts. There was a Harley Davidson sticker on the back window of the truck. This guy was a true rider. He slowed way down, pulled over as much as he could, and waved my by. I saluted him with a genuine salute ( as opposed to the one finger kind ) as I passed. That was great but most situations aren't that easy. Since my good friend Russ died trying to pass a car that suddenly turned left, I'm even more careful. If I come upon a slow moving Buick on a back road I often find myself waiting for a stretch where there are no driveways before making the pass.

Riding is a huge and meaningful part of my life. Doing something stupid just to ride faster isn't worth my life.

I saw the result of failing to drive prudently. There was a slow moving tractor with a mower cutting weeds alongside the road. I came upon the scene just after an accident had occurred. It would seem that a red Ford pickup had slowed down for the mower. A small silver Mazda sedan was sitting with it's nose buried in the rear of the pickup. I stopped to render assistance until "official" bodies arrived. The young female driver of the Mazda had a cut on her scalp where her head had hit the rear view mirror. I sacrificed a diaper from the saddlebag and put it on the wound. Come on, you all ride. You know why I have diapers in the bags. Good grief. The man driving the pickup seemed to be ok but he was rubbing his shoulder.

Young Female told me she assumed the pickup would pull wide and go around the mower so she prepared to do the same. It never even entered her mind that the truck would slow to match the pace of the mower. Inexperience and stupidity have the same results, don't they? At least inexperience is curable. Older Gentleman said it would have been unwise to speed around the tractor as there was a blind corner just ahead. Can't argue with his logic. That's both experience and intelligence. Too bad using it gave him that result. A Yamhill County Deputy arrived in response to the tractor driver's call. I briefed him, wished him luck, and took off again. There was an ambulance coming the other way farther down the road. Gotta love emergency responders, too! You folks are awesome!

So that was my work day. 317 miles of job satisfaction. I arrived home still grinning and wrapped Katie up in a big bear hug. Then I pulled out my Honda lawn mower and did some mowing of my own. All the while looking for errant Mazda drivers. Hey, I got an idea. I think I finally found a use for a KLR. Do you think I could pull the mower across the lawn with it?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, May 07, 2007

Where are the endorsements?

As things often go, there was a cosmic alignment between events. Have you ever gone forever without even hearing about a certain thing? Then you suddenly hear about it from several sources? Maybe it's Universal Synchronicity. Maybe we make our own combinations subconsciously. Who nows? I experienced my own little bit of Karma. In this case it was a blog post and an update that I received. To tell the truth, I was being a little lazy. I'm working on the ABS and linked brake post. It's a struggle sometimes to make things interesting and relevant. Progress has been made, albeit in very short, but intense bursts. In between times, I've been catching up on my reading. Two things fell under my gaze within a matter of minutes of each other.

In catching up on the posts by my blogging neighbors, I read a post by Bill Sommers in Little Billy's Scooter Tales. Bill has now declared himself an evangalizer for motorcycle safety training. I'm all over that, or down with that, or whatever it is that those hipper than me say.

I also received an e-mailed update from the Governor's Advisory Council for Motorcycle Safety in Oregon. Yeah, I know, my hands are all over different aspects of motorcycle training here. Keeps me off the streets. Oh wait, it doesn't does it? Maybe if I had that new KLR? I'd be both riding and off the streets at the same time. Or maybe riding on sidewalks which is still on pavement but technically not on the street. Now I'm Rambling. Gary's going to be on me for copyright infringement or something. Better get back to business.

This update was notification of the conclusion of a project. That project was to get the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to do an analysis. Two things were looked at. Firstly, a list of all registered owners of motorcycles was generated. Secondly, it was determined how many of those owners of record actually had motorcycle endorsements. This wasn't any sort of punitive or enforcement measure. It was merely an information gathering exercise with a specific action in mind.

The numbers showed that 23% of the registered owners did not show up as having an endorsement. There's bound to be some legitimate aberrations due to circumstances. A registered owner could have purchased a bike for an offspring or spouse who is endorsed, for example. There's bikes that have titles but no hope of being ridden in the near future. You know, those basket cases that are the subjects of well-intentioned restorations that never quite seem to come to fruition. Even taking those factors into account the number is still quite large.

The GAC plans to send out friendly letters reminding these registered owners that an endorsement is required to ride legally in Oregon. How many letters? According to the update a little over 20,000 will go out!

Being a born cynic, my first reaction is that it's a source of revenue that's been targeted. I can't say that it's all bad in this particular case. Our state's motorcycle training is rider funded. The only revenues are class tuitions and a portion of endorsement fees. More endorsements mean more money available to offer training opportunities.

There's another benefit to the riders, though. Statistics have shown that riders with endorsements are represented in accidents to a smaller degree than unendorsed riders. Which basically means, that for some reason, just the act of obtaining an endorsement lowers a rider's chances of becoming a statistic. Personally, I think it's because of two factors.

For one, a rider who goes to the DMV to take their test needs a little skill in order to pass. I have spent hours riding the course over and over. No, I didn't flunk that many times. Examiners need practice in scoring and training on how to properly evaluate a bike in their test. Some of us regularly volunteer to be the "hopeful candidates". I like doing it because I love showing off. Actually, we are supposed to make little mistakes on purpose. Do you realize how hard that is to do when your instincts are geared towards proper technique? Of course, the flip side is that if we actually do screw something up ( yeah, happened to me! ) the examiners think you did it on purpose. I feel good knowing some of my fellow instructors and I have had the chance to offer input. Most of the examiners aren't riders. We're able to share our perspective with them.

One such area which really amuses me is in the braking exercise. The rider's supposed to start braking at a designated point. Examiners use a stop watch to measure speed. The stopping distance is determined by that speed. Recently I watched the examiners. They were all concentrating very hard on watching where the front tire ended up. So I started braking sooner and sooner. They never caught it because they were looking so hard at the ending point. When I urged them to watch the front fork and my right hand, they caught on. It was funny but also a learning moment. Things like this help to ensure fairness in the exams. Anyway, this isn't where I started to go. I'm Rambling, again. Sorry, Gary!

My point is that even for experienced riders like me, the DMV test can be difficult. There's so little room, for one thing. The place where the test is given is usually just some extra space in the corner somewhere. Some of the areas have a marked gradient to them. So if a rider successfully passes the test they probably actually have some skills. The back side of this coin is that taking steps to get legal usually signifies a level of rider responsibility. This carries over into the streets. I think this accounts for some of why endorsed riders are slightly under-represented in accidents.

I think the other reason is that so many riders take training classes to get an endorsement. Here in Oregon, if we issue a completion card, DMV doesn't do any further testing. Our skill evalution is slightly tougher than DMV's. On the other hand, the test comes after a weekend of training. We don't teach the test. Rather, the test is a way to see how well the students can apply what they've learned to new situations. Granted, our training is only the foundation. The students still need to construct the rest of the building. What a great foundation, though!

If you know folks riding unendorsed, give them a gentle nudge. Not only will you save them legal consequences, you'll be helping them to ride safer, too.

I certainly hope that all 20,000 of those who get these letters don't mass toward our classes. We couldn't handle that rush! It's an interesting project, though. I'll let you know if anything comes of it.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, May 04, 2007


At some point I may do an entire blog post on this. For now, I want to give you something to ponder over the weekend. Maybe even beyond that, if this strikes a chord with you.

I've called myself a fearless Warrior. Which is, in fact, true. Many of you have seen examples or known of others you would consider fearless. Fearless is not the same as reckless. Reckless implies a disregard for consequences. It's usually driven by felony level stupidity. I, however, brave many things in the name of expressing my passion and accomplishing my own objectives. I seek both personal fulfillment and a deeper knowledge base from which to educate others. The farther a rider progresses in riding skills, the farther they realize they can still travel. I hope to be one who has seen the possibilities and leads other riders there. At whatever level a rider finds themself I would hope to be able to show them what path still lies ahead. Not only to show them the path, but to offer wisdom for the journey. Only by having gone there myself can I be an effective guide. All the while I am painfully aware of the possible consequences of my journey of discovery.

The simple truth is that in this process I experience my own share of fear. Having successfully stared down many dangerous situations in my life, I'm surprised to still feel this fear. Those looking from the outside in may have a very noble or awe inspiring picture of me. There's really nothing special about me or anybody else you might consider fearless. Here's the key. This is a line from a book.

Adrianna Huffington has a book out entitled "On Becoming Fearless, in Love, Work, and in Life". In this book she says:

"Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It's the mastery of fear. It's about getting up one more time than we fall down."

That statement takes fearlessness from the realm of the Superhero and puts it in reach of our common humanity. Whether it be motorcycling, personal relationships, or reaching out for new accomplishments, the words above give us a simple guideline.

In case you might be thinking, "Wow, Irondad's so well read for a Road Warrior!" let me further pop my own bubble. I'm just as common and human as the next person, despite the fact that I'm a legend in my own mind. I did not read this book. I held it in my hand and thumbed through it at a book store. That's it.

What got me started was a quotation on a Starbucks cup. Say what you will, but I've learned all I need to know in life by riding motorcycles and reading Starbucks cups!!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, May 03, 2007

Even the Ninja.....

It was my own fault, really. In my last post I had made some comments about my riding. I suppose these could be considered as borderline bragging. That's not my usual style. It was intended solely to make a point. I was only trying to show the contrast between being a safety instructor and a fearless Road Warrior. It would seem the Weather Gods thought I was boasting and getting too cocky. They decided to try to humble me.

We're all painfully aware that mere mortals are no match for the power of the Weather Gods. Not being content with this situation, the Weather Gods find ways to continually remind us of that fact. Yesterday was such a day. These Beings reached out and touched a portion of the Interstate. I was forced to yield temporarily. However, I am beaten upon but not bowed.

Do you remember the television commercial Honda put out a number of years ago? This was a beginning of the competition between Honda's Hurricane and Kawasaki's Ninja. Back when it was not a violation of political correctness to use these names. I miss those days tremendously.

The commercial showed a Ninja dressed all in black as per the usual stereotype. The setting was a dojo. Soon the Ninja heard the sound of a hurricane approaching. A trap door was opened in the middle of the floor and the Ninja secreted himself under the floor. Here is the punch line of the commercial:

"Even the Ninja knows he must hide from the Hurricane".

It was a clever commercial, I thought. I felt like I was in that ad yesterday afternoon.

My day had started during what felt like the middle of the night. Jim, the Sales Manager was in town. We had a very early meeting. Since I live a hundred miles away from the office and we had to travel on top of that, an early start was required. The flip side of that was an early end to the day. Jim and I had lunch at a Mom and Pop cafe in the business park our office is located in. If anyone's interested, I had a Reuben sandwich. With lunch over, I saddled up and headed for home. Of course, the days never really end early as long as cell phones and internet connections work. Either way, I'm delighted to be heading out on the bike in the middle of the afternoon. I'd beat the big rush hour which is mis-named. Up there it should be called "The Rush Hours".

For the first 40 minutes the ride was pretty much normal. Our weather the past couple of days has been mixed periods of partly cloudy and rain. The weather guessers had been saying we could get thunderstorms during the afternoon. So far there was no sign of any of that nonsense. Sophie and I made our way to Interstate 5. It's now a straight run for home. As we pass through Wilsonville all hail breaks loose. That's right. No thunderstorm but a really nasty hailstorm.

One second it is dry. Literally the next second we are deluged by a heavy rain and hail mix. I pictured several colassal beings holding buckets of equally Brobdingnagian proportions. All of these beings are swirling their icy buckets and waiting for a signal. When the signal is given they simultaneously and forcefully hurl the contents towards earth. All are aiming for the same small geographical area. Maximum effect in a minimal area.

Sophie and I had been riding in the hammer lane. What else is new? The Interstate is three lanes wide through this stretch. My first reaction was to slow down but I could hardly see. Vehicles kick up a great deal of spray. The hail was falling in the midst of what looked like a fog bank. I was concerned about the huge Ford pickup behind me. The driver wasn't exactly tailgating but that's a heck of a lot of momentum going down the road. There was space in front of me due to my religious insistence on maintaining a safe following distance. Cars continually dive in front of me but I'm not going to get sucked up in the trap of tailgating to keep them out. Then, due to a mixed blessing and curse, additional room opened up.

The silver Honda ahead of me slid off the road to the left into the grassy median. I swear everytime some nasty weather unexpectedly hits there's always that fool that has to slide off the road. It's like it's not really an "event" until somebody goes in the ditch. Then it becomes official. Pretty soon a blue Chevy Astrovan joins the Honda in the median. By now most of the rest of the traffic has actually slowed down. Will wonders never cease?

I have to tell you I was looking for a way out. Pellets of ice pounding on my helmet were making me deaf. My visor was cracked open a little to help with the fogging but ice on the outside was working against me. As fast as I wiped my visor off it mushed up again. If I opened the visor any farther the ice pellets were stinging my face. Even through the 'stich the pellets hurt. The padding in the shoulders did its job but my arms were feeling the hits. This was one of many times I patted myself on the back for picking out the Hi-Viz jacket. I certainly needed all the visibility I could get.

For a while I had considered toughing it out. Surely it would ease up eventually. All I had to do was get through these few miles, I reasoned. Taking stock of the situation, I realized it would be foolish to continue. Marble sized ice pellets were swimming in standing water. Traffic was heavy. Visibility was appalling. Conditions were miserable. For the moment I had to keep going. Becoming a sitting duck on the shoulder of the road wasn't any more appealing than continuing. We'd already passed the only exit available for a while. Crossing through traffic would have been pretty risky, anyway. My decision to find a way out was cemented when the Ford truck passed me.

It was dark colored. I could see the emblem on the front fender as it started around me. The truck was an F350 Ranch King Special Edition one ton pickup. As the truck continued its passing move the left side tires hit a particularly deep patch of standing water. No, it didn't affect the truck's handling that I could see. Of course, I couldn't see anything at all for a few ass-clenching moments. A huge wall of water cascaded over me. I was literally riding blind for a moment. Enough was enough. I'd have to take my chances on the side of the road.

A guardian angel in the form of a Comet truck appeared just up ahead. You probably have them in other states. They're sent out by the state highway departments to assist with stranded motorists, traffic control when there's a wreck, and other duties. I've seen these guys and gals wrestling tire carcasses off the freeway. Now there was one of these trucks sitting over on the left shoulder. I pulled off in front of the truck and then backed up close. Putting the bike as far left as I could without the sidestand being off the pavement, I dismounted.

Walking up to the driver's side of the truck, I could tell the guy was reluctant to roll the window down. It was still raining and hailing. Finally, with what looked like a resigned shrug of his shoulders, he wound down the window. I think it was a combination of the fact that his heart matched his mission, and just plain curiosity as to what the heck this crazy idiot was doing out on a bike! And why is he coming to see me?

By now I'm so soaked I can't get much wetter so I'm okay with just standing outside. No way am I going to take off my helmet, though!

Turns out the man has decided to pull off and just hang tight for a bit. I explained my situation and how I wanted to use his truck as a buffer. He replied that would work but if he got an urgent call he'd have to go. It cracked me up because I could see him looking between my soaking wet, dripping, self and the passenger seat of the truck that was covered with papers. His civility was nagging him to invite me into the truck but his self-preservation instinct was prodding him to hold back on the offer. I solved his conflict for him by stating that I would just sit on the bike. I made a joke of it by saying I wanted to keep my seat dry!

Ten minutes later the hail stopped. There was still standing water but I figured it would drain off soon. I've ridden on roads like this forever. The plan was to make my way over to the right lane where I could take it a little slower. The driver of the truck had a brain to go with his heart. He eased out behind me to cover my 'six. I'm sorry I didn't get his name. I would have liked to write a letter of appreciation to his bosses.

Within another ten minutes I was nearing Woodburn. The freeway was dry as could be. If I hadn't just experienced it, I would never have guessed at what fury had struck a little farther North. How strange a game the Weather Gods play, isn't it?

Here's an excerpt from the Portland news channel I watch:

Forecast: More Gusts, Hail, Lightning
Also on

"PORTLAND - After a round of gusty winds, small hail and even a lightning bolt thrown in the mix, get ready for some more wild weather across Portland on Thursday! "

As a side note, this is one of only a few rare times that my Roadcrafter suit has soaked through. Even the best meet their match at times. Speaking of which,

Even the Ninja............

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Safety" vs. "Fulfillment"

As you've probably noticed, I've written a fair amount in this blog about motorcycle safety. As you've also likely noticed, I've shared some of my feelings about risk. I'm one of those people who despises the thought of stagnation. For me it's all about the next step.

"If this step has proven possible, then is the next step now possible?"

This isn't true of everything I do, of course. It's definitely true to some extent in the few vocations I've engaged in. When it comes to my two wheeled avocation it's "take it to the bank" true!

What I find fascinating, yet puzzling, is the two distinct callings I'm drawn to. The calling I hear isn't just an interest. It's a sick and morbid compulsion to excel at two contrasting endeavours.

One calling is as an instructor. My burning desire was to give students the most effective learning experience possible. Most of these riders are going to have very limited contact with a professional instructor. With that in mind, the goal is to make that time have the most impact possible. I've studied learning styles, taken courses in communication skills, participated in verbal judo instruction, engaged in leadership training, and anything else I thought would help me reach my student's minds and hearts.

As if that obsession wasn't enough, I became a trainer of new instructors. My reasoning is that if I can make good instructors then even more riders will be able to benefit. My passion to share drives me ever forward in this calling.

The other calling is as a hard core rider. That means taking risks a lot of people consider crazy. Riding to work faithfully unless there is snow and ice. Sometimes I ride despite these things. My dear wife is sometimes a little upset by some of the weather I ride in. Like a true friend, though, she hangs up my wet gloves to dry when I get home! I do things on a bike that even some experienced riders consider impossible. Ever seen this police training exercise? An officer on a bike is parked perpendicular to a concrete wall. The bike's front wheel is resting within a couple of feet from this wall. The objective is to start from a dead stop and ride off without ever putting a foot down. Or hitting the wall, of course. The exercise has to be repeated in both directions. I can do this. Fortunately I didn't have to practice on my own bike. It's just one example of a skill that comes after a series of small steps. Why do I try these things? I don't know for sure. All I do know is that I have this sick craving for new challenges. Only by conquering do I find fulfillment. It's very satisfying. It's also become addictive.

The line to recklessness is never crossed. I do not have a death wish. I'm following another passion. It's an overwhelming need to experience life. I'm the guy doing back flips off a dock in a swimming hole with my boys. While the other fathers are sitting on lawn chairs with beer cans balanced on their pot bellies. I'm the guy grinning both cheerfully and wickedly as I dance to my own music. Most folks won't understand that part of me. I'm okay with that.

"Those who dance are considered insane by those who can't hear the music."

You can see the source of my puzzlement. Usually a person would be one thing or the other. Cop or outlaw. Master computer programmer or hacker. Motorcycle safety instructor or rogue rider. It might be staggering to discover that the line between them is often razor edge thin. Sometimes the best education comes from one who's "seen the other side".

Whatever the case, both callings came to a point in time where they nearly crashed into each other. I had to decide which calling would take point. The situation was caused by a student in a recent class I taught.

It was in one of our Basic Rider Training courses targeted to new riders. A man appeared in class. He had just purchased a used 750 cc cruiser. A little younger than me, this guy expressed a desire to ride to work as circumstances permitted. Riding experience was minimal to virtually none. Under normal conditions I would gladly take a rider like this under my wing and help them find the fun and fulfillment they seek. Conditions were not normal. Physical defects were evident that I felt would seriously compromise the ability to ride safely. In the interests of privacy, I won't go into more detail.

Little warning bells were going off in my head. I could think of numerous scenarios where these defects would cause problems. Since I hadn't seen the man ride, yet, I had no choice but to keep an open mind. One of the things I stress to new instructors is that our new rider training isn't about pass or fail. It's about providing a safe environment for the students to explore. It's about the discovery. If a student finds out that riding really isn't for them during our course I consider it to be a "win". I would have to live by my own words despite my misgivings.

Riding proved to be something of a struggle. One manifestation of the physical limits is that the clutch was either all the way in or all the way out. Anything in between was nearly impossible. Overall balance and smoothness was lacking. And so the weekend went. The man barely passed our skills evaluation, but pass he did. I held no prejudice one way or the other. The skills evaluation is a set of exercises with clearly defined and objectively measured criteria. At times a rider passes who should not have. Conversely, a rider who should have passed doesn't. A professional training organization defines the exercises, the scoring criteria, and the passing score. All parties involved have to live by the same rules. It's called credibility.

I now find myself obliged to give the man his completion card. Which means he can go the next day and add the endorsement to his license with no further testing. Our training bikes are small bikes with displacements less than 300 cc. While the principles the students learn directly translate to bigger bikes, the physicality required does not. My feeling is that if everything goes perfectly this guy can ride his cruiser. If anything out of the ordinary happens he could soon find himself in trouble. As you know, the chance of experiencing surprises on a bike is really high.

As I am handing him the card I am faced with the direct clash of my two callings. Dan the Safety Instructor knows the guy has a high chance of getting hurt or killed. Dan the Rogue Rider totally understands and supports the concept of risk versus fulfillment. One of us had to talk to this student. Which would it be?

Ethics win out. It is our duty as professionals to be honest with a student. This may be their only contact with a professional trainer. If a rider's not ready for the street we are obliged to tell them so. After all, if an instructor just pats a rider on the back and sends this student on their way, what is the student to think?

"I must be just fine since the instructor congratulated me and sent me on my way."

We might not be able to do anything about their getting the endorsement but we can surely send them away with a kind, but honest assessment. This doesn't mean just telling them they aren't ready for the street. We also offer helpful suggestions on what steps to take next. Everyone's responsible for themselves but we now have clear consciences.

In the end, both of my passions had a part in what I said to this man. I'm not going to share exactly what I said to him here. It's a pretty sure bet that some of you have a good idea of what I told my student. I'll reveal my advice later in the comments section.

What would you have told this student?

Miles and smiles,