Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ouch! Isn't there a better way?

Every once in a while I win an argument but in such a way I wish I hadn't. A while back I put up a couple of posts about gear. How do I convince riders of the value in setting egos and peer pressure aside? How do I get through to them the need to wear good gear? How do I make them see the consequences that could easily become their reality? It's like beating my head against a wall, sometimes. I've saved an old full face helmet for just such fruitless endeavours.

There's this woman who came through a class of mine last year. It's not her real name but I'm going to call her Ruth. She'd never ridden before. No problem there. It was a beginner's class. Ruth came to class with her own helmet, a half shell. It wasn't a novelty type helmet and met our policy standards for use in class. I always hope to influence a rider's choice of gear during the course of a weekend. People have to chose for themselves in the end. Ruth had also purchased a brand new cruiser. Surprisingly, it was a Honda 750 Shadow, not a Harley. It had never been ridden before. A friend had trailered it to her house.

So here we are in class. Ruth has absolutely no coordination and very little ability to process things quickly. I actually took her out of class on the first range day. She was a safety hazard and my professional judgement told me she wasn't going to get better anytime soon. I kindly explained how the class was a chance to explore and discover. In my professional opinion, she should find another hobby. I know it sounds harsh. My integrity demands of me that I be kind but honest. Sending someone away with only a "feel good" experience doesn't do them any favors.

Usually I never see these folks again. As luck would have it, though, I was to encounter Ruth on several more occasions. She'd purchased the bike from the dealer I frequented. Ruth told me that she had sent the bike in for a custom paint job that reflected the college she favored. I asked Ruth if she had purchased a full face helmet, yet. I received an indignant response to the effect that there was nothing wrong with what she had. After Ruth left, the salesman told me that Ruth had asked his dad to teach her to ride. They were sort of family friends. She'd never told him about our range side conversation. That's probably why she left so quickly when I showed up.

The salesman told me that during the very first lesson Ruth had dumped the bike in gravel and scratched up the fancy paint job. None of us could figure out why Ruth was so determined to do this. As far as anyone knew, she didn't have a husband or partner at all, let alone one who rode. There wasn't a group of riders that she hung out with. It seemed to be her own thing. I shrugged and went about my business.

A couple of months later I encountered Ruth at another dealer. Her bike with the damaged paint job was parked outside. A guy was with her. He was the one who rode the bike with Ruth as passenger. Ruth was still clutching her half shell helmet. I sort of chided her to look at full face helmets. I was more concerned now that I knew what was going on. I didn't want to come out and say she was such a danger she needed all the protection she could get. Maybe it should have been said but it was still her choice.

The reason she was there was that she was blaming the bike for her ineptness. Ruth was convinced that another brand of bike would make her problems go away. I took the sales manager, who is also a friend of mine, aside and explained the situation to him. He'd already heard about her. A guy who is a motor cop had passed on the story of how she'd hired him to teach her to ride. This guy was a casual friend of Ruth. She'd offered $75 an hour for private lessons. After the second lesson he'd told her it was a lost cause and gave her back her money. Thumbs up to the dealer for acting responsibly in the matter. They weren't going to just take her money and hope for the best.

I saw Ruth once more. She came back to class. I switched assignments so Ruth would be in someone else's group. Maybe a fresh approach would be good. She failed miserably but at least she wasn't quite the same safety hazard as before. The half shell helmet was still around although with a couple of scratches on it.

Ruth crashed this last weekend. My neighbor happened to be telling me about it. He's a county deputy and was on scene. Greg was coming home from his shift and saw me working on the CB900. In the course of conversation he mentioned the accident. When he described the bike with it's unusual paint job, I asked him for the gal's name. It was Ruth. Seems she was riding out by herself. Ruth only has a permit and isn't supposed to have been riding alone in the first place. Her story was that a deer had jumped out in front of her. Greg told me there was a fifty foot skid mark from the rear tire then the bike fell over and slid some more. Ruth was wearing that half shell helmet. Her face hit the road and was pretty messed up from the initial impact and the consequent sliding along. It was a tragic result of really poor skills and equally poor gear. There was also no jacket, by the way. Ruth was riding in a short sleeved pink t-shirt and jeans.

I hate it when things turn out this way. My initial reaction is to wish I'd been more obnoxious about arguing for better gear. It wouldn't have mattered, I know. People have to keep the right to make their own choices. Along with that comes the obligation to suffer the consequences. It's the old "You can do whatever you want as long as you're willing to pay the price" thing. It's small consolation but I know I did whatever I could including telling her I didn't think she should be riding at all.

Maybe one of these days the medical profession will develop a vaccine to prevent the "That will never happen to me" disease. At least for every Ruth there's quite a number of riders doing fine because of what I've shared. That doesn't make me feel any less for Ruth, though. It's all the success stories that keep me passionate about training riders. I just really hate to win an argument like this.

Miles and a painful grimace today,


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Reflections on Monday.

My alarm's set for 4:30 AM. At 3 I'm wide awake. Another Monday morning is here already. Sometimes I'm not quite sure what day it is. Between my career and the teaching thing I'll end up working seven days a week for weeks at a time. Still, though, Monday morning has a feel all its own. Mondays seem to come faster and faster. My theory is that life's like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end the faster it goes. Forrest Gump has nothing on me as you can see!

My brain has this annoying habit of switching from sleep to a full "on" position. Once that's happened any hope of more shut-eye disappears like a smoke wisp in a strong breeze. Have you ever seen a terrier work a snake or a rat? Once those jaws close there's no escaping. The dog clamps on and starts that head movement. I've heard it called "worrying" the prey. That's what my brain does. People say I'm always thinking. It's literally true. It's also a curse.

Monday morning thoughts are sliding through my consciousness one after another like powerpoint slides. Please don't make me get up and have to ride 48 miles to work on a sunny morning on a bike. Please don't make me have to face meeting up with three good friends and colleagues. I'm just not ready to deal with having to enjoy a ride with these guys. It would be torture to whip out a few fast laps on the track as soon as we arrive. How can I face a day of fast riding and mingling with a bunch of motor cops? God, I hate my job!!!


You see, this is no ordinary Monday. I've taken a vacation day to work another job. It must be work, right? That's why I'm getting paid. It's another police training day. Sort of the last qualifier for the Big Event coming up next Tuesday. Cops have to take this training to be eligible for the high speed pursuit training at Portland International Raceway. We have room for about 50 cops. It will be a blast.

This post isn't about the police training per se. I've already written about that. This is more a collection of musings about aspects relating to the day. It all meshes together whether we ride professionally, recreationally, or as a commuter.

I love the camaraderie between those few of us who instruct at this level. That's what a part of riding's all about isn't it? Finding those few we want to share the experience with. The blonde on the right is Laurie. I didn't mean to cut half of her off! I was actually more concerned about getting a good picture of Sophie! Next to Katie, Laurie's my best buddy. Her and her husband and Katie and I often double date. Laurie and I are the serious riders. Our spouses are more like the enthusiastic support base. We both started teaching motorcycle classes at about the same time. We keep each other sharp. Laurie's very technically oriented and precise. I tend to run and gun more than she does. It's a good balance. Laurie's one mean rider on her ZX-12. I often have to laugh. You see, Laurie also happens to be drop dead gorgeous.

A large number of "macho" guys don't take her seriously. Especially in our track based classes. It's fun to watch her take off and see these guys try unsuccessfully to keep up. The smart ones humble themselves in the interest of learning something. Others make excuses. Kind of like a lot of so called "experienced" riders we see on the streets all the time. I have to give Laurie a lot of credit. It's been difficult to face this all the time. Yet, she's never developed any sort of negative or over-bearing attitude of her own. Laurie's a true professional and I deeply respect her for it. She sets a good example of staying with your own ride despite provocation from other users of the road we're forced to mix with.

Speaking of camaraderie, I really like riding pairs with a select few trusted comrades. I especially like riding with Jerry. If you look to the left of the picture of the instructors above, you'll just get a glimpse of a blue Aerostich. Inside the suit is Jerry. He's just recently retired from the Oregon State Police as a District Commander. Jerry and Scott, the guy standing next to the red Multristrada Duc, started the motor unit for OSP. Jerry was in charge and took them to a very high level of competence and respect. He rides a BMW K1200LT.

When you're riding pairs the one on the left is the Leader. I kind of like riding Wingman. Subtle signals come from the Leader. Wingman's job is to ride handlebar to handlebar and precisely match the moves of the Leader. We move to single file for curvy bits; back to pairs for normal riding. It's so cool to see the two bikes move as one during lane changes or around corners in town. Riding pairs isn't really necessary for us as civilians. In fact, to be honest, it's more of a macho game. Riding like this introduces an elevated danger level. We tell folks to ride in a staggered pattern. There's more room to maneuver and allows margins for error. On the other hand, there's a great need for those who ride to cultivate precision. First one gets good, then one gets fast. Precision before power is the key. There's a place for both but never sacrifice good technique.

On the subject of precision, even professionals make mistakes. There's a short back straightaway. On the entry there's a hairpin corner. Ex-racers will know this little trick. Farther along the track there's another hairpin. In order to properly set up for the next corner the bike needs to move quickly to the outside of the track. Just before the apex of this left hand turn I start rolling on some extra throttle. The effect is that it accomplishes what I want. Namely, moving the bike quickly to the right and towards the outside of the track. This puts me right in line for the entry to the next corner.

Remember, now, I'm riding with a right hand that's got a huge cut up the palm and middle finger. As I'm entering the back straight I try to gently roll on the throttle. Things are tight here. A rider shouldn't go too wide or they run off the track. As I go for the throttle I somehow tweak my palm and it hurts a lot. Sophie's in first gear at about 4000 rpm. Which means a lot of torque is on tap. The pain makes me flinch. My automatic reaction is to close my hand. Unfortunately, that movement applies more throttle than I intended to. In a heartbeat I'm running in the dirt right beside the pavement. No harm,no foul, but I raised quite the dust cloud! Some of the guys told me they chose not to copy my line through there. Can't say as I blame them!

We had some guys from the Washington State Patrol come down for training. Our program has a decent reputation. These bikes were from Seattle and Tacoma. Too bad they had to bring them on trailers. The "powers that be" didn't want the extra mileage on the bikes.

I've seen some of these cops come through training year after year. It's to be expected of professionals. It should also be expected of the average rider, as well. Have you ever heard the expression "Practise makes perfect"? I have a little different take on it. What I see in these cops that come back every year is revealing.

You'd think that when they come back each year their skills would be much higher than last time. There's some net gain here and there, to be sure. After training, though, the officers go back to work and they're left to their own devices again. It's amazing how easily old habits slip back in. There aren't professional trainers standing on each corner to remind them of the proper technique. Things like cornering skills are usually the first to go. Most cops seldom use them on duty. Think about it.

Most of what the motor cops do is dawdle about looking around. When a violator is spotted it essentially becomes a straight line drag race. There might be a tight u-turn to initiate the chase but there's not usually much cornering. Some cops ride their own bikes during time off. Most don't seem to anymore. I can tell you from experience that riding 90 to 100 miles in city traffic every day kind of becomes a chore. When riding a motorcycle becomes a job enthusiasm for extra riding cools off.

Then comes a pursuit or a sunny afternoon when an officer needs to be good at cornering technique. It's especially important in a pursuit. Have you ever been following another rider and found yourself riding their line? Even if their line, braking points, etc., is wrong?

The only way to make sure the correct skills are there when we need them is to practice, of course. We need to make opportunities to work on things. The critical element is to practise the correct thing, not what our old habits dictate. Let me share my own statement that kind of puts things into perspective. It goes above and beyond the practise makes perfect thing.

"Perfect practise makes permanent."

That's really what we want. In a high adrenaline situation we're going to revert to whatever our habits are. I want great technique to be so ingrained it will become automatic. A side benefit is that a rider will feel so much more in control the fun factor will rise accordingly!

The same holds true for mental skills. Remember the goal? Use mental skills to get correct information as early as possible. Then make good decisions based upon that information. You might sum it up by my principle of the 7 P's.

"Proper prior planning prevents piss poor performance!"

On to another thought. I really love this set of tires. The Metzeler Roadtec Z6's are awesome! When I'm cornering, even at the track's higher speeds, the roll of the tires is so linear. If I can manage to ride enough curvy bits maybe I can delay the squaring off effect from too much freeway riding! Traction seems to be great. When I was looking at the front tire I thought I saw rubber globs stuck all over the edges of the tread. Turns out these tires have little raised elephants on both sides. Check out the picture above. How cool!

Monday was a great day. At the end I was bushed. I decided to come home and do what this moth was doing. It was hanging upside down on a beam of my storage shed. I decided I'd hang, but not upside down, and reflect on an awesome day riding and being around other riders. It doesn't get much better than this. If you believe the old Budweiser commercials, that is!

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Closing the loop.

It's been crazy busy the last little bit. I've been in this new career position for a little over a year already. A week and a half ago I was told to show up at the corporate office in Kirland, Washington. The fiscal year ends in June and it was time for the end-of-year employee reviews.

Oregon hasn't been covered by anyone with energy and intelligence for a while. Sometimes I wonder if it is now, either. I guess the boss is pleased with what I'm doing, though. I was totally blown away when he informed me I was due to receive a performance bonus. I've received bonuses in the past but not like this. The boss called yesterday and told me to look for a direct deposit into my bank account for Monday. I was told the bonus was twenty grand before taxes. Wow!

There's more police motor training tomorrow. I'm slightly hampered this time. My widowed mother needed a shed built. I'm helping Grandma ( who raised me ) sell her house. We're putting a single wide manufactured home onto my Mother's two and a half acre lot. Now I'm building a big shed for storing some of Grandma's extra stuff. At some point it will all have to be gone through. For now, though, her stuff can be close. I'm a decent carpenter and jack of all trades so it's been kind of fun. Just a heck of a lot of work. Recently I was putting up tin roof flashing. The wind caught a big hunk of tin and ripped out of my hand. My palm and middle finger were deeply sliced. Throttle hand, too!

The main reason I'm putting up this post, though, is to close the loop on Katie's situation. Normally I wouldn't share this kind of thing but I mentioned it in an earlier post. Since I did, I wanted to put closure on it.

I know I'm branching out on something that seems to have little to do with riding to work. Yet, it really has a lot to do with it. I made a vow thirty years ago to provide for this special girl and any children that would result from our union. That's the reason I work in the first place. Providing emotional and financial security to the best of my ability is how I fulfill that vow. I choose to ride a motorcycle to work. Riding is sort of a life on it's own but we should never lose focus on the really important things. You know, little stuff like family!

It's pretty obvious that most of you already have this awareness. Gary talks about the importance of his girls. Combatscoot John mentions Wifey and Tal pretty often. Bill in Port Angeles talks of his boys. Steve the Photo Guru writes of Kim a lot and his daughter Hannah is a regular follower of his blog. Lucky often talks about Lady Luck. The list goes on. Sorry if I didn't name everyone. It's enough to make the point, I think, though.

Bottom line for us at this point is that Katie's ok. The journey here was pretty tense, though, and spread out over a month and a half. Coming as it did at the same time my nephew got killed in Arizona made the stress worse. At one point Katie's doctor had actually told us he thought there was a 98% chance Katie had an agressive cancer. Not the kind of news anyone wants to hear. Fortunately it turned out to be false.

Briefly, it started when Katie went in for that yearly thing women do. The doctor thought she might have a cyst on an ovary and suggested an ultrasound. Turns out the ultrasound showed nothing of the sort but pointed the way towards a couple of other things. One thing I have to vehemently protest against here is the way some of these tests are done. It seems like everything to do with diagnostic imaging and testing for women, like biopsies, are as invasive as possible. With all the supposed advances in technologies you'd think there would be other methods available by now.

On Wednesday we got the call that our nephew had gotten killed. On Friday we got a call from the doctor. He said the ultrasound had revealed a uterine polyp that needed biopsied. Another damn invasive procedure. That was bad enough but the worst was when he told Katie she had tumors on her kidneys. It was possible that they were just cysts but it was 98% likely they were an aggressive cancer. Now the doctor said she should schedule a CT scan.

Now we're between the proverbial rock and hard place. It's a sad world when the medical profession has to be so worried about covering their posteriors. Nobody will commit without a whole series of tests. I realize that once in a blue moon something's caught early this way. Mostly, though, it's plain old CYA. Once started down this road we more or less have to see where it goes. I don't want to have my girl subjected to a bunch of tests but I also want the best for her. I'm sure you know the feeling.

One of the reasons things drug on so long is that we were right in the middle of the nephew's situation. We made a quick trip to Arizona. Not long after, Katie's brother and his wife came up. There was a memorial service here for friends and relatives in this area. As result, we put the testing off a couple of weeks. The biopsy and CT scan were scheduled for the same day. It was a tough time.

The CT scan revealed that there probably weren't tumors after all but it was hard to tell for sure what they were. Which meant another scan, this time with dye. Poor Katie was instructed to finish drinking a couple of quarts of water within three hours of the scan. She was also intructed not to pee until after the scan! Yow! Anyway, I guess it was worth it. Turns out she has overgrown Columns of Bertin. Some sort of connective tissue between the pyramids in the kidneys. Most people have very small ones but hers are very large. Needless to say, it was a celebration to go from being told she had cancer to having it turn out to be just an anatomical abnormality.

We just got the results of the biopsy which turned out negative. Another case of the tests being more brutal than the problem. I can't believe medical people can still be such butchers sometimes.

So that's the story. Probably more than you wanted to know. I debated about how much to share. Life is what it is. Things happen. The coolest thing is that I still have my riding companion to enjoy. Even if she does insist on wearing those ridiculous red gloves with the Hi-Viz 'stich. Despite the fact that I've offered to replace them over and over, Katie likes them. Some people find things like this irritating. I say celebrate the quirks. When we look back we find that these aren't faults. They're the Good Stuff!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 21, 2007

At the airport.

This line is called "Dressing up". The idea is to line up mirror to mirror and 23 inches apart. For some reason the cops decided to make their own line a little behind ours. We were the first in as the police bikes followed us. Steve's bike is first, then Jerry's K1200LT, with Sophie next in line. That's Jerry taping name tags to the headlights of the police bikes. This is an awesome set of exercises. It's also the most dangerous for instructors.

Our group actually started at the airport while the rookies went at it on the track. Normally we use Woodburn Drag Strip for the braking and swerving exercises. The man who owns the place is nice enough to let us use the space for free. Lately, though, the temptation to rent strip time for money has won out. Such was the case this time. Our intrepid Operations Manager, Ron, had procured the use of a runway at McMinnville Airport. Interestingly, it's right across the highway from the Evergreen Air Museum.

The drag strip is fairly close to the track. McMinnville Airport, in contrast is somewhere around 25 miles away. I'm going to be the last to complain about having a reason to ride more. Especially when we have a police escort! It is such a trip riding with a pack of motor cops. Besides being a nice ride, it's also a trip down memory lane for me. This trip wasn't your typical group ride. Jerry and Steve were riding pairs in the lead. Jerry's on the inside. I'm lined up right behind Jerry. Right behind me are seven rows of cops riding two by two. Normally a rider could be a little nervous being tailed by 14 police bikes. Not this time. Those cop bikes are like a great big security blanket. Unlike a normal group of bikes, we're more of a pack than a group. Bikes are mirror to mirror except for me. I'm by myself. Following distance is about a second or a little less. Interestingly, on the way back to the track we pass the other group in the opposite direction. The groups are travelling to switch venues. For a brief moment there's 34 bikes filling the entire roadway.

Nobody's allowed on the airport runways without a flashing yellow light on top of a vehicle. With all the cop bikes nobody's got a flashing yellow light on top of their helmet! Ron meets us at the gate in a van with a rotating light. We dutifully follow Ron to our designated location. Each end of the runway is coned off. I'm looking up and hoping the cones are visible from the air! Wouldn't do to have a plane invade our space, would it?

The reason we need the long space is to allow the bikes to achieve 70 mph. The runway works awesomely well. Space doesn't need to be wide, just long. I'm amazed by how great the surface is for traction. Wet or dry, we could probably still do our thing. The only hazard is some small lights parallel to the path of travel in the swerve. Their metal casings are slightly raised and could be a little slick.

The first exercise is maximum braking. There's two braking chutes running in opposite directions. Running two lines gives the officers more rotations. In the beginning the exercise is run at 45 mph. Then the speed is raised to 60 mph. The last part is run at 70 mph. Watching the cops haul the bikes down from speed is extremely impressive. They all have ABS. Sophie's the only one without. Being the stubborn fool I am, I insist on riding demos. First at 45 mph, then 60. Thanks to the great traction and some well honed skills, my stops are pretty good. The distance is just barely over the ABS standard but well under the non-ABS standard. It's an ego thing! It's not just stopping distance, though. It's all about a controlled front fork compression. It should start right away and be linear throughout until stopped. Good technique is key, even with ABS.

If you ever want to get a firsthand impression of just how good ABS is, standing and watching these bikes is the way to do it. The standard we've established for ABS bikes is 216 feet at 70 mph. One of these days I'll have to share the story of how we came up with these standards. Our riders were consistently stopping in the 180 to 190 foot range. I'm standing at about the 175 foot mark so I can be there to offer coaching. The sensory impressions are just awesome.

First, there's the bikes coming at you doing 70 mph. Then you see the front of the bike start to dive. The bottom of the upper fairing starts a rapid descent towards the front fender. You can hear the ABS clatter somewhat. It sounds like "chk, chk, chk" very rapidly. The gap between the fairing and fender is pretty narrow, now. You see the front forks doing a little pogo stick type dance as the ABS works. Apply and release, apply and release, over and over as the ABS cycles. The front tire's on the verge of a skid but never gets there. The sound of the tire squealing and the noise of the rubber scrubbing against pavement is a distinct one. These bikes are stopping so hard that I see some of the rider's rear ends a few inches up off the seat.

It all happens so fast that it's hard to coach. That's why an instructor has to be top notch. We take mental snapshots of the bike all along the way. How was the initial application? What happened in the middle? Did the rider let up or was that the natural action of ABS? Did the rider keep reeling it in until the bike stopped, or was there some letup at the end? How do you coach briefly and concisely so the number of passes each cop gets is the greatest?

Swerving is next. This is where an instructor needs to be light on their feet. I'm standing behind the swerve box. It's a barrier made of tall cones. My job today is to call the riders and indicate which way to swerve. Left or right. I am wearing bright orange gloves. As each cop approachs the swerve box I extend the appropriate arm. That sounds tame, doesn't it? Remember, I'm standing directly in front of them as they approach at 70 mph! Not only that, but I have to signal them at the right time. Ideally, they will have a hundred feet to move the bike 8 feet right or left. If I'm late with the signal, I'm probably going to get hit. If I'm too early, there's no challenge to the cops. On top of all that, the last part of the exercise is an "ALL RIDE"!

What does that mean? I no longer call them. They're coming on their own, one right after another. Lots of repetitions that way. I don't dare look behind me at all or I'll get behind on the count. If that happens these riders will pick their own direction. My options are limited as I'll now have speeding bikes six feet to the left of me and six feet to the right of me. There is no place to run.

It takes a surprising amount of force to move a bike 8 feet sideways in a swerve at freeway speeds. Yeah, freeway speeds. In fact, with a 55 or 65 mph speed limit, depending on if the freeway is urban or rural, I could get ticketed at 70 mph! I have to trust that the cops have some skills.

After swerving practise is done, we move to swerving, then braking, or braking, then swerving. Never, never, never, try to do both at once. Now my signalling has to be more complicated but much more precise. More than once I see a rider start to brake while still leaned over in the swerve. It's not pretty when the rear tire steps out. It makes me pucker and I'm not even the one on the bike. The cops know just how serious a matter it is to master these skills. They're much more disciplined here than they will prove to be on the racetrack later this day.

I'm really lucky to be a part of this training. We're literally helping these cops stay alive on the streets. It's also a blast to watch and coach. It's not your average work day, that's for sure!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, June 18, 2007

Motor cop mayhem!

Sometimes it's just not a good idea to have so many cops in one place at the same time. Testosterone fueled competition over-rules concentrating on the task at hand. This is about technique, not bravado, for crying out loud! In a perverse sort of turnaround the students have begun to take over the class. I look across the track and see that even The Director is shaking his head. How did we get here? It began like this.

Twenty eight police bikes sit waiting at the track paddock. This time it's mostly BMW's. There's a few Honda ST1300P's in the back of the pack. No Kawasaki's or Harley's in this group. Most of the Beemers are the R1150RT's but there's a few of the new R1200RT's as well. Twenty three riders are male. One is female. She will be able to give the guys a run for their money. A majority of the cops have had track training before. Some rookie motor officers will get their first taste today. Provided the rain holds off, that is.

My day started early. At 6 AM Sophie and I were sitting in the K-Mart parking lot waiting for two others to join me. Ten minutes later I see a flash of yellow. The Director and Training Manager of our program have joined me. These guys have fancy titles but I just call them Steve and Ray, respectively. In other words, Steve is the Big Cheese! Steve's on the blue ST1300 that I had previously ridden to Medford. Ray's on a '93 Honda VFR.

We're all wearing flip-up helmets. These are handy for combining riding and coaching. By coincidence they're all HJC's. White for Ray and Steve, mine's silver. Steve pulls his helmet up. He flashes me a wry smile from underneath that cheesy mustache of his.

"Ready to rock-n-roll?", he asks.

There's only a handful of instructors who do police training. You have to be highly skilled, both in riding and teaching. It also helps to be aggressive and not easily intimidated. Advanced motor training is not for the faint of heart.

"Bring it on!" is my reply.

With that we flip the helmets down. In a blinding flash of Hi-Viz 'Stich jackets we take off for the hour's ride North. On the way we encounter a little drizzle. This could be a bad sign.

When we arrive at the track all seems well. I go about running the big sweeper to clear debris off the surface. It's dry here but the radar shows we're due to get a soaking in a couple of hours. Time to put our heads together and see how we can make the most of it.

The normal plan would be to have all the cops in classroom for a couple of hours. I love this time because it means play time on the track for the instructors. Er, I mean, we're actually working on honing our technique and cleaning up our lines. Yeah, that's it!

After classroom we split the cops into two groups. One goes to the drag strip or airport while the other stays at the track. Then we switch after lunch. With the threat of rain comes the need to make an alternate plan. What happens is that we pull out the newer motors who haven't had this kind of training before. There's about 8 or 9 of them. A few more are selected to join this group to make up the 14 riders. This half, then, is mostly rookies.

They go into the classroom for a few minutes. We figure they should at least have a little exposure to what an apex is, what makes a good line, and that transitions need to be completed before the corner. The quick session ends and we're off onto the track.

Four of us are riding. Each of us takes either three or four cops in a line behind us. Our objective is to let each one follow us around the track to observe the best line through each section. After a lap, the first in line is waved around and we pick up the next rider. Speeds are purposely kept slow. This isn't about setting up for corners, yet. It's about finding the best way around first. Speed is supposed to come later. Things work out as long as the cops have to follow us. After each rider has followed an instructor we pull off and coach.

During this "follow the leader" drill it has started to sprinkle. With the lower speeds traction isn't as critical. However, once the instructors pull off the cops start going a little faster each lap. The rain's intensity starts to increase. Let's see. We have rubber already on the track. There's a layer of water forming on top of that. With the bikes we now have Rubber-Water-Rubber. Not good. It's time to call the officers in to the paddock.

At almost the exact moment we give the signal, we hear the grinding of metal on blacktop. In a tight, banked, right hand corner, a BMW has washed out. I look over in time to see the bike on its right side with the officer laying in the grass beside the track. He's taking inventory of himself. Interestingly, the bike is still running. The rear tire's still slowing turning. More interesting yet, it's finding a little purchase on the pavement. Little by little the bike's doing a circle, pivoting on the crash bar. It gains a little momentum and is starting to slide it's way towards the downed officer.

Ray is near the officer at this point. He can't hit the cut-off switch since it's on the down side. So he yells for the officer to move as his bike is coming after him. That cop's got quick reflexes, let me tell you! Now he's going to have to turn his patch upside down.

This isn't the exact patch of his department. Let's just say that the officer has been through our training before and is a good friend. I don't want to embarrass him by showing the actual patch that could be identified. This officer is in the rookie class because of his new partner. Motor cops have a tradition. When an officer drops their bike the patch gets turned upside down. It has to be worn this way until another officer in the unit drops their bike. Kind of a badge of dishonor, as it were.

Since its' raining all the cops go into the classroom and we're waiting around hoping for the best. Sure enough, the rain stops and the track starts to dry. We're back on schedule. After class we split the groups, letting the rookie group that was out before have first crack at the track. I'm slotted to go with my group of officers and head to the airport runway for braking and swerving practise at high speeds. I'll tell you about that in the next post. The pertinent part of this is that I'm with the group of experienced, aggressive officers. My work will be cut out for me.

Back at the track we run into an interesting situation with this group. To a person they are excellent riders. They're also pretty much fearless. There's four instructors with this half. Me, Steve, Jerry, and Scott. Jerry is a retired Oregon State Police Lt. Scott is still on the job as a Sargent. Both are former motor officers. In fact, the two of them were in charge of all of the State Police motors when the unit started. You'd think they would get through to this group of officers. Not!

We're all fearless, top notch riders, too. The difference is that we never abandon good technique. It's the familiar mantra. First you get good, then you get fast. Precision firstly, power secondly. In the exact opposite order, these cops were using bravado instead of brains. Power over precision. These are great riders but there was something in the air this day. It was like they were crazy with a competitive lust. Everything else went out the window. Or over the windshield, as it were. I'm surprised, frankly, that nobody else crashed. It was probably only their fast reflexes and deeply ingrained survival instinct that prevented it.

Even though there weren't any crashes there were some very worrisome off-track excursions! We tell them that if they leave the track they should keep the bike upright and stop as best they can. At least they listened to that part! Speeds down the long straightaway were so fast I swear I could see the leaves on the trees moving. I could hear ABS kicking in as they slowed for the first turn which is a really tight right hander.

So you might ask what's wrong with all this as long as they made it around the track. That would be a great question. There's a couple of issues here.

Firstly, these are professional riders. Discipline is fairly high in a police unit. It's quasi-military, after all. When faced with peer pressure and the competitive atmosphere, even these riders started over-riding their abilities. If these motor officers could succumb so easily, how much more so the average rider? It's so dangerous to let oneself get out of their own ride. I describe it as letting one's Gorilla mouth write a check one's Hummingbird ass can't cash!

Secondly, these cops weren't really as fast as they thought. At the end of the session we follow each cop for a few laps and offer feedback. During this time all the cops are still on the track so the frenzy continued. I'd follow a cop who was going flat out. Repeatedly, I'd be nosing up beside them in corners. A few times I could literally have nudged them off the track. Transitions and lines were being butchered in the name of "SPEED". Because of this, the cops were having to fight their bikes, using up precious traction and eliminating any room for error. Most of the time their lines would throw them wide. When a rider's on the edge of the road, there's really no place to go if something unexpected happens. This is a track. Like us, though, motor cops spend their time in the real world.

In that world we all need traction, space, and ground clearance in reserve. That's why technique is so important. Don't get me wrong, though. I have the utmost respect for motor cops. This training session was an exception. Usually these riders are deadly serious about training. It was just unfortunate that this ended up being a wasted session. Most of these cops get one shot a year. This time it ended up being more of a play day. Oh well.

I want to make a comment on the bikes. This group was all mounted on Beemers. Some still have the R1150RT-P. Others have moved on to the newer R1200RT-P. Here's a close-up of the first picture. The 1150 is on the right, the 1200 on the left. Most of the officers riding the 1200's like them much better than the 1150's. I've been told that the 1200 is more responsive in power and handling. The ABS is a little smoother. After watching them at the airport, I have to agree on the ABS.

Despite being a little better bike otherwise, I find the 1200 a little less visually appealing. I really like the integrated look of the 1150. The 1200 looks more like it was built from component parts stacked on top of each other. That's my opinion, of course. It's too bad the 1200 couldn't have been blessed with ability and beauty, both!!

Stay tuned for the next post. We spent some time on a coned off airport runway. What a rush! By the way, the new Metzeler Roadtec Z6 tires on Sophie are now well scrubbed in all the way across. Shocked the heck out of me when I saw the front tire that way. I'm glad I wasn't aware of it at the time!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, June 15, 2007

Bee careful!

Smack! Thud! Ouch! Dang those bees. It's not their fault, of course. Usually I see the fields and hives in time to get prepared. This time the hives were hidden around a corner.

Honey bees are plastering the fairing. Surprisingly solid little bee bodies are impacting my body. I'm just fervently hoping none get down my collar or up under my helmet's chin bar. For 16 to 20 days riders around here are vulnerable to these industrious little creatures. Most of them are splattering on the bike. What a mess. Have you ever heard the old joke about the last thing to go through a bug's mind when it hits a windshield? The delighted jokester will tell you it's the bug's rear end. Not all of the bees are flying at me, though.

I'm sure that some of the bees suddenly find a strange monster gaining upon them as they fly. It must be weird to a bee to feel itself greatly increasing its air speed as the bike pushes them along. I'm sure it's a lot like what a certain man in Paw Paw, Michigan felt recently. Did you catch that on the news?

The gist of the story is that a man is confined to a wheelchair. I can't remember if he has MS or something similar. The result is that he is strapped into a wheel chair. A big truck was waiting at a signal light. The man in the wheelchair started across the intersection at an unfortunate time. Seeing a green light, the truck driver proceeds to go. He does not see the man in the wheelchair down in front of the truck to the right. The wheelchair's handles become affixed to the front of the truck. A very surprised man finds himself being pushed along at speeds up to 50 mph for a few miles. It ends when the truck pulls into the trucking company yard. What a rush, huh? That chair must have been built quite sturdily, I'm telling you.

Anyway, back to the bees. I've been calling on more end users on the bike. Folks are getting used to it. As a matter of fact, it kind of sets me apart. It's been fun finding back roads to connect the dots, as it were. I live in a very agriculturally based area. We also happen to get a fair amount of rain. Some crops do well here. One such crop is Meadowfoam.

This low growing plant blossoms with white flowers. That's why it's called Meadowfoam. The fields look like they're covered in a sort of foam. The blooming time lasts two to three weeks. Farmers rent bee hives to pollinate the plants. Meadowfoam produces a few seeds for every flower. These seeds are crushed for their oil. This oil is a good substitute for rapeseed oil, spermwhale oil, and jojoba bean oil. Supposedly it's an exceptionally stable vegetable oil which happens to dissipate easily. This makes it ideal for cosmetic purposes. Sun screen and moisturizing lotions are a couple of its uses. When the crop is harvested the plants themselves are ground up, cooked, and mixed in as part of cattle feed.

My impression is that there are more fields of this stuff this year than ever. If I were a farmer and had to chose between renting bees and working forever with tweezers and a magnifying glass, I'd go for the bees every time. Since I'm not a farmer, but a rider, I'm not happy about the bees. Sometimes the hives are well away from the road. Most, however, are right beside the road.

When a rider spots the hives it's time to pull the jacket zipper all the way up, pull the visor down, and tuck behind the windshield. If you're riding a tourer or sport-tourer, that is. I've encountered these hives on the CBR and VFR. There's nothing to hide behind. Getting stung a few times is pretty common given the sheer number of bees.

I felt a little better when I finally got past the range of the bees. There was a house and barn at the end of the field. If you look at the back of the truck you will see it is buried up past the axles. There's a chain hanging from the front of the truck like somebody's tried to pull it out. How in the world did this happen? The rest of the ground looks fairly solid. You don't suppose this thing's been buried since Winter do you? Here's a closer look at the back of the truck.

This reminds me of some ancient and revered Oriental wisdom. It's advice about digging a hole.

"When one finds oneself in a deep hole, quit digging!"

I have had to remind myself of this once in a while.

There was a chance to wash off some of the bugs a little later on. A huge irrigation cannon was spraying over a field. I could see the road was wet but the water was pointing away from me. Just before I arrived at the wet spot, the spray head quickly spun until the water was cascading high over my head. It was like riding under a waterfall. All I can say thank goodness the water was clear. Early in the season a lot of this type of irrigation happens with watered down barn scrapings, if you know what I mean!

You just never know what you'll encounter on a ride to ( or for ) work. That's one of the things that keeps me coming back for more!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 14, 2007

More scooter stuff.

There's something I wanted to add about the connection between riding a scooter and a motorcycle. It seemed better to do it as another post rather than in the comments. In the meantime, I had a couple of other interesting experiences today which are relevant to the subject.

The reason I made a distinction between scooters and motorcycles in the first sentence is that there are physical differences between the two. Most critical is the smaller diameter of the wheels. I felt the need to bring this up as a clarification to what I wrote earlier. Riding a motorcycle well directly translates to riding a scooter. I really should have stressed that it's even more critical to have good skills on a scooter. Here's why I say that.

There's more moving mass that tends to make a larger motorcycle more forgiving. A lot of riders aren't as smooth as they should be. Things like larger wheels, more rake and trail, weight distribution, etc., absorb abrupt inputs. At least enough to sort of dampen the immediate effects. Scooters, by contrast, are set up differently for weight distribution, wheel diameter, and handlebar width, among others.

I guess what I'm trying to say in a seemingly long winded way is that not being smooth on a scooter can have more dire consequences than on a motorcycle. Before they're even aware that they screwed up a scooter rider could dump themselves on their heads. Being smooth reigns supreme on a scooter.

This knowledge comes from personal experience. Not that I've crashed a scooter. I've just spent a lot of time on them lately. Since there are more scooters being used in our classes I have been trying to spend more time getting familiar with them. Fortunately I have a great relationship with a certain motorcycle dealer manager. Comes from buying a number of bikes, I guess. He also happens to be an enthusiastic advocate of motorcycle safety training. These folks make a bunch of scooter sales. There's always some units available for me to go out and play with. I'm learning a lot about how they handle. The goal is to become more skilled at coaching scooter riders coming through the classes.

One of the big differences I'm finding is how I coach the presses in a swerve, for example. On a training bike I try to get the student to execute assertive presses. After all, it's a swerve and not an "S" turn. Using that same kind of press on a small scooter can make for wide eyes, let me tell you. Small presses make for big movements. On a different level road irregularities and things like gravel affect scooters more. There's other examples but you get the point.

It was while I was visiting my friend Lon that I saw a couple of scooter related things that made me shake my head. Sophie doesn't know it yet, but I'm exploring the options for replacing her. I'm leaning more and more towards wanting ABS. After watching the cop bikes on the airport runway I'm more convinced than ever how awesome a tool this is. I'll tell you about the cop training in a post pretty soon. On the other hand, I'd kind of like to see just how many miles Sophie will go. That's why I was at the shop and how I came upon the following people.

One was a guy who came in to look at the Schwinn / Kymco line. He wanted to look at a 49 cc scooter. I was joshing with him that he should go for at least 150 cc. I was told that the scooter was for his 15 year old daughter. The reason he wanted the smaller size was that he was under the impression that Oregon doesn't require a driver's license for that small size. The thought was that his daughter could sneak through back roads and neighborhoods on her way to summer school.

I reminded him that she still needed a driver's license but not an endorsement. I tried to get him to get her into a class. She could do it at 15 then get her endorsement when she gets her license. It was like talking to a wall. Another case of "just a toy".

The one that really got to me was when I saw I guy I know ride in on a Honda Reflex. He was wearing a novelty type helmet, ( believe it or not, through a technicality, some of these helmets can be DOT rated ) shorts, and flip flops. You'd think by looking at him that he was some ignorant playboy out for a ride. Far from it.

This guy is a forensic scientist specializing in vehicle accident reconstructions. Not too long ago he had been telling me how dangerous Jeep Wranglers are in crashes. If anyone had firsthand knowledge of what happens to riders without good gear it would be him. Yet here he is riding like that. I gave him heck but it was like water off a duck's back. It's amazing how people have such a capacity for self-rationalization.

You know what it all boils down to. Two wheeled riders are the same no matter what they ride. There's those who take responsibility and those who don't. We all need to keep doing what we can to influence attitudes. After that it's up to them, good or bad. What's that saying?

Something about having the courage to change what we can, accept what we can't, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Had a great ride today. I've got some pictures to share. There's also some great stories from the police motor training. Bees are figuring into my rides big time lately. Katie's almost out of the dark tunnel Stay tuned. It might not seem like it from my recent posts, but I'm actually still riding to work. Time to pay some attention to that aspect. That might even have been the reason I started this blog!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

It's only a scooter!

I'm starting to see what I consider an alarming trend. Increasing numbers of riders are coming through classes who say they are riding scooters. That's not the alarming part, of course. What really worries me is the casual attitude they display. It's as if these are merely toys and being serious about developing skills isn't high on their list of priorities. Scooters' high gas mileage and small size are great benefits. At the same time, the small size deceives riders about the risks. There is a recent example I want to share with you a little farther down the post. I'm afraid we're going to start seeing the statistics reflect higher casualties on scooters.

The scooter movement is gathering momentum. As there are more scooters purchased they will start making up a larger part of the accident numbers. That's already happened with a certain bike / rider combination. Right now the most highly represented sector of riders in accidents is middle aged men on bikes with a 1000 cc or larger displacement.

Gee, go figure. There's a bunch of middle aged men buying bikes. Baby boomers coming back into riding. Accounting for the largest number of new bike sales. Sheer numbers of riders mean they become more represented in statistics. Guess what they're buying? You guessed it; cruisers. A bunch are buying Harleys. There's also a lot of metric bikes being sold. The power cruiser fad means that most of the bikes are now over a litre's worth of displacement. Summing it up reveals this equation:

Most of the riders are middle aged men on 1000 cc or bigger bikes. Thus they will make up the bulk of the accidents.

This phase seems to be winding down slightly while the scooter movement is gaining momentum. It will be interesting to see what happens down the road. The same way men buying these cruisers tend to scoff at training so, too, do the scooter riders adopt a very cavalier attitude. This is not meant as a blanket statement. In my experience, most of the riders, not all, show this mindset. A lot of students come through the classes with the sole intention of getting an endorsement. Sometimes I can influence their attitude for the better. Too many times I feel like I'm not really getting through.

I have to admit that for a long time I had a different attitude towards scooters myself. I cut my teeth on dirt bikes and moved to the street as soon as I could. My bikes have either been fast and sleek sport bikes or long-legged sport tourers. Best of all is having both at the same time. I always thought of scooter riders as some sort of fringe element. By that I mean riders who only dipped their toes into the water while serious riders took the full plunge. I will be the first to admit that this attitude was wrong.

What strikingly changed things for me was being introduced into this blogging world. Many of my blogging neighbors are serious scooter riders. I've seen many thoughtful comments on the need to take responsibility for ourselves no matter what we ride. I followed a thread to a Vespa forum, once. Wow! These are some people who are serious about scooters and riding them well. Thank you all. I needed the education. It's been a source of growth personally, as well as in my role as a motorcycle safety professional. Scooters are motorcycles. Our rides might be different but we have way more similarities than differences.

Which brings me back to the story.

I had a pair of WOOF's come through a class recently. ( translation: Well Off Older Folks = WOOF ) The couple was a man and wife. An early retirement was pending. They had procured a nice place in what you might call an exclusive gated community. A pair of shiny new Vespa 250's await them there. Their statement to me was that they needed something big enough to keep up with traffic that often travelled at 55 to 70 mph inside this community. The flip side of the coin was that they were only here to get endorsements. They really didn't need to know how to ride a motorcycle. After all, these were only scooters. Neither one had actually ridden the Vespas yet.

The offer was made to have them use the scooters in class. Their "away" home was in another state and the scooters are there. As a result they used my training bikes. What was interesting was that she had never ridden before and was very tentative. He did okay mechanically but I could tell he really didn't mesh with the bike. Things stayed fairly rough over the weekend. All along there was resistance to coaching. The connection between my "motorcyles" and their "scooters" didn't seem to be happening. I tried to stress that they were essentially the same thing. Riding my bikes well would directly transfer to their scooters. Conversely, riding poorly here would also transfer to the scooters.

Bottom line was that they both passed the evaluation. Barely. I never saw what I would call good skills. I did keep getting the same excuse. They were only going to ride scooters so it wasn't important. Crazy. Yes, I had a very serious talk with them about how poor riding skills would bite them as quickly on the Vespas as on anything else. I can only hope for the best.

This kind of thing has opened up a new screen on my mental radar. Not only am I going to have to teach riding skills, I'm going to have to find ways to affect attitudes. Have fun, by all means, but temper that with the seriousness of taking responsibility for yourself as a rider. I'd be interested in hearing if your experiences are matching mine. Have you found ways to help people understand the importance of this?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Look out for.....Us?

Happy Harry was glad to be riding to work again. The weather was turning warmer. Riding in the cold of winter was not his cup of tea. It was time to start using the bike to get to work. His commute was just about right for him. Work was twelve miles away in another small town. Most commuters used the main road. There was another road Harry could ride. Big fields of Rye grass were wrapped by a curving road. This road should be safe and fun. Harry figured his biggest hazards would be the cell phone toting, latte drinking, drivers in town at both ends of the commute. His gear was complete. Harry felt ready to tackle the hazards. The only mistake he's made is in how he prioritized the hazards.

Harry hadn't ridden for a lot of years. Like many guys do, he'd given up riding while the kids were growing up. With schooling all done and only himself and the missus to look after, Harry was hungry to ride again. He'd met Irondad last fall. As a part of the process of returning to riding, Harry had wisely taken a class to sharpen long rusty skills. Of course, the students had no idea who "Irondad" was. To them, the instructor was just plain old Dan. As far as Harry was concerned, Dan was just an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guy who'd helped impart physical and mental skills. Students seldom see the other side of the motorcycle safety coin.

As a dedicated motorcycle safety professional, I study data and statistics on motorcycle crashes. The objective of the training program is to meet the needs of Oregon's riders. From this study springs the strategies to meet these needs. First and foremost is the critical need to give riders skills that will help keep them from crashing. An effective way to tackle this problem is to study motorcycle crashes. Questions must be answered. Questions like,

"Why do riders crash?"
"What contributing factors were present?"
"What skills should be taught to riders as preventative tools?"
"How do we make it easier for riders to take training?"

These are simplified summaries of complicated subjects. Eventually the findings are incorporated into training programs. Notice the last question. We're not offering easier training. Standards are still high for students to successfully complete the course. Surviving on the street is serious business. Motorcycling, whether for pleasure or utility, is fun but not a game that can be taken lightly. We study the perceived obstacles to taking training and then try to help potential students over them.

One strange aspect to motorcycle safety training is the tendency to hold onto long held beliefs. We live in a dynamic world these days. Training programs have to adapt along with this world to be effective. The "that's the way we've always done it" school of thought is no longer appropriate. Tried and true basics will always form the foundation but risk factors change over the years.

As an example, consider the widely held belief that most motorcycle accidents are the result of colliding with another vehicle. Riders talk about it all the time. Stories of how car drivers just don't see motorcycles abound. There's always an abundance of riders who tell about how an accident just wasn't their fault. They state that there's nothing to be done if a driver does something stupid. On and on it goes. A new rider listening to these people talk might soon come to think that the biggest hazard out there is other vehicles. Motorcycle accident research shows that this just isn't true anymore. The biggest hazards to motorcyclists, in this neck of the woods at least, are riders themselves.

I've been doing updates and public service presentations for the past several years. Oregon's Department of Transportation has a Traffic Safety division. It's here that data is gathered, analyzed, and passed on. You might find this interesting.

This information concerns reported accidents. Contributing factors have been distilled from police reports, either by the officer(s) on scene, or accident reconstruction specialists. These are accidents in general, not just those that result in fatalities. Most accidents have been deemed to be the fault of the rider. Furthermore, the majority of motorcycle accidents are riders out by themselves. In other words, single vehicle accidents.

According to the 2006 figures, only 31 percent of motorcycle crashes involved another vehicle. In multi vehicle crashes, only 13 percent were determined to be definitely the fault of the car driver. This means that the vast majority of motorcycle crashes were caused by some sort of failure on the part of the rider.

There's not space here to go into all the supporting details. However, here's a couple of examples.

Take a left turning car. It's right in front of the rider. Weird there should even be a crash in the first place, isn't it? Sometimes there was nothing a rider could do. Most of the time, though, the rider did the wrong thing. Riders assume eye contact means the driver saw them. Flashing high beam headlights are presumed to mean the driver was warned of the rider's presence. In actuality, this is a signal used by truck drivers, and by extension, car drivers to indicate permission to procede. In reacting to a sudden surprise, a lot of riders use bad braking technique. What commonly happens here is too much rear brake and not enough front brake. The resulting rear wheel skid causes a crash where the bike may have successfully stopped. The other side of a rear wheel skid is a high side.

Like I said, this is only a brief mention of things that look like a car driver is at fault but where the crash was actually caused by rider error. The biggest cause of motorcycle crashes in Oregon is the failure to negotiate corners. Riders just aren't looking far enough ahead. Crash investigations bear this out. Most of the crashing happens in the last third of the turn. Either a rider goes off the road or crosses the centerline. It seems so simple but seems so hard for riders to "get". You can't commit to a corner until you have all the information. Everything else hinges on this information. Corner entry speed, path of travel, apex point, all of it. Too many riders are literally operating on "blind" faith.

Adding to the problem is impairment. Half of our fatalites are alcohol involved. Only about a third are legally intoxicated. People are dead, not because of being drunk so much, but from being impaired. It would make you shudder to know what other substances also show up in toxicology reports. These are all factors the rider could control should they choose to do so.

There is one area where traffic seems to be adding to injuries suffered by riders. When a rider does have a crash with another vehicle, they are more likely to be hurt these days. The proliferation of vehicles like SUV's and mini-vans are bad news for riders. Where a bumper used to hit a rider somewhere lower like a leg, now the bumpers are hitting riders in the torso. Bigger, taller vehicles mean higher bumpers. Impacts to the torso hit more vulnerable body parts. When a rider leaves their bike a new situation has developed. Instead of travelling over a car, riders are more likely to slam into a solid body of a bigger vehicle.

What's the take-away here?

Good gear is a great thing. Like I wrote in the last post, there's several reasons to have this gear besides crash protection. One possible drawback to having great gear is that a rider may tend to rely on this more than on great skills. Gear is only a tool, not any sort of magic force field.

Niether are loud pipes any sort of magic bullet. Loud pipes save lives? Loud pipes lose rights. Without good skills, no sort of noise is going to do much for riders.

The biggest threat to riders out here is their own lack of skills. That's cold, hard, reality. Our concern and studies are for Oregon' riders but indications from other states show the situation is the same there. The solution is to wear good gear but develop great skills. The most valuable of these are the mental skills. Gather critical information as early as possible. Based on that information a rider can make good decisions. Minor adjustments early can avoid major trouble.

By the way, don't forget to have fun!!!!

Speaking of which, these last posts were too much like work. My burning passion for helping riders gets the better of me, sometimes. I'm going back to some fun stories for a while!!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

More on gear.

When I started this blog I really wanted to write about commuting. More specifically, the actual riding and the adventures I found therein. I still really like that part the best. This "trainer" thing keeps taking over, though. I promise to get back to the fun stories. This detour was begging to be made based on the past post so I'm going with it.

There were some good points brought up in the last post's comments. Adequate gear means different things to different riders. So I thought I'd throw another log on the fire, so to speak. There's more than one reason to wear proper gear. It might also surprise you to know that commuters aren't the primary threat to motorcyclists anymore. We need other things besides good gear to take care of ourselves. More on that later.

What do I mean by gear?

My personal vision of good gear is as follows:

A full face helmet with a visor. Both a motorcycle specific jacket and riding pants. In my case it's an Aerostich Roadcrafter two piece riding suit. Cordura works well for me. Other people prefer leather. Gloves appropriate for the season. Motorcycle specific riding boots. When I'm riding to teach a class my boots are usually a pair of Red Wing work boots with the laces firmly secured. I still have protection and can run around pounding pavement more comfortably. My Ray Ban's are worn under the visor. Helmet visors are shatter resistant while sunglasses aren't.

My preference is to have all of my body protected. It was rightly pointed out in one of the comments that extremities are vulnerable in a crash. More on that in the next section.

Why wear good gear?

It seems like crash protection is the number one reason for using good gear. It's certainly a big factor but not the only one. For now, though, let's concentrate on that aspect.

Several studies, most notably the Hurt Report, have shown that injuries to the head and chest are the most devastating. I don't think anyone could reasonably argue against the fact that a good helmet and motorcycle jacket are critical for surviving a crash. Even people who fight helmet laws know the truth deep in their hearts. I've heard some of them cling to the fact that wearing a helmet causes neck injuries. It's a feeble excuse they think will support their cause. I won't go into too much detail here but the people involved in the Hurt Study are still testing helmets. There has never been a documented neck injury without a devestating head injury that would have caused death anyway.

I've seen riders with good helmets and jackets but no gloves or riding pants. One of my arguments to them is a question.

"Have you ever been walking along and then tripped? Did you stick your face out to catch yourself?"

Arms, hands, legs, and feet are vulnerable. Denim pants will literally explode upon impact with the pavement, providing absolutely no protection. There was a comment that touched upon the fact that a broken arm will heal, etc. It's true our bodies have a remarkable capability for mending. The real danger in these type of injuries is two-fold.

One, limbs are more likely to have open wounds if not adequately protected. Infection is a secondary, but deadly, culprit. Secondly, injuries to limbs put additional strain on the limited resources available for healing. In other words, a person might recover from a serious head or chest wound if that was all there was to deal with. The added stress of limb wounds might just be enough to make a difference between survival or death. It's worth some serious thought.

Going back to the protection issue, here's a picture of my personal full face helmet. I keep it as a souvenir. Kind of macabre, I know. For me it's a reminder of my one and only crash on the streets. You can read about it if you go to the archives. The post date is March 2, 2006. Read "Sooner or Later".

It was not a high speed get-off. The damage you see on the helmet would have been done to my pretty face. Even with the helmet I got my bell rung hard. I experienced a violent high side and was slammed to the roadway. My right hand was badly broken but my gloves saved me from any abrasions to the skin. The shoulder pads and heavy nylon of my 'Stich did their jobs. Here's a closer look at the helmet gouges.
The point here isn't to sell anyone on good gear.

What I'm saying is that, due to my habits, the protection was there when I needed it. That's the gist of my urgings to riders. It's so tempting to think since we're just going to the store that we'll skip "suiting up". It's been said over and over that most accidents happen within a few miles of home. I say that's a dangerous place and I should probably move!

Seriously, you just never know. There's a reason things are called "accidents". A rider doesn't have the luxury of calling "time out!" and going back to get the good gear. Whatever a rider brought to the party is what they will have to deal with. I always try to make sure my dance partner can hold up her end of a tango! Make habits work for us, not against us.

Which sort of brings up the other couple of reasons we should be using good gear.

Gear can help us be visible to other traffic. In the Hurt Report it was stated that only 5 percent of the accident-involved riders were considered to be "visible". Think about it. What's a motorcyclist's favorite color? You got it. Black. We're already invisible so let's camouflage ourselves! Thanks to the ever increasing popularity of motorcycling, there's more ways to be visible without looking like Big Bird. ( who I happen to like, by the way )

The other reason is comfort. It's important to be comfortable while riding. What do we need to be concentrating on when we ride? Isn't it operating the bike and managing risk? Which means that distractions are our enemy on this front.

Have you ever been so cold on a bike that you're sure if you turn your head it will fall off your shoulders and clunk onto the road? If a rider's wet and miserable what are they thinking about? Yeah. How cold and wet and miserable they are, not about riding and managing risk. Same thing applies to gloves. Hands encased in good gloves will have better handgrip control. Freezing hands or sweaty palms don't get the job done as well.

A comment made mention of riders having very minimal gear in hot weather. The same principle applies. Crash protection aside, riding in hot weather in a t-shirt still leaves a rider vulnerable to sunburn. ( and bees! ) Worse yet, to heat dehydration. Hot air constantly wicks away the body's moisture. The effect on a rider is that they become kind of loopy over time. They start making questionable decisions. It's the equivalent to becoming slowly intoxicated. Motorcycle specific jackets allow for both venting and moisture retention.

Gear selection and use is a personal choice for riders. I guess that's part of the freedom here that many sacrificed for to win and keep. I'm trying to share some of my own observations and input to help folks make good choices. By that I mean reasoned decisions based on accurate information, not peer pressure.

Interestingly, though, the greatest danger motorcyclists may need protection from is themselves. It's shaping up that way. This post is getting long so I'll continue it until tomorrow.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Update and sneak peek.

Just a quick update and something to look forward to.

I spent yesterday chasing and being chased by cops on bikes. Yes, it was all legal but quite fun. Also critical to officer survival. I have to share some of it with you, especially the demonstrations of the awesome prowess of ABS!

My post on gear was just venting but it triggered some good discussion. I'm going to do another post that will throw another log or two onto the fire. For example, you might be surprised to learn who our real enemy really is.

Katie has to go into the hospital tomorrow morning for some more diagnostic imaging. Then we have to go back in the late afternoon for yet another test. Don't know yet on a definite outcome but we'll hopefully have a better idea the first of next week. If it does turn out to be serious I may end up posting it although it has nothing to do with riding to work. It does have a lot to do with why I work in the first place!

Anyway, I'll be spending quite a bit of time in a waiting room tomorrow. The hospital has wireless internet available so I'll take the laptop and work on a blog post tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, June 02, 2007

Bad combination.

I just had to share this with you. Being an ex-cop and a riding trainer to both cops and civilians, this hit me on both counts. Here's what happens when an irresponsible, negligent rider meets up with over zealous law enforcement. This is the kind of thing I was writing about in the last post. It gives motorcycling a black eye.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Other people?
That's us!

I scanned this old photo into my computer. The kid's my nephew who died recently. There's been a lot of history written since this picture was taken. Check out the big bad motorcyclist on his 900 Honda! Looks like a cop, doesn't he? Still have the bike. Unfortunately, we no longer have the nephew.

Summer's just around the corner. I'm seeing an increasing number of riders out. It seems like even more than previously. Rising gas prices and the fact that riding has become very "chic" are surely contributing factors. What bothers me is the casual attitude toward gear. Heck, it's not just gear, it's the whole thing about rider responsibility. Pleasure riding has its own set of risks. Commuting on a bike is an altogether deeper penetration behind enemy lines. There's this atmosphere of "I don't plan to crash" and "These things happen to other people. I'm different".

Guess what, folks? "Other people" is Us!

That was driven home to me like a punch to the chest in Arizona. Here's the brief version of what happened. My nephew was five months past his 18th birthday. An only child. On a Tuesday night he got off work at Taco Bell. Being the swing shift, it was midnight when he got home. Like young kids are prone to do, he decided he wanted something from a convenience store. You know kids, they don't always do things in a real organized manner. Like stopping on the way home instead of leaving again.

Ten minutes from home my nephew was involved in a head-on crash. A nurse who worked at a hospital in Phoenix was on her way home. A typical shift for her was 13 hours. The hospital was an hour and a half from her home. It's around 12:30 AM by now. Judging by the position of the vehicles, the police say my nephew had crossed the centerline in his little VW Jetta. The nurse's SUV had airbags, which deployed. The impact of the wreck was so great that she died anyway. My nephew's car caught fire. His body was burned beyond recognition. Thank God it looks like the impact was severe enough to have killed him instantly before the fire reached him.

Toxicology tests are still in the hands of an over-worked and understaffed police crime lab. It's also possible that the nurse had drifted off to sleep and crossed the line herself. Being inexperienced, the kid could have moved left thinking he was avoiding her. How many times have I seen sleepy or drunk drivers suddenly swerve back into their own lane? Too many. The kid could have just been distracted as kids will be. It only takes a heartbeat or two to be in the other lane.

There were no current dental records. Long story. End result is that DNA testing would be required. Again, in the hands of the crime lab. It will still be a while before the results are available. Circumstantial evidence was enough to have a memorial service, at least.

The point is that I was first responder to a number of really bad accidents. It was always "other people" and their relatives involved. I never imagined one of my own being the victim in a horrific wreck. It happened. Denial does not constitute a protective force field. There are no "other people". It is only us, the humans who live on this planet.

This same denial is evident in the riders I talk with. I ask them if they are really comfortable with having no protection in the event they come off their bike. Answers range from sort of guilty to downright hostile.

There's those who look sort of sheepish when I bring the subject up. These folks know they should have better gear. It's a sad thing when their fear of not fitting in with some "image" outweighs their fear of physical injury. It must be frightening to go through life without the courage to stand on one's own two feet. These type of persons make up a veritable horde. That's why Harley Davidson has had such good success, in my own opinion. Their marketing folks effectively play to this weakness in humans. These type of humans flock together. Nobody wants to break the mold. Nobody gets the truth shoved in their faces. As a result, their reality checks bounce. Denial continues to reign supreme.

Flipping the coin over, I'm often told it's nobody's business what kind of gear they wear. If it wasn't for the laws, they wouldn't even wear the helmets required here. For the record, I don't like being dictated to any more than absolutely necessary by the government. This isn't about government rules. This has to do with taking care of oneself. Folks can bluster all they want about how crashing would only affect them. Sorry. Nobody lives in a total vacuum. That argument holds absolutely no water for me. Aside from that, I don't believe that anyone ( with a very few possible exceptions ) actually doesn't care if they become seriously injured in an accident. I can't believe riders would purposely want to damage themselves.

Most of it is posturing. I've taken to asking people to do something for me. I tell them to go home and wait for dark. Then they need to go out on their front porch. With the light off, they should strip off their clothing and run naked down their street. When they achieve a good running speed they should throw themselves full length on the pavement. While they're down there, I ask them to bang their heads on a curb or large rock. If they can meet me at the same place tomorrow, bloodied and bruised with a big smile on their face, then I will accept their arguments. Nobody has taken me up on the challenge. It's not bravery, it's denial. Personal agendas must be met. There's no such thing as "other people".

I know I'm preaching to the choir, here. I just have to get this off my chest. Too many of the riders I've seen the past few days are riding in t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes. It's bad enough for themselves, but what about passengers? How much can a man really claim to care about a woman when she's on the back of the bike with the same lack of gear as him? I'd like to reach these people but don't know how. A good crash would quickly bring them back to reality. Isn't it amazing how riders suddenly become believers in good gear after a crash? Provided they walk away with the ability to continue to ride, that is. Some of us have raced. I've been violently thrown off bikes at high speed on a track. I know the value of gear and how suddenly it can be called upon to protect us. Most of us haven't had to crash in order to insist on good gear. Our denial meters are showing a fairly low level. There has to be some denial or we would never ride. That could be a whole post by itself. We won't venture there right now.

Here's my question. How do we get riders to the "after crashing" belief level in gear without actually having them crash?

It's important to me. I worry about the riders themselves as well as their families. There's no such thing as "other people". Real people suffer when motorcyclists are injured and killed. I also worry about what's going to happen to motorcycling as a whole if enough of the people in denial crash. Those of us who are serious riders and commuters don't need the bad press, the unfavorable reputation, or the inevitable government interference. I hate the fact that the clowns are taking over the face of the circus. So much talent and all the public sees are the jesters.

I'm looking for anwers in a place where there may not actually be any. Maybe I'm just temporarily too sensitive. My nephew's father and mother are up here this weekend. My dear wife's brother. We just spent a few hours with them. These people are lost and looking for the "why's?". So much of the death, injury, and suffering in this world is totally senseless. Being alive and well is too precious to take casually. I ride to make the most of it and yet I temper what I do with the knowledge of the gift we've been given. Use it, but don't needlessy waste it. It bothers me when people don't seem to get it.

Thanks for bearing with me. I know this post is a little "dark". Writing here has become a cartharsis for an old warrior who keeps his emotions bottled up. I'm ok, really. I just needed to write this and lose myself for a few minutes. I hope you won't go away from here feeling down. My desire would be for you to go away determined to appreciate even more the wonderful things we have been given to enjoy. If, somewhere along the way, you can help someone else to the same attitude so much the better. I guess my statement works two ways. Good things don't happen to "other people" either. Remember, "other people" is us! Enjoy. Good things happen to all of us. Go find them.

It's 10 PM. I'm going for a ride. It's who I am. It's what I do. Here in the Northwest, if you look just above and to the left of the full moon, you can see Jupiter. I'm going planet hunting!

Miles and smiles, ( yes, there will be things to smile about, believe me! )