Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A chance to help out

I am a long time AMA member. Just to make sure we're on the same page, that's the American Motorcyclist Association. This organization is providing an opportunity for riders to further the cause of motorcycle safety training. Each individual contribution is relatively small. Collectively, though, we can make a huge difference in keeping riders alive and well on the streets.

The last major study of motorcycle crashes was released in 1981. It was called the "Motorcycle Accidents: Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures" study. Otherwise known as the Hurt Report. Not because people got hurt, ( although they did ) but after the lead researcher, Dr. Harry Hurt.

From this study we learned that motorcyclists are more vulnerable, less visible, and that making good decisions is critical for a rider. We saw how vital it was to be able to provide rider education. Most of what is being taught even today is based upon the results of that study. Mental strategies to deal with "blind" motorists and other hazards were developed and taught. The study exposed what physical skills were lacking in accident involved riders. These skills are now being taught as "accident avoidance skills". Most riders take up learning these when they're avoiding an accident. That's a bummer of a time to start. Rider education gives us a chance to be prepared ahead of time.

It's all good but we live in a world that's vastly different today. Things exist now that didn't back then. Some examples are the myriad of drivers distracted by cell phones, SUV's, anti-lock and linked brakes, sport bikes that are ungodly fast, the proliferation of scooters, and the sheer volume of traffic, to name but a few. It's time for a new study.

The good news is that the federal government has funded just such a project. The AMA was heavily involved in this effort. A transportation bill was passed in 2005 that allocated almost $3 million dollars to a new study. Sounds great, right? Ah, but there's a condition attached to the money. Motorcyclists are required to match the funds before the government releases theirs.

The motorcycle industry is putting up a significant chunk of it. The AMA is also committed to funding a large share. Even with that, there's a need for additional funds. That's where the individual riders come in. This study will benefit us as well as future riders. If the collective motorcycle world doesn't come up with the funds to match, who knows how long it will be before the government decides to offer it again. As you can imagine, as a motorcycle training professional, this kind of study is dear to my heart. It's something that we sorely need.

The AMA is asking individual motorcyclists ( that would be us ) to get involved. It's an effort called "Fueling the Fund. They are asking that riders contribute what they can. A suggested amount is the price of a single fillup ( hence the "fueling" part of the name ). The AMA has made it easy to participate. Clicking on this link will take you to a secure website where riders can donate online.


Those who prefer the postal system can send a donation to:

Fueling the Fund
c/o AMA
13515 Yarmouth Drive
Pickerington, OH 43147

If you feel so moved, your help will keep us moving in the right direction. Please mention it to those you know that ride. This is an excellent cause.
Miles and smiles,

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Humor and perspective to start the week

Here's a couple of humorous posters plus one to put the work week into perspective. I have no idea where they originated. A fellow instructor forwarded them to me. I apologize if I am committing a copyright infringement. I'm only passing them on, not claiming any sort of authorship.

In light of all the police training I've been involved in recently, this poster seemed to fit. Especially after being chased by motor officers on the race track. This looks to be a similar type of training in "violator pursuit", just with cruisers instead of bikes. I hold most law enforcement in high regard. This is just some humor afforded by the classic stereotype. The fact that it has a bike in it makes it even funnier to those of us who ride.

Some people really like bikes with "character". Me, I don't much favor having a bike with flaws disguised by calling them "character". I appreciate finely honed tools that do their jobs with just normal maintenance. Those maintenance intervals should be widely spaced. I have a few fellow riding enthusiasts who seem to be happy when their bikes break down. It gives them an excuse to pull the wrenches out and go for it. That's not how I "get down" or whatever the expression is. I don't insult these fellows but they seem to want to do it to me. I'm constantly getting crap about my "rice burners" in comparison to their fine Italian or English machinery. Well, guys, this one's for you!

Finally, for those who might be reading this blog and not quite having made the decision to ride to work regularly, here's another reason. Life's about attitude. It's not about what "happens" to us. It's about how we interpret events. Helpless victim or firmly in charge of our journey? Riding empowers us.

I hope your Monday is great! I've got some posts planned that I'm sure you'll find helpful and enjoyable. Life's been so busy that I've sort of been slacking off here. You will soon find my sense of fun and adventure, my somewhat sarcastic wit, and my stubborn attitude spilling out on these pages once again!
Miles and smiles,

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fork in the Road revisited

This picture is a re-run from January of this year. It was bitter cold but sunny back then. When I published the picture in the post someone asked for the GPS coordinates. Having recently acquired a Garmin Zumo I now have the coordinates. If anyone still has an interest here they are:

N 44 degrees 33.654'

W 122 degrees 58.723'

The demand for riding classes is increasing all the time. Headquarters has been scheduling more classes. During the summer the added classes happen in the middle of the week. After receiving a desperate plea from HQ, I arranged some flex time from my job to teach. The first half of yesterday and today were spent with another eager group of riders in a beginner class. I had just taught an intermediate class on Saturday and an advanced class on Sunday. I never really know what day it is anymore. When you work 30 or 40 days in a row they all blend together. I do know when Sunday rolls around because the newspaper's much bigger!

After class yesterday I managed an awesome ride. In the next few days I'll write up the great ride to work and the long way home. I found a really unusual water tower and took a picture of it. My riding's going to be curtailed for a few days, unfortunately. I really tweaked my left ankle today doing a demo ride. Yes, the great Master has injured himself on a little training bike!

It was a demo for a cornering exercise. I was riding a Suzuki GZ250 which is a cruiser style bike. During the demo we ride close to a a pivot cone which sets up the path of travel for the next corner. I admit that I like to lean a bike. Cruisers don't have as much ground clearance as the bikes I usually ride. Especially little ones.

I usually just kiss the peg feeler to the pavement going around the cone. Not enough for anyone to hear it, just enough to know I did it. A small touch of finesse. There was just one slight variable today that did me in. A new pair of Red Wing boots. They're great range boots. When you pound the pavement so much these hiking type work boots are excellent. Only thing is, the new boots aren't beveled on the edges yet.

Simple formula. New boot sole meets blacktop. Boot sole does not slide. It grabs traction on the pavement. Boot twists backwards off foot peg. Contents of boot also follow on this unwanted journey. I got my foot lifted but only after a painful twist of the ankle happened. Ankles will rotate but I'm pretty sure 70 to 80 degrees is more than they were designed for. The good news is that the students were on the right side of the bike and a little farther away so their view of it was blocked.

This happened early in the range session today. There was a short time when I tried not to let anyone see me hobble. After a while I hardly noticed it. When I got on my own bike to come home, the real pain started. My left ankle hurt so badly that I was really tempted to ride home in first gear. I guess the action of trying to put my toe under the shifter wasn't good for the ankle. Neither was holding up me and bike with it a fun thing.

Once home I took off my boot. The pain was so rough that I experienced the flushed, sweaty face, and nausea typical of a broken bone. No, I haven't been to a doctor. There's only a little swelling and a tiny bit of bruising. I have a high pain threshold and I'll deal with it. Probably just a strain. Right now I'm limping around because Katie's gone for a couple of hours. I'll crawl back on the couch before she gets home. Before she left she made me promise to stay put. The dear angel brought me everything she thought I might want. I'm not comfortable asking her to wait on me but she wants to baby me. I'm not sure how I got so lucky.

We were planning to take a ride to Kirkland tomorrow. A small dinner party is being held in honor of the company I work for being in business 20 years. The plan was to take the bike and stay overnight. On Saturday I'm planning to take Katie to the Italian restaurant with the vintage Italian bikes on display. It would qualify as a very long ride to work as it's to the corporate offices.

This trip is going to happen by car. I'm not wild about it but there's no way I'm going to put Katie in danger as a passenger. By myself I'd grit it out. Our riding students get an ongoing lesson in knowing one's limits and riding within them. This is a time for the Master to heed his own wisdom.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tipped over the edge?

Katie says I suffer from insanity. I vehemently protest that she's dead wrong. I'm not suffering. Actually, I enjoy every precious second of it! What's crazy is that it was her idea in the first place. I carry it out and now she calls me nuts! Sheeesh!

What I'm going to relate is totally true. There have been statements made that truth is stranger than fiction. Other people talk of how life imitates art. Perhaps all they say is true. Read on and you can be the judge. Tell me what you think. Have I finally tipped over the edge? I'm almost afraid you'll say I have. What worries me even more is that you won't find me crazy. You may nod your head pityingly. You might think it would be crazy for anyone else; but knowing me, you can totally understand. All I can do is relate the sad state I've found myself in. There is another possible outcome, you know. You may not want to admit it but there may be a little envy. That's right, you might be envious that you didn't think of it first.

As you know, this blog and several others in our blogosphere are mainly about riding to work. Lately, though, the need to actually go to the office is diminishing. I still make customer calls but the paperwork and reporting takes a lot of time. With a laptop computer, an internet connection, and a phone, I can do all I need to do from home. Why fight freeway traffic for three hours just to work in an office a hundred miles North? I grab coffee from the kitchen and head for the room I use as an office. Sounds like a great thing, right?

There's a down side to this, though. I'm sure you can see it coming. Riding to work implies that there is actually someplace to go. Not going to a work place equals no riding. It was okay for a few times. Call me sick but I have to ride fairly frequently. If I don't I get out of sorts and slightly cranky. Katie may not use the word "slightly" but, hey, it's my blog, not hers! Riding is literally my way to relax. Katie says that for me riding is a misdemeanor. As in, "the more I miss, da' meaner I get!"

You can see the problem. Working at home more means riding less. I wasn't sure what to do about it. I thought of taking a ride in the afternoons but there wasn't always time due to a hectic schedule. It was turning into an ugly situation.

Then one evening the answer presented itself.

We were watching the Food Network. There's a car commerical playing. It's for a Lincoln MKZ. This guy kisses the wife goodbye and pats the young son on the head as he leaves. During the ride the man calls for messages. Soon he arrives at his destination. Which happens to be back at his house. The wife looks more businesslike now. The man says "Good morning, Grace!" The son says "Hi, Boss!" He's acknowledged by the father saying "Johnson". Later on the son asks the boss if he has time to play catch. The father says he can take an early lunch. It's actually a very cute commercial.

Katie says, "You could do that!"

Ever notice how doing the same thing in two different contexts can make the difference between normal and crazy? You know how a woman you deeply love can be. She has this way of getting me to do these kind of crazy things. There's both mischief and a promise in the way she looks at me. All the while drawing me deeper and deeper into her schemes. It seemed weird to think of but I let her start me down the path.

I planned a route that included some fun roads. It would take anywhere between thirty five minutes and an hour. I could ride more or stop for coffee. I have to say it's really working out well.

The other bikes in the picture above belong to a couple of gents I met while having coffee. They were sort of camera shy so I had to settle for a picture of just the bikes. We're at our range in Salem. The man who rides the BMW was having some low speed control issues with the big bike. We arranged to meet for some personal coaching.

You can call me nuts but this is a really great thing on several levels. For one, there's absolutely no time pressure. Secondly, in order to be successful in working at home a person needs to set up a situation to be productive. There has to be a mental transition from "being at home" to "being at work". Taking an early morning ride puts me in the business mind frame. The extra productivity helps me get more done early in the day. Which means I can also take a ride more frequently in the later part of the day just to clear my head. Most of all, during those weeks when I have to spend several days working at home, I still get my fix!! Not to mention that it's fun.

With a little creativity ( and possible insanity ) I've discovered there's more than one way to ride a bike to work.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, July 20, 2007

Baby arrives then has to go back!

Here's the boy with his new ride yesterday. This morning the bike took a ride in the back of the pickup you see behind it.

Things are getting off to a rocky start. You may have noticed that there's no front fender. It suffered some sort of shipping damage and is being repaired or replaced.

Clinton took the bike out for its maiden voyage. He decided to come by to show off the bike. The last couple of blocks were accomplished by foot power instead of horse power. Clinton said the bike back-fired and quit running. I gave it a quick going over but couldn't really do a proper diagnosis. The battery was stone dead. It looked new but one cell had very little electrolyte in it. A trickle charger applied its electrical massage over night. This morning the battery was re-installed. We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

Nothing doing. It sounds either like the starter teeth aren't quite engaged correctly or the thing's jumped timing. Whatever it is, the sound it makes is a pretty sick one. I thumbed the starter very briefly twice and stepped away. Time for the bike to become cargo once more.

We were assured by the shop that it would be fixed up under warranty. They're plenty willing but I'm slightly worried about their abilities. I guess time will tell.

The kid's still smiling, at least. With any luck this is just a bump in the road. I'll keep you posted. I'm curious to see what's going to happen myself!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Climbing the walls.

I can't believe it's come to this. I find myself climbing the cement walls during a break in my class. More accurately, I'm doing the balance thing as I walk on top of them.

How did I get here? Why am I doing this? Maybe the answers are so deeply rooted in my twisted psyche that I don't really want to know. Does it have to do with the fact that I'm staring down the barrel of the years when I'm considered past my prime? Am I doomed to looking for situations where I can prove I'm still agile and coordinated? Some guys my age look for fast cars and even faster young women. Me? I'm an insane Road Warrior who rides a motorcycle and climbs walls.

As I make my way around the curved part I'm thinking of riding a bike. Why must everything always come down to riding? I could swear I actually have a life but it seems that everything in that "life" revolves around riding. Motorcycling is literally the core of my being. There's high viscosity synthetic oil pumping through my veins and chain lube filling my joints. See? Even in describing myself I come back to mechanical terms. My friends call me a gear head. All three of them. Am I really that obsessed? Yeah, pretty much.

I'm okay with that. Riding really can be a Zen-like experience. Spiritual growth towards personal enlightenment can easily be had by those willing to open themselves to the journey. Seriously. A lot of things make more sense to me if I relate them to riding. An equal number of experiences in riding have an application in my life. Like walking on top of concrete walls.

Do you remember a couple of my earlier posts where I extolled the benefits of keeping our eyes up while riding? Success in riding hinges upon the information our eyes bring us. Corner entry speeds, lines, hazard avoidance, and directional control are all helped or hindered by our visual habits. As I walk the walls, though, an added dimension is making its way to the forefront of my brain. It's something that's been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time. As a serious rider I look at every aspect of riding. A pathway of exploration will open up. I am an eager traveller. Every twist, turn, and nuance of the path is examined to its ultimate conclusion. Some of the journey turns out to be merely sightseeing. Along the way, though, gold, diamonds, and other treasures are unearthed.

One such thing of value is this thought that is beginning to intrude upon my consciousness. It is found further along the pathway of keeping one's eyes up while riding. Join me on the wall.

The top of the wall is about eight inches wide. To one side the drop isn't very far. On the other side, though, the drop is more substantial. Not that its' tremendously high. Just enough of a drop to provide incentive for not falling off.

My natural reaction is to look down at my feet. This isn't about directional control or avoiding traffic hazards. It's about not falling off the wall. Weirdly enough, though, the more I stare at my boots, the less balanced and in control I feel. Looking down makes my steps more awkward. I think my feet feel like my neice is going to feel tomorrow. She's taking her driver's test. She knows how to drive. The pressure of the examiner sitting next to her, though, is going to make her forget what she knows how to do. Staring at my feet is making them nervous. A wall top eight inches thick isn't really that hard to walk on. Unless there's added pressure from staring at your feet. From deep within my boots comes the cry to leave my feet alone and let them do what they know how to do.

So I pull my eyes up and quit worrying about my feet. Sure enough, the pressure's off and I do an admirable job of walking smoothly along the wall's top. Even the curve's no problem. My body knows exactly what to do. I just need to keep looking at the bigger picture and let things happen as they should. How does this relate to riding?

I've seen a similar thing happen to my riding students. It's especially evident during an exercise where they practice maximum braking without skidding either tire. Just this last weekend I had a student who would repeatly let his head and eyes drop towards the gas tank as the front of the bike dove under braking. Fascinatingly, ( at least to me, if not him ) as his eyes dropped his braking got more abrupt. It's like his lowered gaze prompted the rest of his body to curl in upon itself. His feet pressed harder and his hands squeezed more forcibly. Skids happened often. Once I finally got him to keep his gaze up everything smoothed out. It was like looking at a different rider. His stops became very competent. He's not the first I've seen have the same experience.

This isn't so much about stability. It's not about finding hazards. Neither is directional control involved. The item on the top of the list is that thing called being smooth. In this case, being smooth isn't just something nice to experience. It can literally be the difference between stopping without incident or crashing. Not everything we do on a bike is a critical matter, I admit. Critical or not, being smooth is much preferable. Keeping our eyes up and letting our body do what it knows how to do will go a long ways toward being smoother. We'll have more fun because we'll feel more in control. Not to mention looking much "Cooler" too!

Walking on top of the walls really wasn't a huge thing. Hundreds of people have done it at this college, I'm sure. No circus is going to try to recruit me for the high wire act. Call it an obsession, but I'm always looking to improve my own skills or find a better way to help others do the same. It's become a part of my nature over the decades to hold my experiences up to the light that is motorcycling. Is there some small gem that will be applicable? One little diamond got polished up some on the top of a concrete wall.

I told you I actually have a life. Just to prove it, I'm going to try to make an application to real life without mentioning riding or motorcycles.

Keeping our eyes up during whatever journey we find ourselves undertaking will help keep things in perspective. Remain focused on a destination down the road. In other words, maintain visual contact with the larger picture. Let whatever we use for balance and motivation take care of the small things. Eyes up will make for a smoother journey.

Wow! That was hard. A whole paragraph. Can we go back to talking about riding, now?

Miles and smiles,


P.S. The Kid's plane is landing in a couple of hours. He's picking up his new bike tomorrow and bringing it over to my place. I'm hoping to get a couple of photos with his mile-wide cheesy grin!

Monday, July 16, 2007

New commuter!

My youngest son is joining the ranks of motorcycle commuters. Unfortunately, the first day he'll be able to ride is Thursday. Figures. One day after Ride to Work Day!

I just got back from headquarters in Kirkland. Late Sunday afternoon and evening was spent riding up there. Traffic was still indescribably insane. There were more vehicles than what the roads can handle, I think. According to my GPS, I spent five and a half hours on the road with a little over 45 minutes of it sitting in traffic. Wow!

Sophie now has a new farkle, as you may have guessed. It's a Garmin Zumo 550. Had it about a week and I'm really liking it so far. That's a tremendous leap for a guy like me. Don't get me wrong, I love technology. I just don't like it to replace human skills. Navigating is a time-honored skill. Most of my navigating has been by my nose or with Manual Analog Positioning Systems, otherwise known as maps. My goal is to use the advantages of the GPS without becoming reliant on it. I'll keep you posted.

My new commuter in the family's 19, now. Three of my four kids ride. For some reason, the middle son likes things like surfing and other sports but not riding. Our daughter's the oldest of the bunch. Since she got married about a year ago the street riding's been more or less replaced with ATV's. Her husband leans that way. Maybe he'll get the street itch one of these days. No pressure from me. Oldest boy's been riding a long time and uses a Suzuki GS500 for commuter duty. His trip is 12 miles one way. River Road in Salem is a perfect road for motorcycle commuting and happens to be the most direct route. Fun and efficiency both!

Youngest son, Clinton, sent me some pictures from the company's web site. His bike is on order and should be here tomorrow. Clint's in Texas until Wednesday. Should be a nice reunion.

It's called an NST. I know very little about this brand. It's Chinese, I think. The bike has a 200 cc air-cooled motor. Power goes out through a six speed transmission and chain drive. Probably to make it easier to keep it in the power band! Dual front discs and a rear drum do stopping duty. It weighs about 300 pounds. A four gallon tank and what the manufacturer is claiming at almost 85 miles per gallon should make fill-ups easy.

Pricing is somewhere around 1500 bucks. It seems to be more of a case of a young man with limited funds becoming enticed by being able to purchase something new for the money. We've had a lot of older bikes around the house over the years. Maybe he's not in the mood to do that much maintenance! As a side note, though, working on old bikes is a great way for fathers and sons ( or daughters ) to talk about sensitive issues.

Where it might be impossible to have serious conversations while looking into each other's eyes, putting a bike between us made it work. The physical barrier of the bike seemed to take down the mental barriers. We worked through a lot of teenage life accompanied by the sound of clanging wrenches.

Clinton bought his bike from a small, new, shop. This gal used to work in security at Linn Benton Community College where we hold classes here in town. She was always so supportive of us. Now she has a shop where they sell pocket bikes, small scooters, etc. They're still learning the ropes but are good people.

When the boy gets back and meets his bike I'll post a photo of the proud owner. As many of you already know, two-wheeled commuting and riding can easily be a family adventure!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hummer dilemma

It was 104 degrees (f) when I left the office on Tuesday. The fact that it broke a long standing record for that date didn't overly impress me. Nasty hot is nasty hot, record or not. We're in the middle of a short ( hopefully ) heat wave. Every possible vent on the 'stich and helmet was WFO. Wide, flapping, open. Let me get moving and get some air flow going. I was pretty much done for the day so the evidence of my suffering wouldn't really matter. You know what I mean. Big wet spots on the shirt, plastered down hair, reddened cheeks and nose, and sometimes that odor....well, never mind.

The last work related task was to drop off a small box in Salem. It's about an hour South of the office. From there I'd have another thirty minutes home. With this heat, taking the long way sort of loses its appeal. I made my delivery and donned the helmet once more. The inside of the helmet was still wet from the ride down. Gross! At least it felt cool for a minute or two. Now the task at hand was to get back into traffic. I was on Mission Street.

Nearly one hundred and fifty thousand people live in Salem. On any given day, all but a couple drive down Mission Street. It's a major East-West corridor with everything from a hospital to Wal-Mart to be found there. Unless you're at a stop light, getting into traffic during late afternoons becomes Mission Impossible. At least, Mission Quite Difficult. Even turning right into traffic can be a matter of a long wait.

That's the situation I found myself in. I'd approached so that I could make a right turn into the parking lot. Now I had to get out. Traffic is moving slowly enough through this stretch that it's bumper to bumper. Using the superior acceleration of the bike won't help. I'm in need of a Good Samaritan to let me in. These kind of people are getting more scarce but there's still a few. I'm suddenly in luck. A woman cheerfully waves through her windshield. She's smiling and leaving me space to enter the flow of vehicles. The rig's almost the same color as Sophie and has about every chrome farkle imaginable, creating a dazzling brilliance in the hot sunshine.

Too bad it's a Hummer.

I am morally and philosophically opposed to Hummers. They represent the most "in your face" statement to the environment possible. Oh sure, there's other vehicles with worse fuel economy and more pollution. At least these serve a purpose. Hummers don't do anything but massage fragile egos. A driver just doesn't need one for any other purpose. Now this woman is waving me on to cut in front of her.

I'm slow roasting in the burning sun. Basting in my own sweat. It will likely be a lot longer before I get the chance to go again. We're just down the road from a major intersection. Five lanes of traffic are plugged to the max. It's tempting to let my principles evaporate into the sunshine like so much mist. I'm going to have to make a decision soon as the light is about to turn and everyone will surge ahead.

For now, though, I have a few seconds. Part of the problem is that I'm sort of in shock. A Hummer driver is one of the last people I'd expect to show that kind of courtesy. I know it's stereotyping. It's my stereotyping so leave me to it, good or bad. Part of the temptation is the extreme heat. I'm feeling like I'm literally melting. The air right in front of my face is so hot I could easily suffocate. Who would know? I could just go. What does it matter? It's a little thing, really. Won't make any difference in the scheme of things; won't cause anyone to quit driving Hummers.

Laugh at me if you will, but I have this impression that I would somehow be cheapened by accepting an act of largesse from a Hummer driver. We are diametrically opposed in our philosophies. That's a lot of big words, isn't it? Let me say it in my native Redneck.

I'll be damned if I'm going to accept a gift from someone I'm feuding with. On top of that, I sure hope my refusin' is going to insult you!

With a slight head shake I wave her on, refusing her offer. She gave a shrug as if to say "It's no skin off my nose if you're stupid enough to sit there and bake" and proceeded on. I lost sight of her in the tinted side windows as she drove by.

I glanced at Sophie's clock to note the time. I had to put a numerical value to my suffering in the name of Intregity. Eight minutes later I got another chance from an older woman in a PT Cruiser. Have you ever noticed how many of these cars are driven by older women? I love old ladies and don't have too many issues with the car so I waved cheerfully in thanks as I accepted her gracious offer.

Like I say, it's a little thing. Just another small moment with larger implications in the life of a motorcycle commuter. I figure a person either has principles or doesn't. Like my little buddy Yoda says "There is no try, only do, or do not!" ( are you reading this, G.C. Yoda?) I'm not going to hold Hummer drivers as foes and then accept gifts when it suits me. It's a Cowboy Thing my Grandfather ( rest his soul ) instilled into me. Gramp, if you're looking down, I'm sorry I was even tempted!

Miles and smiles,


P.S. There's no picture because I don't want an image of one of THOSE here!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fast track at work

The needle on Sophie's speedometer is buried solidly at 115. That's miles per hour, not kilometers. Sometimes she forgets she's a sport-tourer. This spirited mare has the heart of a sport bike. Still, though, I know I shouldn't be riding Sophie this fast.

Behind me are a couple of other guys who agree with me on that point. Two motor cops are in hot pursuit. I can hear the blare of the sirens. In the mirrors I see headlights with little blue and red lights dancing on either side. They're about three seconds behind me but gaining little by little. It's time to contemplate my next move.

Pull over? I don't know. We're already at triple digits and these boys are excited. Try to out run them? I could probably do it. There's some curvy sections of road ahead and we're coming upon them real fast. This could get ugly. For the cops, that is.

Meekly pulling over isn't an option. I decide to turn this into a learning experience for the cops. These guys are aware of the turns ahead. In anticipation one has dropped back slightly. They're no longer side by side. Maybe I can use this to my advantage. I slow down just a little, hoping to suck the first guy into riding right on my tail. I know this blacktop like the back of my hand. The lead rider's going to get a surprise real soon if my plan works.

For the next few corners I ride proper lines. I know what's going through my pursuer's minds. High adrenaline situations create tunnel vision. They're excited about catching me. Their focus is totally on me. Will they forget that they're riding at high speeds in twisties and sacrifice their own lines? Time to find out.

The two cops are following my lines. So far I'm riding good ones so the cops are getting more comfortable. Time to shake them up. A right hander is coming up. I should late apex this one and hold my press. That will put me to the right which will set me up perfectly to late apex the next turn, which goes left. Messing up the line will throw a rider really wide. It's a tight turn with no camber. The good news is that if a rider goes wide there's a big grassy area for run-off. I'm hoping to make at least one of the cops run off the road here.

I late apex the right hander but don't hold the press. That puts me in the middle of the roadway instead of to the right. I've slowed down enough so that the lead cop thinks he's gaining on me. Sure enough, he's following my line like I knew he would. The guy can almost taste the capture. I early apex the left turn. It puts me in a dangerous situation. The early apex throws me wide but I'm doing this on purpose. At the last minute I throw Sophie into the left hander. I hate doing this and only hope my skills are as good as I think they are. With a sickening grind of a footpeg we make the turn, coming within an inch of going off the road.

Looking over my shoulder, I'm rewarded with a giant dust cloud. The cop's run the big BMW R1200 off the road. Fortunately, the guy's remembered his training and keeps the bike upright, using the ABS to stop in the grass. Now it's just his partner and I.

A quick flick right and left puts me onto a straight stretch. I keep Sophie in a lower gear and come close to her redline. There's a reason for this. I know that there's a big left hander coming up which is going to require scrubbing some speed. I don't want to use the brakes, figuring that the officer will get a clue from my brake lights. I want this to be a surprise. My plan sort of works but literally backfires. I wanted to use engine compression to scrub off speed so that I didn't have to show my hand by using the brakes. Sophie's in third gear at about 7500 rpm. As I roll off and get ready to downshift, she gives out several very loud backfires. They sound like gun shots. It was enough to warn the officer. He scrubs speed but it's almost not enough.

He stays on the road but it really screws up his lines through the next two corners. I put the right foot peg on the pavement and power through the right hander, putting more distance on my pursuer. Catch me if you can!

Soon, we all pull into the paddock and shake hands. It's been a fun exercise.

That's right. This hasn't been fodder for a "Cop's" episode or "World's Craziest Police Chases". We're on a race track. And I'm getting paid for it! Talk about the ultimate work day.

Commuting eighty miles, putting on about 180 more on a race track, and another eighty miles home. We should all have it so hard.

As much fun as it is, this is serious business. It also has real world implications. Not just for motor cops, but for anyone riding with others. We ran two four hour sessions. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. Between the two somewhere near 50 officers participated. There were some corner braking drills and a lot of work on riding the track properly. The venue was Portland International Raceway, a circuit just shy of two miles long. In June the Champ cars ran there. On this day the track belonged to us.

For the final evaluation, one of us would act as a "rabbit". I prefer to think of myself as more of a fox toying with the hounds. Two officers would be held for a count of three and sent in pursuit. The pair, in turn, would be followed by another instructor who would evaluate the pair of cops. It's called a "Violator Contact" drill. Our objective was to teach them the importance of not sacrificing their own lines during the chase. The rabbit's job was to ride bad lines fast in an effort to make the cops do just that. A lot of the riders got sucked in. The one outstanding exception was the officer in the picture just above. Nobody could shake this guy! You can see Sophie on the other side of the paddock wall in the background. The cop's waiting to see if anyone else wants to play.

Here's an example of how riders can get into trouble. The rabbit's just cut the end of the chicane off instead of going around. Notice the hard right turn? Now check out which way the officer's looking. He's watching the rabbit to the left while making a tight, fast, turn to the right. It gets ugly soon but he avoids going off the track.

As much fun as it was, we were exhausted at the end of the day. Riding fast like that all day takes a tremendous amount of mental energy. Remember the elephant picture above from an earlier post? Now look at my front tire!

Sometimes it takes its own toll on instructors. One of the guys crashed his ST. His bike is a year newer than Sophie. He missed his line on the chicane and early apexed. It threw him wide and into the grass. In an effort to save it, the bike fell over, dumped him off, and went spinning back onto the track on its left side. I'll spare you the gory details of the trackside treatment by the paramedics. The instructor suffered a compound and open fracture of his left leg just above the ankle. Both bones with one sticking out of the skin. I saw the X-ray later that night when some of us went to the hospital. With all the plates and screws, his left leg is about three pounds heavier than the right. No riding for three or four months. That's a part of the risk we accept.

We're training at a very high level. Sometimes bad things happen despite our best efforts. Without the risk there's no accomplishment. In the process we increase our knowledge base and experience. The result of that is being better able to equip riders of every experience level to take care of themselves. Only a few of us can or will step up to this level, as you can imagine. We're fiercely proud of what we do. Our own riding is also better for it, too.

What's the takeaway for the average rider?

You've heard the admonition to ride your own ride. How do we do that?

If you're in a group, don't focus on the rider ahead. There's a lot of good riders but there's even more that are less than competent. Point your nose towards the target you know you should be aiming for. The target you choose, not the target dictated to you by the rider ahead. In other words, look past the next rider. Use your peripheral vision to watch other riders. Your line may be different than theirs but that doesn't mean it's not a good one. It sounds so simple but continually catches riders out when they fail to apply it.

The faster the pace the harder it becomes to avoid getting sucked in. At the same time it's even more critical to set your own target. I assure you, though, it will be well worth the effort. You may even be able to add some value to your riding buddies!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, July 07, 2007

I'm back!!

I took a few days and disappeared with Katie. We needed to decompress after all that's happened recently. Rented a hotel room on the beach with a Jacuzzi type hot tub in it. Top floor with a wonderful view. Walking along the beach at night holding her hand. Nothing to worry about but enjoying each other. Life's in order again!

Look for the posts to start up again Monday. Thanks for hanging with me. Have a great weekend!

Miles and smiles,