Friday, August 31, 2007

Misc. Musings.

The next week and a half is going to mean things could get spotty here at the blog. I'm spending the long holiday weekend with Katie. Knowing us, it's pretty certain at least some of the weekend will be spent on the bike looking for adventure. On Tuesday I'm headed over the mountains to look at a hardware problem. A new medium security detention facility is opening up in Madras on the 9th. There are some teething issues with some of the detention hardware. It's time for a visit from the factory "expert".

I always use that word sparingly. You know the definition of an expert?

An "ex" is a has-been, and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure. Still, I'm the voice of the manufacturer so off I'll go.

Wednesday thru Friday is committed to Sand Point, Idaho. We're doing the annual sales retreat thing on the shores of Lake Ponderay. Half days of work, half days of enjoying the area, and a great meal to top off the day. I'll probably just head on over after Madras. It's either that or travel an extra three hundred miles by coming home in the meantime. Depending upon what I need to carrry for Madras, I'll most likely be taking Sophie again.

We'll be finished somewhere around 1:30 PM on Friday. I'm planning on saddling up and heading the 7 or 8 hours home. I should be home around 9 PM and starting motorcycle training at 6:30 the next morning. Saturday and Sunday will be spent working an Instructor Preparation workshop for a batch of new ones hoping to join us in motorcycle training fun. Those will be a couple of long days. The good news is that the college is only a few miles from my house.

In the meantime, here's a few things to look at over the weekend.

If you would like to see how this year's Iron Butt Rally has gone, check out this link.

It's winding down but the winners haven't been determined, yet. My good friend and fellow instructor Jeff Earls is quietly doing his thing. Last time he finished second or third. This event is held every two years and lasts 11 days. If you click over to the home page you can read stories posted by folks who've gone for the Saddle Sore 1000 and Bun Burner 1500 certifications. I was a rabid long distance rider up until a few years ago and am a member of the club. Maybe I'll dust off my long distance riding tools and try the Iron Butt next time. Or, maybe not. It's very expensive to do these days. What an accomplishment to be a finisher, though!

I received a photo from a rider who was in the sticks of the barren Eastern part of Oregon. He'd come around a corner to the right and was doing about 25 or 30 mph. Take a look at the picture and I'll fill in the rest of the story.

Still leaned over as he exited the corner, the front tire encountered the end of the tar snake you see next to the yellow line. Now we have a combination of lean angle and the hot temperatures which made the tar very slippery. According to the rider, who was on a Honda ST1300, contacting the tar caused the front wheel to slide sideways onto the yellow paint. The paint has its own traction problems. Immediately the handlebars went into a full lock to the right mode. The skid marks you see on the yellow lines are from the front wheel sliding sideways. They look just like what you'd see from a car, don't they?

Somehow the rider managed to pull the thing back straight. Adding to the good Karma, there was no oncoming traffic. I asked the rider if there were any other "skid marks" besides the ones on the paint!

Here's a couple of feedback letters that help fuel my passion for teaching motorcycle riders. The bulk of my students are new riders. It's great to give them a solid start. There's also a great reward in being able to help long time riders hone and sharpen skills. Which means my own skills have to be up there. It's a positive kind of pressure which helps me immensely, too. Everyone likes to feel they make a difference. Most of the time it's just a lot of work and being content in my own heart that it matters. Not to mention sacrificing countless great riding weekends! Then we get these letters and it fuels us for a little longer.

This one's from a new student. One of my proteges, Dave, was working with me.

Dear Team Oregon~
I would like to thank my two wonderful instructors for allowing me a fun-filled learning experience along with the feeling of success.

I was not an experienced rider- as a matter of fact, my husband of 20-something years had confidence enough in me and bought me my own Harley Davidson motorcycle for Christmas!

My first reaction was for him to take it back- I wanted nothing to do with having my own and was too scared to attempt riding it-
I 've always been happy riding behind him on his bike, enjoying the scenery.

After hearing about CCC BRT from a friend that attended a few years ago, I decided to enroll.
Now I'm so glad I did!

I just graduated from BRT yesterday with the rest of my class, and feel so much more confident than how I felt about it before going in.
I hadn't ridden a dirtbike since I was a teenager- (many moons ago!)
Although I studied & studied...I missed more questions on the written test than I expected- (shame on me for not double-checking my answers!)
I will continue reading my training booklet to brush up on the test questions I had missed, and be skilled on the ones I know!

I feel that I can now be a safe & confident rider just by knowing the necessary skills of BRT.

I really enjoyed their class- they were the best!
Please commend them for an outstanding job!

Thanks again for making this great class available. I cannot wait to "enjoy" the ride!

jan Racette of Aurora, Oregon

There's so many cool things about this one. She had fun, built her confidence, and acquired new skills. The best thing of all is that you can tell she's taking responsibility for herself. That's really the biggest key to success on a bike, isn't it? Realizing and accepting that we are the ones responsible for taking care of ourselves out there.

This letter was published in the latest issue of American Motorcyclist Magazine. They have a section entitled "Crash Course". People share stories of their crashes so others can learn from them. I'd say it's much better to use good skills in the first place to avoid crashing. This guy, another former student, exemplifies the best approach.

"What if......

I was riding on a two-lane country road, dutifully scanning ahead as I had been taught in my rider training class, when I noticed a log truck with a couple of long two-by-four sized pieces working their way loose. (my note: SIPDE in action! )

Using the "What if" game I learned in class, I pondered my options if one of them worked loose. There was a 4-foot-deep ditch to my right, and a blind passing lane to my left. I decided a quick swerve around it, staying in my own lane as much as possible, was my only shot.

Sure enough, one of the pieces broke off. I did a hard press on the right bar, then a hard press left, and prayed. Just as I moved out of the way, the stick rocketed by about waist high! It would've taken me off the bike in an instant.

Now I know why the instructors made us do swerve drills over and over! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Bill Weir
Eugene, OR

There's a great value in rider training and I've been privileged to have touched thousands of riders over the years. There's been so many great things added to my life from riding. It feels good to be able to give something of value back.

I freely admit I'm stealing this from Gary this one time. I just can't help it because it fits so well. As you enjoy the holiday weekend and the times to come, please do me one huge favor.

Ride well,


Thursday, August 30, 2007


I love that word. It almost sounds obscene and you won't find it in Webster's.

Sophie has gotten a little farkle attention lately. I finally decided it was time to replace the tank bag. With her not having a real metal fuel tank magnetic bags don't work. Not long after I bought Sophie I did some looking on the STOC forum. That's the ST Owner's Club, of which I've been a long time member. Most of the ST1100 owners had purchased Chase Harper tank bags because they were available with a strap retention system. So I purchased a model 750. That was in 2001. The bag's not always on the bike as I try to let the paint breathe, but it does spend most of it's life there. The original bag is on its second map pocket. Really, the only reason I replaced it is because the hook and loop fastener is loosing its grip. Somewhat like Sophie's rider at times!

I don't use the bag for carrying cargo that often. Mostly I use the map pocket. Once in a while I use the bag when I go through the drive-up at a fast food place. For me it's more of a tradition thing. I've always had tank bags on my bikes. The new tank bag is the same model as the old one. I'm amazed that it's still available. It seems that every time we find something we like it's been discontinued when we want to replace it. Check out this tag that came with the new bag.

I'd have to say that the fading in the sun part is truth in advertising. Here's the proof:

You can probably tell which is which, huh? There's still a big piece of foam in the bottom compartment of the new tank bag. You're supposed to be able to carve holes in the foam to fit cell phones, PDA's, etc. I never bothered doing it with the original bag. I just recycled the foam.

I also added a Givi trunk. It's definitely more expensive to order from Givi as opposed to purchasing less expensive trunks from a place like J.C. Whitney's. Being around motorcylists as much as I am, I've seen many of these less expensive trunks have unplanned departures from bikes. Usually at freeway speeds in the dark! I think a person would be ok purchasing the less expensive trunk and then getting the better rack from Givi.

The trunk was Katie's idea mostly. When we rode the Director's ST1300 to Medford for the instructor update, the big trunk admittedly proved useful. Katie puts me to shame when we travel. Usually I'm going to teach somewhere far away and she goes with me. Katie has these small soaps, shampoo's, a tiny blowdryer, and a small make-up kit. She also packs light on extra clothes. I, on the other hand need more stuff. I have boots for the range, which I usually wear when on the bike, so I pack tennis shoes, range cards, my Instructor's Guide for classroom which is in a big notebook, a Camelbak, my instructor T-shirt for the range but other clothes for the evenings, as well as the regular stuff you'd pack. I usually have to borrow a little space in Katie's saddlebag.

By the way, for those of you who regularly ride with a passenger, do you find that you revert to the "driver-passenger" arrangement for saddlebags? Or am I just strange? The bag on the left side is mine as it corresponds to the driver's side. The right side bag is Katie's as it corresponds to the passenger's side. When we swapped bikes, I told the Director that Sophie's keys would be in the driver's side saddlebag. His outburst of "What the heck is the driver's side?" tells me I may be unique in this terminology.

I have to admit that the trunk takes off some packing pressure. The one I purchased is 46 litres and is supposed to hold two full face helmets. We haven't tried to verify that claim, yet. I do know that it will hold a travel box of coffee and two dozen muffins. When I do instructor training in a classroom setting I always take coffee and goodies. Makes the floggings easier to take!

The rack designed for the ST1100 works perfectly. Installation was a breeze. I also ordered the separate backrest so Katie would have the support. You have to drill holes through the trunk but there's an accurate template. There's also a large reflector on the back of the trunk. Just above the reflector are four openings in the lid with lenses across them. I ordered the brakelight kit but still need to wire it in. The idea is that these four bulbs should illuminate with the regular brake lights.

Here's a picture of Sophie proudly sporting her own new goodies. Age hasn't hurt her looks at all!

The other addition is a Garmin Zumo 550 GPS. This is my first venture into this kind of technology. I've always been one for maps. This unit got great reviews in the bike magazines. I'm not always trustful of those kinds of things. My information came from riders I found who actually used this model. The Zumo 550 is expensive. I believe list price is a little over a thousand dollars. I found a deal through Frye's online and saved about $250.00. This model is supposed to be made specifically for motorcycle use. It certainly looks rugged. The touch screen and controls work exactly as advertised. It's not wired in yet, as this will require the removal of large amounts of fairing panel. Who's got that kind of time right now?

There isn't space here for a review. Suffice it so say I am extremely pleased with the way the unit works. I'm also truly amazed by how much information is contained in its little brain. You can input way points or an address then tell it to take you there. There's several ways to view your trip data. You can specify shorter distance or faster time. A rider can also tell the unit to avoid freeways, gravel roads, and other things. If a person finds themselves somewhere and needs the nearest motel, bank, restaurant, and other things, there's a display screen for this. It has preset items to offer or you can spell the name if you're looking for a particular place. The Zumo will give you the names and addresses, an arrow that shows which way the places are in relationship to your current location, and the distance. Pick one and select "Go".

It even has the phone number if you want to call ahead. The data base must have the directory assistance information loaded into it. All the operations work well with gloves on my hand. What makes this work especially well for a rider is the Bluetooth capability. I'd be one of the last ones to tell a rider to spend time looking at something other than the road and environment. I have a Jabra slim Bluetooth unit that's made for a cell phone. It fits under my helmet comfortably. I've "partnered" it with the Garmin. By enabling the voice command feature, the unit will literally talk me through the navigation process. I still pretty much have full attention for managing risks. There's a variety of voices and accents available for my entertainment. Not that I want to encourage distractions, but the unit also has an MP 3 player built in. I'm also using the Zumo to find places I need to visit for work. Imagine being on one side of a city of six hundred thousand people. You need to get somewhere on the other side. You've never been to that place before. Let the Garmin do the work. It's fantastic. The real challenge for me will be to retain my own natural navigational skills!

One other neat feature is the ability to set waypoints. If you're "here" and need to get "there" just find the new place on the list and let the Zumo do its thing. One thing I haven't tried yet is finding my way home after wandering. I mean, I've done it by myself but haven't used the Garmin for it. Theoretically, you could wander all you wanted and never pay attention to where you are. When you're done playing, just tell the unit to take you "Home". The voice will guide you home and the display will tell you when you should arrive. Handy for calling the wife who is trying to keep your supper warm! Just pull off before you call! It should work ( the unit that is, you're on your own for the call ) but I'm always reluctant to put my fate entirely in the hands of electronic devices!

Does it hurt my rugged "Road Warrior" image to come out of the stone age? Katie, does this GPS make my muscles look flat?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 27, 2007

Chinese bike goes "bye-bye"!

Such is the impetuous nature of youth. I think that's part of the reason for this saying:

"You spend the first 12 years of a child's life zealously protecting them from all dangers. You spend the next few years wanting to kill them yourself!"

My youngest son, Clinton, is 19 years old. He's supporting himself in his own apartment. He's held the same job for the last 14 months and makes a decent living for a young man. Clinton comes to see his Mama regularly and not just at supper time. He also does his own laundry. So I can't really complain. But I'm going to anyway. Clinton's got the bike bug and it's driven him to abandon common sense. One of the dangers of being young and inexperienced is that tomorrow seems an awfully long ways away.

The Chinese bike has proven to be a royal pain. The shop's been of little help. Since he's my boy, after all, I helped him do some machining and shop work to make the bike whole. I wasn't too worried about warranties. It's a discontinued model and there's like two dealers on the West Coast. The dealer near us is less than stellar, and that's all I'll say about them. This post isn't about nailing them to the wall.

We actually got the bike working quite well. There were still some lingering issues with intermittent lapses in the operation of the tach and speedometer. That was traced to a ground problem. The kick start and electric start both work, now. I figured he'd ride it for a while. For whatever reason he picked out this bike to buy and it seemed that once it was functional he'd be happy with it. A single cylinder 200 cc bike can be fun and economical both. At least, that's what I thought. Apparently I was wrong.

I started hearing some little comments about how buzzy it was. There was a complaint that it would only do 60 mph and was screaming at that. Then, 10 days ago, I heard he'd put it up for sale on Craig's List. The really weird part is that it sold last night. The people who bought it came clear over from Bend. That's on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. It's a three hour drive over the Pass. I asked Clinton if these people, a man and wife, knew what they were getting into. He told me they had done some research on the internet and knew what the bike was. I was there when they showed up. Clinton was perfectly candid with them but they bought the bike anyway and stuffed it into the back of a Toyota pickup. The purchase price was a hundred dollars more than Clinton had paid for the bike in the first place. Of course, that doesn't account for the labor that I thought I was putting out in behalf of my son!

The reason I was over at his place is that he'd invited me to look at his new acquisition. Huh?

Once upon a time this was a 1986 VFR500F Honda. Technically, I guess, it still is. Now it's just ugly. It turns out that Clinton had bought it last Friday night. On speculation, he'd borrowed fifteen hundred dollars from his girlfriend. She seems better able to save for something than my son can. I should have been suspicious when Clinton called me out of the blue last Wednesday and asked me what he should look for when he shops for a used bike. I gave him a laundry list and never thought more of it. I mean, he still had the Chinese bike, right?

Ok. It's his business if he wanted to buy this bike. They say beauty is only skin deep. I say that ugly goes to the bone and this bike is bone ugly to me. I'm not the one who has to look at it, though. What's so funny is that Clinton was in such a hurry to to get another bike that he overlooked a few warning signs. Now he's back to having a bike that is going to have some issues. Already does, actually. I think he had his mind made up beforehand that he was going to buy this bike no matter what.

One of the things I told him to look at was the chain and sprocket teeth. I explained the wear patterns he should be on the watch for. This one has perfectly hooked sprocket teeth. Oops! I also explained that a bike this old could likely have problems with the water pump. The trick was to let the bike sit and run a while. I told him to see how long it took the bike to get up to temperature and to see how hot it actually got. The bike no longer has a temperature gauge it turns out. The boy's not quite experienced enough to know how to judge a normal engine's temperature, I guess.

See, the guy who was selling the VFR lives in Eugene which is a hour South. He met Clinton in Corvallis as he was coming to see his girlfriend. Thirteen hundred and fifty dollars changed hands and the bike came home with Clinton. My boy told me that if the guy rode it that far the bike must be ok. Right!

After the Chinese bike departed, Clinton decided to go for a little ride on the VFR. He pulled the radiator cap off and couldn't see any water. A gallon later, the radiator was full. When he started the bike, water starting literally spurting out of a place where a metal water pipe enters the block. Just for good measure, a gasket was leaking, too. It slowly dawned on Clinton that the guy had ridden the bike with very little water in it. No water was spurting out when he ran the bike. No spurt, no water. Another oops. He asked me how much damage I though that had done. What could I say?

I told him that the good news was that the motor hadn't seized up yet. Other than that, who knew? Thank goodness Honda knew how to build bullet proof motors. So I guess Clinton will be spending some time learning about Honda's water cooled motors. At least he has a good tool set. As my three sons set out on their own, my going away gift to them was an extensive tool set. Hey, I'm just trying to keep them away from mine!

I'm sure that I'll probably get suckered into helping out a little. That's how Dads are, you know. Besides, Clinton knows I'm addicted to all things motorcycle and will probably use it to his advantage! I find this more amusing than upsetting. As much as I hate to admit it, I've done similar things. It's part of the learning process. I thought I'd share it with you. Not for any sort of negative reflection on Clinton. Think of it more as a way to look back on our younger days and laugh at ourselves back then. Motorcycling is a family pursuit. Maybe even a tradition. Sometimes the nut really doesn't fall far from the tree!

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, August 26, 2007

"Star" hopping.

I'd finally finagled a weekend off. Maybe "finagled" isn't quite the word for it. That word has the connotation of using devious means to get something. It was more like I took advantage of an opportunity. A newer instructor wanted a class and I wanted a weekend off. It would be his first solo classroom and my first weekend off in a while. The only fly in the ointment is that I was still on call. Anytime an instructor anywhere in the state of Oregon dials the equivalent of our 911, I'd be the voice on the other end of the phone. Four of us share that duty. The Director, the Training Manager, the Operations Manager, and me. Joe Instructor.

There's an advantage to hanging out with people like yourself. They understand you. I keep the cell phone in the right chest pocket of the 'stich. I have a special ring for the "on-call" number. It's the theme from Pink Panther. With the ringer volume all the way up I can hear the phone during slower riding. With one hand I can pull the phone out, open it up, and yell into it,

"Hang on a minute, I've got to pull over and take my helmet off!"

Where most people would find that really weird, the instructors aren't phased a bit.

I spend so much time riding to or for work that opportunities to ride just for the sheer joy of it are few and far between. I know, I know, it's my own fault. Training riders is such a passion for me that I can't help myself. Being on call means I'm going to have to check my phone frequently, but we were going to go have fun anyway. Isn't that why we ride? To have fun and look good? Maybe that's why it's so hard for people to develop good scanning skills. It's just too darn fascinating watching their reflection in those big plate glass storefront windows!

Putting our heads together, Katie and I came up with a plan. I made a bad joke about how it's too bad we didn't belong to another persuasion of rider. We could just ride from "watering hole" to "watering hole". The transit time would be short and I'd be available for phone calls. That's when we looked at each other and it was obvious we'd both had the same idea.

Now I've been accused of navigating by Starbucks. That's not entirely true, but I do seem to know where most of them are. I've been a customer for twenty years. I don't go there because it's "trendy". In fact, that's the reason I may be forced to change coffee shops soon. The stores nowadays are getting too darned crowded. You can't argue, though, that the quality is consistent between any free-standing store you go to. I drink just plain coffee. Which reminds me of something Katie said to me the other day. This is a gratuitous side trip, but it's my blog!

We heard a bit by George Carlin the other day. He was talking about people who go into coffee shops like Starbucks. George made a statement that the more complicated a person's order was, the bigger an asshole they were. Katie looked at me and said,

"You drink plain coffee, what's your excuse?"

Ouch! Just for that I'm purposefully forgetting our upcoming 30th anniversary!

Our plan would be to string a route between coffee shops. We'd call it a Star-hopping ride. Get it? The equivalent of bar hopping? Oh, never mind. The first one was near our house where we'd have breakfast. Our store does these breakfast sandwiches now. They're on something that resembles a large English muffin. I tried one called Eggs Florentine. It has a scrambled egg patty, baby spinach, and some sort of light seasoning. The topper, literally, is Havarti cheese. All toasted up in this special oven. I'd never even heard of this cheese before. I'm going back for more! I love eating and I love riding. Katie, do you remember where I put that wrench for the rear shock preload collar?

In return for you evil comment, sweetie, I'm including this picture of you ordering. Complete with helmet hair! Notice how the flash is illuminated in the retroflective patch on the Aerostich. Retroflective is a great tool for being seen at night. Or in camera flashes! Right after I took the picture I told Katie that I'd flashed her. All three girls working there turned around and looked at me with huge smiles. What the heck did they think I was talking about?

Our goal was simple. The coffee shops would give us a loose itinerary as well as places to obtain food. Very important element, you know. The pace would be relaxed. A secondary exercise was to see how the mount and dismount process for Katie was going to work out. I'd put the Givi trunk back on. It was a new element in the routine. There was also a newly installed backrest on the trunk. This ride would give us a chance to evaluate things. I'm pleased to say that this part worked out quite satisfactorily.

In order to preserve our relaxed pace, we'd avoid any road having a number as part of its name. Since I've lived here for years and have always been an aficionado of backroads, this would be easy. I can string backroads together and entertain myself for hours. Harvesting, field burning, and ploughing are in full swing right now. We had to be careful on the many corners since they're full of gravel from farm equipment. Most of what we saw was the typical farm scene picture. We'd see hawks perched on those big piles of hay bales, watching for the little critters stirred up by the equipment. Farmers always wave as they pass by. Being dry, there's usually big dust clouds to watch as the tractors do their work. What a blessing those sealed cabs must be these days. Sometimes the wind creates those miniature cyclones. You'll see several tiny tornados sending their dust plumes high into the sky. Once in a while you'll come across something really unique.

We were amazed, for example, to see this house. Out in the middle of nowhere somebody had built a house made to resemble a castle. I couldn't resist the chance to stop and take a picture of my royal chariot, my princess bride, and a castle. Take a look.

Here's another look thanks to the technology of a zoom lense.

We had lunch at a Starbucks 45 miles South of our home. At least, that's the distance the mileage charts show. Sophie's trip meter showed a little over a hundred miles. Not all who wander are lost, after all. After a great turkey and pesto sandwich on a baguette we headed North. The plan was to follow the Willamette River through Peoria, Independence, Buena Vista, and into Salem. By turning off at River Road we would arrive in downtown Salem while staying true to our back roads mission. The hard part would be deciding which Starbucks to hit next. There's one at both ends of the block! With motorcycle parking in front of each. I know, life should be so tough.

By the time we got towards Buena Vista the plan was still intact. I'd consumed a cup and a half of coffee at home, two with breakfast, and one with lunch. It would not be inaccurate to say I was literally buzzing along. Buzz would soon prove to be a very pertinent word in my life.

Just South of Buena Vista I smelled blackberries. One of the great advantages of being on a bike is the closeness to the surroundings it allows. This wasn't just any blackberry smell. This was berries hanging heavy and ripe in the sun. A sweetness filled my nostrils. Hungry for more, literally, I flipped my visor up all the way to drink in the scents. Right in the middle of my deepest olfactory fulfillment, I suddenly felt this great pain.

It felt like somebody had shot a rock out of a slingshot and hit me in the bridge of the nose. At the same time there was this juicy explosion that flooded my right eye with a burning liquid. I presumed I'd taken a large bug in the face. Unfortunately, we were on a straight stretch of road. The speedometer needle had started to creep up. I figure the combined closing speed of me and the bug at about 70 mph. Sophie:65, bug:5. My black Ray Ban's had taken some of the blow but didn't prevent the juices from bouncing off my nose into my eye. Later on Katie told me she'd seen me flinch a little. She'd also seen a small blur of yellow fly past the left side of my helmet. At the time I thought it was a beetle of some sort. This thing hit hard!

Taking stock, I discovered that we were still in our lane of the empty back road. I could still see ok, although the vision on the right side was a tiny bit blurry. That was either from the burning sensation or the mess on my glasses. With the visor still up, I rubbed my nose with a gloved finger. The rubbing caused a burning pain. I figured I had a cut on my nose which is why it still hurt to touch. After a while we'd find out what really happened. It's funny. I kept telling myself not to touch my nose. Yet, it seemed it was all my hand could think about. It was like my left hand had a mind of its own. I'd see it lift and have to will it back down. What would it have done when it found the closed visor? Strange how that works, isn't it?

We were near Buena Vista Park. It's a little county park. Its main purpose is as a boat ramp. Beside the park is a small ferry which holds three or four cars. We've taken the ferry for fun a couple of times but it doesn't really take us anywhere we need to go. Since I felt fine, although with a sore nose, I was just going to take a loop through and keep on. As we passed the pit toilets, Katie tapped my shoulder and asked me if these were usable. She'd been drinking tea instead of coffee but the end result of both is the same.

As we dismounted and pulled our helmets off, I told Katie what had happened. That's when she told me what she'd seen. Katie also told me that I had what looked like a stinger still in my skin. Sure enough, I looked in the bike mirror and saw the stinger and part of a Yellowjacket still there. You can guess which part. I carry a small multi-function knife on my key ring. Using the tweezers, I pulled the stinger out. Now I know why it hurt to touch it! There was some swelling around the sting. By suppertime it was gone. Bee stings and Poison Oak have never really affected me. Although, all the way home I wondered how the hell did that bee manage to turn around and hit me ass first?

I'd noticed a cruiser type bike getting onto the ferry. It was two up. Not long after the ferry crossed the river, the bike came down into the park. The female passenger also had need of a comfort stop it seems. Whereas Katie had to sort of stand on the peg and lift out of the slot she sits in, the cruiser passenger simply slipped off the back of the bike. I couldn't help but think she probably didn't feel very secure sitting on that tiny pillion with no backrest.

The picture's a little fuzzy because I had to use extreme zoom to get it. You can see the two on the bike towards the left of the ferry. What makes this pertinent is the question they asked us when we were leaving. It was the same question we'd gotten from several folks on cruisers during the day. They asked us if we were on a long trip.

The two on the cruiser were in jeans and short sleeved t-shirts. They were wearing half helmets. Pretty typical of the cruiser riders we see out enjoying a nice afternoon. Their casual attire doesn't usually even include gloves. In contrast, we were in full Roadcrafter suits, full face helmets, riding boots, and gloves. I guess we must look pretty serious compared to them. Their perceptions amuse me. Then I shudder to think what's going to happen when they go down. I like my gear just fine, thank you!

After another cup of coffee in Salem we decided to call it a day. We arrived home with a little over two hundred and seventy miles on the clock. I was full of bee venom and caffeine. I was actually in pretty good shape. I think the nervous system depressant in the bee sting helped counteract the effects of all the coffee. We'd had fun, covered some ground on curvy back roads, had some adventures, and arrived home relaxed. I'd say our Star-hopping ride was a great success!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bike talk.

Three instructor's bikes sit waiting patiently for us to get done with our "thing". Soon it will be time to do what they love so much. Gliding gracefully down the road instead of sittting still looking beautiful. You recognize Sophie on the right. In the middle is Al's bike. He who swore that black was the only acceptable color for an ST. Al makes the excuse that this color is called "Black Cherry Red". I notice, though, that his ZX-12 looks suspiciously red, too. I think Al just likes having some color in his life. On the left is Jeff's bike. A sleek Aprilia Falco.

What do they do as they sit waiting? Are they chatting quietly among themselves? I hope they're not gossiping about their riders. I can hear Al's bike telling Sophie how gentle Al is with inputs. Sophie's probably saying she wishes I'd be more gentle.

"He's always so aggressive! Smooth as butter but you always know who's in charge."

Jeff's bike is probably just keeping to herself. This sleek Italian beauty probably doesn't feel she has much in common with two matronly Japanese sport tourers. I could see her butting in now and then, though. When the two sport tourers are swapping lies, I mean, adventures, the Aprilia's telling them they haven't seen anything compared to the escape velocity speeds and daring corners she's achieved. There's some stuff I sincerely Sophie remains discreet about!

What? You don't think bikes talk? I'm here to tell you that, not only do they talk to each other, they'll talk to you, too! No, I don't think I'm some sort of Dr. Doolittle to the bike world. Nonetheless, bikes will talk to their riders. The challenge is for the rider to give them a chance. Once they start talking, we need to learn to speak the language. It's a language like no other. Once we master it, though, a whole new world of adventure opens up to us.

This post is somewhat inspired by Harv the Roadbum. There's a post on his blog, Midwest Scooter Enthusiast, about the eighty percent rule. You can read the post if you click here. Here's a quote from that post. Sorry Harv, I didn't ask permission first. I kow your attitude and I knew you'd be intrigued to see what you started!

"When you ride, don't ride at your limit. Whattayagonna do if you need a little extra an it ain't there? Keep it under 80% kid, and you'll live."

It's the part about limits that sparked this post. I've written about "pushing the envelope". I'm one to see how far limits will stretch. I encourage others to push their own limits. Staying within one's own comfort level is important, to be sure. However, what if circumstances arise that make one "uncomfortable"? Will we be able to rise to the appropriate level required to deal with it? I've written about skating close to the edge of the cliff while being careful not to fall off. I'm also a dedicated and enthused advocate of motorcycle safety training. How do the two things reconcile with each other?

Reaching back a few years, I remember a well respected Sergeant telling me,

"Never bring a knife to a gun fight!"

What he was advocating was acquiring every skill possible that might help us go home alive at the end of shift. His advice was to keep our skills sharp and our guns clean. Then pray you never had to use them, but if the world went awry one day we'd have a better chance to avoid becoming a "statistic".

That's my approach to motorcycling. There really is no such thing as riding a motorcycle in a safe manner. Sounds weird coming from an instructor but it's the truth. Don't believe me? Let's check with Webster. You know, the dictionary guy?

"Safe 1: free from harm or risk."

Stand there and look me in the eye. Tell me a person can ride a motorcycle and be free from risk. There's risk in everything we do. Some pursuits are riskier than others. Riding a motorcycle is chock full of risks. Our task is to manage the risk. What that means is that for every conceivable risk we need a tool to deal with it. Believe me, there seems to be no end to the variety of risks. The two things we have at our disposal are physical skills and mental strategies. People don't seem to have much problem developing mental strategies. Once they decide to start paying attention when they ride, that is. There's no risk in developing mental skills. Oh, we might hurt ourselves by thinking too hard, but that's minor!

Interestingly, there's a fair amount of risk involved in developing physical skills needed to manage risk. It can be easy to damage our bikes and / or bodies. That's why so many riders just choose not to go there. The fear of falling outweighs the fear of risks on the road. It's easy to see crashing while pushing to grow our skills as an immediate threat. In contrast, risks they might encounter while riding seem to be easier to minimize. The fear of washing out the front end while practicing maximum braking is pretty much "here and now". Having to brake really hard to avoid a car in traffic is part of a fuzzy picture called "possibly some day". Guess which picture rules the day?

So many riders have woefully inadequate skills for this very reason. I'm sorry, but there's no other way to get these kind of skills. What if we had sophisticated simulators? I've heard there's one or two around. We could call them "Chair-a-saki's" or "Chair-ley Davidsons". Sorry, the practice on these simulators might help some but wouldn't directly translate to the bikes we ride. There's just no substitute for being on a bike and getting real time feedback. That's where the bike's ability to talk to us comes into play.

I push the envelope because I want every skill possible. I want to know to the most accurate degree possible what I can expect from my bikes. I want to be assured that I can call upon anything the bike is capable of doing if I need it as an option. On the flip side, I want to know definitely what the bike won't do, either. I want to know exactly what options I do and do not have available. Sometimes we find ourselves in high adrenaline situations. By that I mean that every orifice in our body is starting to tightly clench. The consequences of trying to use the wrong tool are too high. Learn what tools will work for each job and become experts at their use.

Ok, let me take a minute here and get something off my chest. This sounds so noble, doesn't it?

"I'm only doing this to improve my odds of survival on the streets."

That's not the whole truth. Sometimes I work real hard at mastering an extremely difficult skill because I get such a heady feeling of accomplishment when I do. On the track I sometimes see how far I can push a bike just because it's so much fun!

I'm not advocating riding on the streets like you would on a track. Use street lines instead of racing lines. What's the difference? Street lines always leave you a way out. There's always some room for a margin of error, small as it may be at times. The best place to push one's limits is in some area off the streets. Dedicate the time period to be able to concentrate on the task at hand without the distractions of traffic, etc. There will be opportunities to do a little envelope pushing on the roads, but it's better to push in an environment that requires as little multi-tasking as possible.

Time to return from the detour and get back to the subject of bike talk.

Have you ever heard someone describe an incident with words like these?

"It was weird. One minute I was braking and, before I knew it, I was sliding down the road!"

"I don't know what happened. I was cornering really hard and suddenly I was off the road!"

Notice the mention of "before I knew it" and "suddenly". One of the big mistakes riders make is committing to something without allowing their bikes to offer feedback first. I don't mean to brag but I've become a master at deciphering what a bike is trying to tell me. Not infallable, but pretty darn good. The bike tries to tell a rider what's going on, but only if they have time to do so. Looking at a specific example, let's talk about how it applies in cornering.

One of the reasons we provide high speed training for motor officers is to give them a chance to learn how the bikes talk to them at these speeds. This is oversimplified, but the key is to be smooth. Think about something round like a broom stick. Picture it running through the bike from front to back. It's at about the same height as the center of gravity. A great cornering method will have the bike slowly rolling around that pole. Another way to look at it is to picture a barrel on its side. The barrel rotates around its center. A bike should look similar, but not nearly so portly!!

As the degree of rotation is gradually increased the bike leans progressively. At each point the bike will offer feedback. Feedback like this.

"I'm ok here. No problem at this angle, either. Oh, we're leaning a little more. I'm starting to get a little uncomfortable. Can you feel me squirm just a bit? I'll be fine if you stay smooth with your throttle and pressing inputs. Ok, Master, this angle's got my tires sort of howling in protest. Can you feel the tension as the tread slips and grabs? If you ask anymore I won't be able to hang on for you!"

Like I say, it's simplified and maybe a little corny! Suspensions and tires will make a difference in how much feedback a rider gets and when. The trick is to learn what the bike, as it stands right now, is telling us. Unless there's ice or some other unusual condition, tires will seldom just "let go" without some kind of warning. Mental skills should pick up the traction clues if there's something like ice, etc. I can't stress it enough. Allow the bike time to talk to you!

What I see a lot of riders do, including the motor cops, is to "throw" the bike into a corner. There's no rolling around the axis. One minute the bike's upright and the next, bam!, it's heeled over into a steep lean. A lot of times it works out all right. When it doesn't, it hurts. This kind of style increases the chances that it won't turn out all right. The higher the speeds the greater the chance of disaster. The bike doesn't have time to get a word in edgewise. It can only talk to the rider after the fact.

"Dude, I tried to tell you, but you slammed me down before I could even send a signal!"

The same situation applies with other physical skills like braking and swerving. My illustrations are just that, a way to create a mental picture. You need to actually feel it to fully understand it. Which means it actually needs to be practiced on the bike you ride.

I hope this explains a little better what I've been writing about over the past year and a half. Pushing the envelope, expanding our limits, exploring the edges, whatever you choose to call it, is neither crazy nor reckless. It's something every rider really needs to do. It's going to be uncomfortable at times. Growth almost never happens without reaching past our comfort levels. Work with the bike by pushing at a pace that enables the bike to be your partner. It will tell you what you can and can't do before things go too far.
Hopefully, you'll never face a hazardous situation that calls upon you to use these skills. In fact, you should keep them in reserve. Take the sage advice of the man whom Harv quoted in his post. Leave a little traction and ground clearance in the bank. If you do need these tools, though, they'll be available and sharp.

Maybe this will make it easier to have enough confidence to continue the journey of discovery.

I gotta go and saddle up Sophie. I can't believe she told Al's bike about that!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

KLR lowering kit input?

Finally! Time is making itself available to come back to the blog. I taught a class this weekend. Awesome group. There's some great stories I want to share later.

I've spent today doing a little bike shopping with Katie and then helping the kid work on his P.O.S. little creature.

I sat on an '08 KLR today. The thing is as tall as I've heard. Being 5'8 1/2" tall, I don't have the longest inseam. My legs have always been long enough to reach the ground so I haven't found it to be a problem. The complication is that they don't reach the ground as well from the seat of the dual sport. Since my legs aren't likely to grow anytime soon, a lowering kit might be in order if I were to purchase the bike.

The lowering kit offered is a wishbone type suspension lowering system. I'm told the bike can be lowered from 1 to 3 inches. Some folks raise the fork legs in the triple clamp but I'm not wild about that option. Does anyone have any input on how well the lowering kit works? Not just in actually lowering the bike but in handling, as well? I've seen these wishbone linkages create unfavorable angles in the suspension.
Any comments or experiences would be appreciated.

Here's the update on the Chinese bike.

At 29 miles most of the teeth sheared off the end of the starter shaft. The kickstart lever spun the teeth of the inside of it's mounting clamp. Somewhere in that time frame the needle came off of the tach spindle. The owners of the shop are making noises like they are going to cover everything under warranty. I've since discovered that NST has discontinued this model. Parts may not be available anymore.

We found a starter on a similar model and it works until you put the cover over the end of the shaft and the gears. The misalignment is just enough to put a bind on the shaft. We're "modifying" some things to get by, but it's time to have a serious talk with the shop owners. I think they mean well but don't have much experience in this business.

I'm very careful to not use my position as a trainer in unethical ways. I never stand in front of a class, for instance, and endorse a particular brand or dealer. I'm there to help people develop or improve riding skills. I remain neutral on other issues, at least, "officially". So I would not go out of my way to speak ill of this shop. If it came up in conversation unrelated to a class, however, that's a different story.

We're going to have a little chat about this situation. I'm looking for the right words to tactfully get across the point that it's not wise for anyone in the motorcycle business to alienate an instructor who sees almost a thousand students a year. Was that a long sentence, or what?

Doing the "right thing" will go a long ways towards helping us as well as themselves.

Keep you posted. Got some fun and interesting things on the list for the next few posts. All I need to do is steal time away from my two jobs and what little personal life I have to write them!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bitter pill antidote.

Some of this touches on things that have already been written about. Not just by me, but some of our blogosphere neighbors. I gotta go there, anyway. Consider it a rant with a happy ending.

People are getting more stupid and selfish all the time. I've got ideas of why but that's way too much meat for this post. It's way worse when they get into cars. There's something about a vehicle that amplifies the effect, to be sure. If it isn't there in the first place it can't be amplified, can it? Cages must be terribly efficient amplifiers. Cars seem to find the tiniest veins of evil and turn them into giant hoses. I've seen what I considered decent, average, folks turn into screaming lunatics once in their cars.

The insulating affect of tons of steel wrapped around a body has been discussed before. This insulating shows itself in so many ways. I find it especially interesting that people get so irate over every little slight, real or only perceived. At the same time they seem to have no clue that their own actions affect other drivers. I see it all the time. No turns signals, suddenly darting someplace in front of others, making obscenely dangerous lane changes, or weaving in and out of traffic at a breakneck pace. There's no concern over the fact that they're endangering themselves, which is bad enough. Endangering others who have no choice in the matter is inexcusable. It's selfish stupidity to a felony degree. What's really weird is that it seems to be a habit they're unaware of. It's like a transformation happens when they turn the key. A transformation that happens so often these drivers aren't even aware anymore of the fact they drive so badly. In a perverse sort of way, it becomes "normal"!

That's them. What about us? I admit to getting frustrated with them sometimes. I'm tempted to do things I shouldn't. Not having attained sainthood, yet, and not likely to do so anytime soon, I struggle with anger and a desire to attack. That "R" word crops up sometimes as much as I hate to admit it. Revenge, oh sweet Revenge!

Fact is, though, I have a choice in what kind of a man I am. Spending so much time on a bike reminds me of that fact. Commuting on two wheels makes it so much easier to stand on my own two feet. Picture that, if you can! When I get into a car I feel the Mr. Hyde shadow descending upon me. I could easily become just another commuter who's powerless to do much other than go with the flock. I feel so much differently on a single track vehicle. It's the power of the bike, I think. I've always tried to instill into my boys that they should be strong enough to be gentle. Believe me, being my sons, they know full well how to fight and take care of themselves. In a strange turnaround, coming from a position of power makes it easier not to use it in a destructive way. The same principle holds true for me in dealing with these demented aliens I'm forced to share the roads with.

While not as cavalier about riding on sidewalks as my bro' Gary, I have more options on a bike than in a car. How do I know? Because I've bloody well used them, that's how! I don't know how many times I used the bike's superior speed and maneuverability to get around some self righteous left lane blocker. As I hit clear space I mutter to myself,

"I don't have to put up with this sh**t on the bike!"

Despite having the power to wield, I find I'm often content to hang back and enjoy the ride. As Gary addressed in a comment on his blog, having a high skill level makes the temptation to use the bike as a weapon overwhelming sometimes. I'll be honest. I've done it and enjoyed it. It's a great feeling to triumph over an adversary. Right after the feelings of victory comes the wondering if the small stakes really made it worthwhile. Did I really put so much on the line just to wipe that smug smirk off of some petty jerk's face?

I saw some comments on the blogs about sheep and wolves. Picture a wolf on a motorcycle looking at the sheep in their cars. He has a serenely wicked smile on his lips. Those nasty fangs aren't showing. Rather, there's just a hint of the power they hold. The smile isn't meant to be friendly. It's more of a teasing threat.

"You know, I could take you out anytime I choose. I'm only letting you go because it's too beautiful of a day to waste time with the likes of you. Don't mistake my mildness today for weakness. No, I'm holding back because leaving you to your pathetic, needy, little life is punishment enough. At the end of the day we each know who we really are."

The wolf on the bike remains calm and serene. His strength and skill have been proven in battle. He knows who he is. His bike is a fast and capable steed. It will deliver as needed. Faithful scooters, too! Not all wolves are big, hairy, and ugly like me. Some are quite classy and sophisticated looking. One would never know to look at them and their scooter what latent power lies beneath. Too bad for them!

A bike is the perfect Bitter Pill antidote. We don't need to be poisoned by the same "stuff" that sickens the rest of them.

Here's a perfect example. Somehow you just knew a story about commuting would come in here, didn't you?

Have you ever heard of the Walt Disney syndrome? When I was a kid The Wonderful World of Disney came on tv Sunday night. It was right afterwards that Grandma made me take a bath to be ready for school on Monday. That television show also signalled that the weekend was ending. Monday morning was right around the corner. Fathers everywhere started getting uptight as the start of the work week slowly intruded upon their consciousness. Thus, the name Walt Disney Syndrome.

On Sunday night Katie and I arrived home and unpacked Sophie. Nearly 800 miles had rolled under her tires. Sophie, not Katie! It would soon be time to hit the hay and start a new work week myself. What did I have to look forward to for Monday morning?

Let's see. That would be to get back on the bike and ride at least a hundred miles to the office. Thinking further, there would be a special little stop on the way up. The weather guessers were calling for upper 70's (f) for the day. Oh well, I'd just have to steel myself for it!

I've used this picture before. It's an aerial view of Pat's Acres. This is the track where we teach our civilian Advanced Rider Training. There was to be a cornering clinic for a group of our instructors in the morning. Later in the afternoon a regular group of students would be doing their thing. Imagine starting Monday morning by spending some time doing some hot laps on this sweet track before the students got onto it. Followed by some coffee drinking and cheerful conversation with fellow instructors as they were arriving to take the cornering clinic. Not only fellow instructors but friends and bike enthusiasts, as well. As they started their class I reluctantly pulled out and headed for the office. I know I'm lucky to be have the opportunities I do. Being a trainer is a lot of work but I get to regularly do things on my bikes that most folks don't.

Our office is in a business park. Doesn't Sophie look gorgeous in the morning sun? I took off the big Givi trunk and slapped on the backrest early in the morning. I think she looks so much more graceful this way, don't you? Not bad for a gal with her mileage. She's around four hundred miles short of 155,000 miles. I got her in February of 2001. Over six and a half years that's an average of almost 24,000 miles a year. Her and I share a lot of good memories of fun.

After a few hours Sophie found her way to the front door and starting trying to entice me to go riding some more. I finally got tired of tripping over her so we hit the road. How can I describe how perfect it is to be on a familiar and well loved bike? Feeling her respond so eagerly to your inputs? To be riding in perfect weather? Coming home from a work day and knowing I was at work but the uppermost thoughts are of a little over two hundred miles of blissful riding? I was almost tempted to wave at some SUV's, I felt so good! Almost, but not quite.

People who commute in cages are missing out on so much. The really sad part is that they don't even know what they're missing! Some folks sort life by neccesity. Some sort life by possibilities. If only they would explore the possibilities of commuting on a bike! Forget the red pill versus green pill choice, or blue, or whatever the heck colors they were on the Matrix. Choose the antidote to the Bitter Pill!

Tomorrow Katie and I are off to Bend. It's on the other side of the Cascade Mountains from us. Depending upon conditions, ( and how much tea Katie drinks in the morning before we go ) it's between two and a half and three hours of riding. I have a meeting at 10 AM. These folks and I have a relationship from a couple of my lives. They will expect me to show up on a bike. Mustn't disappoint, you know. The whole purpose of the trip is this meeting. There will be plenty of time to explore Central Oregon on the way back. You probably won't see a post tomorrow. I'll be living it instead of writing about it!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 13, 2007


I never thought I'd ever say this. With my reputation as a hardcore rider it might even be considered treason. Blasphemey, at the very least. I finally encountered a situation where I would rather have been in a car. Painful to admit, but true.

It all started with a trip North for a company picnic. One of the guys who's worked for the company a long time has a house on a lake near Seattle. Steve had offered it for the company picnic. He's also known as quite the Bar-B-Q king. The picnic was scheduled for Saturday. Overnite accommodations were offered for both Friday and Saturday nights. Katie and I decided to go up Friday night. We wanted a little more privacy so we opted for a motel room. Knowing I could get a great rate at the place I usually stay when I am commanded to show up at Corporate, that's where we headed.

I should know better than to plan a trip up Interstate 5 on Friday afternoon anywhere near Seattle. I guess I'm one of those stubborn guys who thinks I'll make it work anyway. Since my ankle is back to normal we packed Sophie. I recently acquired a Givi tail trunk. It's like moving into a bigger house. When you find you have more room you suddenly find you "need" more stuff! Things weren't bad until we hit Tacoma. Crews have been working on the freeway by the Tacoma Dome forever. Between that and the sheer volume of traffic we made steady, albeit slow, progress. Little did I suspect what was in store for us a few miles up the road.

On the bike we have no radio. There was no forewarning. The first sign of trouble was that traffic was getting slower and slower. Figuring it was just the normal Friday afternoon rush hour thing, I stayed on the freeway. Big mistake. We got trapped.

North of Fife we came to a standstill. For a while it was stop and go. Soon it became mostly "stop". The freeway is four lanes wide in this stretch. Tons of traffic barely moving. Literally. Next to us a guy in a beat up old landscaping truck had his window down. I asked him if he knew what was going on. Unlike us, he had a radio and heard there was a big accident right where Highway 18 joins I-5. The good news was that it was only a couple of miles or so North of us. The bad news was we'd already passed the last exit that might have given us an alternate route. Now the ordeal began in earnest.

It took us a few minutes shy of two hours to cover those two miles. Looking back on it, I should have worked my way over to the right and hung out at the rest area until traffic cleared. Like I say, I've got this stubborn streak. Why would I want to just sit in a rest area when I could keep making forward progress? Even if it was at a snail's pace. Almost literally. It was progress but it came painfully and agonizingly slowly. A couple of times I seriously thought about riding the freeway shoulder. One time I even started to nose the wheel of the bike over there. At the same moment I saw blue and red lights in the mirror. It was the first of several law enforcement vehicles using the shoulder to get to the accident. Better not to take a chance. I don't know what the fine is but I really didn't want to find out! My Oregon plate probably wouldn't let me plead ignorance to Washington law. These guys play rough, too. I just read that the fine for unauthorized use of the HOV lane is over a thousand dollars for the first offense! So I suffered.

Imagine sitting on a bike. You're in traffic that moves forward about twenty or thirty feet and then stops for minutes at a time. It's not scorching hot but plenty warm. Being a believer in good gear, your body's covered by an Aerostich Roadcrafter suit. A full face helmet's protecting your head from direct sun but holding in a lot of heat at the same time. My Arai helmet's designed to vent but a key ingredient in the formula is moving air! Same formula holds true for the 'stich's vents. On top of it all, you have a passenger you care about behind you. As much as you love her, the extra weight's quickly becoming felt. Left foot down. Both feet down. Hot pavement roasting your feet. Sweat turning your t-shirt into a watering hole for all your wandering cooties. Clutch hand getting really tired. The needle of the temperature gauge staying right up towards hot. Electric fan running all the time. I tried shutting the bike down now and then to let it cool. I was worried that constantly starting the bike combined with the stop and go pace would drain the battery too much. Knock on wood, but the battery's the original from 2001 when I bought Sophie new. Sometimes I would put the bike in neutral and put the sidestand down to take the weight. Then I'd throw my shoulders out hefting it back up to move forward another few feet.

Somewhere in the middle of this these words blazed across the front of my skull:

"God, I wish I was in an air conditioned car right now!"

There. Shocking as it may be, I'd almost had enough. My tired legs would have nothing more strenous to do than work the brake and gas pedals. I could be listening to soft jazz on the stereo. Staying oh so cool in the meantime! It was entirely my fault, of course. Like I said, I could have pulled into the rest area and just waited it out. Us and the other hundreds of folks already there judging by the crammed parking lot. I'm patient with students when I'm teaching but I don't normally have that kind of patience otherwise. My first instinct is to attack, not retreat. I just kept thinking that it would end at any moment. I mean, how often does the freeway actually shut down to this extent? There was no way for me to know how long the ordeal would last until I'd actually finished it and could look back on it. By the way, Katie was really none the worse for wear. She told me she'd actually napped for part of the time! We are such polar opposites in temperment it's a wonder we get along so well.

Eventually it was over. Was it still the year 2007? My joy at being on the bike quickly returned. Once we got moving again, that is. We arrived at our hotel later than planned but intact. Having had more than enough sitting on the bike for one day, Katie insisted we walk over to the restaurant for dinner. How could I argue? I'm an Iron Butt. However, Katie's not. Besides, it was certainly true we'd avoid any traffic jams by walking the half mile!

This is a great place to rekindle the fun of riding. It's become sort of a rider's hangout. The owners encourage it by having provided a motorcycle motif. They also sponsor some motorcycle related events and keep up on the local "scene". Inside the restaurant are some vintage Italian bikes. They're not restored in the traditional sense. It's more like someone found some old bikes with parts missing, etc. Whatever was left was cleaned up and painted with standard paint. Still, though, it makes for a nice background as you enjoy a satisfying meal.

I wasn't real inspired to take pictures inside, being tired and hungry, but I did snap this photo just inside the front door. This moped's had a little more attention than most of the displays. If you want to look at more, though, click here for their website. If you arrive on a bike you get 10 percent off your meals. Since we walked over I showed them my instructor certification card. They were gracious enough to provide the discount for me. Good food and a little money saved in the process. Works for me!

Katie and I sat out on the patio. Since I wasn't riding I enjoyed a couple of cold beers. Guinness Stout if you want to know. I didn't take pictures of our food, thank you. I'll leave that kind of artistry to Gary and Steve. I'm much better at eating it than photographing it, anyway. Most of the riders were on the patio and we had some great conversations.

Feeling refreshed, and with our traffic nightmare now a fading memory, we called it a day. Suffice it to say that when we left for home on Sunday morning we studiously avoided anything remotely resembling a freeway. Our journey home had a coastal theme. Traffic was the usual summer tourist thing but not too bad. Until we got to Seaside, that is. Seems there were hundreds of beach volleyball teams, both male and female, in town for a yearly competition. This time I was more than willing to pull off and take in the "scenery", if you know what I mean. Katie slapped me up alongside the helmet and told me to keep on moving. Oh well!

Oh, that car thing?

I have no recollection of making any such statement!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Runnin' the river.

Katie and I did something fun Sunday. We went for a jaunt in a canoe. This was actually a frequent pastime when the kids were still home. Eventually, we gave the canoe to our oldest son. Recently, the canoe came back. Looking for a relaxing way to spend an afternoon, we took it up past Foster Dam on the Santiam River. No pictures. It was just a quiet getaway for the two of us. Nothing fast and furious. I've got a birthday coming up next month and I'm getting mailings from the AARP! It's time I learn to take it easy once in a great while.

For the first bit, though, we did do some spirited running down the river. The water's more shallow upstream and runs quickly through the rocks. I'm feeling a little guilty. In order to run downstream and not have to carry the canoe for miles, we took two vehicles to the lake. A motorcyclist burning fuel in two cages. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

As we piloted the canoe I soon fell back into the once familiar routine of scanning the water ahead for visual clues. A different color here, a different texture there; they were all indications that we might have a rough spot coming up. I'm nowhere near where really experienced canoers are but I know enough to keep my eyes open. Once back in calm, deeper water and enjoying a picnic lunch, I was thinking back on the run downstream. Looking for clues that point to possible hazards is pretty much second nature. It's what I do all the time on two wheels. The hazards are different but the process is the same.

I really think one of the reasons riders get into trouble is that they fail to successfully make the transition from "driver" to "rider". Being proficient on a bike requires a totally different mindset. Let me see if I can explain this in a somewhat succint manner.

In the world of cars, judging by the commercials, a "five star safety rating" is the currency of the land. Things like airbags and crumple zones are featured. I notice that the advertisers hawk their safety features. Have you ever seen a commercial urging drivers to just become better drivers? It's like they're being told they will be protected no matter what. Since a car driver is encased in so much metal and protected by so many safety features, they feel like they can divert more attention to other things. They're wrong, of course, but they do it nonetheless. Who can resist on-board entertainment systems, drive-thru fast food, lattes, and the ever present cell phones? Traction clues? Patches of gravel in a corner? A fuel spill? Who needs to bothered by such things?

In direct contrast, on two wheels traction is the currency of Shiny Side Up Land. We ain't go no five star safety rating devices available. Things like loose surfaces, debris, roadway irregularities, and wet roads might never even make the radar screen of a car driver. To a motorcyclist, though, these things can be critical. In our kingdom, everyone's on a fixed income. The traction level will vary but what doesn't change is that there's only so much to go around. There's no provision to make a deposit to cover overdrafts. The best piece of safety equipment we have is that grey matter between our ears. I don't know about yours, but mine don't resemble an airbag at all!

So far I know I'm stating the obvious. What isn't obvious is how riders fail to make the mental transition. On a bike one must think like a motorcyclist. That's a totally different way of thinking than being a driver. Getting onto a bike doesn't magically turn on a switch in our heads. Thinking like a motorcylist is a skill developed by practice. Just like any other worthwhile endeavour. Visual clues have to take on a whole new meaning to a rider. There's really no substitute for experience. The more seat time the better. Without seat time, a person has to make a tremendous mental effort to try to make up the difference. A lot of riders are in this category. I'm not implying any sort of character fault on anyone's part. It's just circumstances. A rider needs to be aware of them and then compensate. Consider.

By the way, be warned that this post may go a little longer. I try to keep the posts short enough to read on a break at work or lunchtime. Far be it from me to be so egotistical that I think people want to spend a long time reading what I write. This post, however, is being given it's head, as we say with the horses. I think it's important enough to spend some time on. I've seen too many crashes that could have been avoided by more awareness of this subject. Once in a while I like to think I'm doing something worthwhile for the riding community. This post feels like it could be just such a thing.

Back to the riders. Many of us are on bikes almost every day. It seems like we live on the bike. A lot of folks are more infrequent riders. As much as I'd like to see a lot more people commuting on two wheels, it's just not happening right now. Many ride to work once in a while as weather and circumstances allow. That's awesome. Ride to work as much as you can. If it turns out to be only once in a while, we're still glad to call you one of us! It's a simple fact, though, that someone who drives a lot more than they ride is going to naturally keep thinking like a driver. It's going to take a conscious effort to unplug the "driver chip" and plug in the "rider chip". The transition gets easier with repetitions!

What does it mean to think like a rider? That's a subject that's too detailed to cover in a short time. Generally it means looking for clues and becoming mentally armed as early as possible. It means looking at things in a new way. Paying attention to things that we might not give much heed to in a car. Here's an example of how a rider can be adept at using clues to their advantage. I want to share this one with you and then provide some scenarios dealing specifically with traction issues.

Blind intersections are dangerous. I know, I'm preaching to the choir, here. We want information as early as possible. I hate nasty surprises! As I get close to the intersection I notice something's blocking my view. By now I'm fairly close to the intersection before I recognize the situation. I crane my neck and I'm really pleased with myself that I saw the bumper of the car moving forward from behind the fence. With that early notice I was able to use some brakes and avoid a collision. That's thinking like a driver. How could I have used my senses like a rider should?

Let me ask you this question. What are the signs that tell you there's an intersection? Go ahead. Think about what you normally look for. What one thing will almost always give you a clue very early that an intersection's coming up?

Thinking like a rider, I'm aggressively scanning ahead of my bike. There's an intense scan going on in the area ten seconds ahead of me. I'm also looking down the road twenty seconds out. The faster I'm going the farther that is. Whether I'm in town or in the country, I notice way up there that there's a break in the fog line. Right away the intersection shows up as a blip on my radar. Having been alerted way early, I'm able to give it attention sooner. As soon as I see there's a visibility issue, I'm able to move left which both helps me see better and gives me more space to react should I need it. If I still can't see I can slightly slow and cover my brake and clutch. You see the difference?

I've gained precious time that allows me to deal with a hazard more on my terms. The break in the fog line is an obvious but often overlooked clue. Thinking like a motorcyclist means taking advantage of every shred of information we can hunt down.

What are the clues when it comes to traction issues? We're looking for colors and textures. Anything that looks different than where we're at now could signal a change in traction. It may or may not turn out to be a problem but at least we knew about it early. We can't ignore things like darker colors, rough looking material, and shiny surfaces. A bump in a car could well be a crash on a bike. I know it seem obvious. Then why are there so many crashes? The clues don't trigger the right signals to a rider who's still thinking like a driver. Take a look at some of these photos. These are from some of my actual rides as you'll see by Sophie's posing for me!

This is a wet spot under some trees. On the other side of the opening is a long straight stretch. A rider could get up some speed coming into here. Just a wet spot on the road, you say? There was ice earlier in the morning. Now look behind me.

That's a corner that's posted at 10 mph. Guess where you'd be doing your heavy braking setting up for the corner? Right in the wet and possibly still icy spot. Thinking like a motorcyclist, the dark spot should trigger the appropriate reaction. Better to see it early and brake sooner.

Here's another one.

This is one of my favorite rural roads. Just off the interstate is this farm land. Right here the road's wet but doesn't look too bad, does it? This road's got plenty of these kinds of curves. A quick left followed by a quick right. Check out what's just around the left turn.

Thinking like a rider, I know it's fall. I see the trees. If I'm keeping my eyes up and scanning ahead like I'm supposed to I see the texture of the leaf mush as well as the strange color. The clues trigger my reaction to roll off and be ready. Much better to rob Murphy of another "Oh sh#@#t!" moment. This is a typical scenario for crashes. Haven't you heard riders claim an accident wasn't their fault because they were "surprised" by something? They need to get a clue. Literally. Maybe two or three while they're at it.

Here's another. This one's doubly tricky.

Wet road covered by leaves. Hopefully, we're already riding prudently. Wait, there's more. Another potential surprise waits around the corner coming up. Sure would like to have a clue as early as possible. As bad as this road is, I'm still aggessively scanning for possible changes for the worse. Sure enough, I see a shiny spot.

The extra shiny spot was this puddle. Can you say "hydroplane"? Not only that, but what if someone were to suddenly pull out of that driveway? A car driver might not really be alarmed but it's all kinds of bad to a rider. Talk about multitasking! Being surprised by a puddle of water, wet leaves, and a blind driver pulling out all at once. No thanks. Too much drama for me. Far better to be thinking like a motorcyclist. I'll get my clues early and take the appropriate actions before I'm in a critical situation.

I don't have a riding contract that guarantees I'll only have to deal with one hazard at a time. My experience has been that if things are bad, that's when they'll get worse. Wet roads can be a hazard all by themselves. Then some unseen imp with a devious sense of humor thinks it would be funny to put a fuel spill on top of the water. Like this situation:

I'm already watching for shiny spots. Manhole covers, steel plates, street markings, and track rails are part of what I'm looking for. Not to mention puddles. On top of that I've watching for any other differences. Notice I used the words differences. I figure where I'm at is a known quantity. Anything that looks different than "here" is suspect. One of the differences I'm seeing here is the colors on top of the water. Getting the clue early lets me reduce my speed as I go through the spill. Once past I'm still not in the clear. Check out this next photo.

Oils, fuels, and antifreeze stick to tires for a while. You can clearly see the track here. It's not a problem so much if you continue straight on with no incident. What if you need to make a quick turn? A swerve is two really quick turns. Hard braking will be tricky for a little bit. Like I say, it's when things are bad that they get worse. With my luck some fool is going to slam on his brakes in front of me right after I go through the fuel. Catching the clue early lets me help set myself up for success rather than failure.

There are just some of the examples of things I encounter and think about every day. You're experiencing the same things. That's why I wanted to write this post. Anything we can do to turn the odds towards our favor is great. So much of motorcycling is mental. I love ole' Yogi Berra. I saw a quote that said,

"90 percent of this game is half mental!"

Practice thinking like a motorcyclist, not a driver. Getting our eyes up and looking for clues that indicate things like reduced traction is only a part of it. There's so many things that affect a rider more than a driver. Fender benders in a car can be fatalities on a bike. Be aggressive in scanning. Be aware of clues and what they really mean to a rider. If you're doing it right, you'll be "on alert" a lot more than when you're driving. It sounds scary but your riding will actually be much more enjoyable. It's always more fun to feel like we're in charge instead of being a victim!

Miles and smiles,