Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Harvest Moon ride!

Some of the neatest things in life happen due to fortuity. I've heard people say that being in the right place at the right time is the key. There's more to it than that, really. At least I firmly believe so. A person needs to, not only be there, but be open to the opportunity. I know I'm seriously exposing my Redneck heritage here, but let me give you a quick example from last Christmas season. We'll get back to motorcycles, I promise, just bear with me. It sets the tone for later.

Katie and I do a lot of our shopping at the local Fred Meyer store. My preference is to do business with Mom and Pop type places but they're becoming ever more extinct. Freddie's, as we call it, has most of what we need. It's a chain but it was started locally by a man named Fred Meyer. Fancy that. Anyway, we were walking the aisles and happened along to the sporting goods department. Above a refrigerator filled with fishing bait was mounted a mechanical deer head. What made this one unique is that it would sing songs when you pushed a button on the base. Not being shy, I pushed the button. From then on, Katie and I were entertained whenever we visited the store. Simple pleasures and some laughs. Sometimes you just got to let go, you know? No, I didn't sing along. Letting go doesn't mean falling over the edge!

Even more entertaining was the reaction of our fellow shoppers. Very few people would acknowledge or look at the deer. Hardly anybody looked up at the thing and smiled. They were so wrapped up in their own little world that I'm sure most didn't even notice. Those that did were afraid they'd somehow appear "undignified" if they looked or laughed. Pity.

Ok, so a singing fake deer head isn't a major joyous event. Just how many of those do we get in life, anyway? Not very many. If I waited for those type of events to happen so I could find joy in life; well, you get the idea. Most of the pleasure and enchantment we get in life is a sum total of a lot of little things. I'd prefer a smaller boost here and there to having to wait for bigger shots spaced a lot farther apart, anyway.

On the plus side there's a lot of those smaller events swirling around us. There's a catch, though. People have to be open to them. The minus side comes in because most of us aren't really that open. Oh, it's not all our fault. We don't live like a "Scrooge", seeing negative in everything. Rather, we can easily let circumstances weigh us down so that our focus becomes very narrow. That works for lasers but not for humans! We're forced to become slaves to earning enough money to take care of our families. Speaking of families, they require a huge investment of our time. It's right to focus on the family. It's proper to provide for ourselves. What seems to happen in the process is that we spend a lot of time solving "problems" which leaves little time for "living", as it were.

Motorcycling has always helped me find those "magic" moments. You see, I told you we'd get back here, didn't I? I know a lot of "Dad's" who gave up riding while the kids were growing up. A lot of guys in our classes are coming back after a couple of decades not riding. Now the kids are gone and the bug to ride is returning. Or maybe it never went away in the first place. I chose to keep riding. This post isn't about sharing those reasons, though. It's about how riding isn't only practical transportation. Riding, especially commuting, helps keep the channel to unexpected pleasures open. Every day brings new chances to find small joys. When I experience them, I can share them with family and friends.

That's the situation I found myself in last night. I had a meeting in Salem last night. The meeting was at 7 PM and was made up of select instructors from our program. It's a leadership council kind of thing. I had to go as I'm Chairman. Katie had supper ready early and I took a long, very enjoyable, route up. Thirty miles ended up being more like sixty. We adjourned a little after 9 PM and found ourselves in the parking lot gearing up around 9:30. By "we" I mean Ray and Kyle who rode up from Corvallis, and I. All three of us were headed South and figured to ride together. It had been a long day, I'd had a nice back road ride up, it was dark, and I had to be up early this morning. I was going to head down the Super-Slab and call it a day. Ray, however, was in the mood to play.

We discussed possible routes. I have to say, though, that my contributions were more like a consultant's. I was giving them ideas but was still planning on the direct route. In order to understand what happened, you need to know a little bit about Ray. He's about 42 if I remember correctly. Have you ever seen the movie Toy Story? Ray looks exactly like Woody. It's uncanny. The other thing about Ray is that he never grew up. Usually when I say that, there's a hint of disapproval behind it. With Ray I mean it as a compliment. Ray is the Training Manager of our program. He's one of the best riders I've seen in a long time. Ray's also deadly serious about his riding, his work, and his responsibilities. Yet, he's never lost that boyish sense of play and adventure. I think that's what makes him such a good rider. His dedication to excellence makes him strive to be the best but his boyishness lowers his inhibitions. Ray's kept the best of both worlds. Now Ray's trying to convince me to ride with him and Kyle.

Imagine a puppy who wants you to play with it. The pup will keep bouncing in front of you, enticing you to join it. It's like the pup's saying

"Come on, you know you want to!"

Pretty soon you have to laugh and play with the puppy. I'm a hard core rider with a great sense of adventure. Ray was right, most of me "wanted to". I relented and I swear Ray literally wriggled his tail. Although, if he made a mess in the parking lot I was going to vow I never knew him!

And so I went from "I really don't want to do this" to "Oh my God, this is awesome!"

I took point on Sophie. Kyle fell in behind me on his FJR1300. Kyle's a newer rider and a great kid. He's going to college with the idea of becoming an officer in the Coast Guard. Kyle wants to become a helicopter pilot. Ray brought up the rear on his ST1300. We had Kyle safely snuggled in between us. I led us through the busy Capitol City and out West. I chose a road with a lot of curves but nothing too technical due to the dark. Traffic got lighter and lighter. Then the "magic" happened.

All city related light fell behind us. A large Harvest Moon was shining on the landscape. If you didn't know, a Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the Autumn Equinox. There were no clouds to obscure it's pale light. Put yourself there with us.

I'm in front. Sophie's headlight is projecting a rectangular light beam in front of me. When I lean her side to side, the horizontal light stream lifts on either side. On both sides it's punctuated by the amber front running lights on the front side of her mirror pods. As I swiftly sweep through the curves the light gracefully rotates in time with the bike's movements. The air is the perfect temperature. Just chilly enough to be refreshing as it streams in under the cracked open visor. Right now we're under a heavy tree canopy. Cottonwoods abound along the river bank. Evergreens line the road away from the river.

The only light is from the three bikes. Looking back I see headlights with amber accents following me. They're doing their own mesmerizing dance. Kyle may be a newer rider but his lines are getting good. He and Ray have spaced themselves out to minimize headlight glare in the mirrors of the rider in front of them. It's just enough distance to magnify the effect of the moving bikes. Like a long, colorful, Chinese Dragon, the ripple seems to extend over quite a distance. I talked to Ray on the phone this morning. He said it was so cool to see from the back of the pack. In any given corner we were within inches of each other in our lines.

The three of us danced our way through the darkness for miles and miles. I was setting a pace as brisk as was prudent for the conditions. Kyle's skill level isn't quite what mine and Ray's are and he was smart enough to ride his own ride. When I saw him fall back I'd slow down a little. Coming in to corners, I'd set a line early, light the brake light a little longer than normal, and do other things to give Kyle a clue what was coming up. This wasn't about individual ego's. It was three good friends sharing an experience.

No matter the distance, these kinds of rides go by way too quickly. Soon we crossed the river and found ourselves just South of the small town of Independence. Turning left put us onto Old Corvallis Highway. Where before we'd been on a curving river road under the trees, now we were in open farm country. With nothing between us the full moon was shining brightly upon the bikes and riders. Still no traffic to speak of and no town lighting. Just the three bikes and the Harvest Moon. Moonlight bathes the world in its own special way. Silvery light both illuminates and obscures at the same time. We saw shadows and light with very little detail. Things like barns and trees made their presence felt by their dark bulks. In contrast, the sky got lighter and lighter as you lifted your eyes toward the Moon. Our headlights created a little envelope of brigher light that travelled with us. Kind of like a spotlight on a dark, but not black, stage.

It was our own special world to enjoy. And bask in it we did. We had it all to ourselves, three riders in a place made just for us. I wish I'd brought my camera and yet I know I wouldn't have stopped for pictures. It would have ruined the magic of the ride to halt the flow. Eventually it was time for us to go our separate ways. I slowed and exchanged waves and horn beeps with my companions. They continued on towards Corvallis while I peeled off on Palestine Road. My father is buried at the top of Palestine Hill. I stopped to pay my respects then continued down the other side of the hill. At the bottom I stopped at the stop sign. You can't go straight here. It's either right or left. If you insist on going through the barricade you'll drop twenty feet onto my mother's property. She's been widowed for over a year, now. I've become so much closer to her as I've looked after her. She hates my riding because she worries but she understands the need I feel and the fulfillment I get.

The place was dark save for a light in the dining room window. I decided not to stop since it was so late. Instead, I whispered a quiet 'good night" and headed towards town and Katie. Arriving home, I kissed my bride. The world was right. It's a place full of wonder if we're open to it. Thank you, Sophie!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cardboard cop.

Like any addiction it needs to be fueled. Literally and figuratively, as it turns out. The more I ride for work the more I find ways to do it more. Notice the clever use of more, more, more?

The rainy season's coming all too soon. I'll still ride whenever possible but it becomes a little harder to ride for work in the rain. At least not the short end user calls. Longer trips are fine. Customers don't always appreciate wet gear dripping on their lobby floors. Education is in order, don't you think? One way or another I'll find a way to ride almost every day. There's always the ride to the office. Barring that, my morning loop of 45 minutes will have to suffice. The bikes will see duty all Winter no matter what. I must ride. It's who I am, it's what I do. Bring it on.

There's a certain magic to these end-of-Summer days. The Weather Gods have blessed us with gentle times. Instead of beating on your skin, the sun warms you like the water of a hot tub. Dry, scorching, winds have changed to playful breezes. Sometimes a little too playful. Like a bouncing bear cub the wind can knock a rider around. Still, though, it brings with it a spirit of playfulness. We've only seen a few small sprinkles of rain. Enough to scrub the dust out of the air but not enough to really be noticed. I'm finding every possible opportunity to ride for work besides any commuting I'm doing. I feel like a Grizzly Bear packing on the calories to last through the long Winter. That's a figure of speech! My sweet berries and honey is riding, not actually eating. So no rude comments, please.

It was that spirit of trying to gorge myself on riding in this sweet sunshine that I set out for a meeting in Salem. Once out of town, I headed out for the back roads to the Capitol. Springhill Road's always a good choice as it follows the Willamette River. Sometimes loosely, sometimes right next to the dark green flowing waters. There's an "S" turn that runs within feet of the water and under a heavy tree canopy. On a hot day you can literally feel a temperature drop of ten or fifteen degrees. It's hard to leave that sweet spot, sometimes.

From Springhill Road we'd turn off onto the old Buena Vista Road. Once we hit Independence it would be River Road. The valley's getting too crowded to be able to really let loose on a bike but it still beats riding the freeway in a car anytime.

Five miles or so out of town the number of houses gets sparser. Urban sprawl's edged farther and farther into what used to be farm country. Housing developments are springing up everywhere. Giant monstrosities of expensive houses crowded like sardines in a tin fill the developments. Along with them come more and more cars on the road. Most head South into the city but quite a number turn North towards Salem. A lot of them work up there. Unfortunately, most know the backroads that save the big freeway loop. Eventually, though, things spread out and it's possible to get a decent cruising speed going.

There's fewer driveways but a rider still needs to keep their eyes peeled. Deer are abundant along the river country. Plenty of small animals as well the occasional stray farm animal try to lay claim to a piece of the road. Farm equipment leaves big mud piles. A rider needs to look for these animals, slippery surfaces, rocks on the road, bicyclists, and cop cars. Cop cars?

Sure enough, I see the nose of one sticking out from behind some bushes. Isn't it weird that no matter what our speed our first instinct is to glance down at the speedometer? It's like we're brain washed into a "guilty by presumption" attitude. Mind you, I often have reason to steal a glance. I ride briskly but prudently. Having just taught a track based class my tires were dripping with track rubber. It always takes a little while for the neat feeling of speed to wear off. I try to squelch it as soon as I leave the track but my right wrist can be slightly slow to get the message.

As I rode by I saw there was something really fishy about this cop car. Laughing, I pulled a tight U-turn in the road and came back. I met the Cardboard Cop.

I'd heard of this fictitious officer before. Seems the homeowner is tired of people speeding along in front of his place. This elaborate ruse is an effort to get people to drive more slowly. He'd tried a couple of other types of signs that people ignored.

I guess it was just a little too subtle for most folks. People notice the Cardboard Cop; at least the first time. Once they realize it's no threat drivers are like crows that come to know the scarecrow's fake. Of course, it's not really made of cardboard. I just made that name up for this post. It's actually a neat creation out of plywood and vinyl. From a distance it looks quite real. Up close you see there's a thing or two missing. Like a back half, for instance!

The creativity of our fellow humans can be fun and entertaining, can't it? I continued on my way with something unique to brighten my day.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, September 24, 2007

Go directly to Jail! ( and hopefully leave, again! )

Welcome to Deer Ridge Correctional Institution, Oregon's newest facility. Eleven years ago a former governor started the ball rolling to locate a facility East of the Cascade Mountains. When the next phase is completed this will be the third largest prison in the state. The plan is to eventually house 644 minimum security and 1240 medium security prisoners. Deer Ridge is located a few miles outside of Madras, which is in Oregon's high desert country. Madras has a population of a little over 6,000. As the prison plans to eventually employ around 450 people, it will no longer be a sleepy little burgh.

For now, though, with no offense meant to the good people of Madras, the prison is officially located In the Middle of Nowhere.

Seeking out this prison is my task for the day. There's some teething pains with some electronic equipment. There's been ongoing discussions between the manufacturer, the installer, and the contractor. In an effort to move things forward, I've been requested to show up as the official "Factory Guy". Fortunately, I've a lot of experience in this field. I'm expected to either find an installation problem that can be readily fixed or verify the fact that the factory is at fault.

It ended up being a factory problem but this isn't about that part. It's a tale of the ride for work that brought me here. It was great to finally get to leave but that part almost didn't happen. I've got to learn to keep my mouth shut, sometimes! More on that later.

I still have a burning zeal for riding, but I'm getting less enthused about rides that start at 4:30 AM. There's been too many of these, lately. It's my own fault, really. I could have gone the night before and holed up in some motel. The company would have reimbursed me for the expense but why incur it in the first place? Besides, I had a bigger reason to just get up and leave early. Think about the choice. Let's see. Spend the night in a motel room by myself or cuddle a warm woman? Anyway, Warrior tradition demands the route of Greater Adversity. A true Warrior must leave the warmth and comfort of home to do battle.

There's also that ego thing. I'll admit to having one. Okay, a big one. I don't ride all Winter just for my health. True, a Warrior must test himself in savage battles. It's really about the conquest and bragging rights around the fire, though. I ride by darkened houses and think of these poor soft people still snoozing away. Eventually they'll be staggering to comfortable cars still clutching that cup of coffee. I, on the other hand, will see the sun come up while riding over the top of Santiam Pass. I'll be breathing clean mountain air at somewhere around 5,000 feet elevation.

Speaking of which, it's chilly this morning. Fall's near. There's a morning chill that lasts longer each week. Gentle warming rays from the sunrise happen later in the mornings these days. It will be even colder as I go from 300 feet above sea level to the rarer air of the mountain passes. Eschewing the electric vest, I simply don a light fleece jacket under the 'Stich. It's way too early for my big ego to allow me to pull the vest out.

Nearly as planned the sun rises a couple hours into my ride. We're somewhere near the halfway point. So far it's been a quiet ride but traffic's picking up. What a blessing to be on a long legged sport tourer with plenty of power. Let's just say that dawdlers are easily dispatched. Also, as predicted, the air's quite cold. I can't help but shiver a little now and then. My shield would fog so I'd open it. Pretty soon my face would start to freeze. Down came the visor. Only to fog up and start the process all over again. Huddling down some helps keep me in the still air pocket behind the fairing. The sun's certainly welcome but it also presents a little problem of its own.

The trouble with living West of the mountains is the way the sun rises and sets. I head East early in the day so I have the sun in my eyes going over. I usually head back later so I have the sun in my eyes as the sun's setting in the West. Oh well.

Sophie and I are quickly rolling towards Sisters. This is a little place with a sort of Wild West theme. The two major East-West routes through the mountains combine just before the pass and split again just out of Sisters. Their location's been good for tourist based businesses but it's also become a curse. Traffic on weekends is horrendous as everyone's forced through the small main street of town. There's been a big forest fire in the area called the GW fire. Somewhere around 5400 acres burned and the fire forced some evacuations. Due to the great fire crews, no damage to dwellings was done.

Making my way through Sisters we reach the fork of Highway 20 and 126. I peel off to the left on 126 thinking I was heading on into Redmond. From there I'd turn North on Hwy 97 until I arrived in Madras. That was the plan until I had a little struggle with Emily. That's what I've named the Garmin GPS. There's a female british voice programmed in. Her name, according to the software, is Emily. I chose her because if a female voice were going to nag me about where to turn, she better not sound anything like my wife!

Emily's temporarily powered and sits in the tank bag. She requires external power to be able to give voice prompts via Bluetooth. I have a little Jabra device that fits under my helmet well. I don't want to look at the GPS while riding. Listening to voice prompts isn't too distracting. I'd programmed in the final destination before we left. The Garmin will keep track of my route as well as all the pertinent information. In fact, I've figured out how to store it in Google Earth and can now share rides with those who want them. But I digress.

Just before we get to Redmond, Emily tells me I need to turn left at this road. There's a small sign that indicates there's a transfer station down that direction. You know what that is, don't you? People can take garbage there instead of directly to the landfill itself. The road was small and things were looking pretty dubious to me. I find myself arguing with the stupid GPS. Who's in charge of this ride, anyway? I'm sure the GPS is wrong but at the same time I can't resist the chance for adventure. I've never been on this particular side road. I shrug and turn left, figuring that even the biggest ships never make any progress until they leave safe harbor.

What a neat stretch of road! It goes up and down and around hills. The road surface is comprised of chip seal. Great gobs of oil are put down and then rock is put on top of the oil. It's left for the cars to pack down and then the County comes and puts stripes on it. Bad road for a bike when it's new but this one's been seasoned for a while. The only bad news for this particular road is that the rock seems especially sharp. Too much riding here would wear the bike tires out pretty quickly. And you'd want to keep riding this road.

A lot of "horse" people seem to live here. Rolling pastures ( at least the desert equivalent ) line the roads. There seems to be miles of that new white fencing made of plastic. As you come around a corner you're greeted by a new ranch style house, a barn or two, the fences, and horses that watch you go by with friendly curiosity. I slowed down and just enjoyed the ride. There was very little other traffic.

At some point a Jeep pulled onto the roadway a ways ahead of me. It was dark green and still covered by the dew that settles on all things left outside during a cool night. The man driving gave me a sleepy wave as I gently passed. Farther on I came up behind a pickup pulling a small tractor on a flatbed trailer. Remember what I said about long legged sport tourers with horsepower?

All too soon the road joined Hwy 97. I'd completely bypassed the city of Redmond. The road nearest Hwy 97 must be the "old" part. Most of the landscape was dotted with barns, graineries, and mill type equipment slowly merging once more into the ground. How cool! I wish I'd stopped to take more pictures. Sophie and I arrived in Madras just a little before 9 AM. Right on schedule. We stopped at a Burger King for me to lose some fluid and then at a Shell station for Sophie to take some on. Same general color but different kinds, of course!

Here's the small gate where I entered the prison. Just inside the building is a prisoner intake center. I knew to keep the tool box contents small. There were no prisoners, yet, but the new guards were excitedly running the place like there were. I knew I'd have to do a tool inventory. Tools coming out better equal the list of tools made coming in. Just as I was ready to penetrate the prison itself with my escort, I heard,

"You can't go in there like that!"

"Like that" meant blue jeans. I've done prison work before and knew of this rule while the facility had prisoners. Like I said, there were no prisoners but plenty of gung ho new recruits. This guy didn't want to be seen in front of his Superiors letting something like this go. So here I am. Blue jeans is all I got. Except for black Fruit of the Loom briefs. Being the iconoclast I am, I dropped the tool box and started unbuckling my belt. I had the jeans unbuttoned and was going for the zipper when I was verbally stopped.

"What do you think you're doing?" This from a female guard in the control booth.

I told her that jeans was all I had since I knew the prison wasn't actually in business. If they didn't like me in blue jeans they sure weren't going to like me in my briefs, but if that's what it took?

They quickly agreed they'd make an exception. If they didn't need me so much I'm sure things would have gone differently. I sure didn't score any points, though. That rule's actually for the protection of visiting tradesmen. When things get out of hand, the guards shoot at blue. The plan is that only prisoners wear blue pants. I don't care for the thought of being anywhere near flying bullets no matter what color pants I have on! Been there, done that, already, and I didn't like it even then. When you hear those big doors slam shut it reminds you that you've just relinquished a great bit of personal freedom. I've worked in a lot of facilities, even with inmates swirling around me, but I still get a small chill when those doors slam shut.

With business finished, I was released. Thank goodness. I prevailed upon my host to stop and let me take a few more pictures. They aren't wild about having people take pictures, for some reason.

I nabbed this picture of an employee's TW200.

What a perfect commuter bike for this place! As you can see in an earlier picture of a homestead, the State pushed a road out into the boonies. Deer Ridge sits on 453 acres of desert land. With very little rain, there'd be a lot of days where a lunch break could be spent just riding roads like this.

In case you haven't noticed, there's no photo of Sophie. That's because I was directed to meet an engineer at an office off site. Then I rode up with him as he was the one who would show me the problems. At least, that's the official story. The real story is kind of embarrassing but I feel I should share it.

You see, I think Sophie's finally showing her age. Have you heard the definition of a real friend? A good friend will bail you out of jail but a real friend will be in there with you thinking of all the fun you had! Sophie used to lead me into trouble but she's been a little more dignified lately. She told me in no uncertain terms that if I dared show her anywhere near a "prison" that she'd do me wrong at the worst time possible. What can I say?

Once free we headed North and just explored. I don't usually stop for pictures. Being a long distance rider at heart, we just go. That's why I love a bike like Sophie. Despite her becoming a little stuck up these days. I think of covering ground and it seems like a chore to stop. Just to show that I can do it once in a great while, I took this picture of some wind turbines near the Columbia River Gorge. Actually, I went by and then came back.

They're far away and the zoom on my little camera only comes so close but you get the idea. There's probably a hundred of them along this ridge. The tops of the blades are four or five hundred feet above the ground. Impressive.

I'll spare you the details of the rest of the trip as this post is getting pretty long. I solved the problem of the afternoon sun by staying longer. At sunset we were pulling into this lodge on a lake. It's three hundred dollars a night to stay here. The restaurant prices are what you'd expect, too. So I sat on a bench and munched dried fruit and some nuts. I thought the setting sun made a neat effect here. The guy on the cell phone wouldn't move and I got tired of waiting so he's in the picture, good or bad.

The rest of the ride was in the dark. You just need to keep a sharp eye peeled for those little glowing points of light that signal deer. I'm really lucky to be able to spend so much time on a bike. Life is good!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, September 22, 2007

From the Insurance Industry's perspective.

In the last post I shared the recommendations from the governmental agency side. Now here's the viewpoint on motorcycle fatalities from the insurance industry's point of view. At least you know where these folks are coming from. It's all about the $$$$$!.

Some interesting things from this report are that they lay a lot of blame on the so-called "Super-Sport" type of motorcycle. I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with identifying one type of bike as the problem. In the same report it says that registrations of these kind of bikes is up 83%. To me, more numbers means more fatalities by representation.

The report states that rider education isn't a magic bullet. That motorcycle rights groups shouldn't offer safety training as an alternative to helmets. I can agree with that part. Being safe on a bike is a combination of many factors. The IIHS says the real answer is in more rigid implementation and enforcement of helmet laws.

Where this all goes awry is in different parts of this report. For example, it states that 71 percent of the supersport riders wear helmets. The report outlines how these young riders outfit themselves in racing leathers and full face helmets to emulate their track heroes. Let me see. They have gear nearly equal to racers and yet they suffer fatalities? The reasoning of the report doesn't make sense to me.

Here's another thing to look at. Despite saying that rider education has little effect, the report states that riders who suffer fatalities, regardless of the bike they ride, share the same characteristics. Namely, that they're likely to speed, ride impaired, etc. How are helmet laws going to be the magic bullet here? Isn't the answer to get riders to take responsibility for themselves in the first place? I'm not taking a stand on mandatory helmet laws; I'm merely stating that these aren't the magic bullets, either.

Want to look at the report? Click here. The report's very colorful, by the way.

Be sure to come back, though. You might also find some amusement and insight by clicking here, too.

This is a blog post by Wendy Moon. She's a moto-journalist. Several of her articles on rider education have been published in Motorcycle Consumer News. Wendy has an interesting way of looking at the world. Just remember that this is her own take on things. Wendy and I see eye to eye on some stuff and not so much on others. This post doesn't necesarily reflect my own thoughts. It's just a different viewpoint.

Hopefully this will help keep you entertained for the weekend. Next week I'm starting a small push to go back to having fun. I miss telling funny stories of commuting and working on a bike. Time to go back to laughing!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

No longer flying under the radar.

I made a statement a long time ago that if motorcyclists don't police themselves then Big Brother was going to do it for us. I believe that time is coming. Governmental and Insurance Group agencies are starting to take serious aim at us. Rider fatalities are climbing. Loud pipes are instigating quickly increasing numbers of bans and restrictions. Insurance company losses are mounting. Motorcyclists are under closer scrutiny than ever before.

As a motorcycle safety professional, I'm closely watching things related to this front. A couple of interesting reports have come out in the last week and a half. Findings and recommendations that are sure to be deeply controversial and dividing. Here's the report that came out of the last NTSB ( National Transportation Safety Board ) meeting. Notice the thrust of their recommendations.

The following is taken from the press release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 11 , 2007 SB-07-44 NTSB RECOMMENDS LEGLISLATION TO MANDATE ALL MOTORCYCLISTS USE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION FMVSS 218-COMPLIANT HELMETS --------------------------------------------------------------------Washington, DC-

The National Transportation Safety Board today issued recommendations to states to require all motorcyclists and their passengers to wear Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 218-compliant helmets.

Currently, only 20 states, the District of Columbia, and 4 territories have universal helmet laws requiring all riders to wear a helmet. Twenty-seven states and 1 territory have partial laws that require minors and/or passengers to wear such helmets. Three states have no helmet laws.

"The facts are very clear- head injuries are a leading cause of deaths in motorcycle crashes," said NTSB Chairman Mark V. Rosenker. "The most important step riders can take in terms of protecting themselves and staying alive is to wear a DOT- compliant helmet every time they ride."

FMVSS 218-compliant helmets are designed with a hard outer shell, an impact-attenuating liner, and a retention system to protect the head, especially the brain, in a variety of impact scenarios.

"Universal helmet laws have proven effective in the mitigation of injuries and the prevention of fatalities. Implementing these recommendations will take strong leadership in the States," Rosenker said. "I hope that the Governors and legislative leaders in the States will act promptly and decisively to implement the universal helmet laws recommended today by the Board."

Since 1997, motorcycle fatalities have increased 127 percent. Last year, 4,810 motorcyclists died in crashes, and accounted for more than 10 percent of all motor vehicle crash fatalities.

Last September, the Safety Board held a public forum and gathered information on ongoing motorcycle research and initiatives, as well as countermeasures that may reduce the likelihood of motorcycle accidents and fatalities. The meeting included participants representing government, motorcycle manufacturers, motorcyclist associations, state motorcycle rights organizations, researchers, trauma physicians, law enforcement, and insurance companies.

As a result of today's meeting, the National Transportation Safety Board issued the following recommendations:

To the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Reprioritize the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety recommendations based on objective criteria, including known safety outcomes.

Following completion of the reprioritization of the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety, implement an action plan for states and others, such as federal agencies, manufacturers, insurance organizations, and advocacy groups, to carry out those recommendations that are determined to be of high priority.

To the Federal Highway Administration:

Following the 2007 Motorcycle Travel Symposium, develop guidelines for the states to use to gather accurate motorcycle registrations and motorcycle vehicle miles traveled data. The guidelines should include information on the various methods to collect registrations and vehicle miles traveled data and how these methods can be put into practice.

To the three states with no motorcycle helmet laws:

Require that all persons shall wear a Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating), or as a passenger on any motorcycle.

To the 27 states and 1 territory with partial motorcycle helmet laws:

Amend current laws to require that all persons shall wear a Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating), or as a passenger on any motorcycle.

To the 8 states, the District of Columbia, and the 4 territories with universal motorcycle helmet laws/regulations not specifically requiring FMVSS 218- compliant helmets:

Amend current laws to specify that all persons shall wear a Department of Transportation Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218-compliant motorcycle helmet while riding (operating), or as a passenger on any motorcycle.

To all states:

Provide information to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the effectiveness of your motorcycle safety efforts to assist NHTSA with its effort to reprioritize the National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety recommendations.

Full copies of the recommendation letters will be available in a few days on the NTSB website,

NTSB Media Contact: Terry N. Williams (202) 314-6100

End of release.

This is aimed squarely at the helmet law issue. Maybe you think the type of bike you ride and the amount of training you've had should make a difference. In the next post I'll share the report from the IIHS ( Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ). You might be surprised to see what they have to say.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, September 17, 2007

Creepy stowaway!

At first it was just a tickle. Sometimes the wind does that in my HJC flip up helmet. My helmet had been sitting on the grass most of the afternoon. Maybe it was a stray piece of grass. I'd taken the helmet off again to check. Seeing nothing, I put it back on. Now I'm following a third rider on the track. My objective is to keep my own lines clean, evaluate the rider, and try to formulate it into helpful feedback.

The tickle's back. It's moving around my ear and cheek. By now I'm pretty sure it's not wind or grass. There's something alive in my helmet besides me. There's two more laps to go in this evaluation ride. I try my best to keep focus but can't help but wonder what's in my helmet. That side of our human nature that makes us want to avoid co-habitating with creepy crawly things is rising strong in me. I want nothing more than to stop and get this thing out of my helmet. The Warrior side of me keeps me on task. Whatever this thing is, I will not yield. I have a task to finish. So on I ride, jaw clenched and eyes on the rider ahead.

It feels so good to be back on the track. I'd had a long trip followed by a whirlwind of work. For the record, the trip to Sand Point, Idaho wasn't a vacation. I was required to be there at the staff retreat. Sophie and I left home at 4:30 A.M. on Wednesday. We went to Madras in Central Oregon where we investigated a problem at the new minimum security prison soon to open. Look for an interesting story about that in an upcoming post. At 6:30 we finally arrive in Idaho. I sent off a quick post to the blog on Thursday. We had one afternoon to relax and I tried to make the best of it. We hit the road Friday after lunch, arriving home at 9:30 P.M. 1100 more miles were showing on Sophie's clock. Six-thirty Saturday morning saw me starting a weekend of training for a batch of instructor candidates. Monday brought the Advanced Rider Training course. What we call ART for short. It's the one civilian course we offer on an enclosed track.

I met Ray and Steve early Monday morning at the K-Mart in Albany. Riding side by side with Ray, I was looking forward to hitting the track. Between riding with Katie over Labor Day weekend, riding to work, and riding for work, my butt had been in a bike saddle for nine of the last 10 days. Averaging the total mileage over the ten days, it came to over 170 miles per day. So why was I looking forward so much to more riding? A truly skilled Warrior is always holding back on the streets. At the track I could let it all hang out during the morning while the students were in the classroom.

My vision didn't match the reality, unfortunately.

Oh, I got a few hot laps in first thing. The three of us stopped, opened the gate, and proceeded down the gravel road to motorcycling paradise. The dust from the gravel hadn't even settled when the sound of three Hondas in full attack mode could be heard. Seemingly on the same cue, we all pulled into the paddock. Steve, the Director, let out a huge "Yes!" His ST1300 had been shod with Dunlop D205's until just recently. He'd had good luck with these but this last pair had done weird things for wear and grip. Now there was a set of Avon sport touring tires on his bike. We're pleased to announce that these tires were gripping satisfactorily. The Metzler Z6's on Sophie and Ray's VFR were doing just fine, too, thank you. You know, there's worse ways to start a Monday.

Students started trickling in not long afterwards. There are two instructors starting their apprenticeships to become qualified to teach this class. One is my good buddy Jeff Earles who finished 4th in this year's Iron Butt Rally. He can certainly ride far, let's see how he does riding and evaluating fast! Steve took Dean and Ray took Jeff. The new guys needed to spend time working on lines and technique. Which left me to run Lead. Which means I ended up in the classroom.

Do you know how hard it is to be in the building and have to hear bikes roaring by on the front straight? Wishing it was me out there? Two and a half lovely hours to be streaking around the track. Calling it work but in reality it's pure bliss. The lunch break finally came. I'd brought a sandwich which I quickly wolfed down. There was precious little time to go ride. The rest of the guys were sitting in the shade eating. Best place for them to be. OUT OF MY WAY!!!

Somebody must have sped up the clocks because all too quickly it was time to start the track portion. The students were eager to go. The other instructors were ready to ride. I, on the other hand, had to wistfully look away and pull out my range cards. I'd be doing plenty of coaching but little riding.

By the way, it was hot. A new temperature record was being set for Canby. The mercury officially climbed to 94 degrees (f). I'd moved my gear and Sophie's saddlebags out of the sun and into the shade in a grassy spot. At the end of the course we run the track backwards. The students get to ride a whole different track. It gives them a chance to apply what they've learned to a new environment. Instructors circulate and help with lines, technique, and offer passenger rides. I, meanwhile, just watched. Then a glimpse of salvation came.

The last exercise is an evaluation ride. Students ride with an instructor behind them for a few laps. The instructor offers helpful feedback at the end of the ride. Because the other two guys were brand new, they needed the Mentors to ride behind them and listen to their evaluations. Which meant it would take a long time to get through all the students. I could do some evaluations and cut the time down. It was finally time for me to gear up and go ride!

So I grabbed my helmet from the grass. I felt like a tied up dog that's finally released. Being so eager to go, I didn't even think about checking my helmet. If your helmet's been sitting in the grass for hours, by the way, you really should check it first!

After about the fourth rider I finally pulled off and checked the helmet for the second time. My first check hadn't revealed the presence of the stowaway. This time I found it. A large spider crawled out of the ear portion. It was what we call a Daddy Long Legs. Not really a spider, technically, but a member of the Arachnid family. There's a wive's tale that says this spider is one of the most venomous in the world but it's fangs aren't long enough to bite humans. That's not really true. This creature is an opportunist. It eats decayed leaves, etc., and the occasional small creature it can get away with attacking. Some biologists call it a harvester type Arachnid. Pretty much harmless to humans, either way. Thank goodness. Although I certainly had no idea of that when I felt it crawling around in my helmet.

I let the poor thing go without killing it. Wonder what it thought of its hot laps around the track?

Miles and smiles,

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Greetings from Idaho!

I'm sitting on the deck of a lakefront house in Sandpoint, Idaho. As I write I can gaze over the rippled water of Lake Ponderay. It was a grueling morning of meetings. Now I have an equally hard afternoon enjoying the sun. Do I go out on the boat? Do I fall asleep on the lounge chair? All these choices and what do I do? I'm hooked into the wireless internet and blogging. I wish I could send you pictures right now but I haven't got the camera software installed on this laptop.

Something strange happened Saturday that I wanted to share. Here's a picture from then.

After so much riding to work, it was time to ride for fun. A long Labor Day weekend loomed ahead. Saturday dawned warm and inviting. Our plan was to explore some back roads we hadn't been on in a long time. Katie and I wore shorts under our 'stich riding suits. With the addition of the big trunk, we can now stash all our gear on the bike and walk around looking like normal people at stops. Appearances can be deceiving, can't they.

The plan worked as intended right up to the point we found this lovely shaded parking spot next to the Willamette River. Katie and I were sitting on a bench along a walkway right next to the water. Katie loves the sound of water and I love the sunshine. We were grooving on just being together and enjoying the afternoon sun. A bike was waiting for us to ride some more. Let's see. To recap, we had a sunny day, the chance to ride for fun, a great lunch followed by relaxing on a bench watching the river, and another chance to ride for fun. It was the formula for the perfect motorcycling afternoon.

So how did we go from here to riding the bike to shop for new furniture?

There's a long list of things I'd put down as things to ride for. This one had never entered my head. Apparently Katie didn't share the same mental condition. Oh so innocently she brought up the subject as we sat on the bench. I made the mistake of trying to express myself philosophically. One which I will never make again, by the way. Katie had commented on the hardness of the bench. I quoted Robert Frost who said,

"I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than to be crowded on a velvet couch."

My mistake was in mentioning the word "couch". Besides, I think it was a misquote. The word Frost used was "cushion" wasn't it? Somewhere along the line we had inherited a couch that had a recliner on both ends. I have to admit that the end of some long days have seen some welcome cuddling and zoning out on one of these recliners. This contraption was admittedly starting to show some wear. School had started up again and one of Katie's fellow SEA's had mentioned a big furniture sale they were going to. My sweet but cunning bride casually mentioned that we could stop by and just take a look. The hook for me was that she mentioned Bellinger Scale Road. I could string some back roads towards the North until I got to Sweet Home. Bellinger Scale Road would take us into Lebanon where the furniture store just happened to be. Like I say, cunning. That, my friends, is one awesome motorcycle road. I have got to get over my addiction to these kind of roads. They can take you to unexpected places; in more ways than one!

Turns out we didn't find what we were looking for at the first stop. Notice the fact that I wrote the word "first". The reactions of the sales staffs was priceless, though. Somehow the stereotype of "bikers" still remains. Even if we were dressed more in the European vein than American Iron.

The sale was in a giant tent erected in the parking lot. Beats me how they drove the tent stakes into the blacktop! Figuring it to be a quick browse unless we saw a great deal, we kept our riding suits on. I had a question and approached a middle aged woman working the sale. I wasn't sure if she was going to talk to me or bolt behind the nearest couch. From the looks of it, she wasn't either.

One stop led to another for a total of five between three towns. At the last stop, one we almost didn't make because my belly was growling loudly for supper, we found a sales girl who wasn't shy. In contrast, she immediately started the familiar banter common between riders. Her name is Jamie and she rides a recently acquired SV650. Coincidentally, we also bought three pieces of furniture. Which had nothing to do with the fact that Jamie was a rider. Ok, maybe a little. The saying in sales is that people buy from people. Very true.

We ended up buying a matching sofa, loveseat, and a swivel rocker that reclines. Now five people at once can recline in our living room. It feels a little over the top but made Katie happy. The last thing I want to do is sound "uppity" here. A tiny bit of background is in order.

Once upon a time I read a little story about Yogi Berra. He was playing baseball in the yard with his sons. His wife opened a window and complained that they were stomping down the lawn grass. His reply was, "We're raising boys, not grass!"

That's how it's been with us. Our house has never been nominated for any sort of Homes and Garden awards. With four kids, things have been clean and presentable. To us, matching furniture meant is was all the same color. Now that we are empty nesters, I guess all the pent up wishing expressed itself for Katie. We now have matching furniture in the true sense of the word. For the first time in 30 years. I guess I owe it to my best friend. I just never imagined we'd be riding a motorcycle to go furniture shopping!

Well, gotta go. The lake and a boat beckons. Friday night brings a long ride home. Saturday and Sunday will be spent launching a new batch of hopeful instructors. I managed to slip into an instructor spot for our track based class on Monday. Tough life, huh? Somebody's got to spend a lot of time around motorcycles and riders!

Miles and smiles,