Friday, November 30, 2007

Loud pipes....again?

Once more I had someone stand in front of me and make the tired old claim of how loud pipes save lives. What is it with these people? In this case, inspiration hit me and I was able to make a reply I'd never thought of before. I think it was the fever. Back to that in a minute.

Ok, I'm guilty, I confess! I've severely neglected this blog. I had an excuse over the long Thanksgiving weekend. This week has been one for the books. I won't waste your time with all the gory details but here's a couple of interesting highlights.

Tuesday was supposed to be spent watching some folks bring a manufactured home onto my mother's property. She has two acres out in North Albany. Grandma just turned 88. Long story short, due to circumstances, we applied for a hardship permit to put this home on some existing property with the intention of having Grandma live there. She's closer to us than in her old home. I offered to have her move in with me but she wants her own abode, still. There was some delays in the permit process. So here we are, end of November, in rain soaked ground.

This is a 15 x 52 foot unit. Sounds easy to hook the crawler onto it and bring it down the sloping driveway. A man from the dealer came and inspected the drive. He proclaimed it wide enough. Then came reality. I spent time playing logger with a Mac chain saw. Yep, all the trees and big bushes lining the drive needed serious pruning. It was a bad day. The end of Tuesday saw the home mired up to its axles in mud. That's how it spent the night. Let me say right here that my mother hired a contractor to prepare a pad for the manufactured home. I had nothing to do with this! Although I should have.

Back at it early Wednesday morning. Interestingly, the job had somehow gotten turned over to the old timers. The guy who showed up to supervise is a white haired man with 40 years experience. Instead of the younger man who handled the crawler, his step father showed up. Between the two of them and their crews, they had the situation corrected and the trailer in place by 1 PM. Experience will tell!

Like I say, I was initially there to watch. I ended up actively involved and down in the mud. As the stress and frustration built on Tuesday I played the role of peacekeeper. Language got a little rough and I had to remind them to watch it in front of the ladies. The finger pointing started between the set up crew and the contractor. I stepped in and made it clear that I was the customer and they had better get on the same page to make it happen for me. Tuesday was ugly.

I made up for my hard guy attitude on Wednesday by keeping them supplied with hot coffee and donuts. It was in the upper thirties all morning. Pretty darn cold and they spent a lot of time in the mud. Sorry there's no pictures but I took video, not still pictures.

When I left on Wednesday afternoon I was chilled to the bone. Turns out that whatever evil sickness bug that had been attacking me took full possession. When I went to bed Wednesday night, Katie said she was sure if she wet her finger and put it on my skin it would sizzle. Most of Thursday was spent in a fevered blur.

It was one of the set up crew that made the statement about loud pipes on Wednesday. Stereotypes aren't a good thing but this guy looked like a "biker". Somehow the conversation came around to motorcycles. How does that always happen around me? I mentioned being an instructor and this guy told me he didn't believe in training. His loud pipes were enough to keep him safe from other drivers. Here's the gist of my reply. I've put it into general terms. Have you all ever thought about this particular inconsistency?

I've always said that people just use this for an excuse to be rude. Somehow the statement of pipes savings lives is supposed to make their own desperate need for attention honorable and justified. Follow along with me on this and then tell me if you agree or not.

If a person makes a statement that loud pipes save lives you would presume that this is a safety conscious rider, right?

My question is why the rest of their riding doesn't reflect the same philosophy. If they're concerned about being "safer" why do they usually have minimal or no gear? Why do they bar-hop on their bikes? You'd think they'd be lining up to take training targeted at experienced riders. Yet I see extremely few of them come through any of the courses I teach. And I'm involved in the majority of the advanced training. Would a rider who's really concerned about the preservation of their own life and limb rely solely on one tactic? That of making a lot of noise?

It's a huge inconsistency, in my opinion. What do you think?

Miles and smiles,


P.S. I'm teaching the last class of our training season this weekend. What kind of folks are these who are taking a motorcycle class in December when we have a chance of snow? Look for a class report the first of the week!

Monday, November 26, 2007


Here's something to ponder as you come out of the stupor from a long holiday weekend.

Do you consider our riding endeavours as a lifestyle or a way of life?

Last week we had some family over. My middle son had spent three weeks in Europe. During the course of the gathering Travis had the chance to show his pictures. They were on three CD's which we were able to show on our television.

In Paris there's this big square with the Louvre Museum, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe in near proximity. Travis' picture of the Arc de Triomphe showed quite a number of motorcycles. Having the reputation of a motorcycle nut, the assembled group turned to me and made motorcycle related comments. What stuck in my mind was the comment someone made about me living a motorcycle "lifestyle".

Personally, I've never considered my enjoyment of riding and the use of bikes in my world as a lifestyle. To me, riding is a way of life. Here's the difference according to my mind.

The word "lifestyle", to me, denotes putting something on. My Merriam-Webster desktop dictionary has two definitions. The first definition is when the word is used as a noun. It states: A way of living.

The second definition is when the word is used as an adjective. It states: Associated with, reflecting, or promoting an enhanced or more desirable lifestyle.

To say someone lives a motorcycling lifestyle would then mean they were using the bikes to get somewhere they think is more desirable or enhanced than where they are. A lot of people do that very thing. There's a large group of riders to whom the bike is a prop in a play. When they put on their carefully contrived costume and sit on the bike the acting starts. These people use the bike to try to convince others that they're something different than what they really are. Ever notice that this extra "something" is more enhanced? Like it makes up for what they lack. They try to appear more "bad", "brave", "cool", or an "individualist". Among other things. I love this "let's all show our rugged individualism by dressing and acting exactly alike". Woe to anyone who actually has the nerve to be "different". They soon find themselves exiting the group.

I consider what I do to be a way of life. A bike is a tool the same as anything else. Sure, the bike is a lot more fun than a kitchen knife, but it's still a tool!

Here's the big difference I see between a way of life and lifestyle.

Riding a motorcycle has, indeed, added to the quality of my life. I've gained perspective and insights from riding. There's been added skills, a sense of confidence, and a satisfaction in overcoming adversity. These things are added to what I already have. Once added, they become mine. With or without the bike I am now a more complete person. One of my philosophies is,

"If you're not enough without it, you'll never be enough with it."

Those who use the bike as a means to "pretend" will never find what they're after. There's no real struggle, no humbling that comes from attempting something and not making it the first time or two. There's very little real sacrifice involved. Their instant gratification that comes from adopting a "lifestyle" is like a painting. It looks good but there's nothing behind it.

For those to whom motorcycling is a way of life, the depth comes a little at a time. Getting up and facing the cold ride each morning. Dealing with commuter traffic. Performing frequent maintenance on the bike because we actually put miles on it. Struggling to master a new skill and finally conquering. These are all things that are real; built upon by a series of small steps every day. Added to what we already own in our lives.

That's my take on it. Of course, I'm a motorcyclist, not a philosopher. This is only my own opinion. What do you think? Lifestyle or way of life?

Feel free to use the comment section to express yourself!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

From one extreme to the other!

A few days ago I posted the link to the scooter with the VW bus sidecar. For those who didn't like that one, maybe this one's more your style!

Moving from the vespa with VW bus sidehack, I take you to the "world's
heaviest motorcycle"- 10,450 pounds, including sidecar. Powered by the
800hp motor from a Russian T55 tank. Can you imagine getting this thing through DMV for an endorsement?

Want to take a look? Click here.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, November 19, 2007

Big winds and dicey traction.


Circumstances have conspired such that I haven't been able to ride since last Tuesday. I'm about to go nuts. As I write this I'm looking out the window. Rain is blowing sideways and water's puddling up in big slop holes. I don't care. When this post is done I'm out there! It will be a lot like last Monday.

Wednesday thru Friday last week were spent shuttling various factory people to and from Portland International Airport. I don't know why everyone suddenly needed to visit Oregon at the same time. In between airport visits I played taxi and took them to the places they needed to go. A couple of the nights included evening functions. At least I got some free meals out of the deal. Late nights and early mornings meant being banished to four wheels. I guess it will be a while before two wheels can totally replace four. Sigh!

A week ago today we had a major windstorm. Here in the Valley gusts were around 50 mph. An hour away, at the coast, wind gusts reached 90 mph in some places. With such strong wind and rain I stayed in close to home, near the fire and warmth. Exercising prudence was my first priority. Did you really believe that? Sounds cozy, doesn't it? How long have you been reading this blog? Have you ever known me to do the "prudent" thing and stay out of bad weather?

I love riding in storms. Romantic pictures of quiet heroism flash through my mind. The brave captain at the wheel of the ship personally tackling the forces of nature. Captain Ahab putting all dangers aside in his pursuit of Moby Dick. Will my own singleminded pursuit of my passion eventually lead me to a similar ruin? Perhaps. Rather than scare me off, the thought of my end spurs me to savor the moment even more.

By Tuesday morning the worst of the storm had blown out. I took off early on Sophie to make a couple of calls in Portland and then visit the office. The wind was gone but it had left behind a hazard of another sort.

A couple of cups of "wake up" coffee combined with temperatures just above freezing caused me to need to make a stop. You know the kind I'm talking about so I won't go into too much detail here! Pulling off the freeway into a rest area found me dealing with a whole different traction situation.

The pavement was covered in wet evergreen needles that had been "liberated" by the high winds. It would be dramatic to say I peeled off the freeway and suddenly found myself sliding all over as I fought for braking traction. I've been called brave, borderline reckless, but never stupid. How many times have I preached from this pulpit about keeping our eyes up? How often have I beat the drum of getting critical information as early as possible? The earlier we get information the more time we have to make better decisions. Practicing what I preach, the dicey traction was not a surprise to me. It was, however, still interesting. There was a pretty clear path for braking. Pulling off the tight maneuvers required to turn around and back in was kind of cool.

My comfort level with this kind of thing is pretty high. Years of riding in every kind of weather and conditions have made such things second nature. There's no substitute for experience and exposure. That's why I always encourage riders to stretch their comfort levels little by little. Check out riding in questionable traction under controlled circumstances. Don't wait until you're in an emergency situation to figure out how to react. No matter how much one prepares mentally, it's not going to be enough. Knowledge seems to evaporate in high adrenaline situations! I think it's a side effect of sphincter clenching, personally. Habit will rule. What that means is muscle memory. The only way to ensure the muscles have the proper memory is to train them by means of repeated practice.

The rest area wasn't the only place showing the after effects of the high winds. Thousands of leaves have been hanging onto trees, waiting for the right moment to drop to the street. The wind storm took the decision away from them. Many of the streets I rode were covered in the multi-colored fabric of autumn foilage. Thousands of leaves experiencing their last moments in their current form. A brief splash of color to enhance the street's drab gray. And to foil those looking for traction upon their sodden surfaces.

The main drags were relatively clear due to the relentless stream of cars. Turning off onto side streets revealed a different scenario. You can see leaves covering the road all the way across. Stopping at the intersection can be a little tricky. So can encountering the wet leaves as you bend the bike through the corner. I saw several cars sliding on the leaves. Sort of made me wonder what I was doing out there on a bike. Well, for a nanosecond or so, at least.

I managed to avoid problems by aggressively scanning the area coming up. Small adjustments made early kept me out of trouble. I never even slid a wheel. More than could be said for those around me in cars.

It's easy to see why some riders choose not to ride once conditions get more difficult. More power to them, I say. A person needs to weigh the risk and see if they're up to it. If not, they avoid it. What more can a person expect than that someone ride within their limits? However, if a person's willing to work to increase their skills, the riding season can be extended. Why miss out when they could play some more? I love helping riders discover that their limits might not be as low as they think.

Speaking of training, that part of me wants to share just a little more here. At the risk of making this post too long, this little voice inside my head tells me that I haven't really helped like I could here.

It's saying, "Folks know that leaves and stuff can make the streets slick. What do they do about it? You told them to get information early and make adjustments. What do they do if something makes them have to do a lot of braking in these conditions?"

In order to quiet the voices in my head I'll share this.

Maximum braking without skidding either wheel on dry pavement requires more front brake combined with less rear brake. Remember weight transfer? As a rider applies the brakes weight is transferred to the front wheel. The added weight provides more traction for braking. Traction being defined as friction between the tire and the road. Since the weight transfer doesn't happen instantly, the pressure on the front brake lever is smooth and progressive. At the same time, weight moving forward means the rear wheel gets lighter. Less weight means less traction. This requires a rider to gradually decrease pressure on the rear brake pedal. Or, in the case of a scooter, one hand squeezes more while the other hand lets up pressure.

Ok, we all remember that. What changes is when overall traction is reduced. As is the case on pavement covered in pine needles, for instance. The front tire isn't going to get as good a grip. Which means that less weight will be transferred forward. We can't use quite as much pressure on the front brake lever. With less weight being moved forward, the rear tire will retain a little more traction. In situations with less overall traction, the rear brake is more effective for a longer period of time.

When stopping normally in dubious traction conditions try using more rear brake and less front brake. I'd much rather take a chance on sliding the rear than the front on slippery roads. Skidding the front means an almost instant crash. That's something to be avoided very vigorously!! Skidding the rear allows a little more margin for error, should that happen. Keeping one's head and eyes up and looking well ahead will help the bike stop in a straight line. Of course, the real key is to practice braking without skidding either wheel under a variety of traction conditions.

For quick stops, try applying the rear brake slightly before the front. This will help keep the bike level. In a normal quick stop the front will dive while the rear will rise. Using the rear brake first will mitigate this to some extent. It's critically important to be smooth and progressive with both brakes. Never succumb to panic and do the "grab and stab" thing that gets so many riders into trouble. Use a little more rear brake and a little less front brake than you would on dry pavement. Paying attention to the bike's feedback will clue you in to how much pressure is appropriate.

Just to recap, when braking in situations where traction is questionable, it's even more critical to be smooth. The rear brake will be more effective because there's less weight transfer. It will be easier to skid the front wheel so use a little less pressure than normal then modulate as circumstances allow.

Ok. Gotta go. Must ride. It's who I am, it's what I do. While I was writing this the rain stopped and there's even a little sunshine! Time to go kick up some leaves in my own whirlwind.

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Can utilitarian go too far?

In my last post I wrote about scooter folks being more practical in a lot of ways. Utility takes precedence over flashiness. Can this be taken too far?

Here's an example of "utility" combined with a little nostalgia. Come to think of it, the VW bus was pretty utilitarian itself. Is this the best of both worlds? Have a look and decide for yourself!

Click here.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, November 12, 2007

Quietly taking care of business.

I attended the Veteran's Day parade here Saturday. Around town, and dispersed in the parade, I saw a lot of cruisers with flags on the back. These were roaring around. I use the word roaring on purpose. What a lot of noise from those pipes! I'm not intending to take anything away from the patriotism shown by these riders. In fact, this has nothing to do with them other than the fact that another thought was triggered in my head.

There's basically two kinds of riders I see in my journeys. There's those that I call "Show" and those I call "Go". The latter are those who just quietly take care of business. Which is usually commuting, errands, and the occasional ride for fun. Scooter folks seem to really exemplify this attitude. The "Shifter" riders show it, too, but I think it's mostly the smaller size of the scooters that make it more apparent.

You know what I mean by the "Show" crowd, don't you? This group's trademark is a lot of chrome, loud pipes, and the donning of elaborate "costumes". They want very badly to be noticed. For them riding is a production number, not a utilitarian pursuit. I'm okay with recreational riders. I don't agree with what most of them do or where they're coming from, but they do have that right here in America. My personal vision of why people should ride is more closely aligned to the utilitarian side of things. It's that vision I try to promote here in this blog. Bikes should be able to successfully replace cars for the most part, not just be used as props.

I've been collecting some photos over the past month. Mostly scooter pictures taken with my digital point and shoot or my camera phone. My photos are to me an illustration to accompany my words. Some are good and some not so good. So be it, they serve my purpose. I'd like to share some photos and some comments that drive home my statement regarding quietly taking care of business.

These are pictures of a husband and wife who recently took a class up at our Swan Island site. This is a ship yard. You can see the crane in the background. Here we are in the middle of a huge industrial complex teaching folks to ride bikes. The contrast between the huge ships, trucks, and the small scooters is quite evident. He's on a Honda Ruckus and she's on a Yamaha Vino. They're not going anywhere real fast on the scooters. The husband's got a short commute to work and she can run errands at nearby businesses. I'm please to say they both had fun all weekend and a couple more riders are unleashed upon the world.

You knew Sophie would end up in here somewhere, didn't you? Here's what I often see when I park on an errand. A lone bike in a sea of cars. Wouldn't it be cool someday to see this reversed? Lone cars in a sea of bikes? The point I'm really trying to make is this. Right across the street is a Starbucks. At the other end of the block is another Starbucks. I know, a great block for me, isn't it? The city has graciously provided motorcycle only parking even though it can be tricky to get into these spots.

The "Show" crowd frequents the Starbucks at the opposite end of the block from this. They arrive in a large group and take up three or four regular parking spots along the street. In contrast, those who just quietly take care of business use the motorcyle only parking at this end. We don't put on a big show. We just slip into these spots among the cars. Not that we're meek by any means. Our goal is different. We're conducting life's business, not out for a lot of attention.

Speaking of slipping into places among the cars, check out these pictures.

Looking from inside the parking garage that space looks empty. Going around to the other side we see the People scooter proudly, but quietly, waiting for the rider to come back. On the opposite side of the mall I saw this.

You can just see the scooter parked by the cardboard boxes. Close to the front door and under shelter. Try that with a Hummer!

Here's another example of a bike in a sea of cars. I stopped by the libray ( I'm reading Walden by Thoreau ) and saw this Honda scooter again. I say "again" because it's often here. I believe it belongs to an employee but I haven't verified it, yet.

I had reason to go TEAM OREGON headquarters the other day. It's located on the campus of Oregon State University in Corvallis. Here's the occupants of the small motorcycle parking area near the administration building.
The scooter and the shifter are coexisting peacefully. Probably a lesson for us all.

By now it might seem like riding a scooter or a shifter for work and errands can easily become a boring thing. Folks might think we're sort of a bland lot. For one, I'd ask them to read posts from this blog's archive. Some of the scooter folks I know are far from a tame lot! Adventure burns a hole in our hearts. The difference between us and the "Show" crowd is that we understand what riding's really about. Bikes are not a fashion accessory to us. They are a part of our life and we use them for their intended purpose. As an extra statement of this fact, check out the sticker on the back of the gray scooter above.

Male or female, the principal applies. Who knew that quietly taking care of business could also be so much fun?

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, November 08, 2007

Slowing things down- low speed maneuvering.

Here you go, Dan. Be careful what you ask for because you might get more than you wanted!

The dreaded cone weave in the skills test! I hear so many stories from folks who've gone down to their local DMV office for their endorsement test. Never have 5 to 7 traffic cones, spaced 12 feet apart and a foot off centerline from each other, caused such terror to the motorcycling population!

I'll offer some guidance for controlling a bike at low speeds a little farther along in the post. For now, though, let's talk about why this exercise is even in the skills test.

Almost all of the licensing agencies use a modified form of the MOST ( Motorcycle Operators Skills Test ). This is a test that was developed by the MSF ( Motorcycle Safety Foundation ) in conjunction with the National Public Services Research Institute. Each of the exercises was designed to evaluate a rider's ability to control a motorcycle in different ways.

Initially the test course used electronic timing lights in the applicable exercises. For example, the approach speed for the quick stop and the swerve were timed. So was the speed through a marked curve. Like anything exposed to the weather for a long period of time, the electronic equipment would eventually fail. This would cause the test to have faulty or inconsistent time readings. At other times it would become necessary to totally cancel testing. Despite their fear of the cone weave this would leave a bunch of disappointed endorsement applicants!

A modified version of the test was developed, called the ALMOST ( Alternate Motorcycle Operators Skills Test ). The primary difference is that the examiners now accomplish the timing functions by use of stopwatches and painted timing zone marks. As you can imagine, there's now a little room for operator error in the timing. Here in Oregon our Department of Motor Vehicles is very conscientious about accuracy. The person in charge of applicant driving tests regularly gathers groups of examiners, both new and experienced, for training. That's where I often come in.

There's a few of us instructors who regularly volunteer to ride the test circuit over and over so the the examiners can practice their craft. I know, talk about your gluttons for punishment! Weirdly enough, most of us are either current or past motor cops. What the DMV wants is not just riders. One manager in particular wants us to make minor mistakes on purpose at certain points. Not only do we need to be concerned about making the sharp turn for instance, but we're expected to do something like let the front tire drift over onto the painted line just slightly. It's one thing to screw something up and be able to claim you did it on purpose. It's quite another to be expected to make a specific mistake at a specific point! It also helps to have a basically sound but devious attitude.

The training really helps the examiners. This, in turn, greatly contributes to riders getting a fair shake in their skills test. Most examiners don't ride and so don't have an understanding of a motorcycle's dynamics. We try to help impart this along with their practice in scoring accurately. One other thing we do is respond if a rider claims the test is impossible to do on their bike. The DMV will call us. One of us will arrange to borrow an identical bike if possible. Once in a great while we'll use that person's bike. Then we take it through the course to show it really is possible. From small bikes to big cruisers to full dress tourers they will all make it through. We've had only one bike that wouldn't. It was a customized Ducati cafe racer with an impossibly small amount of handlebar lock.

Perversely, one of my favorite things to do with new examiners is to mess with them in the braking chute. By the way, the folks moving into the motorcycle testing are already experienced automobile examiners. Back to the braking chute.

The objective in the braking chute is to get up to a certain speed on the approach, start the braking at a given point, then stop within standard. The proper approach speed is verified by the time it takes the leading edge of the front tire to pass between the two lines in the timing zone. Examiners then look to see where on the distance scale the front tire ends up. So almost all of their attention is on the front wheel. Too bad. We'll fix that.

I'll do quite a few consecutive runs for them. My speed is correct. My stopping distance is within the standard mark. On each run, though, I start my braking a little earlier. So after several runs I'm still within standard but I'm now starting to brake way early. The person in charge knows what I'm doing so they can verify it when I point it out to the examiners. They learn that, not only do they need to watch the tire, but they need to keep an eye on the front fork for where it starts to compress. These kinds of lessons help keep it fair for everyone.

As an interesting side note, it was while participating in this activity that I nearly crashed Sophie in front of everyone. A couple of years ago I was in Corvallis. It happened that the motor cop who was going to work with me got called onto duty. That left just me to do error runs. In order to give the examiners as many runs as possible in the time available, I would cut very short corners during the turnaround. It had started to sprinkle. At the tightest point of my turn was a big, wide, yellow painted line that ran perpendicular to my path of travel. You can imagine what the rain was doing to it. I really hadn't felt any traction loss so was pretty confident. Just as I quit worrying about it, I felt Sophie's front tire start to slide sideways along the paint stripe. Right in the deepest part of the lean. My first thought was unprintable. My second was,

"Okay, tire, you can come back underneath me anytime, now!"

Fortunately it did. Furtively looking around to see who was watching , out of the eight or so people there only one noticed what had happened. I'm glad of that. How humiliating would that have been for the so called "expert" to drop the bike?

Anyway, I got off track, here.

The reason that the cone weave is part of the testing is that the powers that be feel this exercise is a good way to assess a rider's balance and clutch control. The 90 degree sharp turn that follows the cone weave assesses the same thing with the addition of head and eyes. I agree with their premise. While nobody is going to ride the equivalent of the cone weave in real life, riders will do similar things. Think about turning around in the width of a road. Or contemplate going on a poker run. These usually start in a dealer's lot that's crowded with bikes. A rider can look like a dork while trying to park the bike. On the other hand, having low speed skills, a rider can look pretty cool!

In order to be successful at low speed maneuvers, a rider has to correctly answer two questions.

1. What holds a bike up when it's moving?

2. How do you make the bike go in the direction you want it to?

The answer to question number one is power from the bike's motor. Oh sure, there's a lot of fancy engineering terms for what happens. What it boils down to, though, is the stability provided by the motor's output to the rear tire.

The answer to question number two is: You go where you look, so be sure you're looking where you want to go! The bike will go where you look, I promise you. Whether that's where you intended the bike to go or not.

Let's look first at the cone weave. Again, I don't expect someone to be riding this often. God forbid you should spend your riding career in a parking lot full of cones! We can , however, take away a couple of principles that we can then apply to other situations.

The secret to being successful in the cone weave is two fold. Firstly, let's look at the head and eyes. No pun intended. What's your target? It's the end of the weave, isn't it? The cones aren't really set very far off the centerline so there's no need for a head turn. It's essentially a straight path with some very small turns. Head and eyes up looking well ahead to the end of the weave. Eyes level with the horizon. This provides stability from a directional control perspective. A lot of riders get worried about hitting cones so they stare at the cones. If you go where you look, then what's going to happen as a rider stares down at the cones? The bike will respond by trying to fall down towards them, that's what. Eyes up and level will also help the bike "lift" out of the small weaves.

Secondly, remember the part about power holding the bike up? Most of the trouble riders have in the cone weave relate to this part. They end up putting a foot down to catch the bike or go wildly off course due to the bike's instability. Use the clutch! More specifically, the friction zone. Just in case you're not familiar with exactly what the friction zone is, here's a reminder. The friction zone is that place in the clutch lever travel where power is just starting to be transferred to the rear wheel. The zone is very small. It's a place where we're literally slipping the clutch. Most bikes have wet clutches so it's not a problem. Once in a while I get older riders who learned to drive a stick shift from Dad or Grandpa. These words are still ringing in their ears.

"Get your foot off the clutch. If you ride the clutch and burn it up I'm going to break your leg!"

Slipping the clutch for control on a bike is not a bad thing for short periods. Even on bikes with a dry clutch. So here's how we use the friction zone for slow speed maneuvers.

Remember the fact that power holds the bike up. We need power but it needs to be modulated somehow for speed control. A lot of riders try to do this with the throttle. Since we're in first or second gear there's a lot of torque. Using the throttle for speed control causes too much jerky bike movement. This, in turn, transfers to the rider's throttle wrist. Which makes the bike lurch even more. Things just keep getting uglier.

Some riders try to modulate the power with the clutch. They're on the right track but lack the proper execution. Most pull the clutch in all the way and then fully release it. Again, it creates too much movement. It's the same thing as full power on and full power off. The key is small clutch lever movements, keeping the bike right in that small friction zone.

The actual turning of the bike is done by physically steering the bike. At higher speeds we need to use countersteering for turns. At low speeds, somewhere below 12 miles per hour or so, the rider must steer by turning the bars. The bike still needs to lean to turn but the method of initiating the turn is different here. So let's put it all together.

Approach the weave. Fix our eyes on the end of the weave. Keep them there. Do not look down at the cones during the weave. Eyes up and looking well ahead for the entire drill. With the right hand roll on a little throttle and hold it steady. It won't take a lot but closed throttle won't work. There would be nothing available to pull the bike out of the lean. As we approach to the right of the first cone we're going to need to lean the bike to the left. Start the turn slightly before we might think we need to. The bike will need a little time to react. Turn the bars slightly left and pull in the clutch just a little bit. We're taking away just a little bit of power to let the bike lean. When it's time to come out of the lean let the clutch out a little bit. Since we're holding steady throttle there's be a little power available to pick the bike up. Pull the clutch in just a little to take power away while we turn the bars slightly right. The bike will lean right and then we give a little power to pick the bike back up once more.

Do you see the difference? Power is steady and we use very small clutch movements to control speed. Think of the throttle as the electricity coming into the house. It needs to remain constant at a usable voltage. Not too much, not too little. The clutch is a dimmer switch. Not all the way on or all the way off. Just a little brighter, just a little darker.

By the way, if we find ourselves in a low speed maneuver and feel the need to put a foot down, let the clutch out a little more or very gently roll on a little more throttle. Let the motor do the work instead of our relatively fragile lower leg, ankle, and foot.

Now jump forward to something we're more likely to face. We often need to make turns in tighter spaces. As an example, picture pulling a U-turn within the width of a standard two lane road. The majority of riders can't do it. Taking what we've learned from the cone weave, let's break it down.

This is really just a turn on a motorcycle. Tight, true, but just a turn. The four step process for a turn is Slow-Look-Roll-Press. It's the exact same process at slow speeds except we need to substitute steering for the countersteering press.

Decide where we're going to make the U-turn. Since we usually ride in the right lane here, our U-turn will be to the left. Like any corner, we set our entry speed and line while the bike is still straight up and down. Then we look to our target. Which is now going to be behind us, right? Make like an owl and look clear over our left shoulder. Come on, you know your neck will flex more than that. Ok, despite the alarming cracking sounds we have managed to look over our shoulder and fix our eyes in the opposite direction from which we're currently travelling. It will feel really weird at first but it's the only way, trust me!

Now it's time to make the bike move. Just like in the cone weave we need to roll on a little throttle and hold it there. That makes us go too fast to make the turn but we need the power to pick the bike up at the end of the turn. Resist the urge to move the throttle. Hold it steady and slightly squeeze the clutch. Remember, not all the way. Just enough to let it slip so it takes away a little power from the rear wheel. What holds a bike up?

Just like steady throttle should be applied through a curve steady power needs to be available during the entire U-turn. Take away enough with the friction zone to help the bike lean but leave enough to hold the bike up at the same time. Yes, keep looking clear back in the direction we want the bike to end up facing. It will follow your eyes if you trust it. Once the bike is pointed in the new direction, give it back it's power gradually by easing the clutch through the friction zone. Think about rolling the bike back upright around it's center axis rather than snapping the bike back up suddenly. Once you're heading in the new direction you can take your hand off the left handgrip to massage your sore neck. Your neck will hurt less each time you make these big head turns!

Here's where we really see the power of these head turns. We started by looking clear over our shoulder. Remember the eyes up and level with the horizon thing? My repetitions are designed to drive home a point, did you notice? As the bike turns we are still focused on our target. Which means that what essentially happens is we end up looking forward again without consciously moving our head. Our head is turned a lot at first but our body and the bike will pivot underneath our head until everything comes back into straight alignment. Sounds weird, doesn't it? The interesting thing is that by keeping our eyes focused up and well ahead, it will contribute to helping the bike come out of the lean. As you ride, experiment with it. Notice how you can use your eyes to "lift" the bike out of a lean.

If we're forced to make an even tighter turn, use the same principles but help the bike's center of gravity by something called counterweighting. In normal speed turns we would lean with the bike. In slow, tight, turns we should remain upright and let the bike lean without us. To enable an even tighter turn we can either put weight on the outside foot peg or actually shift our body slightly towards the outside. Again, the reminder is that a big head turn and steady throttle are required the same as any other turn.

Now that we're armed with the basics of slow speed maneuvers, let's go on that poker run. We arrive on our bike into the crowded parking lot. First task is to find a place to park. There's already a lot of riders there. These folks are drinking coffee and munching on the free donuts. We don't know what their skill level is but we know for sure all eyes are on new arrivals. We watch another rider try to park their bike. Finally, resorting to paddle walking, they manage to see-saw into a spot. A couple of times there was silence as the crowd though the bike would tip over. We, on the other hand, know how to do this. Our parking spot is targeted but we need to make a couple of tighter turns to get there. We know to use a big head turn to control where the bike goes. We know to use steady throttle and the friction zone. Looking left for directional control, we squeeze the clutch slightly to help the bike lean, then give it back some power to pick it up again. Now we need to make a right turn so we end up with the back of the bike towards our parking spot. Cool riders back in, don't they? Big head turn right, a little clutch squeeze, steer the bars right, move our head to look well in front of us in a straight line, give the bike back it's power through the clutch, straighten out, square the bars, and all we have to do now is push the bike back a few steps to park. We're stylin' 'cause we got skills!

Squaring the bars goes back to that thing about holding the bike up. The bike's barely moving by now so we are taking over the holding up duty. Do yourself a favor and don't come to a stop with the bars still turned. It might be more exciting than we wanted that early in the morning. Squaring the bars is a little thing that helps the bike stay balanced. Now go get some coffee but not too much. Who knows how far apart bathrooms will be on the poker run?

Miles and smiles,


Friday, November 02, 2007

More on lines.

Bryce left a comment on the last post that got me to thinking I should add a little more to the subject of lines and apexes. He mentioned setting up to the outside, coming closer towards the middle, then exiting near the center of the road. There was also that question of what to do with those folks coming the other way who are over the yellow line and such similar things. I figured it was worth some more discussion.

The classic line through a corner is Outside-Inside-Outside. The picture below shows it for us.

I've written about this before but a short refresher is in order. Especially in light of looking out for bogies coming the other direction. Setting up outside allows a greater sight distance coming into the corner. We should be looking as far through the corner as we possibly can see. The outside entry position also increases the radius of the turn. In other words, there's less cornering forces exerted on the bike. Which, in turn, helps us keep ground clearance and traction in the bank. Just in case.

Going back to the visual aspect, I'm sure we all agree it's important to have as much information available to us as possible. It's the old "Forewarned is forearmed" thing. Just note that "outside" doesn't mean all the way to the edge of the road. A wise rider will leave a little room to move in response to something unexpected.

Now we move on tonthe part of the corner called "The Apex". Sounds exciting, doesn't it? We all love apexing. I think we like talking about it with other riders even more. The trouble is that there's a lot of riders who don't know fur sure what the apex really is. Take a second and see if you can describe it exactly.

You might be greatly surprised how many so called experienced riders tell me it's the center of the turn. Sometimes it is but mostly it's not in the center. Knowing what an apex is helps us to use it to our advantage. Bear in mind that this is motorcycling, not engineering or physics. I have these kind of folks in my classes who want to tell me it's something like the farthest part of an apogee or something. Maybe in their worlds, but certainly not in mine!

Simply put, the apex is the point where we're the closest to the inside of the curve.

This can happen early ( although it seldom does, at least not on purpose, as it can throw the rider way too wide ), in the middle, or late. In the real world late apexes will be the norm. Or should be as we'll see soon.

As we approach a curve we set up to the outside for maximum visibility. As a parallel thought, it also helps oncoming traffic see us better. If we see debris, tar snakes, gravel, or another vehicle close to the center line we simply change where we apex. I recently saw a guy in a track based cornering class have one of those "lightbulb over the head" moments. When I drew a picture and explained that a middle of the curve apex wasn't written in stone, the light suddenly went on. I could see a whole new understanding light up his face. It seems so simple a concept to just delay the apex as needed. Yet for this guy it suddenly explained why he'd had some previous problems and close calls.

Now that we've established that we're in charge of our own riding lines, lets explore a little more along the lines of when we should commit to our apex.

Here's a drawing of a classic situation. It's a decreasing radius curve.

Freeway on-ramps are something I deal with every day. They're not the only decreasing radius turns we'll find, though.

Notice how the apex comes way late in the curve. One reason is that it makes for far fewer transitions. Staying wide makes for one smooth turn instead of a bunch of little ones. A rider's eyes should be on the exit of the turn. Just for fun, imagine that this curve wraps around a hill covered in brush and trees. If the exit's not visible, we should be looking as far as we can see. It's obviously important to be smooth but there's a much bigger issue involved when deciding when to apex.

Here's another question to ponder: When should you commit to the apex?

Think about it. The apex of the corner is when we're using the most ground clearance because of the lean angle. It's also the point where we're using the most traction. If you want to be scientific about it, a lot of centripetal force is being used to fight centrifugal force. Simply put, physics makes the bike want to go toward the outside of the turn but we need the bike to turn towards the inside of the turn. Either way you look at it, that's when we're the most vulnerable. The apex is when there's the least amount of resources available for any sudden adjustments.

So when do we commit ourselves to becoming this vulnerable?

It's when we can see the exit of the corner. How can we commit without having all the available information? If we can't see the exit we need to stay towards the outside until the exit does become visible. Only then do we have all the information. Too many riders pay a high price for pulling the trigger before they can see the target. How many corners in the real world actually have clear visibility all the way through to the exit? You can see why I stated that late apexes will probably become the norm for us.

Keeping our eyes up and getting all the information before we make the decision to apex also helps link corners smoothly. Take a look at this drawing.

Notice how the apex of the first corner is late. The curve itself didn't require a late apex. It could have happened in the middle of the curve. If the rider had apexed there, though, the bike would have been way out of position to enter the second corner correctly. Our rider would have had to make a quick dart to the outside again to get ready for the next curve. Too many transitions and wasted traction would be the result. Besides looking way un-cool!

Instead, the rider kept their eyes up and saw the corner ahead. In order to be smooth, they chose to apex late in order to be in the proper position to enter the second curve. The goal is to make the exit of the first curve the entrance to the second curve. One smooth line. What I tell riders is to stay wide until you see the entrance of the next corner and then ride right for it.

The good news for those who might think being "safe" means not having fun is that the opposite is true. A safe line is also the fastest as far as street riding goes. It's the difference between carving corners and doing the slice and dice thing.

Hope this helps put the whole picture together. Cornering on a bike is so much fun. It's also the number one place that fatalities and injuries happen in our state. Riders are doing it to themselves without the help of other vehicles. It's critical to get cornering technique right.

Miles and smiles,