Friday, February 29, 2008

Strange things you see on the road!

I'm almost ashamed to put these pictures on the blog. You see, I was in a car, for heavens sake, when I took the pictures! Sometimes I just can't help it. There's no way to carry two factory guys, their luggage, and training equipment on a bike. It's part of being a factory rep. Since we represent a bunch of factories owned by the same huge corporation, the number of visits can add up. So I have to do the pick them up at the airport, ferry them around, and take them back to the airport thing. In a car. Sigh!

It goes without saying but I'm going to say it anyway. Isn't that a really weird situation? We feel the need to say something. It seems so obvious that it doesn't need to be said. Yet, if we don't say it, we can't set the tone for what we're going to say. Yikes! Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to say something that doesn't need to be said. We share the road with a lot of strange things.

This is something I've never seen on the road before.

Yes, that's a railway box car on it's side on a flatbed truck trailer. Minus the axles. The undercarriage must definitely be the heaviest part. That's the part that's solidly on the trailer. The top of the box car is hanging off several feet on the right side of the trailer. I'd be really nervous if I were the truck driver. It just seems to me that the load would be prone to moving the trailer side to side easily. Of course, I've never carried a box car before so what would I know? Speaking of things I've never seen on the road before, I have to tell you a quick story. Since this post really has nothing to do with motorcycling, notice how quick I am to stray?

Anyway. I've mentioned previously that my father in law is a perpetual tinkerer. Once he had this idea to make an amphibious vehicle. There was an old 19 foot ski boat hull sitting in the orchard. It's a long story of how it got there. No, I'm not going to stray that far. This hull was pressed into service as the base of this vehicle. The water worthy part was solved. Now came the part of being able to propel the craft on land. Here's where I got involved. I don't know how I get dragged into this stuff. Must be an adventuresome spirit, I guess. And I kinda like the guy.

We fashioned some wheels and tires that can be lowered to form a tricycle type arrangement. We built a rudimentary steering mechanism for the single wheel in front. In order to not be required to use two different propulsion methods, we decided to transplant the motor and fan mechanism for our previous air boat project. This consisted of a Buick motor, a four wheel drive transfer case from a Toyota pickup, a long shaft leading up to a CV joint from a Honda car, and a wooden airplane propeller. The transfer case was used to cut the rpm's coming out of the engine in half. Wood props don't like to turn real fast. The CV joint was used to make the transition from the 45 degree angle of the drive shaft to the 90 degree angle that feeds into the propellor. Don't ask me how we dream this stuff up. We're a couple of guys who think outside the box. Now came time for the test run.

My father in law lives outside the town of Scio. Population 510. Salute! ( for those of you who remember Hee Haw on tv ) Dang! Gave away my redneck roots, again, didn't I? Needless to say, the roads are pretty rural and quiet. ( there's that "doesn't need to be said" thing, again ) Surprisingly, this thing worked pretty well. We were enjoying the breeze in our hair as we cruised down the road. I estimate we were doing about 35 mph. Then a county police car passed us in the opposite direction. Oh, oh. I saw this man's face do a double take, eyes wide. Sure enough, the deputy pulled a quick u-turn and wound up behind us with the overheads on. Busted.

The deputy told us we were lucky. He was on his way to a call and didn't have time to spend with us or we'd be in trouble. His parting words were,

"I've never seen anything like this on the road before, and I don't ever want to see it again!!"

See, it did tie in. Notice the "never seen anything like this on the road" similarity?

This was actually the first picture I took with the camera phone. It shows you the amount of box car hanging off the side of the trailer. I'm a hard core kind of guy but that looks scary to me!

You know the part that struck me as really strange? I wondered why the cargo wasn't on a rail car. I've seen truck trailers on flat bed rail cars. Why not a box car? Maybe some of the side clearances are just too small on a railway. Maybe it had been shipped this far and now was on it's way to some great scrap heap in the sky. Who knows?

It's an interesting world, isn't it?

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Passion vs. fatigue.

I had a day off on Sunday. My down time from motorcycle training related activities seemed to be hardly a flash on the screen. Mid January saw instructor updates begin. I've already posted about the first class of the year which got snowed out. It feels like I'm already deep in the middle of the season. A lot of weekends are penciled in on the calendar. The marks stretch clear into December. If it holds to the same pattern as years past, the weekends will number into the 30's. We've also got a few days during the coming weeks set aside for motor officer training. This year we'll finally get to play on the track at the new Police Academy. I guess they've finished urinating on all the trees. Having marked their territory well, we'll be allowed to do high speed police training there. There's just so much to be done. Last year between all our classes we trained 7957 students. That's with about 130 part time instructors. Except for a few staff, we're all paid volunteers.

The reason I mentioned this is because I'm starting to feel like I'm at a crossroads of sorts. Training riders is truly a passion for me. It's so important that it's literally a life-saving work. I reap hugely deep rewards. Both on a general level and with individuals I've touched in a positive way. Not to mention the tremendous camaraderie between instructors. The vast majority are truly dedicated to achieving excellence. I'm in a position to help them find that reward as well as being able to work with students themselves. It's so much fun, besides. But tiring. It's that last part that has me at this crossroads. I love what I do but I'm getting tired. The half century mark and I have become close friends. My spirit is as willing as ever but the flesh is starting to feel the effect of working my job plus teaching. I'll end up working seven days a week for weeks on end. I need to ride more for fun with Katie. We need to just go play.

Katie had an engagement for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I needed some time to ponder so I did what I usually do. I went for a casual ride. Although I ended up with a late start. You know me. I stopped by a range. The instructors had been hampered by a combination of problems. Pretty soon they were running a little late. Harassed and harried, they were trying to break down the range and put bikes away then get to the classroom. I spent some time helping fuel bikes and put stuff away. When all was calmed down Sophie and I rolled on.

Water's always good for contemplation. I was weighing the passion versus fatigue and the need to spend time elsewhere. Like with my beautiful bride, for example. Part of what was on my mind was trying to determine exactly why I feel so compelled to be involved in training riders. Why do I do this to myself year after year? Things were especially poignant this day. We've had two rider fatalities in the past couple of weeks. I also came across an account of a young woman. She was a passenger on her boyfriend's sport bike and suffered a big crash. She's come back but the journey was, and still is, very painful. I'll put a link to that account later in the post.

I looked to this young Bald Eagle for answers. It didn't have much to say. The thing acted sort of teenage awkward. They don't get the white head until they're four or five years old. So who knows? That's an advantage of being on a bike. How many people in cars would never even know there was an eagle in the tree?

What I did come away with is that riders are getting killed because of making bad decisions. There's a lack of mental and physical skills. Some riders have bad attitudes. There's probably not much I can do about that. Other riders just don't know what to do so they do the wrong thing. Riders are starving for training. Not all riders will come to us, true. However, a lot of them do. Most of the time they'll be here once. I want to make that time the most meaningful I can for them. We've got one shot. It had better count for something.

I really appreciated a comment that Lucky from Arizona made on someone else's blog. He said that riders can eventually learn on their own, but why not take advantage of the professional training that will shorten the process? You're very wise, my friend! And I want to be there when these riders seek us out.

One crash involved an intoxicated young man who ran from the police on his sport bike. The police hadn't really started the chase. In fact, they were considering not initiating it due to the location. An officer had initiated a traffic stop. The young man had been clocked at a high rate of speed on a 45 mph posted highway between Albany and Corvallis. The rider turned around and headed in the opposite direction. Within three minutes he'd missed a curve and his body impacted a fire hydrant. Dead on arrival.

Not much I could have done, probably. Yet, perhaps. This young man was 22 years old. If a rider's under 21 they have to take our Basic class to get an endorsement. If we can create a safe environment so that a potential rider will feel comfortable sharing, we have a chance to influence attitudes. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

The other crash was on the same highway, coincidentally. A middle aged couple on a 2005 Harley. He was riding, his wife was passenger. The man stated to police that he saw a car on a sideroad and thought it was going to pull out. The time was 6:45 pm so it was dark. The man said he initiated an accident avoidance maneuver, but the bike ended up in the ditch down the road. Sadly, the wife was killed. The woman in the car, which hadn't pulled out by the way, called 911. What this boils down to is an attempted swerve gone bad. Whether the rider actually needed to swerve is debatable. What can't be argued is that he tried something and did it wrong. This isn't meant to degrade the rider. It only serves as an example of how riders just don't know what they need to know.

I can hear you all. There's no way I and my fellow instructors are going to change the world. It's like the story of the guy walking down the beach and throwing washed up jellyfish back into the sea one by one. When someone else says there's just too many of them and it can't possibly make a difference, the first man holds up a jellyfish in his hand.

"It makes a difference to this one", he says.

That's the point. One rider at a time. For each crash, I'm positive there's many that didn't happen due to the rider being able to get good instruction. So my passion drives me. This is why I stay so active as a trainer. Still, though, I need to listen to my body and find a balance. Next year I have to back off and be more selective. I've seen this coming for a while, which is why I'm pouring so much effort into helping the newer instructors. Some of them are looking kind of like me when I started. That's has a bright side and a dark side!!

On the other hand, we could be living a life of idle distraction. Look at the contrast here!

I'm pretty sure I'd rather be doing what I'm doing. At least I feel I'm making a meaningful contribution. Be warned, though, my fingers aren't as tired as the rest of me. This blog may become my outlet for what I'm missing out on by teaching less! In fact, I think I'll do a post on swerving in the next couple of days.

Here's the link to the story of the young woman. Some of you may have seen this before. A beautiful young woman becomes permanently disfigured. One picture is a little graphic. Her story will make you feel for her. Some bad decisions were made, especially in their gear selection. Either way, she's living with the choices now. It just reinforces why I'm so driven to do what I do. Read it at your own risk. For me, it's motivation.

Click here.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 25, 2008

Enter the Ninja!

Scott asked me to offer what little thoughts I might have on the Ninja 250. I copied this picture from Kawasaki's website. Interestingly, the folks at Kawasaki say the little Ninja accounts for more sales than any other model. This bike was introduced in 1986, if I remember correctly. In 1988 there were some significant changes. Since then the bike's remained pretty much the same, with minor changes being incorporated here and there. I have to say there's been some weird color combinations. I remember one year when there was some sort of Kawasaki Green and a strange plum color mixed together! Whatever color, there shouldn't be a problem getting parts.

The fact that there's a woman rider on the bike in the photo is significant to Kawasaki. They claim that 62% of the owners are new riders. Of that number, something like a third are women. It's this kind of scenario that keeps bikes like this and the Honda Rebel on my radar. As an instructor I'm constantly being asked for my input on what kind of bike riders should start with. I try to keep up with what's available. In my humble opinion, if a person is going to start with a small bike like this, the Rebel is actually better for a newbie. Here's why I say that.

The small Ninja is considered a beginner's bike both because it's small in displacement and physical size. This thing's small. Forgive me as I'm not a tech writer so my numbers may be a little off. This isn't an official review. I'm only sharing my thoughts. The wheelbase is about four and a half feet. For most model years the seat height is somewhere around 29 inches. I think Kawasaki claims a dry weight somewhere around 300 pounds. For both newbies and riders of shorter inseam, it's easy to get both feet planted firmly on the ground at stops. The 2008 model incorporates some major changes; kind of like what happened with the KLR650, another Kawasaki model. On the newer 250 the seat height is about 30 1/2" I think. Besides the short seat, the bike itself is narrow. This kind of thing gives confidence to a newer rider. This part is good.

What isn't quite so good for a newer rider is the fact that the motor needs to be revved so high to make power. Even if a person's not riding like a typical sport bike rider, the engine spins pretty quickly. It's not a high horsepower or high torque bike. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm thinking horsepower is 30 to 35. This 250 has a redline around 14,500 rpm. You know where the tach has to be in order to access the power band. At a typical highway cruising speed, the engine's spinning at about 9,000 rpm. That's roughly twice what Sophie turns, for example. That kind of thing can freak out new riders. The Rebel's a little more tractable in this department.

That's my opinion of the bike for new riders. What about riders who just choose to ride a smaller bike?

Let me share a quick story with you first. It's about an instructor who's a great friend of mine. He was my fellow instructor when Katie took the beginner class. Yes, I taught my spouse to ride. What can I say? In this case it worked for us. Something to do with the trust factor. Tommy's moved to Mexico and is running a resort, now. While he was here Tommy rode a Ninja. It was probably a '95 or '96. This Ninja was the EX500. It looked like the bigger Ninja. Whenever Tommy would tell someone it was a 500 rather than the litre version, he always seemed a little embarrassed.

Don't ever be, or let anyone else be, ashamed of having a smaller bike or scooter. There's a reason for the variety of models and displacements. Pick a bike for what it suits you to have it for. Those who get it won't need an explanation. Those who don't get it don't deserve one. Their opinion will usually be based on some personal shortfalls and shouldn't matter to us, anyway!

Here's a summary of my experiences with riders of the smallest Ninja.


The bike has a 4.8 gallon tank. Most riders using the bike for commuting and the occasional sporting foray get 50 to 60 mpg. That gives the bike a nice range. Some riders claim much higher mileage. Like anything, your results may vary!


I've already mentioned how this bike needs to rev for power. For spirited riding the bike needs to be shifted at around 11,000 rpm. With a six speed transmission, a lot of rowing of the shifter seems to be required. Passing at legal freeway speeds will still need the rider to downshift a couple of times. Once a rider gets used to the bike sounding like it might blow up on the freeway things should be fine!

Speaking of higher speeds, the bike's light weight makes it fun to flick into corners. Most riders I've talked to that ride the freeways say the bike is susceptible to being moved by heavier winds. The wind protection for the legs is fine on the freeway but the bike could use more protection for the upper body. Sustained freeway riding can be tiring.

We've also had a few students bring these bikes to our track-based cornering class. In this venue the bikes get to wind up pretty high. Their sound is peculiar. At idle they sound kind of like sewing machines. At higher revs they don't roar or growl. It sounds more like high pitched screams! I've found it's not so noticable when actually sitting on the bike, thank goodness!

The bike does seem to be all right for around town riding and commuting. I've had quite a number of students use the small Ninja for classes. Of course, our speeds are low. Some riders have indicated to me that the bike seems to have a few flat spots in the throttle. Combined with what seems to be a little more drive lash than usual, riding in low gears at low speeds can be jerky. It doesn't seem to be a universal problem. I suspect that individual bike and rider combinations are the factor here. The 2008 claims a different torque curve that's supposed to help this kind of riding.

Carbs still live on the bike, even the 2008 model. In Europe the bike is now fuel injected due to tighter clean air standards. I guess the bike can still meet standards over here without being injected. Kawasaki's trying to keep the bike under $4,000. I haven't shopped one in a long time. My feeling is that new bikes have been around three grand. The 2008 model is probably a little more money.

If a person were to buy a brand new bike, here's something interesting to think about. Kawasaki says to keep the revs below 4000 rpm for the first 500 miles. That's somewhere around 36 mph in 6th gear. For the next 500 miles you're supposed to keep the revs below 6000. That's somewhere around 45 mph in sixth gear. So be prepared to be a slow rider for a while!


This seems to be the biggest complaint I get from those who ride the bike. Remember, though, it's a little bike being held to a price point. Again, I could be wrong but I think the carrying capacity on the bike is somewhere around 340 pounds. That pretty much means no passengers depending on the size of the individuals. Some of the riders I know are pushing the scales at near 200 pounds. So there's bound to be some complaints on the ride quality.

Neither the front or rear suspension has been adjustable up until now. For normal riding, the suspension seems adequate. Where the weaker suspension seems to be the biggest problem is under heavy braking. There's quite a lot of fork dive. I've been told by several people that the rear shock from the EX500 can be mounted on the 250 with very little modification required. It's a heavier duty shock and allows some adjustment.

I've heard that Kawasaki has put a slightly beefier front fork on the 2008 bike. It still doesn't have any adjustment, though. The rear shock now has 5 way adjustability. I don't know if the shock is any more heavy duty. A rider should be able to fine tune it a little more for different kinds of riding, I suspect.

I've also heard that the 2008 bike moves away from 16 inch wheels and is using 17 inchers. The rims are also supposed to be a little wider. This should allow for a lot more tire choices.


I don't know what the valve adjustment interval is. I know there's 4 valves per cylinder but that's about it. Most people don't complain about high maintenance costs so I presume the bike's reliable. The only thing I've heard is about oil changes for those who do their own. While the bike only holds two quarts, the filter is internal. So that means there's a bolt that needs to be removed to get at the filter. Not a big deal to me, but it is to some.

So there's my thoughts on the smallest Ninja. I know there's quite a few people who bought them as beginner bikes and then decided to hold onto them because they became quite fond of them. I've ridden a few and always vowed to buy one. Kind of like my vow to buy a KLR, another sport bike, and so on. One of these days, I guess.

Hope this helps you in your venture, Scott. Thanks for asking my opinion. That doesn't happen very often! If anyone has experiences or input that seems pertinent, feel free to express it in the comment section.

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Widder pulling the plug?

While we're on the subject of electrics, here's a copy of an e-mail that crossed my inbox. It's from one of our newer instructors. I haven't personally verified it.

Just a heads up for anyone interested...Widder (makers of heated gear) is closing shop at the end of this year.
I'm a big fan of heated gear and currently use gloves and a vest made by Widder. I was interested in getting some additional gear and sent an email requesting information because their website states that all warranties expire on 12/31/08.
Here's the response I got from Pat Widder:
From: Pat Widder
Hi Darcy,
We will cease operations on 12/31/08.
Widder Enterprises
942 E Ojai Ave, Ojai CA 93023 USA
800 WYB-COLD 805 640-1295 805 640-1296/Fax

If it's true then the motorcycling community will be the worse for it. Widder makes good gear. I once sent them an e-mail asking if a rheostat controller was waterproof. I had put some hook and loop material on it and stuck it to the map pocket holder strip on my Roadcrafter pants.

I quickly received a reply that Widder wasn't going to claim the controller was waterproof, They had, however, submerged one in a bucket of water for five days with no ill effects. That was good enough for me!

Miles and smiles,


Saturday, February 23, 2008

"And it was good!"

This is a follow-up to my post on electrics. I'm hoping most of you realized that the post was done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. There was no intent to disparage electric vests and such. Nor, by extension, those who use them.

Some sort of mental quirk on my part has driven me to be hardcore when it comes to riding. While not going so far as to be practising asceticism, I have disdained a lot of available creature comforts. That's just me. I like having that kind of reputation. Maybe some psychotherapist would say I'm trying to compensate for some sort of perceived personal shortcoming. Whatever.

Let it be known that I am a proponent of being comfortable while riding. As your comments so rightly pointed out, physical comfort contributes to more effective control of the bike. Being warm, or conversely, cool enough, enables better application of mental skills. Each of which are critical to taking care of ourselves out there.

My physical and mental makeup have allowed me to be less dependent on outside help to deal with the elements. These abilities haven't diminished with age, thank goodness! Despite that, I found myself really shocked by how quickly I was willing to use the electric jacket liner. That's what inspired the post where I sort of poked fun at myself over it.

Speaking of mental skills, I have to say Dave's comment brought me up short. He stated that if my body wasn't warm then my brain might not be working as well. The problem with that was the possibility of forgetting where a Starbucks was located. That prospect scared me more than becoming soft! Have I really been that bad about Starbucks? A person might think I owned stock in the corporation. Wait. I do. Too short sighted to buy Microsoft or Apple, I did manage to put some investment money into a little coffee company when they first offered stock. I'll have to say it sort of paid off. Still, though, you all make it look like I have a reputation as a coffee hound!

The rugged Road Warrior gazed upon the variety of electric motorcycle gear. He pronounced it good!

Stay tuned. Due to a request we'll soon be visiting with the smallest member of the Ninja family.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, February 22, 2008

Hanging with the big boys!

Let me preface this by saying I mean absolutely no disrespect for the rider of the small bike pictured later. Whoever it might be. We never met up with them. This was a situation that was just too cute to pass up. I thought I'd share it with you.

We've had a little reprieve in the weather. The Weather Guesser on the channel 6 news called them "Bonus Days". Yesterday I was using the bike for work. The Weather Gods are teasing us. They've been holding out sunshine in one hand. In the other hand, just visible enough to use it as a threat, are black clouds and a chill wind. Black clouds and rain don't scare me. In defiance of their threat, I got some coffee and sat out in the middle of the parking lot. No shelter to be seen anywhere near.

An Eggs Florentine sandwich with spinach and Harvarti cheese went down the fuel hatch. Things always taste so much better in the open air, don't they? The solitude of sitting on a bike seat with very few people around was welcome. Was it Robert Frost that said, "I'd rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet couch"? Maybe it was Thoreau. Anyway, the breeze cooled the coffee faster than I'd like but it was refreshing. What do those fancy people call it? Dining Al Fresco, I believe.

By the way, did you realize that the ST's have built in cup holders? Well, not exactly purpose built. You can't successfully use them when riding, obviously. When parked, though, that's a different story. Just pop the locked hatch cover and there you are.

I'm actually parked one space over from where the old Yamaha was parked. In a recent post I included a picture of the bike. I've since found out that the rider is a man who does work at Best Buy. I was kinda hoping to meet him as he arrived for work. His hours must be much later. The mall wouldn't open for another couple of hours.

Breakfast done, I did some business and then met my friend Stacy for lunch. He arrived on his pretty blue FJR. When it comes time to replace Sophie I could be sorely tempted by one of these. Knock on wood, the old girl's still got a lot of heart and life left. After lunch we stopped at our range to check on some classroom supplies. We ended up being there about an hour. When we walked out to the bikes, Stacy stopped short.

"Was Sophie pregnant?" he asked.

At first I thought he was making a cruel joke about the ST being heavier than his FJR. I always figured they were pretty close, actually. Preparing to feign indignation, I looked over at Stacy. He was pointing over to the bikes.

"Apparently she's calved", he said.

Sure enough, nestled right behind the bikes was this small Kawasaki. It looked a lot like one of our training bikes. It just struck me as funny. The small bike looked for all the world like a small dog nestled in among the big dogs. I put my stuff down and snapped a couple of photos. Stacy was quick to jump out of the picture, I noticed. That's his coffee dumped on the blacktop, by the way. What a slob!

The little 250 actually looked like a great bike to run around town on. It's a pretty thing. We waited a while and looked around some but never did see a suitable candidate for a rider. Stacy and I went our separate ways, leaving the small bike on its own. No offense, we just had to continue on with our days. For a brief and glorious period, this child of a motorcycle got to be at the big people's table. Hope it enjoyed hanging out with the Big Boys!

Miles and smiles


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Two wheeled hot tub.

I've always been known as a spartan rider. Things like electric vests weren't a part of my world. I have a high pain threshold. A fact that Katie swears works against me. My preparation for cold weather riding consisted of finding gear that gave the most warmth for the least amount of bulk. I hate feeling confined. Even a balaclava in front of my nose and mouth was almost too much. The thought of being physically wired to the bike turned me off. No pun intended. Mostly I just rode. Sometimes it was so cold I had to grit my teeth. Even at that, I seemed to do okay. The only real affect was feeling quite chilled after a long ride in the cold. I wouldn't really notice it until I got off the bike and into a warm place. It would take hours to feel warm again.

Then one day about three years ago I had a chance to ride a guy's BMW F650, He wanted me to go play with the ABS. Since it was also a cold day, Lon encouraged me to wear his electric vest. That was the start of my downfall from the rugged, tough, rider I'd always been. I resisted for a while but eventually bought a vest. I went back to Lon, who was the sales manager at a dealer, and told him this:

"I both thank you and curse you! I thank you for introducing me to actually being warm. I curse you for helping me start to ruin my Spartan image!"

In order to make me feel a little better about things, I started to reason on the situation. It actually sounded more like making excuses, but so be it. I related it to safe riding. After all, that's my passion, right? I spend hours and hours teaching riders how to take care of themselves. It's important to be comfortable on a motorcycle. If a rider's comfortable they'll be better able to concentrate on avoiding hazards and bogies. My first Winter with the vest saw it get a lot of use. Pretty soon, though, my spartan nature returned. Ok, call it pride or being stubborn. I haven't used the vest at all this Winter. Enter our instructor banquet and a door prize.

I won this Gordon Gerbing signature edition electric jacket liner as a door prize. That was in November. The jacket makes a great liner under the 'Stich. Included with the jacket was the harness to tap into the battery. Not included was a controller. The electrics won't operate without a controller. So for pretty much the whole Winter I've used it without the heating function. I know some of you will question my intelligence. Comparisons to using a chainsaw without the engine running come to mind. Hey, it's my body. The jacket by itself makes a good insulating layer. It also looks kind of neat by itself.

Early January finally saw the credit card get a little exercise. A hundred dollars later I had a controller, a cord to adapt to the BMW type plug already installed on Sophie, and a coiled extension. Just in case I needed more reach, or for Katie's use from the pillion spot. Gerber hastened me on to my demise. The package arrived just two days later. One cold day I fired everything up. The temperature was in the low twenties (f).

Let me say that this is a quality product. The controller keeps the temperature setting at a constant level. Just turn the little knob and forget about it. The jacket has wires in the torso and the sleeves. It's just like being in a hot tub. Only less water. With a lot more clothes. No bubbles but deeper wind chill. All right. It's nothing like being in a hot tub. It feels just as good, though!

Now I'm afraid to use it. See, I used to have this point where I used the electric vest. Anything in the twenties qualified. Or, a ride over a hundred miles at freezing or below. Pretty soon the upper limits started being stretched. I feared becoming "soft" so I cut myself off. This electric jacket liner is even nicer than the vest. Soon I started plugging it in and rotating that magic knob at anything below forty degrees. I got so strung out that once I fired it up at 45 degrees! This was just too much. I haven't used the electrics for 11 days. I know, that long. What's happening to me?

It's no longer a matter of safety. I just like being warm!!! Is the rugged Road Warrior turning into a Coddled Combatant? Heaven forbid. Curse you, Gerbing. Your product does its job too well. This is more comfort than any hard core rider deserves. Or should be exposed to. I'm asking Katie to hide the controller. No matter how pitiful I sound, no matter what I say, do not give it back to me! I see the beginning of an addiction and it's starting to scare me!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, February 18, 2008

Freeze frame.

It's mind boggling how fast trouble can find you. Even though riding is a relaxing pursuit, a rider can never relax their vigilance. The enemy never sleeps. Our radar needs to be continuously scanning for bogies. Skills can never be allowed to become rusty. Will our weapons be ready at a moment's notice? They'd better be.

Here's an example from early Saturday morning. There's no photo. If there were, it would be a freeze frame from a movie playing in my mind. A freeze frame of a very tense moment. You'll have to visualize it through my words

The background scene. Oh Dark Thirty Saturday morning. Later in the morning another eager group of riding students will begin their two wheeled adventure. A new instructor is also in the beginning steps of his journey. For better or worse he'll be under my mentorship for the weekend. Before the students arrive there's a range to be cleaned and coned off, bikes to be started and put in place, as well as other details to be attended to. The site is a 35 minute ride North for me. A very early start is called for.

There's ice on the rigs parked outside. Fog shrouds a lot of the neighborhood. It was cold and clear during the night. Residual moisture abounds. My street seems ok for traction. Sophie responds eagerly to the touch on the starter button. As we glide along the quiet roads it looks like ice won't be a problem for us. That wouldn't prove to be true for all road users this morning.

Due to the early hour, the darkness, and the cold, we're headed for the Interstate. The ride home will be under warmer skies. There's this awesome route that runs South out of Salem, into a little burg called Turner, then out Parish Gap Road. Roller coasters have less fun than a motorcyclist on this road. This treat was still hours away, though.

Freezing fog is a strange thing. You never know when and where it will appear. There's no formula for where it will freeze to the road. I'm keeping a keen eye on the road surface. Oftentimes traffic will keep the freeway clean. Not so this morning. Too few vehicles have passed this early. Watching the roadway is hampered by the darkness and the fog itself. It's ironic that the thing posing the hazard also cloaks itself. This kind of situation is nothing new to me. Sophie and I are veterans at negotiating less than ideal weather conditions. Are we too bold?

Remember the piece of freeway I once described as the Canyon of Doom? It's still there. One of these years the construction project will be finished. Southbound is pretty nice but concrete barriers still squeeze us into two narrow lanes as we head North. Just after this stretch the highway opens up into three lanes. Mission Street carries a lot of traffic and crosses over the freeway. Eastbound it starts travellers on the road to Central Oregon. I'm in the right lane until I see a car coming down the ramp. I've spotted it early. Years of riding have made it second nature for me to always glance up towards the top of these ramps. The earlier I can get information the better. Today it would prove to be the difference between disaster and escape.

At the top of the ramp is a small, dark colored car. It has a front end that sharply angles down to an edge. Pop-up type headlights are lighting its path. Smoked windows prevent me from ever getting a look at this driver. As the small car rounds the decreasing radius curve, it's picking up speed very quickly. For whatever reason, this driver's in a big hurry. Sophie and I are travelling at about 65 mph. The freeway's a little better illuminated in this stretch. We've passed the areas that are usually the trouble spots in freezing weather. Only a few miles remain until our exit.

As we pass under the overpass I'm moving left to allow room for the driver to merge. By now the car's actually a little ahead of us. There's a place where the two big painted lines will join and it will be clear for the car to merge onto the freeway. At least that's the way it's supposed to work. The driver decides to merge early. What looks like painted lines are actually wide bands of plastic stuck to the road. The Department of Transportation has taken to using decals instead of paint. I see what looks like dust clouds rise into the air. Ice and debris rob traction. At the same time the back end of the car starts to twitch. The twitch gets worse. I observe the front wheels moving quickly back and forth. The driver's timing isn't good. Instead of helping, the inputs make the car fishtail more severely. It's time to move farther left into the third lane over.

Freeze frame. A heart-stopping moment in time. The car is sideways across the freeway. Headlights are burning a pathway directly towards the right side of Sophie. I'm praying that the car tires don't pick this instant in time to hook up. I'm praying that's there enough traction for me to grab a big handful of throttle and get out of the way. Both prayers are answered. Sophie leaps forward without incident. The car continues its rotation. Ice on this stretch keeps it sliding as it turns. The nose has crossed into the lane where I had just been. As I look in the mirror I see the car sitting on the freeway facing the wrong direction. I slow and pull to the left shoulder, ready to flee if needed. Ready to get involved if there's a bigger accident.

Headlights are coming up out of the darkness. Two other vehicles manage to avoid hitting the wrong way car. Thank goodness traffic's so light. I can imagine the panic they must have felt. It's not something you'd normally have in your mental picture of an early morning trip. Once the two other vehicles pass there's a large gap. The driver of the spun out car gets the car turned around and onto the right shoulder. I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Disaster was averted. Only the fact that the freeway had just widened into three lanes saved the other drivers. If this had happened at an earler point there just wouldn't have been enough room.

This is a powerful example of how any seemingly normal situation can suddenly become ugly. I admit that my heart rate went up a little. It was literally one of the last things I would have expected to face on a ride to work. Fortunately Sophie and I met the challenge. Let me end the story with our definition of an expert rider.

An expert rider is one who uses expert judgement to avoid using expert skills.

Stay sharp!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, February 15, 2008

Parking it.

Sooner or later all good things must come to an end. In other words, we actually have to park the bike for a bit and do something besides riding. Things like drinking coffee and then getting rid of coffee. We only briefly touch on parking in our classes. There's only so much time and street survival skills take priority. We do have an exercise that teaches low speed maneuvering skills. These can come in quite handy in certain situations. More on that later.

I just wanted to share a couple of things about parking a bike. Some you may be aware of and some that may be something you haven't considered before. Even though parking seems like a small deal I've seen not-so-good things come from mistakes here. I also have to say that the impetus for this post came from questions Conchscooter posed. Here's to you, Sir!

First off, let's talk about sidestands and certain ground conditions. There's a whole lot of weight concentrated in a small area. Sidestands sink into soft surfaces. Sometimes the surface doesn't seem soft at the time but things change. Like blazing sun on blacktop. It's even conceivable that one could put a big bike on a sidestand or centerstand in the yard for a summer wash. There's something about water running from a hose that changes the properties of the ground. Not that I know from personal experience or anything, mind you!

I carry a piece of hard plastic that's about 4 inches square and thick enough not to bend. It's a simple matter of putting it under the sidestand. A flattened can would work as well. What you might not have thought of is what I've done with this piece of plastic. I drilled a hole in the corner and put a long piece of heavy fishing line through it. On the open end of the line I've tied a loop. When I slide the plastic under the sidestand I hook the loop onto a lever or the grip. When I mount and straighten the bike I have merely to pull the string and retrieve the plastic. It goes into a baggie in the tank bag. That's free advice from someone who's more, er, experienced and doesn't want to have to bend down all the time. Think of the process to retrieve the piece without the string!

More places these days are providing motorcycle only parking. It's greatly appreciated but these places aren't always decided by actual riders. We just sort of get slotted in here and there. Not all motorcycle parking spots are created equal. They can also present unique challenges. Consider this one.

When I rode by here there were two bikes already so I went down a few blocks and walked back. By that time one bike had left. This spot is right on the corner of two busy streets in the State Capitol. What doesn't show in the picture is the steep angle towards the curb. Balance and care are required to get into these spots. Curbing the rear tire helps settle the bike so it's more secure on the sidestand. Look at this next picture and you'll see another complication.

Here's a picture from an adjacent parking structure. Notice how all the cars pull into angled parking but the motorcycle is facing the opposite direction. To park here requires an almost 270 degree sharp turn. Here's where low speed maneuvering skills and sharp awareness of the surrounding traffic is required. A rider can't be messing about too long getting situated. This is right downtown amid a multi-block shopping mall. Remember the infamous offset cone weave in the DMV riding tests? This is an example of where a rider needs those skills. Keep enough throttle to hold the bike up and control speed with the clutch. Use your head and eyes for directional control. Sound familiar?

In the first of what would prove to be two surprising coincidences, the rider of the Honda ACE was a former student. He was proudly displaying the retroreflective sticker we give to graduates. Here's a picture of the helmet. You can see me reflected while I take the picture.

Backing into spots like these serves more than one purpose. Firstly, backing in just looks cool. Secondly, it's often necessary for the bike's stability. Thirdly, and most importantly, backing in allows the rider to both park and exit on their terms. Imagine trying to back out, uphill, onto these busy streets. We'd be pretty vulnerable because we lack the ability to gather visual information and to respond quickly to threats. Being able to pull out forward puts us in a much more advantageous position. Both literally and figuratively. Besides, it's often physically impossible to sit on a bike and push it backwards uphill! Let gravity pull it down to park and horsepower bring it back out.

Here's a spot across the street that doesn't require quite as much turning to get into. In an earlier post I presented a picture of Sophie parked here. You may recognize it. This day it was empty.

The big advantage to this spot is the handy phone booth for whatever quick clothing changes may be required!

On the subject of some motorcycle parking not being so desirable, check out these pictures. It was while taking these pictures that the second coincidence happened.

This spot is in a parking structure. Sorry the light's not good. I'm running out of daylight by now. My point and shoot only allows so many adjustments. Consider this picture worth 500 words instead of a thousand! This is a cramped spot with a big downhill slope to the left. If you notice at the top of the spot is a white car facing us. There's also motorcycle parking in that corner. Check it out.

This is one of those "Now that I've parked here and a car also parked, how the heck do I get out?" situations. As I'm trying to get pictures in the not so good light, I hear this voice say "What's up?" I don't really look and figure it's somebody wanting to know what I'm taking pictures of their car for. Turns out I'm somewhat right. When I look up I see my middle son Travis. He didn't recognize me from farther back and thought I was someone trying to write him a parking ticket or something. Now you might think I should have recognized the car. Long story short, Travis' car had been rear ended and totalled by the insurance company. This was his new-to-him replacement he'd just acquired. So I hadn't really had the chance to get to know it, you see? It was a neat coincidence considering we were both about 30 miles from home.

Sometimes it's just better to pass up motorcycling only parking and take to the streets. Here's a couple of pictures about parallel parking.

Parking too close to one end of the spot or the other can encourage drivers frustrated at a lack of parking spots to try to share. Sorry. It's my spot. Notice the back end towards the curb. Some places have laws stating that the rear tire needs to be within so many inches of the curb. Check with your local "agency having jurisdiction". These considerations aside, I park to maximize my safety in leaving. Angling the bike keeps parts out of the traffic flow. Turning the bars towards the sidestand makes for a steady tripod. I've seen big bikes with the bars turned full right. I also watched as a gust from a passing truck blew one over. Stability is our friend!

Here's a properly centered bike in the spot. By the way, you can't imagine how hard it was to get a clear picture from across the street! By now it's nearly 5 PM. This street is three lanes wide. There's a stop light at each end of the block. Most of the time bumper to bumper cars prevented me from getting a picture. Sheesh!

Several bikes can share the same spot, incidentally. That's not written in stone everywhere. Spaces that are paid for in those machines on the sidewalk are limited to one vehicle. However, most spots can have several bikes. I repeatedly ask parking enforcement people this question and get the same answer.

"How many bikes can legally park in a space with a parking meter?"

I'm told as many as will fit but if the meter expires they all get tickets!

To wrap up, I want to talk briefly about parking structures. There's a couple of unique things to consider here, as well.

Resist the urge to park too far back. Drivers seem to use less and less of their brains these days. Take a look at this situation from their perspective. No, we're not going where you think we're going. I don't care to emulate a colonoscopy probe!

Notice how the bike's all but invisible from this angle. I happen to be on the far end of the structure where's it quieter. Drivers are on the other side in a feeding frenzy for the spots closer to the door. It wouldn't hurt half of them to walk more. Imagine a driver diving into what they figure is an empty space. Will they stop before hitting the front of the bike?

Moving the bike forward enough to be seen but not so far as to be in harm's way works well here.

Just so you know the level of my commitment to you all, be it known that I violated at least one city ordinance to bring you these photos. I also got hassled by a parking enforcement person. Actually, Renea's a rider and she was in one of my classes a few years ago. It wasn't that bad when I told her what I was doing. Still, though, I hope you appreciate the chances I took for you!

There's an unofficial grace for bikes but it depends on the day and who's patrolling. If there's a sign there's a policy. Which means a rider can get ticketed for backing in. Which forces us to park like this and look just like the herd animals frequenting these places.

Oh the ignomy of it all!

So there you have it for what it's worth. Maybe you knew it all. Maybe you found something new to think about. Parking on a bike is like riding a bike in that you have to think like a motorcyclist. It's a different view from atop two wheels.

Enough of this parking thing! Sophie's been sitting around way too long. Got to ride!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Stepping up!

Monday morning was like stepping through the curtain of a waterfall. Once on the other side, all traces of me were gone. I disappeared into my business world. Factory guys were out from the Midwest. We were doing distributor training. Long days of work followed by the obligatory dinners with the owners and managers. Believe me, going out to dinner ceased to be fun after the first hundred times or so!

I'm pleased to say that Grandma's doing pretty well. The surgery to remove the large melanoma went without a hitch. A small skin graft is covering the spot. Considering that she's 88, things are going great. Right now she's confined to sitting still to let things heal. If she were younger she could hop about on crutches and one leg. That won't work so she's giving her recliner a workout.

My aunt and her husband came down from Olympia on Friday. With both daughters present, I went to work for the weekend. Works for me because the husband and I don't see eye to eye. Only one of us agrees with how great he is and it isn't me!

This was my home for the weekend. Of course, I'd only be there for the few hours of sleep I was able to wrestle loose. Still, the rooms are very nice. My room was in the wing you can see on the right. Second row up and farther right than the picture shows. It's a good thing I wasn't there for the view as I'd have been disappointed.

Unless you like watching traffic on a busy highway there's not much attraction. The road you see is Highway 26, otherwise known as the Sunset Highway. It ferries a bunch of traffic between the suburbs and Portland. Once past the suburbs to the West, the road eventually ends up at the Oregon Coast. There's often snow in the coastal mountain pass during the Winter.

The reason I'm here this weekend is for instructor training. I'm a trainer for our program and so I get to teach other instructors as well as riding students. Makes for good variety. Once a new instructor has a year or two of experience we invite them back for what we call Step-up Training. Five or six of them at a time get the chance to student teach in a regularly scheduled class. During the class we have discussions about what's happening. This provides a good opportunity to fine tune things that might have drifted. Step-up is also a forum for a more advanced understanding of the range and classroom. Even though it's a long weekend, I love doing this kind of training.

Weirdly enough, Ray and I were the only ones to ride. There was an instructor from Central Oregon present. I understand why he didn't ride. That would have meant riding his Harley across a mountain pass nearly 5,000 feet in elevation. Since most of that's been closed off and on in the past couple of weeks for snow, I'll let him off the hook. Other than that, Ray and I live the farthest away. Maybe it's something to do with the fact that we both have Honda ST's?

Here's a picture of the faithful STeeds in the morning sunshine. Yes, we actually had a little sun on Saturday morning. The ride up on Friday afternoon had been in the rain. We got a little wet on Sunday, as well. Ray and I rode home together but took divergent paths on the way up. I opted for the Interstate. Ray, however, swore the Interstate was too boring and took to the back roads. Remember that Portland is a huge city. Folks come and go from all over to work here. At a small town called Forest Grove Ray encountered the big traffic snarl. His ride was three hours, mine was an hour and half. Correct me if I'm wrong but sitting in stop and go traffic for an extra hour seems boring to me!

Since this is mostly a blog about riding to work, I won't go into a lot of detail about the training. Suffice it to say we're committed to serving the needs of Oregon's riders to the best of our ability. Whether they ride to work or for recreation, we try to give them what they need.

It's continually driven home to me how much I prefer the bike to a car. Stuck on the freeway in a car, my thoughts are always on how much freer I feel on a bike. While it's not always an actuality in that I can get just as stuck in traffic, the mental state's always better. Adding the Givi trunk has provided just enough extra space to get all I need for a weekend like this onto Sophie. That includes all the training materials. Believe it or not, one of Sophie's saddlebags will hold a Starbucks travel box with all the fixings for about 10 people! There's an idea. I should just run a hose from my helmet into the saddlebag. It would be an all day coffee supply!

Since we all show up at 6:30 AM the coffee is much needed. We also get enough to share with the riding students. On Sunday one of the instructors who had a car volunteered to pick the coffee up. Sophie's bags would be full since I had to check out of the hotel. This would save double trip for me.

You know how we get into routines? I try not to but it happens. Since I spend a lot of time training at this place I tend to do the same things over and over. I call Starbucks at 5 AM and request the coffee boxes for about 6:15. After picking up the coffee I roll over a parking lot to McDonalds and nab an Egg McMuffin. Hey, I'm on the road and do what I have to do. Continental breakfast at the hotel starts too late for my schedule. After getting the sandwich to go, I enter 185th at the light right next to McDonalds. That's my routine. Sunday it changed.

For once the hotel's breakfast was early so I ate with Laurie. She was my partner for the training this weekend. Ray's in the process of training her to be a trainer. Since there was no need to stop anywhere on the way, I followed Cornell Road straight to 185th. This put me farther South than normal. Sunday morning was rainy and daylight hadn't shown up, yet. Arriving at the light, I put my left foot down as usual. Hmm. My foot met empty air. Lowered it some more. Still no ground. After what felt like a foot but was only about 7 inches, I finally found blacktop. I'd stopped in the middle of the lane. This intersection gets so much traffic that the road was humped in the middle and there were really deep ruts on either side.

No harm, no foul, but it was a really strange feeling. I also noticed when I got to the college that my tank bag had never been secured. I'd set it on the tank and got distracted before I could snap it into place. Apparently the need to do so fell right out of my head. Fortunately, it was only a few miles and the water on the rubber tank bag bottom held it in place. All of us have our off days, it seems!

Here's a last picture. I had just randomly snapped photos of the students. Last night I looked at the pictures for the first time. If you look at the green car in the background you'll see yellow letters on it. This was Saturday. We had driver's education students and new motorcyclists using opposite ends of the same parking lot. Interesting combination.

Ray and I rode home Sunday evening. We usually ride pairs; handlebars even and about a foot apart. I don't advise most riders to do this. It's an old cop habit. Ray's a skillful rider and a trusted friend. There's only one other person I ride like this with unless it's actually a cop on a bike. Protocols for communications and reacting to situations are written in stone and need to be rigidly followed. On the plus side, I find it relaxing. The two bikes combine their sounds into a new symphony. We split duties, one looking out on the left and the other on the right. You're forced to keep your head into the ride. Failure to do so can hurt you both. Having to trust your partner makes for a closer bond. This isn't meant as an advertisement to get you to ride this way. I'd rather you didn't, actually. It works for me in certain situations and I enjoy it.

After what turned out to be a very pleasant ride in partly cloudy weather, we shook hands at 75 mph and went our separate ways. Another ride to work and a weekend completely devoted to motorcycling is hung on the wall.

Miles and smiles,


P.S. I'm heading off this afternoon to mentor an instructor teaching his first classroom. The plan is to make time to snap some photos on parking a bike. Stay tuned, Conchscooter!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Musicians or technicians?

They say great musicians are born, not made. Part of that I believe. Where I take exception is the part of that statement that becomes self limiting. Being born with a natural talent is obviously a great start. It doesn't mean to me that a person with a little less natural talent can't take what they have and turn it into greatness. The same holds true for riding. When a person says they weren't born to be a great rider it can turn into a self fulfilling prophecy. Sometimes if we really want something we need to look at what's getting in the way. Then remove it. What I see keeping a lot of riders from being really great is the need to maintain an Image. They don't want to risk being seen as something less than what they've built up in their minds. Insecurity rears its ugly head and stops all further progress. I saw this just the other day in someone I was trying to help out.

The rider claimed he wanted help. He even told me he'd do anything to ride like me. I told this guy he was lying. He acted all offended when I told him that. I assured him it was the truth. He'd do anything but risk looking foolish in the process of achieving greatness. We couldn't move past that. Until he can, this guy's going to languish in mediocrity.

Bear with me while I tell a little story to help set the stage.

We had a family gathering a little while back. Katie's parents celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary at the end of January. Katie and I, Katie's sister and her family, and some friends of her parents had a dinner party. It was at the sister's house. The meal was excellent and we moved on into the next phase. The invited friends were chosen because they like to share in making music. My father in law is a tinkerer. He's made a contraption that pretty much allows him to be a one man band. He's got a guitar, a harmonica, a foot operated drum, cymbals, and a few noise makers he can blow into. I think it's a little corny but it makes him happy. Katie and her sister play piano or electric keyboard. There's notebooks made up that contain the chords and lyrics. The friends bring a sampling of instruments and they all have a good time. Except me.

I wholeheartedly admit that the problem lies in my attitude towards it. I do not like to participate. Mostly because I think the one man band thing is over the top and he uses every opportunity to drag it out. I'm uncomfortable with the whole thing and I feel stupid being a part of it. Katie's father always tries to drag me in. My response is always the same:

"I make my music on a bike."

There is some musical talent floating around in my body. I play both the guitar and piano. Despite the fact that Grandpa sang bass in a barbershop quartet, I can't carry a tune in a handbasket. Or rather, perhaps it's because I choose not to. To be brutally honest, I feel foolish to think of how I'd look pouring my heart and soul into singing or making music. Combine this with the fact that I have another way to express myself and it seems I will always be a technician. Not a musician. I'm fine with that. Like I say, I make my music on a bike.

Consider those who are really great musicians or singers. On New Year's Eve PBS aired a concert from Tuscan, Italy. Under the Italian night sky Andrea Bocelli occupied a large stage. Several names from the music industry joined in at various times. Andrea sang many songs in Italian. His voice is strong and clear. As he sang you could see him living in the mood of the song. It was powerful to be drawn in along with him. Italian is a wonderful language for this kind of thing. This Italian singer and his songs were one. To hear the music and see his face was to peer into his soul. As I listened I realized this was the finished product. Years of work had passed to reach this point. What looked natural and fitting now must have looked and felt awkward in earlier times. Maybe even somewhat foolish.

What we saw now was the expressions of a Master. Imagine a younger man trying to get it right. Mistakes are made. Notes come out sounding really strange at times. Imagine trying to project a powerful and masterful presence, or persona. All the while not having really grown into it yet. Yes, there were times of looking foolish. Andrea obviously wanted mastery enough to risk these times. Few would argue that it all came together. Andrea Bocelli is truly one of the Greats today.

I feel similar on a bike. Not that I would go so far as to say I am a Great Master. No matter how high the altimeter reads it can always go higher. I don't want to say I've arrived for fear of missing out on the treasures of the journey. On the other hand, the bike under me is an extension of my being. If you watch me ride you get a glimpse of my soul. We don't technically attack corners. We dance through curves. Instead of droning down the interstate we're galloping along reveling in the feel of speed. If I can do things with a bike that most other riders can't, yet, it's because it's no longer a technical exercise. It's as natural as reaching out my arm and grasping something.

It wasn't always like this. We sure didn't start out here. Did I have my times of looking stupid as I dropped a big bike? For the 9th time? Yes, but I eventually mastered the Keyhole. Was there some embarrassment when I finally took a rider class in the 80's and found out I wasn't as competent as I thought I was? Sure. Weirdly enough, the other students were experiencing the same thing. It's part of the learning curve. The risk of looking foolish goes hand in hand with advancing skills. Avoiding the one negates the ability to gain the other. That's written in stone.

I fell down the first time I tried to ride a big street bike in the snow. And the second. And the third. Eventually I learned when to avoid it but what to do if I had no choice. In the 70's when I still thought I knew everything and really knew nothing, I ran a big street bike off the road, across the ditch, and mired the wheels in the mud. Still upright because the axles were buried. It was on a quiet country road. Some guy was kind enough to stop and help me pull the bike out. I thanked him for his help and blamed it on a dog that ran across the road. Seriously. There's always a phantom dog available when you need to find some way to cover up your lousy skills. There was no dog. I just got into a corner way too hot. I didn't have the skills to save myself, let alone avoid getting there in the first place. I finally decided this was no way to live. Literally.

The point is this. I may have some extra natural aptitude for riding. It certainly didn't show the first time I crawled up on a dirt bike. Nor onto my first street bike. Can you think of anybody who jumped on a bike for the first time and was instantly an expert rider? Unlike playing a musical instrument, I really wanted to attain mastery on a bike. If the risk of looking foolish was getting in the way, then I needed to get over it. It's attitude and work that got me where I am. Not being some sort of "born rider".

There's a lot of riders out there that want to be better. Just not enough to risk looking foolish in front of their peers. I'd love it if you'd help them understand how limiting that viewpoint is. I'm not talking about folks just learning to ride. That's a separate thing. What I'm talking about is the group of riders that has some level of competency. They might even have been riding for years and are kind of looked up to in their peer group. So many just sort of plateau here. They say they want more skills but never try. Things hold them back from reaching out for the next step. And the next one after that.

Yes, they will look foolish. Whether they practice on their own or take formal training. No way around that. Not as much as they think, though. On the other hand, think of how much more respect they'll garner when they reach the excellence they're capable of. Not to mention that little thing of being so much better able to take care of themselves out there. Being excellent is so much more fun than being mediocre!

Are we content to be technicians or do we want to be musicians? Great riders are made, not born. The key to unlocking the door to greatness is mindset. We can do it. Go for it!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Who is this?

Whoever is riding this bike to work exemplifies using a bike as utilitarian transportation. I'm pretty sure I'd like to spend a little time in conversation with them. Of course, we'd have to talk about the proper way to park a motorcycle! This person fits my description of an intrepid commuter.

This is Lancaster Mall in Salem. I first saw this bike about a year and a half ago. Through two Winters and a Summer this bike has occupied the pictured parking spot or one in the same general area. On really nasty days the bike isn't there. However, it's been present the majority of times I've rolled through. As a travelling person, the mall serves as a sort of field office when I'm in town. Free wireless internet is kindly offered. This allows me a place to conduct business as needed. If food and good coffee happen to be in close proximity, so much the better. You know how we motorcycle people are. We cruise parking lots looking for other bikes. As much as we celebrate our individualism we're always glad to see others like us out and about.

I think that the rider works at the Best Buy store. You'd just sort of figure that the rider would park somewhere near the entry to where they work. The parking area where I always see the bike is closer to Best Buy than the mall. If a person were to walk to the nearest mall entrance to the bike, it would lead into a Macy's store. Somehow that doesn't jive with my mental picture. This parking spot is a long ways away from the regular mall entrance. I could be wrong, of course. Not that it's ever happened before, mind you.

The bike itself is sort of a rat bike. There's foam showing through the seat cover. It's not a show piece but it must run reliably. Each day the Yamaha hauls its rider proudly to work and back.

When I took the pictures a small transformation had taken place. Up until now the bike has been just a part of the background. Now it's rotated to the forefront. I inexplicably find myself wanting to know more. I'd like to meet the rider. Maybe even put a photo in the blog. It's primarily about riding to work, after all. This rider is certainly doing that consistently.

I'm going to have to direct some effort to finding the rider. One possibility would be to leave a note on the bike. That just seems like an invasion to me. There's a certain respect for another rider's bike involved. One always needs to be aware of the fine line between gathering information and becoming a stalker, of course! Maybe someone in the area might know. There's a few local folks reading the blog. If anyone knows the answers I seek, please share. I don't know if you're still around, Kano, but I believe you live in Salem. If and when I find out I'll let you know. Whoever you are, I'm glad you're out there!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sometimes it's difficult!

It's becoming more difficult to keep riding lately. Take a witch's cauldron. Stir in sheer exhaustion, lousy weather, and a dash of trouble. A potion results that can be pretty debilitating. Fortunately, being the designated wack job of the local motorcycling community, I'm pretty much irrepressible. Not that things haven't tried to get me down. At the same time, there's always gems to be found. One has to dig a little deeper to find them sometimes. The harder we work to discover them, the more we value these gems, I think. I've found a few this past week. It's like two sides of a coin. Heads is adversity and tails is treasure. You control the view by choosing which side to look at.

We've had rain and wind. Then wind and rain. Throw in a little snow for variety. Once in a while I'm seeing other bikes on the road. I know a lot of you are suffering heavy snows. Other things are going on in your lives. Here's a huge tip of my helmet to all of you still soldiering on. You're an inspiration to me.

I saw this in the paper. This not only describes Seattle but a little farther South where I live, as well. Last Wednesday brought one of those dark and stormy night rides. As far as I could see there wasn't much difference in the weather between Seattle, where the trip started, and my home.

Take the ride last Wednesday, for example. For the first time I can remember I ended my ride in an irritable state of mind. What's up with that? It amazes me how it can take an hour to cover the twenty miles between Bellevue, Washington and Interstate 5. I-405 in that stretch is like pouring Niagra Falls into a funnel. I-5 from that point into Tacoma is just as bad. How in the world is there enough traffic to jam seven lanes of freeway? When you're moving 9 mph there's plenty of time to look at the cars around you. Wind and rain are pelting me. Warm and dry people in their automobile cabins look pretty cozy. Remind me. Why am I doing this?

Exit 119 found me heeding the call of a cup of coffee and a sandwich. It's 7 PM and I'm still three hours from home. There's this little island of buildings on the edge of Fort Lewis. My brain's mapping system tells me there used to be a Starbucks in one building and a Subway in the other. A little plan hatches in the grey matter. Grab a sandwich, pack it to Starbucks, and enjoy it with a hot cup of coffee. Subway's closed for remodelling. Walk in the rain to Starbucks. A walk in the rain would have been required either way but it seemed less joyful having struck out on the sandwich. Katie says I'm part Russian. That's from the movie "Hunt for Red October". There's a line where the sub commander says Russians don't even take a dump without a plan. I always have a plan. Not only that, but a backup plan just in case. Plan B was to get a breakfast sandwich at Starbucks. Turns out that Starbucks is pulling them off the menu after a short run.

Why? The official story is that it hurt coffee sales. The smell of the sandwiches is said to interfere with the smell of the coffee. What?

Plan C. Have coffee with an egg salad sandwich on whole grain bread. As a last resort eat someting healthy! Only as a last resort, though.

Six hours and 290 miles after beginning the ride we rolled into the driveway. The bad news was that I was cranky. Hours of fighting wind and rain take their toll. Sharing the road with totally inexcusably stupid people makes for a feeling I can't even begin to describe. How can it be so important to get a car length ahead that these people will risk their life and mine? Why does it seem like 90 percent of the drivers on the road are like that? I will never understand.

The good news was that I didn't have to fuss with intermittent wiper blades. In a car it seems you can never get the timing right because the rain is never the same from one moment to the next. So much simpler on a bike. Easy formula. Rain hits visor. Rain bounces off. What doesn't bounce off slides around helmet and runs down collar.

More good news? I survived riding in the snow for a while. The area around Fort Lewis is nearly at sea level according to the Garmin Zumo GPS. About 30 miles North of Longview the elevation is a little over 700 feet. No snow low. Yes, Virginia, it's snowing at higher elevations. Riding in the snow at night is a trip. Fortunately it was pretty wet. One side note. You think the big trucks throw up a lot of water? Let me tell you. Never ride beside one in slushy snow. You may never be seen again. Oh yeah, the Zumo is a weatherproof as Garmin says it is! Too bad I'm not.

There's been some riding since. Every day but Super Bowl Sunday. Riding's a given. It just hasn't been as fun lately. I feel like I've stepped onto a treadmill. Every time I look away somebody twists the throttle a little more. Or maybe it's a super-charged merry-go-round. My head's spinning enough. I'd love to be able to take one play at a time. Instead, the whole playbook's tumbling through my brain. You can identify, can't you? Once we get Grandma over this hump I promise to slow down. I want to redesign the blog, for example. Heck, I'd be happy with regular posts. It's weird how I miss it when I don't. I feel so disconnected not having time to write here and read the other blogs. Your comments are like eagerly awaited letters from friends. Yes, the big, bad, Ironman isn't totally self-sufficient.

I mentioned Grandma. She has a big bump on her shin. Her long-time doctor said it was just a weird thing happening with the blood vessels. He even sort of drained it a time or two. Grandma trusted him and wouldn't hear of having it checked out further by someone else. She was finally convinced to get another opinion. The other doctor said it was cancer but she wasn't sure what kind. The bump was a satellite from somewhere else according to this doctor. Samples were sent in to try to narrow it down. The results show it to be a melanoma from skin cancer. An oncologist agreed. The plan is to take Grandma in Friday morning. Surgery will be done to remove the growth which is about golf ball size now. A skin graft will be required to cover the spot. Pretty hard for anyone, especially for an 88 year old woman. We'll keep hoping for the best and keep a positive attitude.

Yesterday brought the need to swerve around a big piece of plastic that blew on the wind across the freeway. There's a whole unique dynamic to a proper swerve. I'm going share a little about this in the next couple of days. Today I took a picture of a rat bike. The Yamaha belongs to a real intrepid commuter. I'll share that, too. I committed to getting two more posts out this week. Hope to see you here. I also promise to be a little sunnier in disposition!

Miles and smiles,