Friday, August 29, 2008

New public service announcements from NHTSA

Mary Peters, the National Transportation Secretary, recently took some heat for wanting to pull funds from motorcycle training to apply to helmet law related things. This effort was abandoned for now. There are, however, some good things to come out on the national level.

The Director of our training program has been in D.C. this week. He sent this link to a site that contains materials for public awareness of preventing impaired driving and riding. I've seen some of these ads on television already. This is an effort backed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Seeing as to how we're going into a holiday weekend, it seemed a good time to share the link.

I tried to include a couple of the pictures here but they were too big to easily load. You'll just have to go see for yourself.

You can see it here.

Have a safe and relaxing Labor Day weekend!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bright lights or fireside cuddling?

So here I am with two sport touring bikes. The differences between them are many and varied. One's a longtime companion and the other's got my blood stirring in new directions. Elvira is all about bright lights and adventure. Sophie's more like being cozy in front of the fireplace. Adding to the complication is the fact that they don't stay on their own sides of the debate. Either one is more than capable of meeting somewhere in the middle. The core here really isn't the bikes themselves. When the dust settles they're just machines, after all. Inspiring as they may be. What's been intriguing is the inner reflection the situation's caused. I'm being allowed to make an honest self assessment of where I am right now. Will I be comfortable with what I find?

I've become more fully aware of how things work in other aspects of life. Here's an example. Let's focus on comparisons.

A big problem here has been that I haven't been able to totally unplug from one bike and totally commit to the other. That was the original plan, after all. I've sort of worn Sophie out and I wanted a new bike with ABS. Should be simple, right? Yeah, right. There's always this running commentary and comparison. All that does is to make things worse.

Elvira's toned and fit in every way. Technologically superior to Sophie in more ways than I can easily count. Sophie's a little heavier and her suspension's sagging some. The miles are showing. What great miles they've been, though! We've made so many memories together it will take Elvira a long time to catch up, if she ever does.

Sophie likes nothing better than to sit comfortably together and watch the miles pass by underneath us. It puts me in mind of snuggling on the couch and watching the fire. Not that Sophie doesn't like a good romp. She'll get in the mood to play and willingly go at it hard. Pegs will scrape and sparks will fly! Once in a while she needs new peg feelers as you can see in the photo. Spirited play is an accent to her life, though, not a primary goal.

Elvira's shaping up to be just the opposite. Hard play is her preference. Oh, she'll sit still and just cruise but I can feel her twitching. Despite having more ground clearance than the ST, it's surprisingly easy to scrape her foot pegs. The first time was with only a couple of hundred miles on the clock. We were heading up to the Astoria Column and flicked a quick right turn. Scrape. Just last Saturday, on an innocent "S" curve near Coffin Butte, the left peg scraped. Again. Maybe part of it's my comfort level with leaning a bike over. Some of it's that wide, rounded rear tire. I think a lot of it is Elvira's hunger for adventure. She's ready to go all the way in a heartbeat. So to speak, that is. I know where your mind just went!

It's the comparison that's killing me. Both bikes are awesome in their own right. It's not fair to pit them against each other.

God forbid I ever find myself without Katie for some reason and in another relationship. Will I have the wisdom to celebrate the unique wonder of the new person without making destructive comparisons? I'd sure hope so but who can say for positive? I'm beginning to see a big reason that second relationships fail. A really philosophical person could extend this thinking to a lot of different human interactions. Done right, comparisons can be really positive. Most of us do it wrong, I think.

Now we come up against another big thing to think about. Who am I these days? Maybe you don't care but I have this huge personal investment in the outcome!

I've always been sort of a swashbuckler. Like Raymond Chandler's fictional detective Philip Marlowe, I consider myself tough, smart, brave, and a little daring. There's a quote that my friend Laurie puts on her e-mails. It says that life is an adventure or nothing. I've lived by that thinking long before it became a quote.

Time is a sneaky thing, you know? While a person's off having adventures and conquering the world time just keeps creeping up on us. Nobody's totally immune. These days I look at myself in the mirror and see the effects of time's treachery. Dark hair still rules but the gray gains a bigger foothold every day. My birthday is coming up in early September. Age is relative. I don't like to put limits on myself by being fixed on a number. Like somehow that figure has to rule my life just because I've gotten there chronologically. Let me just say that the number of candles on the cake won't spur a call to the fire department but you could probably cook a hamburger on them. I'll spare you the rest of the graphic details. You get the picture.

Questions abound, begging for consideration. Is the slowness in warming up to Elvira just a lack of intimacy? Is the struggle to let go of Sophie only because of the long intimacy still missing with the FJR? Is age finally starting to show up by an aversion to change? Is the fact that I'm even thinking about such things a sure indication of getting older? If I was still a young warrior I'd probably still charging forward without a second thought. Maybe thinking about things means wisdom has arrived. Are wisdom and bravado conflicting elements? Or is it possible for both to mesh for greater accomplishments?

Are there bigger considerations?

Have I finally reached the point where I'm turning to comfort as a preference? Even worse, am I starting to be slightly intimidated by things that used to thrill me? Am I starting to worry that I no longer have what it takes to skillfully control a powerful bike? I can confidently avow that the answer to these three questions is a resounding "no!". At the same time, the fact that such a day could come kind of scares me. That really sums it up. Self assessment can be both fascinating and scary. Honesty leads to the truth. We may or may not like what we find.

The upside of the passage of time is that the process has its own ability to sort things out. Time will tell, as the saying goes. Answers will be forthcoming. For now one answer keeps ringing out. Go put some more miles on the FJR!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Wives and mistresses.

Metaphorically speaking, of course. I have a lot of personal experience with a wife but none with a mistress. Despite that, my imagination is pretty vivid. Right now I'm imagining this is how it feels to have both a faithful companion and a racy playmate. In the past I've changed bikes with hardly a glance backwards. Things haven't been nearly so simple this time. I'm not so sure if it's the bikes themselves or something it says about me that has me thinking so hard. I want to pull off the Ironman mask and share some things with you. Maybe getting a glimpse under the mask will help you understand what I'm feeling.

I knew early on that Katie was the one I wanted to blend my soul with. In the same way, I knew several years before I purchased her, that an ST1100 was the bike for me. Honda introduced the bike in 1990. I fell in love with it soon after. The money held me back. There was a house full of children with their collective monetary demands. So I rode ten year old Hondas for years. In 1998 I bought my first brand new bike. It was the Pacific Coast. By then I could pay cash. It was a great bike but I was only on my way to the ST. Finally, in late 2000 I sold the Pacific Coast for within three hundred dollars of what I had paid for it new. Not bad for three years, huh?

Armed with a fistful of cash, I made the deal for Sophie. It happened that the bike was in short supply. I will always be grateful to Lon. He was the Sales Manager at the Honda shop at the time. Somehow he found a bike for me. It was 275 miles away in Renton, Washington. Lon sent an envelope with me. It contained the proper paperwork as well as a check to give to the Renton Honda dealer. Katie and I drove to Renton. She followed me on the ride home. Sophie was everything I'd dreamed of and then some. That first ride was heaven and it got better from there. I know it seems really weird to say it about a machine, but I felt like our souls had meshed perfectly. We were totally in synch.

We've been together almost 9 years. Where a lot of bikes are lucky to see three thousand miles a year, Sophie's seen six times that. Recounting the adventures we've enjoyed and the hardships we've endured together would fill several books. I know Sophie's not alive but it feels at times like she has a heart, soul, and personality all her own.

Alive or not, with or without a soul, bikes only last so long. It was time to replace her despite my feelings. It's also becoming increasingly prudent to have ABS on a bike. Katie and I went bike shopping.

I always thought I'd be a lifetime Honda guy. Having had a chance to put several hundred miles on an ST1300, it soon became apparent that the new model didn't speak to me like the 1100 does. Don't misunderstand. The 1300 is a great bike and shares a lot of the qualities of the original. It just doesn't seem to have a lot of personality. Still, though, that's the direction we were headed.

Supply was really tight. I'm a little disenchanted with Honda for not making very many available. We were told by a large dealer that they only got about a third of what they asked for. There are times I can be patient but this wasn't one of them. I really wasn't in the mood to wait until late Fall when the 2009's were coming out. We couldn't even find out what color they were going to be. The 2007 models were a funky gray. I'm not the only one who doesn't like the color, it seems. While the pretty Candy Dark Red 2008 ST1300's were gone in a heartbeat, there are still some 2007's around.

Katie and I just happened to encounter an FJR rider in a rest area. It was a great chance to ask the rider a bunch of pointed questions. He was more than willing to talk and I was eager to listen. This particular bike was a 2007 model. The Plum color contrasted by the aluminum of the frame was really pretty. We were also taken by the clean looks of the bike. There was a certain classy look with a hint of the sporty prowess hidden inside.

Dean, who comments here, has an FJR. We cross paths pretty often. Dean and I both teach our Advanced Rider Training class. The Yamaha sport-tourer shows up pretty often. I've had a lot of time to observe and talk to riders. I spent time reading reviews. Katie and I had a chat about our immediate future. Touring the country together is still a few years away. I'll mostly be riding alone with Katie joining me for long weekends on the bike now and then.

The scales tipped in favor of the FJR. We couldn't find any of the 2007 models by now but there were still a few 2008's. As you've seen, they're Raven Black with silver metal flakes in the paint. Not hard to look at by any means. A phone call and a large check later, and we brought one home.

Enter the Mistress. Mistress Elvira, to be exact.

Stay tuned for the next post. The really juicy part's yet to come!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, August 22, 2008

A really wet ride in Aug-tober!

I don't know if you remember this picture from February. It was a rainy day when I posed the question and it was another rainy day when I got the answer. I had wondered in this post who the rider of the bike was. If ever there was a dedicated motorcycle commuter, this rider was it. Whatever the weather or time of year, I'd see the old Yamaha parked in the same spot. My guess was that the rider was an employee of this Best Buy store. I never really pursued it to any degree, though. God forbid I should be seen as some sort of stalker, or anything!

One day I saw that the bike had changed. Instead of the old Yamaha I saw a newer KLR with the aluminum panniers. Since I no longer saw the Yamaha and the KLR was parked in the same place, I figured it was the same rider with a different bike.

There came a day when I had business in the store. The KLR was parked in its accustomed spot. As usual, I was in riding gear, helmet in hand. Store security people tend to get a little uptight when you do that, which means I really like doing it. I casually asked who rode the bike to work. I always find that people are really willing to spill their guts if you act at all interested in them. A young woman told me the guy's name was Cass and that he worked in the media department. That's the part where they sell music and movies, I guess. Wandering over there, I asked for the guy. Turns out he had the day off. I was told that Cass would park in that spot but go to a movie on the other side of the mall.

Since it was really only casual interest on my part, I let things go. A rainy day this week started the ball rolling again.

The weather guessers had told us a Winter-like storm was rolling in. I was actually looking forward to the rain. It would be great chance to see how much weather protection I'd have with Elvira. The rain was substantial so it was a good test. I'll tell you about the comparison in another post. Suffice it to say I didn't drown!

As chance would have it, I was near the mall and decided to stop for coffee. Sure enough, the KLR was there. So I parked next to it.

This time I went into the store and actually met the guy. He's about 35. I have to tell you, the guy looks like he'd be a lot more at home in a library than on a dual sport bike. Cass was pretty busy with a freight shipment so I didn't ask for his photo. I did tell him about the blog and how he'd fit right in with us. Cass wrote down the url for the site so I hope he sees this post. You're setting a good example, Sir!

Cass took our training class as a teenager. He's been riding since. The old Yamaha is still in his garage. When the chance came to buy the KLR for a good price Cass decided to try it out. The KLR is working really well for him. No surprise there, is it?

What's neat is that besides riding a bike to work all the time, Cass has encouraged some fellow employees to do the same. He told me to go look in the parking lot for a couple of specific bikes. When I left the store I looked around. Sure enough, I found the bikes he told me about.

No, it's not Stacy, but the bike looks pretty similar doesn't it? I believe Stacy has put turn signals from a GSXR on her bike, if I remember correctly. You'll have to refresh us on that, Stacy!

At least one of the riders ( the SV rider ) knows how to properly park a bike. I'll have to ask Cass if he's the one teaching the "pull in frontways" method. I parked nose in because I wanted Elvira to be facing the same way as the KLR and it was there first. Although it pained me to do it!

So I made a new friend, saw there was some growth in the riding to work movement, and generally had another great day on a bike. I can also tell you that you won't drown in a heavy downpour if you ride an FJR. By the way, ABS rocks on wet pavement. It takes a little courage to get into the ABS on purpose when the road's soaked. Just have faith and stay smooth! Whatever extra you pay for ABS it's well worth it!

I encountered Clinton in his pickup when I got back close to home. He recognized me as I was catching up to him. Then the little turkey flashed me a rude gesture and a smile. Is that any way to greet your father, young man?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Crater Lake run.

Fire up the time machine and go back a month. Elvira pulled duty for the business run to the Northern Oregon Coast during the first part of the week. Sophie got the honor of taking Katie and I to Klamath Falls, deep into Southern Oregon. Here's some words and pictures from that run.

We rolled into Klamath Falls about an hour before sunset Thursday night. A big sport-touring bike has this wonderful attribute of being able to eat up miles in a most entertaining way. What would be a chore in a car is just another fun adventure on a motorcycle.

The main reason for the trip was to conduct a site audit for our motorcycle training program. This was scheduled for Saturday. On Friday morning I had an appointment with a large distributor. This visit was for the job that fuels my motorcycle addiction. Since it was so far away, might as well take advantage of the opportunity. Having never been to the new place where our classes are held we set out on a scouting mission. Katie posed for the obligatory "We were here" photo.

Heat was an issue that weekend. Highs were in the lower nineties. The air conditioner in our hotel room was less than efficient. Friday morning saw us back on the bike and headed for the office of our distributor. Fortunately the office was downtown. I backed Sophie up to the curb and shut her down. Our gear was stashed into the bags. Katie went shopping while I made my business call.

By late morning business was done, a coffee shop duly raided, and we were back at the hotel. I was thinking of lunch, a nap, some time in the pool, and otherwise just doing next to nothing. Katie, however, had something else on her mind. We were about 70 miles from Crater Lake.

Katie's not a pushy sort of wife. Well, mostly. She doesn't nag or gripe about things. Katie's one of those really supportive people. Kind, caring, and nurturing. Together we're like the Angel and the Badman. Yeah, you can guess who's who. I've been married to this Angel for coming up on 31 years. There's a reason we've been happily married so long.

You see, I've learned to hear things beyond the words. I've learned to look into her eyes and see what's really there. There's a certain tone of voice and look to her face when she says she's not really hung up on something and means it. I've come to recognize the subtle differences when she says the same thing but is just trying not to cause a fuss. I looked into Katie's eyes and could see she really wanted to go. The phrase "I love you" means actually taking care of the other person's needs and not just mouthing the words. Besides, who was I to turn down a chance to add another 150 miles to the ride?

Did I mention that this was a Friday afternoon in the middle of July? Did I mention that Crater Lake is a huge tourist attraction?

Surprisingly, the ride up was fairly peaceful. I decided to take an entrance road that was off the beaten path and fairly twisty. The only drawback was that we'd have to use a main highway for a while. There was a tense moment when we got to a passing lane. Tired of being crammed behind slow moving recreational vehicles, I let Sophie stretch her legs to get around traffic. Who should be parked on the shoulder right about where we really got up a head of steam? A Klamath County deputy, of course! I figured it was what it was so kept the throttle steady. The patrol car stayed put and we found some room to run.

Once up at the lake we found all the people. The parking lot was pretty crowded. There was a space next to a Goldwing and some Harley baggers. Guess nobody wanted to park next to the "bikers". You can see the contrast in our gear. We're apparently much more European than American in our approach to gear and riding!

There was a funny moment when I was taking a picture of Katie near a low stone wall with the lake in the background. An older Japanese couple approached me and asked if I would take a picture of the two of them together. The man handed me his point and shoot digital camera. It was a Sony and had more buttons and settings than you could ever imagine. After taking their picture, the man offered to return the favor. I politely declined. He just couldn't seem to grasp why I turned him down. Apparently it was inconceivable to him that we didn't really care about the photo. He probably had no idea about my stubborn streak, either! The man offered several times like he just couldn't believe it. I almost gave in just to make him happy!

About a month ago I promised Bryce that I would actually appear in a photo. Fulfilling that promise, here is Irondad in the snow. Yes, there was still snow in July at this higher elevation. After looking at this picture I renewed my gym membership. All I can say is that it's been a long Winter!

Once again it was reinforced to me that being on a bike makes a person more open to new adventures. One of the many reasons, I think, is that we can't take much with us. I've noticed that the more "stuff" people manage to have with them the more anchored they are. You can pack a lot in a car and even more in an RV. Whether sleeping in the RV or in a motel room, there's a lot of belongings surrounding a person. It's kind of hard to describe so bear with me while I try to get a handle on the words.

When a person has a lot of belongings with them the stuff becomes sort of a home base. People often don't want to get too far away from this base. If something were to go wrong, the base is their backup, as it were. There's some sort of security in all that stuff. People don't want to get too far away from it and the stuff isn't very mobile.

Being on a bike, on the other hand, means we can't haul much. If we're going to travel out and about we become "guests of the universe" by default. Someway or somehow we'll figure out a way to deal with it if something goes wonky. If we're going to live by our wits and the grace of God, then it doesn't matter if we're here or way over there. Our protective base is more universal and is thus less geographically restricted.

That's the best description I can provide on short notice. It's late for this early riser and my brain is getting fuzzier than normal. Time to hit the sack and start anew tomorrow. I want to go play with Elvira in the rain and see how she handles things.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 18, 2008

How quickly things change!

Yesterday I wrote about riding in hundred degree weather. Today it's barely seventy degrees. I was jarred out of sleep in the wee hours of the morning by booming thunder. There's heavy rain heading our way. Not tropical storm and hurricane amounts like Fay's bringing, but a lot for this time of year. The weather guy on channel 6 is calling it a summer soaker. This is an older picture I dug out. Things may look like this tomorrow.

There was an interview with someone on the news tonight. She said that between 6 PM last night and 6 AM this morning there were something like 5400 lightning strikes in Oregon. How do they count these things? Anyway, she also said there were hundreds of fire starts in the mountains and Central Oregon. Where there are usually about 10 hotshot fire crews, around 30 are deploying.

Interesting how tings change so quickly, isn't it?

I've added a weather bug here. Thought it might be cool for readers to see current weather conditions and the forecast. I chose this one because it doesn't have ads like some others do. My goal is to keep this site commercial free. Just my choice, no insult meant to those who are making a little money from their blogs.

Speaking of blogs, I'm seeing some changes out there. Blogs are being udated to the newer templates. Interesting coincidence on the timing, though! Is there some sort of fever bounding through the internet waves?

Anyway, this has to be quick as there are pressing things to attend to. I've spent some time behind the scenes today making fixes to the site. Some of the links got left out and I've put them back. There was no intent to cut you all out of here! I've also played with some fonts and colors. Little by little, you know.

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, August 17, 2008

The century mark.

We almost made it three days in a row with temperatures at 100 degrees (f) or more. Yesterday topped out at about 98. Close, but no cigar. Not that I was cheering for that to happen. When it gets this hot riding becomes more of a challenge. Not just being on the bike, but riding in the first place. Ok, let's pause right here. I can hear some of you in certain spots shaking your heads. Yes, I can hear it, things up there are starting to rattle, you know.

I know that some of you live where it's hotter for longer. Come ride with me in the rain and the dark all Winter. Then we'll compare notes! The exception is those of you under hurricane watch right now. Another one getting ready to pound the Florida Keys. That has to be a source of anxiety. You have my utmost empathy and best wishes.

Being the person of questionable mental health that I am, I've been riding in the heat. Yesterday I had a task to perform for our training program. It was in Beaverton which is a large city just to the East of the Big City, Portland. For me, it's an hour and twenty minutes one way. Our program has an internal quality control arrangement called a Site Compliance Audit. My task was to hang out and watch some riding and classroom time. The class was being held at Portland Community College's Capitol Center campus. I don't know who's crazier. Me for riding with full gear, the riders I saw with no gear, our students learning to ride in the heat, or a guy riding a green scooter wearing nothing but a thong. Yep, you read right. More on that later.

Yes, that's Sophie and not Elvira. And, yes, that's a Ducati 1098 snuggled up beside her. We were trying to take advantage of the shade in this spot. I activated the date stamp on the camera. It's sort of the credibility thing. Yes, the bike was really in Portland on this date. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see the name of the college on the door. Anyone can look up the temperature for Portland these past days. These aren't recycled pictures from past days. Not that I feel like I need to prove anything, mind you. Just in case you were wondering, though!

I'm having a little trouble letting go of Sophie. Elvira and I are dating but have yet to fall in love. I'm going to do a post on that subject by itself. When it came time to pick a bike early in the morning I drifted toward the ST.

Early morning rides are such a pleasant way to start the day. Rolling away from the homestead at 5:30 AM, we enjoyed the cooler temperatures. This is that time of year when the early morning air is just cool enough to be refreshing. Instead of closing your jacket tighter against the cold, you feel like opening it up even more. Like cold iced tea on a hot day, the wind is refreshing. Even the bike seems to be finding it's own enjoyment. The denser cool air is being gulped into the carbs like lungfuls of energy. Sophie feels strong and powerful beneath me.

This early on a Saturday morning, most folks are still in their beds. Are they lazy or am I crazy? Either way, it's so peaceful. Not as quiet as a Sunday, but still nice. The frenzy of a Saturday filled with shopping and chores is still a few hours away. Where I'm usually stuck in packs of cars, this morning we have great stretches of the freeway to ourselves. I especially appreciate this part. Between Tigard, Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Portland, there's over 800,000 people. Most of them haven't stirred from home, yet.

Sophie and I arrive at our destination a little before 7 AM. Yet, again, I've watched the sun come up from the seat of a bike. This time the sun was a huge pinkish red ball of fire. Farmers have been busy harvesting the grass seed crops and baling the straw. Dust hangs heavy in the air. Thousands of cars have left their pollution in the sky. The hot weather has the area under a smog advisory. I'm told the reason the sun looks so red is because it's shining through all this junk in the air. Even so, it was beautiful to watch. By now there's a hint of the hot temperatures to come.

This is after lunch when it's time to go into the classroom. During the morning I'd been parked near the place we keep the bikes. After lunch I parked right next to the door. Campus Security is good about letting bikes use this spot. That's the owner of the Ducati coming out. His wife and daughter are taking the class and he's stopped to visit. Lucky guy got to go ride the Duck while I had to go into the classroom. By now, though, it's ninety some degrees. Even at that, though, riding a Ducati 1098 anytime would be a great thing, I think!

These are the afternoon students in the beginning stages of learning to ride. They'll be facing a hot time. They're not crazy for being out in the heat. They're just doing what they have to do. Students sign up for classes well ahead of time. Nobody really knows what the weather will be like when the time actually comes. Around here it's a crap shoot. We could have a heavy rain as easily as a heat wave. Instructors are real good about urging students to stay hydrated and getting them cooled off on breaks. I feel for the students but if they find even a part of the joy I've found in riding it will have been a worthwhile thing.

This is my old friend Mike Karr. The fact that there's a sign in the photo warning of a speed bump is just coincidence. Mike is no speed bump. He's got a form of leukemia. Yet, here he is, still giving of himself to do something meaningful for others. The guy's got a great attitude and deeply cares for others. I'm proud to be his colleague.

Around 2 PM it was time to saddle up Sophie for the trip home. By now it's in the upper nineties. Every vent in the 'Stich that will open is being used. I opt to hit the freeway again. Even though I've elected to ride, I'm not too keen to extend the travel time more than I need to.

There's a stretch of 185th to negotiate before I can hit the Sunset Highway. I see a kid on a sport bike wearing flip-flops and gym shorts. Legs and chest are bare. I'm thinking he's really crazy until I see a guy on a scooter pass me in the other lane then hang a left into a group of apartments. I'm shaking my head wondering if I actually saw what I think I did. My brain hits "instant replay" and says it's true.

It was an old man on a pea green scooter. On top of his head was a chrome half helmet. On his body was a bright pink thong. And, umm, nothing else. His skin was the color of coffee with just a hint of cream in it. Wrinkles are everywhere. Instantly I was reminded of the time I had the bright idea of transporting a suit on my bike by tightly rolling it into a toiletry bag. I'd read about the technique in some magazine although it had to do with air travel. Let's just say it didn't work on the bike like the guy who wrote the article described it.

Was the old man crazy? Did he have a flash of exhibitionism screaming to express itself? Had he lived long enough that he just didn't give a rip? I had to reluctantly admire his spirit even if the sight of him made my stomach want to empty!

I saw a lot of riders on the freeway. With one exception I was the only one wearing a riding jacket. The other rider with a jacket was in jeans. Here I was with the full 'Stich. Was I the only crazy one? Who would ride in hundred degree heat with full gear, anyway? I freely admit I was pretty warm. My good friend Laurie described it to me once as feeling like "a hamster in a hair dryer". Pretty accurate, I have to say.

If you're reading this you know I wasn't the crazy one. We know about sunburn, heat dehydration, and road rash. Don't other riders every think something bad can happen to them? It can feel weird, though, to be the only one with full gear when so many are minimally clad. Funny thing about human nature, isn't it?

In an interesting note along these lines, I read an article by Dr. Flash Gordon in Motorcycle Consumer News a few months ago. He talked about how someone can receive an injury to a vital area. That particular injury by itself may not be fatal. When there's other injuries, however, like road rash or broken limbs, the injury to the vital area may end up being fatal. Dealing with all the peripheral injuries in addition to the really serious one may require more resources than the body is capable of sustaining. Another reason to take advantage of the protection good gear can provide.

So that was my day. Is there a point to this post? I thought there was when I started it. Now I see it's just sort of rambled around everywhere. Must be the heat!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, August 14, 2008

"You clean up real good!"

Don't worry! You're still at the right blog. Let me explain.

I had the need to don a suit and tie the other day. People who've always known me with riding gear and helmet hair as my prominent features were shocked. The inevitable comment was made.

"You clean up pretty good!"

The reason people were taken aback was that it's so seldom I ever appear as anything but "that motorcycle nut". Come to think of it, maybe that's why I feel so close to some of my fellow instructors. We all understand each other. No explanations needed.

However, the comment did get me thinking. No matter how hard and long the ride, eventually there's a need to take one of those things they call "the pause that refreshes". Sort of like in the picture above. Sophie and I had three hundred or so miles to go. It was time to stop for a bit.

I've been keeping this blog for about two and a half years. The first post was January 7, 2006. To get started I picked a template and started the journey. I've seen quite a few new blogs appear over that time. Each and every one of you are a great addition to the neighborhood. Once in a while I see a blog that gets tweaked in some way. Steve Williams at Scooter in the Sticks was one of the first I saw. Rick at Keep the Rubber Side Down worked his site over for a pretty neat look. Recently, Earl added a new gadget to his site Two Wheels and an Engine that tracks current activity on his blog links. By the way, when I checked for his url for this link, I noticed we're using similar templates. Don't worry, pretty soon mine will look far different than it does right now.

All during this time I left my site alone. My reasoning was that it was content more than presentation that was important. Besides, free time to explore on anything but two wheels just isn't there these days. For some reason, though, my mouse kept pointing to the dashboard of Blogger the other day. Maybe it was the sheer insanity of staring at a laptop doing reports to Corporate for hours on end. The time had finally come to pull off the road and make a refreshing pit stop. The next thing I knew I was deep into making some changes.

I looked at al the templates and finally picked a new template I liked. There would be frequent forays into other blogs to see if there was any duplication. For some reason I missed looking at Earl's place. There's only so many things to chose from so I'm amazed there's not more duplication. Anyway, I survived adding changes I made on the old site into the new template. It's a work in progress. Now that I've started it, I'm compelled to stay with it. My blog will have it's own unique look when I'm done. Hang with me, Earl! I might even play with gadgets!

Some fiddling with settings will be going on for a little while. Please bear with me during the process. Even better, if you've found something really cool I'd love it if you feel like sharing!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Eye tracker project.

I mentioned this project in a reply to a comment here a while back. This Honda ST1100 is the platform for a prototype project. I was teaching an Advanced Rider Training course. There was also a cornering clinic for instructors being conducted while the regular students were in the classroom. One of the instructors brought this bike up to give it a run and charge the battery so to speak! Since it was available, I took the chance to snap a couple of photos. Since this wasn't an artistic endeavour I didn't worry about moving the gal's gear. Besides, I was rushed for time. My blog pictures are art in a hurry!

Educating people in any area is a complicated process. So this isn't meant to make the process sound simple. However, there's a basic flow. There's a distant point the student needs to reach. In order to get the student there the educator needs to know where the student is right now. That will determine the pathway to the target.

The Eye Tracker project was started to establish a process for evaluating where rider skills are at a given time. Since "head and eyes" are such a critical element in riding, the idea was to find out how well riders were doing here. We'd like to know how effectively new riders use this skill compared to more experienced riders, for example. We'd also like to know if there's any sort of baseline that goes with different experience levels. For example, would there be a "typical" level we'd expect to see at five years, or ten years, or whatever?

The system itself is pretty cool, if somewhat primitive. Contained within the wooden box where the trunk would be is a laptop loaded with some neat software. This software has been developed by an outside source who agreed to let us use it. There is also some auxilliary equipment in the lower part of the box and in the saddle bags.

A rider dons a pair of goggles under their helmet. The goggles contain a video camera and some sensors that are aimed at the rider's pupils. Once everything is adjusted and calibrated, the rider goes off and enjoys some time on the bike. In the last outing where we tried to get data on a variety of riders each was asked to follow a prescribed route. It was also planned to be long enough that the rider would soon forget about the cameras and revert to their natural patterns.

Once the data is collected, everything is synched by the software. A video playback is available. It shows the road in front of the rider. Superimposed on the video is a small dot. It shows exactly where the rider's pupils were focused. The longer the rider focused on a spot, the larger the dot grows. It's pretty fascinating.

It's revealing for the rider to see the video of their ride. As expected, newer riders tended to have less eye movement than experienced riders. On the other hand, those who had been riding longer didn't always have better performances with head and eyes. There were several riders of ten or more years riding time that were looking three painted lines ahead of the front wheel in curves. Which is not unexpected considering that the leading cause of rider fatalities in our state is failing to negotiate corners. Investigations of where the crashes happened shows the riders simply weren't looking far enough ahead. The riders committed without having all the information.

Like I said, this was a prototype. More of a feasibility study. We'd like to get funding to do a much larger study. It would be a tremendous tool in helping find out what riders need.

Something else just occurred to me. The bike looks a lot like a Good Humour ice cream rig, doesn't it? I'm keeping my options open for a second career. Maybe it's time to go hunt up Conchscooter in the Florida Keys. I'm sure he could point me to a place I could ride around and sell ice cream to the masses!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

In the end.

Consider this fair warning. The Road Warrior is going all philosophical here. Read at your own risk!

I've ridden by this sign quite a few times. Always when I don't have a camera along. Once I got the Givi rack mounted on Elvira it was time for Katie to try out the pillion spot. She's a lot more comfortable with a backrest. For Katie's first ride I decided the destination would be to take a picture of this sign.

On the one hand it's humorous. On the other, the two signs are thought provoking. I'm going to take a minute to describe the photos so I won't have to do it during the rest of the post.

There's a small gravel road that leads to an old graveyard. You'll find these little graveyards dotting the landscape here and there. Oregon was one of the last frontiers in the Westward migration. The little burial plots hold many of the original settlers. Sometimes, when the land is still in the same family, new additions are made to the cluster of headstones. As you can see from the photos, the land is still being actively worked. I wondered if the field fires ever get out of hand and sweep through the graveyard.

Someday we're all going to end up on our individual versions of Cemetery Lane. Actually, my own goal is to live forever. So far so good! Seriously, though, that time will come for all of us.

Knowing our eventual future, a lot of people propose living life to the fullest. For the most part I agree with that. That's certainly one of the reasons I ride a motorcycle. Riding provides a much richer experience as I travel towards my last day on Earth. I don't want it to be all about me, though. Yes, I want to leave having lived a full life. Just as importantly, I want to leave knowing I did something for others, as well.

Katie and I watched "The Bucket List" a while back. In case you're not familiar with it, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play a couple of older guys stricken with cancer. Having been given the "short time to live" pronouncement, they make up a Bucket List. As in, things to do before kicking the bucket.

In the movie Morgan tells Jack about an Egyptian belief regarding entering the Afterlife. Two questions are asked of the individual.

"Did you find joy in life?" And, "Did you bring joy to others?"

I believe I can answer in the affirmative to both. Life is certainly ours to enjoy and celebrate. It's about us, but not ALL about us. In my own humble opinion, a lot of people miss the second half. If you were to ask people around you what would be on their Bucket List I'd bet you'd find the vast majority of the lists are made of things they want to do for themselves. Seeing places or doing some sort of recreational activity always seem to come first. That's all well and good but it seems to me there should be more on the list.

Let's take a minute here to clear up one point. I am not, nor have I been, a truly altruistic person. Burying my own wants and needs in order to totally serve others hasn't been something I've been motivated to do. I've been a man of action. A person seeking adventure. Someone continually seeking opportunities for greater personal accomplishments. Despite that, though, in the back of my mind has been this question.

"Will you leave this world having given something back in thankfulness for the blessings you've received?"

I feel truly blessed to have been able to both receive and give in our two-wheeled world. There's no need to list all the great things I've enjoyed through riding. My list wouldn't be totally relevant to you, anyway. We share some things in common while finding our own personal expressions, too. Just think of your own list and you'll have a feeling for mine.

When I became a teacher of riders, it really wasn't because I was looking for a way to give anything back. It was a new goal, a new skill, and a fresh adventure to try out. Once I got good and involved a subtle change in thinking happened to me. My gaze started to include a picture that was ever growing bigger.

At first I was concerned with my own personal growth as an instructor. It was all about getting the cones in the right place, coaching the right thing in the right way, getting students safely from one point to the next on the range, etc. Eventually I got to where I could actually focus on the students. Novel idea, huh? There was joy in their faces albeit it somewhat hidden behind the stress of learning a new skill. It was neat to see that I was finally able to share my own joy of riding with so many others.

Once I'd been an instructor for long enough, I'd once in a while hear from past students. They'd share how they were sure something they'd learned in class saved them. Eventually the picture became bigger. Not only was I sharing the joy, I was probably helping to save people from severe injury and death. Friends and families of riders were being spared grief and suffering in the process. Is it something that can be quantified? Not at all. Who can accurately say exactly how many accidents were prevented? What I do know is that we touched 8,000 riders last year and expect to touch more than that this year. The law of averages says that has to amount to a lot of good stuff.

As my skills as an instructor progressed I was invited to teach experienced and professional riders. This gave me a chance to help riders at a different level. Then I was offered the chance to become a teacher to the teachers. Now I was able to touch riders directly in classes I taught and even more through the instructors I've helped on their own journeys. That part is especially rewarding. With very few exceptions, motorcycle safety instructors are just folks with a passion for riding and who want to make a difference. It's been so cool to help fellow instructors find their voices.

Some who comment here express concerns about me working so much. That concern is much appreciated. Eventually I'll back off. Katie's looking over my shoulder and rolling her eyes. I know, I've been saying that for years. It's still too compelling right now. I have a lot of fun despite the hard work. I love the synergy that happens between the instructors and students. I love being around motorcycles and the people who ride them. The number of folks turning to two wheels these days is going up all the time. Scooters are becoming hugely popular. Attitudes badly need to be influenced for these people. Scooters are fun and practical but they're not toys. They demand to be treated with respect. The need for education is great. Those of us who teach riders are sorely needed right now. I know some of you reading this are instructors yourselves. You know exactly what I'm saying, don't you?

One day I'll end up on some version of Cemetery Lane. Will there be an official day of accounting? Who knows? Some say yes and some say no. Whether it be of Divine origin or from people who knew me, I hope it's said of me,

"He got a lot out of life on a motorcycle. He also put a bunch back into motorcycling. Debits match credits. The ledger balances. Account closed, and may he rest in peace!"

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

No parking!!

Things seem to be looking busier on the motorcycle scene lately. The dealer where I bought Elvira is telling me there's a three week wait for service appointments. Hey, I couldn't wait that long so I did the intitial service myself. I may be doing a lot more of them in the future.

Right now I'm seeing a lot of bikes and scooters on the road. Weirdly enough, the vast majority are waving. That brings up an interesting little story. It will digress from my point but what the heck. Not all who wander are lost.

I recently taught a class in Central Oregon. A guy was taking the class to get his endorsement. He'd already been riding for a while with a learner's permit. He asked my why all these other people on bikes were waving at him? He didn't know any of them, after all. Some of his fellow students filled him in. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yeah, right about here. Besides the long wait time at the shops, the other sure sign that more folks are turning to two wheels is the increase in our student counts. Demand is up 20 percent from last year. More students mean more instructor assignments. Most of us have actual full time jobs aside from teaching. A few, like me, have no life and teach almost every weekend. So we're running around panting for breath with our tongues hanging out. Fun, but exhausting.

A side thing most folks might not be aware of is parking lots. Yes, we need parking lots in which to make painted marks and hold our classes. No, we don't personally own any. So we're at the mercy of schools, businesses, colleges, and so on for space. There's several facilities that are kind enough to let us have more or less permanent space. So what's the big deal? Since the lots don't belong to us we can't control who parks on them until we arrive and secure them for our use.

When I ride to a range for the first time early in the morning, one of the first things I do is scan for parked vehicles. Over the years I've had to call tow trucks a number of times. We don't cause the cars to be impounded, mind you. We just have them moved to a place close by but out of the way. And we pay the bill. Still, though, it can take time to get a truck to respond. It's also something we'd just rather not deal with. I always breathe a small sigh of relief when I see clear space.

Recently I was teaching in Roseburg. I think I've hit upon the perfect solution. Let me introduce to you my new parking lot guardians. Never again will I have to worry about towing cars.

So you think you want to park here? Well, let me introduce you to my boys. If parking close to brand new riders doesn't scare you enough to leave, my boys surely will. You see, we don't need no stinkin' tow trucks. When my boys get through with you we'll just stick a stamp on your car and mail it home to you.

I'm quite pleased to report that my new program is working well. This parking lot is at the end of the Douglas County Fairgrounds. There was a Nascar event, some local circle track action, and a huge classic car show. Everyone seemed to be camping in the place next to us. Yet, not a single soul dared intrude upon our space. Now that's what I'm talking about!

I was actually feeling pretty good and even downright boastful. I dared anyone to come mess with us! Sedan, SUV, truck, motorhome, or whatever. Bring it on. Then I sort of started looking past the trucks at the bikes.

Hmmm, they do look pretty small compared to the trucks. What if the trucks suddenly go wild like some sort of rampaging elephants gone berserk? What then? Who or what do I save first? Do I try to save the students or the bikes? What's that? You wonder how I can even ask such a question in the first place? You're right. Shame on me. Everyone knows you have to save the bikes first. What was I thinking?

Fortunately, I remembered I had the magic black box in my pocket. You've seen those, haven't you? Ever watch a Monster Jam night? If it looks like the monster truck is in danger of getting away from the driver, the officials push a button, shutting down the truck's systems. Better than that pinching thing Spock used to do. I wouldn't even have to get close to the beasts. I found myself pulling the black box out of my pocket and letting the trucks see it once in a while. Oh yeah, they behaved themselves, let me tell you.

Come to think of it, there's a thousand uses for such a device. New rider getting out of control? Click. Shut them right down until I can mosey over and fix it. Really annoying loud pipes? Click. Squids and stunters? Click. You're starting to see the possibilities, aren't you? Whatever the Monster Truck Boys can't fix, the clicker can.

Think of the non motorcycle uses. Mother in law getting a little intense? Click. Boss droning on and on? Click. American Idol wannabe's that hurt your ears? Click. Go ahead. Dare to dream. Think up your own examples.

I suddenly feel my life's going to start being a lot more fun!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, August 04, 2008

The Great Harley Track Adventure

A purposely vague picture of the students!

The hands on my wristwatch are racing towards late afternoon on a hundred degree day. Our students have gone their various ways. Four weary instructors are packing bikes for the long trip home. We're deep into Southern Oregon. Thirty miles South lies the California border. Two of us will have a nearly five hour trip. The other two are looking at closer to six as they live farther North. Of course, the trip could have been a little shorter. Three of us have elected to take a longer route home. Twisty roads through a national forest are calling to us like the Sirens of old. Unlike early sailors, though, we expect to experience the pleasure without meeting our doom!

Instructor's bikes waiting for the ride home.

Our day has been one of sensory overloads. My ears still ring with the sound of so many loud pipes. Twelve of the seventeen bikes were Harleys. I've spent hours among them and following them around the track. Just over a hill is a drag strip. Qualifying for the night's races has brought the sounds of motors at full fury, itching to be released. They're twitching in anticipation of being set free to hurtle car and rider down the track. On the other side is a rifle range. Gunshots have punched their own holes in the fabric of our surroundings all day. Once in a while there's a full-auto burst of sound. It brings back chilling memories.

I spent some time under these lines. Seriously, I could hear them sizzle. Just past them and over the hill is the drag strip. Look closely and you can see the track lights.

My eyes have been full of the track and the desert surroundings. These classes are like miniature bike shows. I never grow tired of looking at things two-wheeled. Between the rubber smoke drifting over from the drags and the smoke from locked up bike tires, my nose is begging for the fresh air to be found on a spirited ride. The exquisite rush from mastering this tight and technical track still has me smiling. Standing under high voltage power lines that crackle and sizzle still has the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Yes, it's been a day of supreme sensory input! The ride home will bring even more. Living is so much richer on a bike, don't you think?

As we pack up I ponder over the students I've worked with today.

My fervent prayer is that each and every one of these seventeen riders leave with better skills than they came with. Knowledge is said to be power. I hope we've given our students increased powers to keep themselves alive and well on the roads. May they find increased joy in their riding, as well.

What the students all have in common is that they're wanting training. The reasons for being here, on the other hand, are as diverse as snowflakes. Some I've seen several times over the years. You can tell why they're here. These riders are serious about improving their skills. As for a couple of others, though, I have to wonder why they bothered to show up at all.

I'd met one of my students for the first time earlier in the year. She'd shown up for a riding clinic on her pretty blue V-Strom 650. With a big pack strapped in behind her, and what has to be the tallest tankbag I've ever seen strapped on in front of her, my student looked like she was nestled in between two camel's humps. Sliding out from between the twin humps of nylon she started undoing the myriad of straps.

During the course of the class the woman confided to me that the only reason she was riding was that an earlier instructor had told her she shouldn't ride at all. Seems my student had taken a beginner's class in the last couple of years. Since then a quest to prove the pronouncement wrong has been under way. Watching her shaky riding I could see the wisdom in my anonymous colleague's admonition. Here we were again, a lot farther South and on a track.

I had to admit that this student was looking a little more comfortable on the bike than the last time I saw her. Following her around the track, though, I could see that the concept of lines and apexes was having a hard time moving from classroom to actuality. Our student was forever apexing early which threw her wide in the corner. Then she'd panic trying to get set up for the next corner. I spurred Sophie and cut in front of the student. Patting the back of the bike, I indicated she should follow me for a couple of laps. Then I turned her loose once more. My student could follow my lines if she was behind me but still hadn't grasped the concept on her own.

Time for a passenger, Sophie.

This time we did a few laps with the student sitting behind me. As we rode I would explain why I chose that line and apex for the corner. Without having to worry about actually piloting a bike, the woman could concentrate more on line selection. After dropping her off back at her bike, I went off in search of other prey. Excuse me, I meant to say "other students needing help". Checking back in on this gal I was amazed at the difference. It was clear that things had finally clicked for her. She was so excited during the next break she could hardly contain herself. Coming in with an open mind, she'd taken away something of great value.

Flip the coin. Instead of "heads" it now shows "tails". Represented by a guy on a dual sport. His day consisted of magnificent stoppies and arguing with us about our coaching. Some folks get just enough exposure to something to be dangerous. Picture a powerful sports car. Now think of a guy fixated on the "go-fast" pedal. He has no idea about the brakes and other things that control all that power. He only has eyes for one thing. This student had spent half a day at a track school somewhere. The single frame was burned into his brain but he was missing the rest of the movie.

He'd tell us that he'd do what we told him to but that we were telling him to do it wrong. If he wasn't open to coaching, why was he here? A race track is a still photo. Riding in the real world is the movie. We don't always get to write our own scripts so we have to be ready to improvise. I can't resist the bad pun. Riding in the real world is a "moving picture". There's no room for fixating on only one view. I hope this guy's movie has a happy ending.

In between the two extremes were the Harley riders. Yes, they were loud. Yes, they scraped a lot. Yes, there were a lot of skidding tires in the braking exercises. Yes, most were slow and cumbersome as they navigated the corners. Just as importantly, though, there was a lot of improvement. I have the utmost respect for riders who are willing to risk looking a little less than cool in front of their peers in the name of better skills.

One guy in particular made me scratch my head.

We do an exercise involving stopping quickly in a corner. I've written about the technique in previous posts. It's the "straighten, then brake" method. Riders are instructed to commit to their lean and then do a quick stop on the instructor's signal. It's something that few riders will ever practice on their own. Things are pretty awkward at first. I've seen some strange things happen over the years.

In this case, the rider came into the corner at a good speed and full lean. The straighten part went well. The braking part involved a big front wheel skid. Just as I started to think the bike might be going down, the rider let go of the front brake. He and I had a small chat about front brake application. I commended him on his correct response of releasing the front brake. He looked at me with a very serious expression on his face.

"I'm used to it", he says. "Happens to me all the time!"

Say what? Oh my goodness. I hope he was only pulling my leg! Yikes!

Almost all of the Harley riders knew each other. At the end of the day there was a lot of ribbing and friendly jabs going on. They were razzing each other about their goofs and errors. At the same time I could see the sense of accomplishment in their faces. I always feel like I did my job when I see that. All in all it had been a great day. There was still the ride home to look forward to. Three of us would enjoy a very spirited ride along some twisty mountain roads. That's all I'm going to say about that. Isn't there something in the constitution that protects me from self incrimination?

Miles and smiles,