Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New helmet rule proposed.

In an attempt to share new developments in the world of motorcycle safety, here's a recent release from Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

NHTSA 07-08
Monday, Sept. 29, 2008
Contact: Eric Bolton
Tel.: (202) 366-9550 U.S.


WASHINGTON – New rules proposed today will improve motorcycle safety by making it easier for riders to identify and use effective helmets, instead of unsafe “novelty helmets, announced U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters. The proposal will also make it harder for riders to use novelty helmets in states that require DOT-certified helmets, she said.

“Novelty helmets do little to protect riders during an accident,” Secretary Peters said. “This proposal will make it easier for riders to know in advance whether the helmet they buy will keep them safe.”

The proposal would amend the agency’s current motorcycle helmet safety rules to require manufacturers to place a larger, tamper-proof DOT label on the back of certified helmets. The new labels will make it harder for vendors to remove the labels on safe helmets and affix them to the unsafe novelty helmets.

The proposed rule would also strengthen the tests helmets must go through to receive DOT certification, including updated tests on how the helmets hold up during impact, whether objects can penetrate the helmet and how well the helmet stays in place during a crash. Recent tests of novelty helmets which are not DOT certified showed they fail to meet current DOT performance tests.

“As our testing has shown, these ‘novelty’ helmets do not have the energy absorbing capacity to protect a rider in a highway crash,” said David Kelly, Acting NHTSA Administrator. “A DOT-certified and labeled helmet, as proposed today, will help consumers make more knowledgeable decisions when purchasing a helmet.”

The proposed rule announced today will help mitigate the yearly increases in motorcycle fatalities and injuries that have plagued the nation for nearly a decade, Secretary Peters said. Fatalities have more than doubled since 1997--increasing by 144 percent. Yet new data indicate that nearly one in five motorcycle riders in states with helmet laws wear a non-compliant helmet.

In 2006, helmets saved an estimated 1,658 lives. If everyone worn (sic) a helmet, an additional 752 lives would have been saved, the Secretary said. During the same year, 4,837 motorcyclists were killed; of those, more than 40 percent weren’t wearing helmets, she said.

Once published in the Federal Register, the agency will seek public comment for 60 days. To view the proposed rule, go to www.nhtsa.gov

Click here to view the new rule.

End of press release.

You all know my stance on helmets. As a motorcycle safety professional and lifetime rider, I urge everyone to always wear a full face helmet. I know, however, that my opinion is not the only one out there. For the most part then, I'm offering it without comment. There are a few questions that beg consideration and does this new rule really address the true issues?

Are riders wearing novelty helmets with transferred stickers because they think the helmets are really DOT approved?

Are riders purposely wearing novelty helmets with transferred stickers in an attempt to avoid tickets in helmet law states?

Feel free to offer your own comments here!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The hard way home, part II.

Friday morning dawned cold on the lake. I watched the sun come up from the deck of the cabin, a steaming cup of good-morning coffee in hand. The fog was drifting lightly across the lake. These were playful misty nymphs. Once the sun was fully established in the sky, these creatures would scurry off to wherever they reside. There was no malice in this fog. I rather enjoyed the cool, refreshing, start to the day. Later in the day Elvira and I would endure temperatures predicted to be in the 90's. That prediction would be accurate, for once. On the one hand, I wanted to linger and just enjoy the cool morning. Part of me, though, wanted to be off early. It's always good to cover some ground before the heat sets in.

Lingering won out. Maybe it was just inertia. Or, perhaps, the fleshly desire to eat a good breakfast. Our cabin was next to the main lodge. Breakfast was part of the deal. Not just your regular continental breakfast, mind you. There were hot link sausages, scrambled eggs, perfectly cooked oatmeal, seasoned breakfast potatoes, yogurt, fruit, muffins, and a variety of bread items to toast and cover in sinful portions of peanut butter or jams. In contrast to most hotel coffee, the java was actually quite good. Perfect, in fact, to wash everything else down with. Sensual fulfillment commenced at 7 AM. I opted to delay my departure.

This gorgeous lake is always difficult to take one's leave from. While the lake is cold and beautiful, I had someone warm and loving waiting for me at home. I pulled myself away from the lakeshore with a sigh and donned my gear. Katie was a long ride away. The hands on my watch were nudging the 8 AM hour. Time to get going.

Elvira seemed happy to be let loose. She fired right up and ran strong. It was almost like a puppy let outside on a cold morning after being cooped up all night. I swear Elvira would have bounded on the grass if I let her. Her thermometer told us it was 48 degrees (f). Neither of us really noticed the chill. Elvira was making her own heat. An upward tug on the zipper of the 'Stich sealed out the last little bit of cold air.

Forty five miles of chilly cruising brought us to Coeur D'Alene. Elvira needed her tank topped off to stay with the plan I'd made. I have to say I love self-service in Washington and Idaho, something we don't have in Oregon. An attendant can hand a motorcyclist the pump but we still have to wait for them to get around to us.

Another hour saw us safely through and past Spokane. Riding the main highways was going to take us through a lot of flat, straight, and monotonous landscape. I briefly regretted my decision not to take the longer way home. Those sweet and glorious curvy roads that adorned my map had me salivating like Pavlov's dogs. I'd resisted because I had Saturday off. It would be nice to have as much of Friday night and Saturday as possible with Katie. That's what I consoled myself with, at least. I'd come to regret my decision even more in the not too distant future.

This is the Sprague Lake rest area on I-90 to the West of Spokane. I spent some time taking pictures from a lot of different angles, framed between different sets of trees, up close and farther away, and trying different settings on the Nikon. Elvira enjoyed the attention immensely. I swear she was almost posing for me. We roared out of the rest area with big, silly grins on our faces. That was the last we'd smile for a while.

After a few miles I saw what looked to be a series of miniature cyclones along both sides of the highway. "How extraordinary!", I was thinking. There were a couple of dozen on each side, lined up about six feet apart. As I got closer, I was wondering what kind of phenomenon was causing this event. I still thought it was the wind. Stupid rider!

Turns out, they were some kind of insect. Sort of like a Mayfly hatch. The swirling funnels were made up of thousands of these creatures. Realization set in about the same time Elvira and I found ourselves repeatedly assaulted by these imitation tornadoes. Poor Elvira took the brunt of it. I raised her windshield all the way up and hid behind it like a sissy. I owe her a bath. I took this picture when we got home. Most of the loose parts had blown off. Only the smears were left.

Elvira would soon get her revenge. That was when I met the pollen laden projectile.

My right eye didn't close shut right away. For a while it just felt like there was something in it that needed cleared. I tried blinking furiously to no avail. I even raised my visor back up and tried to gently brush whatever it was away with a gloved finger under my sunglasses. No luck. In fact, it probably made matters worse. I really should have pulled off to the side of the road sooner. For some strange reason Katie tells me I have quite the stubborn streak. Combined with the insanity of a motorcyclist that likes to see how much road surface can pass under his wheels, it's a dangerous combination. Instead of stopping I just kept rolling. Even when I could no longer see out of that eye I kept riding. Washington's really rural highways have a 70 mph speed limit. We were happily zipping along, ahem, somewhat faster than that, all by ourselves. The joy of the ride was greater than the inconvenience of only having one eye on duty. I mean, it wasn't like it was a mystery that had to be checked out. I knew bloody good and well what caused my condition. What not just keep riding?

Then the left eye started getting blurry. Ok. Time to pull over. There was a water bottle wrapped in a towel nestled into the right saddlebag. Here's a tip. Stuff that doesn't get accessed during the ride stays in the left bag. Stuff you might need more lives in the right. That's because the sidestand's on the left. Opening the left bag can make things roll out to meet you. Items in the right bag, however, tend to stay put. The more the bike leans, the more this applies.

I looked in the mirror and saw orange pollen covering the bridge of my nose. There were bug parts strewn about. Cleaning up and flushing my left eye as well as I could, I pondered my situation. Katie had slipped some of that non-drowsy Claritin into my tank bag. From time to time things like windblown grass seed dust send me into sneezing fits. The aforementioned stubborn trait keeps me from giving in. Since the little white pills were there anyway, I took one. Hoping for the best, Elvira and I were soon back up to speed.

Riding with vision in only one eye is a little strange. It didn't take long to adjust to the different depth perception. The road was flat and pretty much straight. Being on a two lane highway, there were occasional cars that demanded to be passed. The closer we got to Kennewick, the more lane changing happened. It wasn't long until my neck muscles were a little sore. Performing a "head check" to the right required turning my head until my left eye could see the right lane over my shoulder.

The swelling in my right eye eventually subsided until I could open it now and then to take a peek. It still felt better closed but was coming back under my control more and more. The ride down the Columbia River Gorge was more of the same. Flat and straight.

You can get a sense of it from this picture at a viewpoint.

Things were perking along nicely again. Except for the headwind, that is. The Gorge is well known for wind. That's why Hood River on the Gorge is so popular for windsurfers. Well, I wasn't on a sail board and wasn't appreciating the wind. This wasn't just a steady kind of wind. Gusts were slamming into us from about the 10 and 2 o'clock positions. Now I sort of know how it would have felt to be in the boxing ring with Rocky Balboa! This would be the part of the trip where Elvira got the worst fuel mileage. She went from the low 40's to mid 30's.

Speaking of Hood River, trouble wasn't through with us.

Eight miles out of town, traffic came nearly to a standstill. After 7 miles of stop and go riding I finally got a clue as to what was happening. Interstate 84 was closed due to a fire that had jumped clear to the edge of the highway. Traffic was being diverted over the steel grated bridge at Hood River onto the Washington side. The temperature was now 92 degrees. Elvira's clutch is plenty stiff. There'd be much more crawling along, both for the detour, and the fact that I'd hit Portland right in the middle of Friday evening rush hour. Something I'd been dearly trying to avoid in the first place. My left hand was pretty much fried by the time everything was said and done. With no air flow, the sweat was running under the jacket. My hand would be fried and my body boiled in its own moisture. I stopped for fuel at a handy station at the base of the bridge. It would be the last time I was off the bike for three hours.

I won't bore you with the details of the detour except for a few brief, notable events.

Stevenson, Washington is a town where the highway traffic gets knotted up. The speed limit here is 25 mph. It's a narrow, but long town. I saw a guy standing by a crosswalk and wearing a bright orange vest. A woman in a small car coming from the opposite direction was signalling and waiting to make a left turn. Since I was almost stopped anyway I let her go in front of me, The man turned toward me and yelled "Thank you!" I thought he was a school crossing guard. Now I could see he was actually a county cop. It's sad that an act of traffic courtesy would be so rare it prompts a cop to thank you!

Speaking of cops, there were several at the West end of town. There was a Harley bagger lying on its side in a ditch. Judging by the marks on the bike and the roadway, it looks to have low-sided and slid. Since traffic was stopped I engaged one of the officers in conversation. I told him I was an instructor for Oregon's program and inquired of the circumstances. He said the rider wasn't paying attention to the slowing traffic and went down when he finally noticed. Fortunately the injuries were minor. Jeez, I wish everyone who threw a leg over a bike also took the responsibility to actually develop good riding skills!

We crossed back into Oregon over the Bridge of the Gods at Cascade Locks. It's a weird feeling to be stopped in traffic in the middle of this steel grated bridge. Looking down, all I could see was the river far, far, below. It was kind of like being suspended in mid-air over the water. This is where eastbound traffic was being diverted to the Washington side. This meant that big trucks were coming at us from the Oregon side, too. Each would make the bridge shake and tremble. Not the most secure feeling in the world, let me tell you! I remember my prominent thought at the time being the fervent hope that the two quarters clutched in my gloved hand for the toll bridge didn't fall through the grating. Strange how a heat addled mind works, isn't it?

Home, hearth, and Katie were finally reached, albeit way later than intended. I felt like I'd done battle.

On Monday I talked with my boss on the phone. He asked me about the trip home. After giving hin the highlights I stated that I really wasn't complaining. After all, I was the one who had chosen to ride. Then the boss made a couple of comments that pretty much summed things up.

"Give me a big windshield, a cushy seat, and air conditioning, thank you. On the other hand, the ride was an adventure you wouldn't have had in a car."

That statement says a lot about the two different attitudes, doesn't it? We're a strange lot, us motorcylists, aren't we?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The hard way home!

This is not good. My right eye is now swollen completely shut, the result of a suicidal bee. My left eye is getting blurry and itchy. I'd lifted my visor to scratch my nose. In the brief instant before I could get the shield down, wham! Dead center between the eyes. I'm halfway between Spokane and Kennewick, Washington on Highway 395. In other words, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Now what? This wouldn't be the last problem, either. What should have been about nine hours on the bike turned into more like eleven and a half.

It all started with the decision to dead-head home instead of taking the really fun way. Ironically, the plan had been to take the quickest way home. I was missing Katie and it was Friday. So instead of heading farther South towards Lewiston, Idaho and running all those gloriously twisty roads in the Northeast corner of Oregon, I pointed Elvira towards the Southwest. As it turns out, the longer way would probably have been quicker in the long run. Not to mention, a whole lot less painful!

As you read earlier, work called me to Sandpoint, Idaho. The trip up during the middle of the week was almost perfect.

This was taken at Kennewick. There's a place where Elvira and I could both get fueled up. No, they weren't liberal enough to allow the bike into the place. We had to make do with the Tesoro station next door. I ate outside so she wouldn't feel so left out. The total number of fuel stops for the 508 miles was three. For the most part, the average fuel economy was around 41 mpg. There would be a stretch on the way home where it would be much lower. More on that later.

Elvira's got a pretty stiff throttle spring. This little device proved to be a real blessing. By the way, the throttle grip's not twisted. That's the design. It fooled me at first, too. You should have heard the engine noise when I tried to straighten the grip! Adjusting the throttle rocker position is really better done with the bike shut down.

We made Idaho in the late afternoon. This is along Interstate 90 at the border, obviously. Unless, of course, somebody's just having fun moving the signs around. I wasn't real comfortable leaving the bike beside the freeway for too long in rush hour traffic. Still, though, photo documentation never hurts. As it was, it seems I was spotted by Earl Thomas as he passed by in the opposite direction.

By suppertime Elvira was securely tucked in at this cabin along Lake Pend Oreille. I'm not sure how it's really supposed to be said, but I've mostly heard it sound like pon-der-ray. However you pronounce it, the lake's huge!

This is just a portion of the shoreline up from the cabin. I've spent hours on the lake checking it out by boat. The lake is something like 180 square miles of surface area. It's 65 miles long and 15 miles wide at its biggest width. Some parts are over 1150 feet deep which makes it somewhere around the fifth deepest in the United States.

I was up at 5 AM on Thursday. Dawn came a little later. This was a stretch for the 200 mm lense, but I took this photo of a lone motorcyclist on the bridge into Sandpoint. Judging by the time of day and the cold in the air, the rider must have been a commuter. While I sat and downed another cup of coffee, several more bikes passed by. This was the peaceful part. The ride home was still to come!

Stay tuned!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, September 19, 2008

Very Boring Rally II ( conclusion )

Packed and on the road by about 0830, I decided to go along the coastline between Superior and the Apostle Islands. WI Rt. 13 is designated a national scenic highway. This is the only place on the whole trip I saw deer - a doe with two fawns. We had our eyes on each other, and when I honked at them they ran back into the trees. Wonder what they thought I was? Amazing to me, there are farms up there within spitting distance of Lake Superior.

I'd thought the weather was going to clear up and get warmer, as it had on Saturday, so I only wore shorts and a t-shirt under my suit. By noon I was very cold! Coming into Mercer, WI, I saw a sign that said "cafe" and "open". Plus it was on my side of the street. That's all it took. I changed into jeans and added a pullover, had some hot chocolate, then ended up having the lunch special. By the way, the place is called Tom's Country Cafe and I highly recommend it.

Having lunch kept me there long enough for another rider to come in looking for who belonged to Mr. Happy, who was outside watching the bike. He insisted on a picture, so here we are. ( I am smiling )

I didn't stop to get a picture of Mr. Happy with the giant loon. Maybe next time we're in town.

About half the rest of my ride home looked like this.

This speed limit was posted at 55 mph! I didn't go nearly that fast. Look at how close to the road the brush is! Can you say "deer strike"? The other half of the rest of my ride home involved highways and more homicidal maniac car drivers. Turned into my driveway about 6 PM.

If it weren't for the winters, I'd move up north - prettier scenery, nicer drivers. I'd say my first solo trip was a success. 1) Enjoyed myself ( mostly ), 2) the bike and I returned home in much the same condition as when we left, 3) learned things ( what to pack, and not, next time )

Miles and smiles,


Dan's note: Once again, I'd like to express my sincere thanks to Krysta for writing this up, working with me to put it together, and most importantly, sharing her experiences with us!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Very Boring Rally ( part 2 )

On Saturday I took some pictures of the site at sunrise. It's a ski hill, so almost everything is uphill or down. The view is just "Wow!". This was taken looking East from the lodge.

All weekend there were 'trials", which I am told means a competition for people who like to ride motorcycles where mountain goats wouldn't go. These kids were fearless!

This photo is from the Very Boring Rally website. See what I mean about the mountain goats?

On Saturday morning I went for a ride through Jay Cooke State Park ( MN ) and along the St. Louis River. Beautiful scenery, lotsa turns and elevation changes. If you can zoom in on the GPS screen, you'll see that the triangle showing where I am is at the center, pointing down.

Speaking of the GPS, I saw on the screen something that looked like a Really Fun Road! So I went to check it out. I didn't get very far in before seeing a sign that read "pavement ends". I decided to keep on for a little while anyway and see how I handled it. The road became more of a patchwork and less of solid pavement, then got a little better.

Then, rather suddenly, really, it did end as far as I'm concerned. The road was now totally gravel. Being on a much larger bike than I was used to, I didn't want to risk a spill, so I very carefully waddled through about a 5-point turn ( on a tilted road, no less, with poison ivy on one side and a respectable hill on the other ) and went back the way I came.

I was proud I'd gone past the sign to see what was there, knowing I was on my own and that there would be no pressure to keep going past where I was comfortable. I was also proud that I did indeed come to a point where I decided it was beyond my comfort zone, even the stretched zone that had gotten me that far. I turned around with no regrets.

Later, when I told Karl about it, he just sighed. I firmly believe that if a road's not paved it's not really a road. Karl is comfortable riding on all kinds of surfaces, even making purposeful off-road detours on a bike with street tires. Not only is he comfortable, he actually likes it! Oh well.

Anyway, back to riding along the St. Louis River. On that ride I went across the Oliver Bridge. Actually, I went across it 3 times 'cause the first time I didn't see the photo turn-out 'til it was too late, so had to come back. This is a double decker bridge with a 2-lane road on the bottom and a single rail line on the top. It's 1900 feet long. The bridge was originally made of wood but it's now steel and connects WI 105 to MN 39 almost due South of the rally site.

Back at the rally Steve Thompson talked about his new book Bodies in Motion and I thought it such an intriguing concept that I bought it to read. I'll be able to tell you more about it when I wade through it. Basically, though, his premise is that people like certain kinds of motion because of what we were exposed to in utero and from when our ancestors were arboreal. The kind of motion you get on a motorcycle is often similar to what our ancestors felt while moving through the trees.

Peter Hoogeveen spoke about endurance riding ( read: The Iron Butt Rally ). He's competed in 7, I think, and was a finisher 5 times. Of those 5, he came in second for most of them. If the numbers are off, it's my memory that's mistaken. Peter talked about his experiences and answered audience questions, including things like stupid mistakes. ( Hint: pay attention to time zones! ) Ask him about getting the road in Canada opened.

Saturday afternoon brought the group photo, done by Doug Grosjean with an old panoramic camera ( 1919 Cirkut ) that took about 20 seconds to scan the group. I didn't see anyone run from one end to the other to get in twice, but it might have happened! I was sort of in the middle, and these people were to my left. I was kind of surprised that so few people wore their Aero gear.

Saturday dinner was included with the rally admission, and it was very good. Famous Dave's BBQ set up several tents and the line wound among them to pick up bits of dinner ( ribs, chicken or pulled pork, cornbread, cole slaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, and watermelon ). I wheedled seconds of the grill-roasted corn on the cob ( yes, after everyone else was through ) because it was SO delicious.

The evening's entertainment was also 2 acts: The Conquerors and Junior Brown. I didn't stay for either one, but I could hear them fine from the other side of the lodge.

Sunday morning breakfast was also provided. Some of it went in my saddlebag for later consumption, but the fresh cinnamon rolls didn't last long!

( Coming up next, the conclusion: The Ride Home )

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Very Boring Rally II

I'm turning the next few posts over to Krysta from Milwaukie. She attended this year's event and has graciously agreed to share it with us here.

A quick bit of background is in order before we launch.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Andy Goldfine, the creator and founder of Aerostich. In my humble opinion, it's the best motorcycle gear available on this planet. The 20th anniversary of Aerostich came around so a little party was held. Thus was born the Very Boring Rally in 2003. Five years passed. This year marks 25 years for Aerostich. The second rally was held August 22-24. The bad news is that if you missed the rally this year it will likely be another five years until the next one. The good news is that you have until 2013 to plan and prepare for the 30th anniversary rally!

The rally's not really boring. I think it's just Andy's way of understating things to sort of draw attention away from himself. In my dealings with the man, I've found him to be very down to earth and approachable. If you'd like to explore the rally and the history of Aerostich a little further, click here.

Now that the stage is set, here's Krysta.

It's tempting to just say "the rally was very boring", but it wasn't.

This was my first solo trip. Thanks to the generosity of my wonderful man, I got the treat of taking our newest, biggest bike ( Clifford, a red BMW R1200 ), and am now completely spoiled by the comfort ( and the power! ). Here's Lake Superior as a backdrop.

I left Milwaukie about 0630 Friday morning. Didn't need sunglasses for at least 3 hours, though it only sprinkled instead of pouring rain. Other than the homicidal maniacs driving between Milwaukie and Madison, things went smoothly.

Arrived at the VBR about 1 PM. That averages out to doing just under the posted speed limit on the freeway. ( Here Krysta flashes us the most innocent look she can muster! ) I wasn't happy about all the gravel on-site, but managed to keep Clifford rubber side down the whole weekend. One gal wasn't so lucky and hurt her leg. After hearing that I parked on pavement the rest of the time and walked a little farther.

Our goodie bags included the customary t-shirt, a piece of white reflective stick-on, and a Mr. Happy puppet! I've always thought that would be fun. Turns out he would introduce me to someone on the way home.

After setting up camp I went to hear Andy's presentation. He spoke about his background and the history of Aerostich ( much of which was also in the program booklet ) then took questions from the audience. He got some ribbing for answering his phone, but explained he was talking to a guest - the guy who used to be the head of engineering for HD - who would be showing up shortly.

Late in the afternoon, between Andy's talk and the entertainment, I went over to the shop.

This is from an earlier trip, but shows the front of the building ( as well as Karl and the helpful Aero lady ). The gals there were obviously overloaded with visitors and were very warm ( no A/C ) but kept smiling. Despite all that, they continued to be helpful and pleasant. In talking with Andy on Saturday I found out that he sometimes does a popsicle blitz through the plant when it gets hot out, stopping work while people cool off a little. How's that for a nice boss?

A rumor I had confirmed by Aero staff is that anyone with stuff made from the new Hi-Viz should call them to make arrangements for a replacement. I know it applies to suits and suspect the warranty is also good for their courier bags. The reason? The fabric fades badly. I've noticed it on my suit and some people have had theirs turn almost white.

Entertainment on Friday evening was a Duluth-born comedian ( Maria Bamford ) followed by a guitarist ( Brian Dack ) and a band ( Nordic Angst ). I don't remember hearing any of the music that night, so either they were very quiet, or indoors, or I was more tired than I knew. Both nights were very cold ( low 50's (f) ) and I wished for several blankets, Karl, or even a cat!

( stay tuned for part 2 )

Miles and smiles,


( it's ok, I gave her my blessing to use my sign-off for her posts! )

Monday, September 15, 2008

Advice column.

I'm thinking of starting an advice column here. If it works for Dear Abby, it ought to work for a rough and tumble motorcyclist, don't you think?

The Idaho trip has come and gone. There were some unique adventures which I'll share later in the week. The guest post is starting tomorrow. For now, though, here's a sample of how the advice column would go. This is an actual inquiry from a recent post. Well, the question itself is real. I'm making up a bit of the introductory stuff!

Ask the Maniac

Dear Maniac,

Any tips on first-time peg scraping?


Would like to go farther.

Dear Farther,

I'd like to share two important pieces of wisdom with you.

Firstly, your bike doesn't have to look like this for you to be considered a legitimate motorcyclist.

This is a photo of the underside of my brand new bike. As you can see, I've clearly set the expectations for this bike from the very beginning. This kind of behaviour works for me which is probably why I'm called a maniac. However, this doesn't work for everyone. Don't let anyone pressure you into going farther than you're comfortable with.

Truly wise riders will understand and respect your position. Those riders who would ridicule you for not having scraped pegs on your bike should be considered as bad association. If their pegs are scraped it was probably done accidently and thus shows poor riding skills. In most street riding situations scraping pegs should not be involved, anyway. This is "the streets" after all.

Since you have, however, expressed a desire to head down the path to motorcycle debauchery, I'm going to share the second piece of wisdom with you here.

Take the time to truly listen to your bike when it talks to you.

Like my dear Katie, my bikes want to talk to me. Yours will do the same. The bike, that is. This is a riding advice column. I'm staying with my strengths here. Unlike a marriage, any conversation the bike may choose to have with you is going to be useful. It's very important information and should be heeded. Further, the real key to success is to listen before committing. Failure to do so, at the very least, will result in neither one of you being happy. I'm pretty sure that applies in marriage and motorcycles, both. Things will just get worse from there if a rider continues to ignore the bike's feedback. Separating from a bike will surely be a lot more physically painful than separating from a partner. Your results may vary, though.

Let's break it down a little bit and you'll see what I'm saying.

Picture your bike as having a 2" diameter rod inserted horizontally from the rear wheel to the front wheel. I know, it's a painful picture, but it's for a good cause. This pole runs right through the center of rotation. Think of the bike now as rotating around this pole. If it helps, imagine a whole chicken roasting on a rotisserie. The succulent bird is roasting quite nicely as it turns in a smooth, even circle. It looks and smells so delicious! Sorry, it's lunch time and I haven't even had breakfast, yet!

Back to the bike. Ignore the rumblings from my stomach. Whenever you lean the bike, think of rotating it around this pole. Think back to the chicken. It's rotating nice and evenly. There's no funky chicken slam dance as one side is flung down and then the other. The same should be true of your bike. Picture yourself gracefully rolling the bike around to the left, back upright, to the right, and back up. Smooth and steady.

As you go through a turn, set your entry speed so that you're comfortable holding steady or slightly increasing throttle all the way through the curve. This is extremely important for a lot of reasons. For this discussion, I'll just say that the throttle application will give you something to press against. Many riders are afraid the bike will fall over if leaned very much. Throttle application will help hold the bike up. Steady throttle will also help ensure that ground clearance stays consistent as you explore the lean angles.

Back to rolling the bike on its axis. During these rotations the bike will tell you how it's doing. Listen to the tires, especially the front one, with your ears and hands. Does the tire sound content? Does the bike's suspension still feel steady and composed? Good. How are you doing? Ok? Rotate a little farther to the side on the next corner. Everything still calm? Maybe that's not a good word. At greater lean angles the bike will sound a little more excited. That's ok. Excitement is a good thing. Just ask Doctor Ruth. Oh, I was going to stick to motorcycles here.

The key is to learn to distinguish between excitement and distress. Bikes will tell you when they are becoming distressed. Traction will vary in different corners. Some corners are cambered nicely in our favor and some not so much. There's a lot of factors that come into play. Where you apex is also a big factor. An early apex will usually require less lean angle than a late apex. Again, the bike will tell you how it feels. If there is a distress signal you want to hear it before it's too late. Smoothly rolling the bike from side to side will allow time to change the plan if you do hear a distress signal. You're both in a position where you haven't gone too far to back away.

That's a really big problem with a lot of riders. They throw the bike from side to side rather than rotate it smoothly. Sometimes it's ok despite that. I've also seen a lot of riders crash during our track courses. The bike was forced to do something it wasn't ready for and the rider didn't allow enough time for the bike to communicate that fact to the rider.

Head turns come into play, too. Our natural instinct is to look while we're turning. It can seem really strange to be looking far to the left, for instance, while the bike is still headed straight ahead. That's a whole long discussion by itself. For now I'll just say that turns can be deeper and more confident if both the bike and rider know well ahead of time where the target is. Look sooner, look farther.

Follow my advice and you'll be scraping pegs in no time. The biggest difference is that you'll be doing it with skill and control. Please let me know how your progress is going.

By the way, I'd strongly suggest that a rider go forth and safely explore the limits of themselves and their bikes. A rider may choose to never lean far enough to scrape. Once in a while, though, a situation may call for more extreme countermeasures. Better to have explored on your own terms ahead of time than be called upon to do it with no preparation. Pick a corner with room to safely play. Ride the same corner over and over. This will provide a consistent base from which to work.

A word of caution is also in order. Once you hear the peg gently scrape that's far enough. A scraping peg is also feedback from the bike. It's telling the rider that ground clearance is nearly used up. Footpegs are hinged so there's a little room to roam. Just remember, though, that the next thing to scrape after pegs are hard parts like mufflers and centerstands. Hitting those things on the deck can lift the rear tire off the road. The key is to scrape, not grind. I've ground but I'm also a maniac, remember.

If your bike has floorboards, be especially careful. Properly installed floorboards should hinge, as well. I've seen a lot that don't. If the board doesn't move, even gentle scraping can lever the bike off the road. Make sure the boards actually move like they're supposed to.

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In her element!

I finally got the chance to steal out a little time to take Elvira to a track. She loved it! I didn't have such a bad time either. Work's been crazy so I'm a little behind on a lot of stuff. Since I'm leaving for Idaho early tomorrow morning, there's been a week's worth to cram into a couple of days. Last week was just as bad coming off the holiday. And then I have to go take a half day to go play. So now the situation's worse but it was worth it!

Unlike my usual fountain of words, this will be a short post. Besides work, I seem to have gotten roped into taking Katie to dinner because it's my birthday. How'd that happen?

Elvira came into her own on the track. Here's a word to the wise, though, If you want more cornering clearance, adjust the suspension up! Otherwise she touches down pretty easily.

The sport bike side of her heritage had the chance to come to the forefront. My appreciation for her just grew immensely.

Clinton wanted to ride along. Unfortunately, I couldn't let him ride due to policy, etc. There was a formal class being conducted. One perk of being an instructor is that I could take advantage of the instructor "practice" time while the students were in the classroom part. Even though I wasn't actually scheduled to teach this particular class. I'm going to pay for Clinton to take the Advanced Rider Training class when he's ready. Not that he needs me to cough up the dough for him, or anything. It's my way of investing in my son's riding, I guess.

The upside is that I got to ride his VFR. There were still chicken strips on his new tires. The front tire had strips about 3/4" wide. Clinton hadn't worn them all the way over, yet. Which I'm happy to report because it means he's riding more or less responsibly on the streets!

His challenge to me was to finish scuffing the front tire all the way across. I'm pleased to say we met that goal!

I have to say that his VFR is really sweet in this environment. It was so easy to just roll the bike from side to side, using the pegs as lean angle sensors. As a matter of fact, after a few spirited laps on the VFR, I was worried there was a problem with the FJR. It seemed slightly reluctant to turn in on the first lap back on it and I was wondering about the front tire. There wasn't a problem with Elvira, the FJR's just that easy to ride.

Clinton was stationed on a corner with my Nikon snapping pictures. I'm sorry to say I heavily dragged his pegs a couple of the times I came through that turn. Sorry!

There was also an ST1300 present. I took a few laps on that. Which was interesting, considering I was really after that bike to start with when I bought Elvira. It was nice to have chance to ride them both back to back.

Jeff Earls, of Iron Butt Rally fame was there also. I asked Jeff to ride Elvira for a few laps so I could listen to her run. He agreed as long as he was being forced into it, of course! I also took a few laps on what he calls Battlestar Galactica, a.k.a. as a BMW K1200GT. Jeff rode the last Iron Butt on that bike. You have to hand it to BMW. Those big bikes are comfortable and they soon inspire the rider to lean the bike with great confidence.

After a fun hour and a half I had to hit the road for home. I was glad of the chance to explore this side of Elvira. Early tomorrow morning we're headed out for an eleven or twelve hundred mile round trip to Idaho and back. It will be another chance to get to know each other better.

This will be the last post until Monday, possibly Sunday. I'm not taking the laptop. Thursday will be a full day of meetings with a leisurely, long ride on either side.

The guest post will be ready next week. Be sure not to miss it! Have a great week!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Unexpected hazards.

Having a new bike, like a new lover, can bring excitement in ways you would never have imagined. Each new day with Elvira also brings a new adventure. Some of which I could live without, I might add. A lot of riding has to do with avoiding hazards. Life with Elvira's brought hazards I never expected.

Take today. I went into a sporting goods store looking for a cargo net. I'm going to have to haul a sleeping bag to the sales meeting in Idaho next week. I left Elvira in an open area of the parking lot. All by herself and out of harm's way. So I thought. She's proven to be a little sassy. Elvira's good looking, sexy, and uninhibited. Problem is, she knows she's hot and can't keep out of trouble. Or maybe trouble simply finds her. Either way, the result is the same.

Imagine my surprise when I came out of the store and didn't see her where I'd left her. Hearing a commotion, I looked to my right. Elvira had found trouble once again. Luckily, I figured out what was going on soon enough to insert myself into the situation. Disaster was barely averted.

Elvira had spotted the big, good looking truck and gone to flirt and tease. I guess everything was fine until he started getting serious and she shut him down. Big Boy was just about to show the little tease how things were done in the country. Thankfully I was able to distract his attention towards a pretty little blue KLR that looked more his type. That was close!

I hustled Elvira on out of there. We were headed to Stayton which is about twelve miles down the highway. I used the time to remind Elvira of the rules of conduct she's expected to obey. I don't have a problem with her looking for trouble. She's just supposed to wait for me!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ride Instead of Drive Month

I've decided to liven things up during this coming month of September. Tuesday the 9th is my birthday. Being more or less past the mid-life crisis age, this birthday isn't any sort of trigger. At least, mostly not. It has made me more aware of one thing in particular. More on that later.

The title of this post is what I've chosen to lump everything under. It's by no means the only thing on my mind, though. Let's just call it a place to start.

Bear with me while I relate a small story.

You most likely know of a certain governor in California that goes by the name of Arnold. Rumor has it that he used to be a pretty successful competitive bodybuilder. There's a story about how, at one point of his muscular development, Arnold's calves weren't coming along as well as the rest of him. As a remedy, Arnold wore only shorts for a period of time. This solution forced Arnold to give his calves attention as they were always visible.

What does this have to do with motorcycling? Nothing and everything.

Fall's coming. Around here that will mean rain and wet roads. In other places it will bring colder temperatures. In the meantime there's the transition period. Good traction and bad traction will be sharing the same roads. Pretty soon we'll see fewer and fewer bikes out. Those who stay riding longer will be called upon to use skills not used as much in warm, dry, conditions.

Which brings us back to Arnold's calves. Not that I care about his legs all that much. His solution intrigues me, though. We all have weaknesses in our riding. Maybe we're lacking in low traction riding skills. Could be we don't scan as aggressively as we should. Makes it easier to miss critical clues about traction availability or the lack thereof. Riding in traffic when it's dark and wet calls for especially keen scanning and decision making skills. Perhaps what keeps us from riding longer into the year is just the lack of the proper gear. Fill in the blank to customize to your own circumstances.

Zooming in on a skill or item that's lacking isn't done with the purpose of depressing oneself. The idea is to identify it, then give it some extra attention. Power comes from turning weaknesses into strengths.

It's been awhile since I've put on the trainer's hat here in the blog. I'm itching to share again. After all, training riders is a huge passion for me. Look for more riding tips and wisdom in upcoming posts. I'm also toying with the idea of creating a place for riders to share stories. Kind of a "here's what happened to me and here's what I learned" kind of thing. It would also be ok to use the classic "I have this friend" line, too!

Sophie's going up for sale. I'm giving my full attention to Elvira. That's just the way it has to be to make the break. As a sort of "getting back to my roots" move, I've declared September my Ride Instead of Drive Month. I almost declared it Ride to Work Month but held back for a couple of reasons.

For one, I didn't want to risk raising Andy's ire by getting too close to his Ride to Work Day. Mr. Goldfine's an awesome guy but don't mess with his baby! Secondly, riding to work is limiting. A bike's also perfect for errands and pleasure rides as well. Thus the ride instead of drive idea.

There was a day when I'd go months without driving. Actually, it wasn't all that long ago. The last couple of years with a new career have made it tougher to do. Thanks to an enlightened boss and my good reputation ( I never knew what that was like before!) I can ride a lot more. September seems like the perfect time to make it happen. I've been an ardent advocate of using a bike instead of a car for everything possible. It's time to make sure I'm actually leading by example again. As a bonus, there's a trip to Northern Idaho next week and a trip to Southern Oregon the week after. It will be a great chance for the FJR and I to blend our spirits. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Take a shot at it yourself, if you can. Success doesn't hinge on a perfect score. Even a few days more than normal is a winner! Be sure to share anywhere in the comments, even if the post is on a different subject. We all want to celebrate so be sure to give us a reason!

Katie and I went riding on Monday. We stuck to back roads in order to avoid the returning from camping and partying crowd. By now I can string rural roads in my head like some sort of demented spider web. Somewhere in the middle of it this gloved hand touches me on the shoulder. The owner of such hand requested a restroom break. Out in the middle of wherever. Flipping charts in my brain, I remembered a small state park within a few miles. In an event of fortuity we also ended up taking a very interesting tour of an old grinding mill. I'll try to get the photos together and share it here.

Speaking of sharing, there's a guest poster looming around the corner. We're negotiating right now. She's trying to condense it to two posts. I think it's pretty cool and am trying to get her to expand it to three posts. Ultimately it's her decision but look for it soon!

As you can see, I'm still playing with colors and layout here. I'm just in the mood to create, it seems. Please offer me the gift of your patience and input as I try different combinations.

Well, that's it for now. Oh, I almost forgot. My upcoming birthday figures into things because I suddenly sat bolt upright with a somewhat scary thought. I've been riding for over four decades. It's safe to say that I have more riding time behind me than ahead of me. I won't elaborate more than that right now. Suffice it to say, some of you know exactly the kind of thoughts bouncing around in my brain right now. I've been hitting the gym again, trying to find those muscles I was sure I had once before. I could give a rat's behind how I look at the beach. I just want to make sure I can ride as long as possible!

Miles and smiles,