Thursday, January 29, 2009

Zen and the Art of Aggravation.

Relax, I tell myself. Be the puppy. It's no use. It's happening anyway.

My mind's been chewing on this strange paralax. Yes, I know some big words and can even use them in sentences. How odd for someone who calls himself a Warrior. In case you don't have a dictionary handy, here's the definition.

paralax: the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points.

I'm presuming it's correct to use this word in a philosophical sense as well as describing a physical sight picture. Ok, I can hear you talking. Where the heck is he going with this? Fine, I'll put my dictionary away and get to the point.

Riding a motorcycle is supposed to be a relaxing endeavour, right? I've read in other blogs where riders have described motorcycling as a Zen-like experience. I've described it that way myself. I'm sorry, but I have to drag out the dictionary, again.

Zen: A Japanese Buddhist sect that teaches self-discipline, meditation, and attainment of enlightment through direct intuitive insight.

Reading that definition would lead one to believe that the intent of this would be to have a positive outcome. So here's what I've been musing on.

If motorcycling is supposed to be a Zen-like pursuit, then why the heck do I still get so darned pissed off at other road users? I'm getting enlightened for sure. Unfortunately, the enlightment is about how bad other drivers are!

As one who commutes, ( read: rides a lot in commuter traffic ) we're exposed on a frequent basis to people with less than stellar driving habits. Let's just quit being all nicey-nicey and come right out and say it. Most people drive with their heads up their ass. If there's a chance to do something stupid they'll be first in line. Here's an example from Tuesday morning.

I'm heading North on Commercial Street in South Salem. There's two lanes of traffic in each direction with a big refuge / turn lane in the middle. Salem has an extensive mass transit bus system. Which means that the right lane traffic flow is subject to regular interruption as buses stop. Traffic's heavy as befits a city of over a hundred thousand. I'm eventually going to have to turn right so, rather than make a bunch of lane changes, I remain in the right lane and go with the flow. On top of heavy traffic, things are complicated by the fact that it's near freezing and sleet's falling fairly steadily. Better not to do too much dashing about on the bike.

As expected, a bus stops. It can't get out of the lane so traffic has to stop behind it. I'm second in line. Ahead of me is an elderly woman in a beige Buick. She's talking on the cell phone. Is nobody immune, anymore? At some point I figure I'll go around to the left and not worry about the bus anymore. Here's a prime opportunity for people to get stupid. Right on cue, they go for it.

Traffic behind me starts blindly whipping to the left. There were a couple of near collisions with drivers that were already in the left lane. I mean these people didn't even slow down. They just cranked the wheel and hoped for the best, I guess. You know what I'm doing all this time. Yeah, just sitting patiently and waiting for things to clear out. The bus is still stopped. Somebody needed the bus to be lowered and a wheelchair ramp put out. Now there's nobody behind me that will pose a problem to my lane change. Buick Lady is still sitting there talking on the phone. I figure she'll stay put but I keep my eye on her.

I'm starting from a dead stop so my lane change isn't real quick. About the time I get even with Buick Lady's rear door, she starts her own lane change. Her head never turned. No big deal, I was ready for it. I honk but she keeps coming over. I move to the refuge lane. I could have stopped, but I have this perverse streak in me. I wanted to see her reaction when she finally saw me. The car that suddenly pulls into the turn lane facing me makes it a little more complicated but I'd left some attention for things like that. It was a 'No Harm, No Foul" situation as far as danger to me went, but I was still aggravated. On top of it all, having to move quickly to get out of danger meant I couldn't see her face when she wet her Depends!

This isn't about my ability to take care of myself. There's a difference between what we perceive as a close call and "no big deal" which I'll post about later. What really angers me is the actions of other drivers. Specifically, their willingness to put everyone else at risk just to satisfy their own selfish desires. On the flip side, there's the willingness to drive in a total fog of oblivion. Thus is the basis of my ire.

I try not to let it get to me. Several coping mechanisms have been tried. I've made excuses for people and tried to look at things from their point of view. One side result is that I've found it's impossible to get my head inserted that far.

For a while I even tried an analogy. I likened other drivers to dogs that crap in my yard. They can't help it. Dogs are a lower life form and don't know it's wrong to just go dump on someone's grass. Why waste so much energy and stress about it? Just deal with it.

That didn't help and it actually bothered me. Viewing humans as lesser lifeforms are the big keys to allowing everything from stereotypes, racial prejudice, and worse, genocides. I just wasn't comfortable being there. So with a shudder I abandoned that strategy.

No matter what I do, I still get upset. Not so much that I do something crazy or become a candidate for a heart attack or something. Still, I picture myself a few years back with my wife and young family in the van. Somebody decides they need to be going two miles per hour faster. Or get one car length ahead. So they make a dangerous move, putting my family in a high risk situation for a bit. And for what? I still take some of these dangerous acts by others as a personal attack, I guess.

Come to think of it, though, maybe my ire really is a chance to practice Zen. I'm certainly getting the opportunity to work on the self-discipline part. No matter the actions of others, the responsibility of how we react sits squarely on our own shoulders.

Maybe I'm just overly sensitized. As a man who feels deeply moved to help others learn to take care of themselves, the callous disregard for the well being of others shown by drivers really gets to me.

Is there a takeaway from this post? This time I'd have to answer in the negative. Maybe I just needed to vent a little. At the same time, I'm pretty sure most of you can see yourselves here with me.

What coping mechanisms do you all use? That's a turnaround, isn't it? Instead of me passing along helpful riding advice, I'm asking you all for input. Goes to show you that we all need each other.

Miles and smiles, ( even if the smile is painted on, sometimes )


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"One of us"!

A lot of people come through our classes. The majority are new riders. These folks might be familiar with motorcycles through friends and family. Some want to ride with friends. Some have been passengers only up to this point. Now they come to class in order to explore the world of piloting their own motorcycle.

Most of them remain recreational riders. That's okay with me. One great thing about riding is that people can find what they seek. I don't always agree with some of the things folks are looking for, but I can accept that not all of us have the same needs.

Once in a while, though, a new rider comes through a class. They have that special soil in their hearts that lets the sown seed flourish. A deep love of riding blossoms. These are no recreational riders. They're full blown motorcyclists. In other words, they become one of us!

My favorite people are passionate and borderline crazy. It's been my pleasure to get to know such a new rider as she progresses down this twisted road. Literally and figuratively, both. From a new rider to a dedicated commuter, it's been fun to watch her take hold of riding.

The picture above is from a local newspaper. The rider's name is Stacy Brock. You met her here in a Sharin' the Road post. Click here to go back and see it again. I'm probably stealing some thunder from Stacy as she has this posted on her blog, However, her post is pretty low key. It doesn't her justice, at all. So I'm correcting that oversight!

Stacy's a member of Women in the Wind. The local group also happened to set a high mileage mark, 105,000 accumulated miles. Accident free miles, please note. You have just got to love that, don't you? If you click here, you can read the article.

The reason I'm posting this is two-fold.

Firstly, I'm proud of Stacy. I've seen her progressive approach to developing riding skills. It's exactly what you would expect from a serious rider. I want to express appreciation for, and point to Stacy as a positive role model. Not as a female rider. I'm talking about as a rider, period. No qualifications. This blog was started to encourage riders to use their motorcycles for everday transportation. That includes riding to work as well as the weekend fun rides. It's also why I'm listed on the Ride to Work (r) blogger community page. Stacy's helping the cause by showing that we're all real people who chose to do the ecologically responsible ( as well as loads of fun ) thing by using two wheels as much as possible.

Secondly, our efforts in this regard require us all to live in harmony with each other. Come on, isn't it really so much better that way? Women in the Wind is a group that promotes the same goals; responsible use of motorcycles for transportation. They support rider training. There's a red 250 Nighthawk around that was donated by the local group years ago to support our program.

Women have had a harder time being taken seriously as riders. Much of this is due to male-generated stereotypes. In spite of this, I've seen many female riders press on with a smile and unceasing good grace. Stacy's been such a one. She won't call attention to herself so I want to acknowledge her here. The Women in the Wind group is doing a lot to help women riders be taken seriously. That's a great thing.

Here's my hope that riders can some day all just be called motorcyclists. As in many aspects of life, our greatest strength comes from our common bonds. Our diversity should add the seasonings and spices that make for an excellent dish. Sadly, too many people choose to get indigestion, instead. Some day we'll hopefully be judged by our actions, not on how our body is built, what color our skin is, or what we ride. Until then I'm going to keep pointing out good role models in the hope that others will be inspired to reach out, too.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seeing ourselves in others.

I like Starbucks. I'm not going to apologize for it, either. Call me a coffe snob if you want. I'm not really bothered by that at all. I'm not going to give reasons to defend myself, either. The chain works for me. As a man who spends a lot of time on the road on a motorcycle, a Starbucks store is a welcome place to warm up and do a little contemplation.

Today was such a day. Portland had snow, again. I was only as far North as Salem. The temperature readout on Elvira was showing 34 degrees. Pieces of ice, otherwise known as sleet, were falling steadily. Traction was borderline treacherous but we were okay. Riding in the ice made me think of Steve Williams' recent post. Steve ended up riding through ice and thought he'd made an error in judgement.

The comments were pretty much supportive of Steve. Some, including me, shared their own similar inclination to ride in bad conditions. Nobody came right out and condemned riding in the ice. There was one comment that was close, but not pointed right at Steve. I was pondering this as I was riding icy streets this morning. Elvira and I found the welcome shelter of a parking structure. Leaving her to watch the world go by, I entered a building and descended the escalator to Starbucks. I admit to being pretty chilled. I haven't wired her for electrics, yet. This cold weather is making me pay for my procrastination. On the other hand, it's been good to get back to my spartan warrior roots.

I believe there's some sort of unseen loop that ties us all together. We may not be aware of it, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. How else to explain coincidences like the cup I got this morning?

So here's a guy who rides his scooter through the ice. Why do most readers support him and not just tell him he's crazy? It's because we tend to judge others by what they make us see in ourself. I've been a student of human nature for a lot of years. I'm telling you that my statement is dead on. Most of us read stories like Steve's and, deep down inside, we say "There's a little of that courage in me".

A lot of humans crave excitement and adventure. While we might not do exactly the same thing the person we're reading about does, there's a part of us that wants to be courageous and bold. There's another part that says we really could be the same if circumstances were right. Thus we look favorably upon the one we're reading or hearing about. After all, we see in them a desirable quality we see, or want to see, in us.

This is a good time to put in a small disclaimer. There's a very distinct line between someone being reckless on a bike and a skilled rider who shows courage in tackling difficult circumstances. There's a huge difference between skillfully pushing the boundaries of our comfort level and running blindly off a cliff towards disaster. Courage and stupidity are separated by a big, bold, line. It might be hard for some onlookers to see the line, but it's certainly there. If you're reading here you know exactly what I'm talking about.

The fact that we might question ourselves about our decision later merely reinforces the fact that we had the skills to even make it an option in the first place.

In a further coincidence, or evidence of the loop I was talking about, this comment was just posted on Steve's blog. Right as I was starting this post. Coincidence? You will have to decide for yourself.

On Sunday night they predicted an ice storm that would start about midday Monday with light snow thereafter. So I elected to take the bus to work and not ride the scooter. It turned out that the ice and drizzle did not start until about 6:00 pm and I probably would have been okay to ride that day. But it really was not worth it. I am glad I didn't ride although I almost always want to ride.

Part of the problem is that riding is so enjoyable. It has become such an important part of my day. The feeling of freedom and independence is so exhilarating to me that I want so badly to ride every possible day that I can (within reason). It is easy to second guess the forecast, but when it comes to ice or snow, it is really not worth it. There will always be another day.

Maybe part of the indecision is because there might be a little bit of daredevil in all of us. In my younger years I was a pole vaulter, and many people thought it was too dangerous. I admit I had a few "crashes", but the enjoyment of flinging myself 13 or 14 feet in the air was so incredibly exciting. In a maybe strange sort of way, I get a similar type of "rush" from scootering. No I am not like Evil Knievel, but you have to admit there is a lot of excitement that draws us to riding. As I get older I am less willing to take chances, but there is still that feeling of excitement I get from riding that makes me crave it even more. Maybe that is part of the reason why the decision to ride or not ride can be difficult.

This is from Jim, a.k.a., cpa3485. I don't want to put Jim on the spot, again, but his comment illustrates what I was thinking about.

Some of us are sometimes able to find our excitement directly. Other times we have to find it vicariously. We may decide the time is past for us to commit big acts of courage. Reading about another's acts lets us look at ourselves. We may decide we're not up for something similar at the moment, but it's sweet to know we probably could if we wanted to.

Take away from this what you will. I don't claim to be the world's greatest philosopher. Once in a while, though, I have the sweet and genuine surprise of discovering some trace, at least, that's there's more than muscle between my ears!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, January 26, 2009

Kicking off the year.

Man, it seems like just last month I was putting bikes away for the last class of 2008. That's because it was, actually. The last class was during the first weekend of December. A mere seven weeks later I've just put my first class of 2009 on the calendar.

What ever happened to the Winter break? I won't get any sympathy from anyone who knows me around here, though. They'll remind me that signing up for classes is a voluntary thing. They'll tell me that I didn't HAVE to sign up so early. Good or bad, I've set a pattern of trying to teach both the first and last classes each year. Due to an increasing demand by students, that first class seems to come earlier each year. Which is how I found myself stomping around a parking lot in January with the temperature not far above freezing. To top if off, there was a threat of snow on Sunday. Sort of like last year all over again. My first class last year was disrupted by 9 inches of snow on Sunday. On top of that, I had to make a round trip of 94 miles to the range in the aforementioned snow. This time it wouldn't prove to be quite so tough. At least not where I was.

For once I managed to get a kind of cool picture. It looks pretty neat if you make it bigger. Sophie is on the left and you can just see Al's KLR to the right. Training bikes are warming up in the moments just before dawn.

What was most astounding is that we had a full class of 12 students. I know most of us instructors are crazy. But the students? Crazy or not, here they were. Nine guys and three gals. Two of the gals were a mother / daughter pair. Most of the guys were young, as in under 30. As a sort of sad side note, I was older than any of my students. Admittedly, it was by a mere few months in one case. My spirit's still young and strong, though!

Everyone in a class has their own story. An effective instructor tunes into his students as much as possible. There's a constant evaluation process going on. We need to know where they are at any point in time. I really care about these folks while they're in my charge. Each individual needs a somewhat modified communication style. Some need extra encouragement. Some need cajoled. Some even need to be treated more firmly. The method can vary with each student over the course of the class. My goal is to give each student what he or she needs to facilitate their success. If a student's not successful, I don't want it to be because I failed to do something.

That tuning process tends to build a bond between teacher and student. I need that bond because I need the students to trust me. After all, I'm asking most of them to do something that's beyond their comfort level. They have to trust that following my coaching will turn out well. This bond, in turn, causes the students to share more of themselves with me. Not all of them, of course. But a lot do. I find this sharing to be fascinating. I have a great appreciation for the diversity of humanity.

There's no space to share everyone's story here. I do, however, want to briefly share a funny highlight from the weekend.

This is Matt. He's a very personable young man. Matt garnered himself a certain distinction in my teaching history this weekend. It has to do with duct tape. Yes, the tape of a million uses.

First, just a short background.

We try to keep duct tape in the bike storage sheds. Students are required to have over the ankle footwear in order to ride. Makes sense. The ankle needs to be covered and supported. I used to tell students that, if they didn't have appropriate footwear, that we had "boot on a roll". They'd look dorky but they could ride. A few years ago I had a couple of young men show up and want to be taped. They thought it would be cool. So I quit offering that escape route up front. I figured it was the students' responsibility to have the right boots or shoes. Rather than send somebody home, though, we can tape their pant legs to their shoes to help protect their ankles. We just don't tell them it's available ahead of time.

Thursday night, though, I sort of slipped up. I wasn't quite back in tune, so to speak. I told the story of how a young man showed up with tennis shoes that didn't cover his ankle. I mentioned that I just happened to have part of a roll of duct tape in the bike. So I told a newer instructor who was working with me to tape the guy up. I gave him instructions. Put a strip of tape under the shoe and bring it up each side of the leg. Then wrap tape around the original strap to tie everything together and hold the pant leg in place. So far so good.

The new instructor, however, didn't quite get the whole picture. I noticed later that the student's ankle was, indeed, securely wrapped. The catch was that the tape was under the pant leg, not on the outside. The wrapping job was secure so the intent to protect the ankle was met.

Did I mention that the young man also failed to don socks? All the ankle wrapping was accomplished over his bare lower leg. I never did hear how the unwrapping went. I can certainly imagine! Do you pull slowly, or do it quickly and get it over with? Either way, OUCH! I will tell you, though, that the guy had the proper footwear the next day!

So the moral of the story was that, if they didn't want to take a chance of this happening to them, the students had better bring the right boots!

Back to Saturday morning.

I'm checking footwear. I come to Matt. He pulls up his pant leg. Short shoes and a bare ankle. I start to admonish him. Grinning, Matt pulls out a roll of duct tape. He'd brought his own tape! That's a first for me. I showed him how to tape himself and he went to it. Did a nice job, too. On Sunday he came pre-taped. I found it pretty humorous, all in all!

This post is getting pretty long so I'll save another story for a later time. We all triumphed over the cold and got the class in. Sunday brought a couple of hours of drizzle but no snow. The mercury may have hit 40 degrees, but just barely.

Portland, however, wasn't quite so lucky.

One of our ranges is at Portland Community College's Sylvania campus. I think the elevation is somewhere around 700 feet above sea level. Sunday brought snow. These are a couple of photos taken by Jeff Magar, an instructor in the Portland area. Jeff was kind enough to give me permission to use the photos here.

This photo was taken around 11:30 AM. The riding portion had to be cancelled for Sunday.

I'll think of this snowy range the next time I'm teaching in hundred degree heat. This weekend's cold would be pretty welcome about then. Earlier this month I was riding in very frigid conditions thinking about a hundred degree class last Summer. We're never happy, are we?

Our training year is officially underway. I'm sure there's many adventures to come!

Miles and smiles,


Friday, January 23, 2009


"Wherever you go, there you are."

These are certainly sage words to live by. We see the truth of them all around us. People change partners, geographic locations, vehicles, and a host of other things. I hear them say things like they're looking for a new life or a fresh start. They tell me that if only they had ( fill in the blank ) then things would be so much better for them. Sometimes these things can be the correct answer. Oftentimes not, though. It depends on the question, doesn't it?

Mostly, though, what happens is that attitudes and shortcomings follow the person no matter where they are, what they drive, or whom they live with. I see this exemplified in the world of motorcycling over and over again.

Make no mistake about it. People bring existing attitudes to riding. As an instructor I feel lucky to have a chance to help shape these attitudes. My hope is to create an environment where a student is comfortable sharing what's on their mind. Knowing where they're at, I can maybe nudge them in another direction. I firmly believe that education and shaping attitudes is a much more powerful force for positive change than the punitive measures government takes.

Some people are much more free about sharing attitudes than others. A recent example drives this home. I thought you might be interested in a follow-up to a previous post.

Remember this tire? It was on the back of a Yamaha sport bike I saw in a parking lot. Here's the rest of the bike.

This bike's had a hard life. My question in the post was whether the tire was in this condition due to neglect or economic necessity. I believe I now have the answer to the question.

We're having a small sunny spell, as you can probably tell. Being out and about for work, I found myself near the mall again. Curiosity was running high, as usual for me. On a whim, I decided to see if the Yamaha was in the lot. You can see why I wondered what condition it was in. How much longer could someone ride a bike with a rear tire in that condition? There was no Yamaha, but the KLR belonging to Cass was there. So I thought I'd go look him up and get the 411.

You probably noticed that I'm riding Sophie. I just love that bike. I keep trying to make the posts short but I always seem to end up adding these little side trips. My riding is like that, too, interestingly. Talk about attitudes coming with you wherever you go, huh?

I advertised Sophie for sale for a few months with no success. Maybe the market is partly to blame. Part of it is probably the mileage of the bike. With average mileage being somewhere around three to four thousand a year, people expect an eight year old bike to have twenty five or thirty thousand miles. Fifty thousand is considered pretty high. When they see a bike that's waaaay over that average, it must seem like a million mile bike.

I'll put the ad back in during February sometime. In the meantime, I'm happy. I really don't need to sell her. I'm certainly not going to just give her away. With the FJR ignition switch recall pending, it's just another excuse to give Sophie some more miles. Yamaha doesn't officially have the recall in the system, yet. The kind lady from Yamaha gave me the official line. Don't ride the bike until it's fixed. You know me. I'll take the chance anyway. Still, I'm more than happy to throw a leg over my dear old friend Sophie.

Ok, back to the planned route.

I was really hoping that the young man riding the Yamaha was just poor. I'd learned earlier that he was hired to do deliveries for the store. They sell large appliances, televisions, home theatre systems, and so on that customers can opt to have delivered. Our young rider didn't last long, it seems.

There's an abundance of scraped bodywork on the bike. When you hear the rest of the story you'll understand how the attitude thing applies.

In the beginning I really wanted to like this rider. As the Christmas season approached, I'd toyed with the idea of helping a financially challenged rider get a new rear tire. We always want to believe the best of people. Ok, mostly I'm a grouchy cynic but I have my moments of weakness.

Here's the story as told to me.

So the kid gets a job driving a delivery truck. According to Cass, who rides the KLR, things were quiet for a few days. There's two or three guys who work in the stock room that are sometimes riders of sport bikes. Cass is more or less their supervisor. He'd come in from time to time to find them standing around exchanging stories of crashes and acts of bravado, if you get my drift. Now, Cass is your typical hardcore commuter. He's taken training several times and rides responsibly. Polar opposite of our young Yamaha rider. Two examples of different riding attitudes.

So far we've got a rider who's taking credit for every scratch and scrape on the bike. True or not. Not only taking credit, but bragging about how it happened. Was this attitude confined to riding or did it show up other places?

It wasn't long before a complaint came in. A delivery presented particularly difficult spatial challenges. LG makes a large, double compartment, stainless steel refrigerator. Get this. Not only can you get cold water and ice from the door, but there's an LCD television in the door, too. Seriously. It can be hooked up to a DVD player, cable, or satellite. You can watch the news while fixing a meal, I guess. Someone with a little over three large just had to have this appliance. Enter our rider.

Room to maneuver was scarce. Have you heard the saying "If it don't fit, don't force it"? Our young rider had his own intrepretation. "If it don't fit, use a little more force."

A running start and a big shove got the box through the small archway. Fortunately, the damage was confined to a few tears on the box and some scrapes on the sheetrock. Young rider was later made to profusely apologize to the offended customer. Given a reprieve, our rider was calm for a bit. Until The Freeway Incident.

Our young protagonist had an out of town delivery. Things were conspiring to make him run late. According to Cass, the kid had a party he was planning on attending after work. Now he would be late getting back to the store. Thus being late to clock out and get to the party. In what was described by a later witness as "aggressively working traffic" our rider was making a lot of lane changes in the panel truck. Normally we'd make sure the lane was clear and then move over. The first, but very vital step, got left out.

The truck crashed into a small pickup that was to the right of it. Nobody was seriously hurt but the accident was enough to warrant a police response. You know what happened this time, don't you? Yeah, there is no longer a job position open for the young man.

I'll let your draw your own takeaway conclusions from the story. Since I'd opened the book earlier, I thought you might find it interesting to know how the story ended. I do find myself a little peeved, however. Being a rider who's trying to be taken seriously as a legitimate road user, I'm probably a little over-sensitive. I strongly resent, however, anyone whose approach to riding gives the rest of us a black eye. You know the public and the government. It's so much easier to notice and judge the whole group by a few individuals.

I sure hope this rider gets smart before he gets dead.

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yamaha FJR recall.

I was just notified of a recall on the Yamaha FJR1300. The notice came from Michelle O'Leary from the Oregon State Department of Transportation. Here's the notice. If you know someone with one of these bikes please pass this on to them. Of course, my own Elvira is affected. How smoothly the process goes is yet to be determined.

If any of you own a 06-09 Yamaha FJR 1300 it looks like there's a recall on the ignition switch. See below

Vehicle Make / Model:

Model Year(s):

Mfr's Report Date: JAN 06, 2009
NHTSA CAMPAIGN ID Number: 09V002000
EA08025NHTSA Action Number:


Potential Number of Units Affected: 9300





Michele O'Leary
ODOT Transportation Safety Division
Motorcycle Safety Program and
Vehicle Safety Equipment Program Manager

Miles and smiles,


Monday, January 19, 2009

Advice column.

Dear Maniac,

There's a curve in part of my commute where I can't see the road surface too very far ahead, but I can see where the curve comes out and if it weren't for the low wall on the edge of the raised bit of highway I could see the actual road all the way to the end of the curve.

Do I turn my head to look through to where I know the end of the curve is to get the right lean, etc.? (While keeping an eye on the road surface ahead, of course.) Or do I only look partway through, to where the road surface disappears, which changes the lean?

So far, I'm doing it the first way and it's seemed to work.


Visually Vexed

Dear Vexed,

This is a most excellent question. A tremendously large part of successful riding is our ability to get accurate information quickly. This means we need to be looking in the right places. It's not just enough to look at something, however. We also need to actually turn our head to face our target. Head turns play a huge role in directional control. So we ask ourselves this question. If we need to turn our head to face our target in a corner, what's the actual target?

You mentioned that you wanted to provide a photo to show us what you were talking about. Since this would have put you in a dangerous situation, I'm pleased you took the safer course. For one thing, I care about you. Secondly, I need all the readers I can get and can't afford to lose even one!

I took the liberty of gathering my own photos. While they may not exactly illustrate your particular situation, the pictures will help illustrate the general principles involved.

Here's a typical situation. Do we look at the point where the road and the tree meet? Or do we look past the tree to where we know the curve straightens out?

Here's another picture of a similar situation. If you think about it, we encounter these kinds of things pretty often when we ride. If we're lucky enough to ride somewhere other than freeways, that is!

Here's a variant on this theme. In this case, it's a blind hill. We can tell which way the road goes by looking at the telephone poles and wires. How far do we look? To the end of the blacktop we can see or farther past?

In this case, I put Elvira and myself in a somewhat precarious situation to take this photo. The reason I did so is because I've asked the question of where to look several times. I suppose it's about time I prepared to answer it, too. What use would it be to ask for advice just to have your question repeated back to you several times? You could buy a parrot and get the same result. Although I don't need newspapers scattered about, thank you. I'm a Guru and you don't get to be one of those without having answers. This section of road perfectly illustrates the beginning of the answer. By the way, when I was putting the camera away, an older gentleman in a pickup to match slowed down to see if I needed help. God bless souls like him!

Did I promise to start answering the question? Better get with it, then.

In this corner you can see the place where the blacktop disappears into the trees. That seems like a good place to look. It's really as far as you can actually see through the curve. Let me show you where you should be looking, though.

I'm looking to my target which is past the trees to where the road leads next. In fact, I'm looking as far as I can see, not just as far through the curve as I can see. A subtle but very important difference. Did you spy the car in the top of the photo? If you click on it and make it bigger the car will be more obvious. By looking at the car, I get a clue what happens to the road farther on. There is obviously a sharp turn to the left judging by the fact that the car is perpendicular to my current path of travel. Notice, too, how I can see pretty much the whole road between my bike and the car. The only part that's not visible is right behind the nearby trees.

The simple answer, then , to your question is to look farther ahead to where you know the curve ends. I know you asked specifically about how this relates to your lean angle. I threw in the gathering of information, as well, since it's so critical. So let me sum up the two aspects and you'll see how they tie together.

One goal of looking ahead is to get the biggest picture possible. Head turns affect the lean angle of our bike. As you've discovered, looking too close to the bike makes for a steeper lean angle. Another aspect can be seen from watching newer riders with less developed head turns. Have you ever watched a rider go through a curve but it looks like they're making several turns instead of one? The bike turns, then straightens, turns again, then straightens, etc. Watch the head of the rider. The bike mirrors their head. Look through the turn, look straight ahead. Look through the turn, look ahead. Like rider, like bike.

In a corner where we can't see the exit, our line needs to stay to the outside. Stay wide until we see the exit, then apex. Looking far ahead to where we know the corner ends will help us execute one smooth turn. Staring at the inside of the corner at any point will move us that direction. So you are absolutely correct in where you've decided to look and are experiencing the positive results.

The second goal is to get critical information about the turn as quickly as possible. Looking to where you know the curve ends, even though you can't see it at the moment, is vital in this regard, too.

There's a place I ride where the road winds through the mountains. Which means if I look to where the curve ends, I'm actually looking into the mountainside. That's ok. I look through the mountain as if with X-ray vision. Remember, the goal is to look in the direction of the turn, whether the path is completely revealed or not.

You want to be ready for whatever appears, and unless you're targeted in that direction, you won't know. It gives me the greatest advantage to peer into the side of the mountain, for example, knowing fully that the road is opening in that direction and whatever is presented I will know at the earliest possible moment. It seems odd, but it works.

So, Vexed, I hope that answers your question. As this year of riding opens up before us, may you find the joy you seek on two wheels. By the way, looking far ahead applies to dealing with life's obstacles, too. But that's another matter entirely. I'll leave those anwers to my cousin, The Mystic!

Have a question of your own? You can choose to live vicariously or become an actual participant. Drop your question to The Maniac at and start to live a little!

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Challenge accepted and met.

I'm sure everyone who reads my blog also reads Scooter in the Sticks by Steve Williams. Over the years Steve has maintained an awesome blog of his own. I've learned a lot from Steve about how to be a more complete person in a number of ways. There was a post, however, where I felt a different sort of vibe.

As you may be aware, Steve has brought home the family Christmas tree on the back of the Vespa for a while. This year that task wasn't possible since his faithful scoot was in the shop and waiting for a master cylinder transplant. You know me and my mouth. I wrote in the comment section that I really didn't see how this was an issue. My suggestion was to put the scooter in the back of his truck, strap the tree to the scooter, and go for it. The rubber of the Vespa's tires wouldn't actually make contact with the road, I wrote. Despite that, I was sure I spoke for all of us when I said it would count this year since the bike was out of order. We knew Steve would have hauled the tree had the Vespa been functioning properly.

At this point, you might want to go read the post. Be sure to read the comment section. Click here to go to the post and then it will make more sense when you come back.

Here's the comment I made on Steve's post:

Bummer on the scoot. Why do you give up so easily? Nothing says the scooter has to actually be in contact with the road does it?Ford Ranger, I believe? Vespa in truck. Tree on Vespa. You could even have the scooter running.Holiday cheer and holiday fun can take many forms. Ordinarily I'd encourage you to think outside the box. This time I tell you to think inside the box. Pickup box!Yes, I think I'm funny. Then again, I've always enjoyed being "different". Our club could use one more like us!

P.S. That was a challenge. Imagine the smug satisfaction and photographic possibilities!

Steve declined my challenge. He didn't want to remove the cap from his truck and decided to let that gauntlet lay. Ok, end of the matter.

Except, in the meantime, cpa3485 had left a comment:

Here's to hoping you are back up and running soon. We had snow here in Kansas this week and gaven' been able to ride since last Saturday. But I got the trusty steed out today for about 20 minutes only, just to make sure the battery stays charged up. It was still icy in some spots, so had to be careful. Sure was fun and I have really missed not riding this week. I believe Irondad has all the solutions to your tree transporting problems.

Here's Steve's reply to cpa3485. It's the crux of this blog post.

cpa3485: Be careful on those partially clear roads. It's easy to get up some speed only to find something approaching on the road surface that is going to create problems.Irondad always has ideas. I think I'll wait until I see a tree on the back of Elvira....

That last sentence brings me to the key, here. I don't know about you but that certainly sounds like a challenge to me! Maybe it's just my Warrior attitude. Perhaps it's my ego. Call it what you want. So one recent night while Katie slept quietly beside me, I was awake and thinking. Here's the result. Remember, the idea was to meet the challenge, not win a photography contest. This was Katie's first time with the Nikon. Yes, I drug her into it. I think she enjoyed it even though she shook her head at the insanity of it all. I'm also going to be the subject of supper conversations among the neighbors for a while. I'm sure this wasn't something they've seen often! When I finally got things put together, I didn't want to wait until tomorrow. We were running out of daylight. It also never crossed my mind that my tree would be less conspicuous against a backdrop of the neighbor's greenery. Duh! Anyway, there's enough here to prove my point.

It was a big tree and had already been put up for Christmas. There was still room for the rider. Barely. Here's another shot.

Ok. That satisfies the heart of the challenge. No, it wasn't Elvira. It was a bona fide sport touring everyday ride sort of motorcycle. Same kind of bike, different model. That should satisfy the requirement. Sophie's been feeling a little left out lately. I knew she would really appreciate participating in this venture with me. Her and I still have a long history together of doing things above and beyond the ordinary. Steve, you've officially seen a tree on the back of Sophie!

I've never been one to do things halfway. There's that stinkin' Warrior attitude again. I don't merely attack. I conquer. There's never any doubt who the Master is. So, I thought, how do we take this to the next level?

With the help of some 3/4" plywood, a 6" lag screw, a couple of small "L" brackets, a few pieces of 1 X 4 lumber, and some clamps, I had my answer. Here is the result.

Anybody can strap a tree to the back of a bike. How about having the tree stand upright? These pictures were taken first so the light's a little better. I wanted to tackle the hardest part and get it out of the way. That's my 19 years and 8 months old cat under the back of the truck, by the way. You can't see it, but she's shaking her head, too. The cat has joined Katie in the head shaking thing. Katie's asking questions like "What if the tree comes loose, hits you, and makes you crash the bike? What are you going to tell the insurance company? How will you sell the bike if you drop it and damage it?"

You see, it's not enough to have the tree upright. It doesn't count unless you can ride it, right?

You can see the exhaust from the pipes. The bike's running and we're riding. I have to admit, it handled pretty strangely. Took a bit to get used to it. Imagine having a tall passenger standing on the foot pegs and leaning into the turns. I made several passes so that Katie could get several shots we could choose from. The tree stayed put but the tight U-turns in the middle of the street were quite interesting! Hey, I'm a professional rider and quickly got the hang of it. No damage to the bike. Just a whole bunch of pine needles to clean up!

It's been a fun little project. I'm pretty sure I'll do it again next year. There's got to be some 12 volt lights available!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, January 12, 2009

Maybe a pig COULD fly!

Sometimes I feel cursed by living where there's a lot of rain. On the other hand, at least I can ride 98% of the year. A big blessing is that I can be in farm country within a few minutes of leaving home. This time of year I really enjoy the solitude found there. Most people are so deeply entrenched in their frenzied rush to get nowhere fast that they avoid the slow roads that wind around the fields. And that's just how I like it. Elvira and I are getting to know each other better in these quiet surroundings.

One thing I'm finding is that Elvira shows dirt a lot more than Sophie does.

That sparkling Raven Black color is beautiful but takes a lot of work to keep it looking nice. It's a lot like brushing the gorgeous black mare of Grandma's when I was a kid. I suppose it would help if I weren't out riding in all kinds of bad weather and on dirty roads. Then again, what fun would that be? Riding's a lot more satisfying than sitting in a garage looking at a clean bike, don't you agree?

One of my working philosophies is "Not all who wander are lost". It's important to get out of the main current and go explore a slow moving eddy. What better way to do that than on a bike? When I wander I try to move any preconceptions to a place far in the back of my mind. The goal is to be open to whatever presents itself. Sometimes the greatest wonders are hidden by prejudices. Not every ride has a major treasure. Smaller ones abound, though, if we're ready to find them.

Road signs are a source of amusement and thought. Some of the roads are named after families that have worked the surrounding land for generations. I love the sense of history and belonging the current residents must feel. The older I get the more interested I've become in connecting the roots of my past to the present. My children are a large part of that process at the moment. I think it's vital to have a firm grasp of where we've been in order to successfully move towards the future.

Some of the road names have obvious connections to home and hearth.

Here Elvira and I are sitting where Plagmann Drive and Lickskillet Road meet. Lickskillet. One can imagine a farm boy so famished by labor that he has to lick the skillet, too. One would hope that there would have been enough time for the skillet to cool off. We always have to keep an eye on our weird cat. She'll try to lick the barbeque grill as soon as we take it off the coals. The little red devil on my shoulder wants me to let her have at it once. It would be interesting. Mean, but interesting. But I wander again. Back to the skillet. Maybe the contents of the skillet were so delicious that licking the pan was in order. Then again, perhaps it was a pork fat thing.

Speaking of pork fat, I spent some time with a couple of friendly pigs. Farm country isn't too pretty this time of year.

Everything's kind of brown and dark right now. Not to mention really soggy. The bright promise of spring is still a long ways off. Trees stand bare as their former cloak of leaves decay into the land around them. There's nothing to draw people here at the moment. The few residents, man and animal, patiently hunker down waiting for Spring. This is why it's so peaceful here right now. I can park the bike by the side of the road and enjoy the quiet without being disturbed.

It's just as well there wasn't any traffic. Passersby might have had a hard time figuring out why a lone motorcyclist was so interested in pigs. I'll bet most people in a car wouldn't even have noticed the two creatures out by the old barn. I'd pulled Elvira over for a chance to take a few photos. In the meantime, the curious creatures started wandering over to see what was up. I'm sure a visiting motorcyclist wasn't an everyday occurence for them, either.

Why were they drawn to the bike and I? It's a good bet they're being raised by a family. There were just the two animals in the field. This wasn't a commercial operation. Would these two wind up as eventual meals? Probably. In the meantime, there's probably something of a connection between the animals and the keepers. Did these two sense a chance to be fed? Were they curious? Pigs are said to be pretty intelligent. Maybe they just like sleek looking motorcycles. It could possibly have been the bright color on my retroflective vest. Who knows?

Nonetheless, the one nearest the fence and I spent some time snout to nose, as it were.

In a small way this is a lesson in prejudices. How many times have we given in to preconceived notions and missed out on something worthwhile? I'm not saying this creature and I made a deep connection. However, there was intelligence and interest in its eyes. We spent some time just taking each other in. Neither of us can tell the other what we took away from the encounter. I have a feeling it was mostly positive on both sides.

Actually, I sort of identified with this fellow being. I sit a lot. Katie and I have been trying to walk three miles in the evenings. On the other hand, I ride to meetings. Which means I sit on the bike to go somewhere to sit in a meeting. I guess I'm going to have to start parking farther away or something. The extra weight is desirable on the pig. On me, not so much. I just wish Elvira would stop doing that exaggerated groaning when I mount up. Did I mention she has a wicked sense of humor?

I seemed to notice the pig looking pretty longingly at Elvira. Maybe it has dreams of being sleek and fast. So do I, Buddy, so do I. At least I can feel that way on the Yamaha. Hmmm, that makes me think. If pigs could ride sport bikes, maybe they really could fly!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A change of pace.

This isn't really motorcycle related. I realize that's a pretty unusual situation for this blog. I live, eat, and breathe motorcycles, as the saying goes. Right now, as strange as it seems, I've had enough of two wheels for one day. It's time for some Chianti and to heat up some roast beef that's left over from my culinary activities on Sunday.

Ok, so I have to get motorcycles in here someplace. I spent all day on one in the rain, wind, and with idiot road users. Did their brains melt in the heavy rain? According to the weather guessers, the jet stream is bringing in three storms, one right after the other. You know how TV people are fond of cliches. Their favorite for this situation is that it's like being at the end of a fire hose. In this case the fire hose is pointed about 90 miles North of me and slowly slipping South. Of course, I'm never content to just let things come to me. So what do I do?

Yeah, you guessed it. I rode to Portland to check on some projects. I know, dumb idea. Portland's in the fire hose stream. What was I thinking? It's just not funny battling heavy rain and wind all day. Suffice it to say I'm tired. The 'Stich even soaked through which is saying something about the rain. Stacy should have been with me to try out her new Rukka jacket! So the jacket and pants are hanging on the bathtub shower curtain rod, dripping everywhere. My helmet is sitting on the dining room table near a heater vent. Gloves are secured to hangers with clothespins and hanging in a doorway. My boots are steaming as my magic boot dryer goes to work. Remind me to tell you some day about this absolutely wonderful gift my dear friend Ray gave me. Boot dryers rock!

Anyway, I'm catching up on e-mails and opened a folder I'd created for just "stuff". It's the electronic equivalent of Doug C's coffee cup storage system. This ad was stashed in there. I don't remember where it came from. I'd like to credit the source and maybe even ask permission to use it. It's too funny to pass up and I'm just hoping whoever owns it is happy to see it shared some more to show off their creativity.

As you look at this ad, remember that it's not an actual advertisement. I'm proud to be an American and have put a lot on the line for this country. I believe in American products despite owning two Japanese motorcycles. I do own a Chevy truck. Yet, there are individual corporations who just don't get it as well as a government who doesn't always do things exactly right. Right now, I'm also pretty disgusted with a bunch of drivers in American SUV's. So here's the ad. If you can't read the print on the bottom, you should be able to click on the picture and make it a bit bigger.

Stay tuned. I've got something coming up on a couple of unusual police bikes. I'm also toying with an idea for something to do with a motorcycle and a Christmas tree. Blame Steve Williams and one of his comments!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, January 05, 2009

Should be obvious!

This picture was taken by Brian Poppe during our recent heavy snowstorm. It's near an exit off Interstate 5 near Burlington. Brian's a member of the Wet Leather rider group. He's graciously given me permission to use the photo. Due to the conditions when the photo was taken and the transfer to the blog, the sign's a little blurry. I sincerely apologize for that. You can see the original posting here.

The sign reads: Motorcyclists use extreme caution.

Like I say, it should be obvious!

You have to wonder why someone thought to post a sign in a snowstorm in the first place. Was it there before the snow? Did policy just dictate that certain signs be placed at certain spots? Why did the crews even think a motorcyclist would be out in the snow?

Perhaps they saw a certain Yamaha mounted rider with a Hi-Viz jacket out and about and figured they should protect all road users? Even those who are crazy! Actually, I prefer the term "fearless". This blog is named Musings of an Intrepid Commuter. Look up "intrepid" in the dictionary sometime.

Someone suggested this would be a good thing to include in an Aerostich ad. Works for me.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, January 02, 2009

What we leave behind.

2009 has been sprung upon us accompanied by fireworks. I stole this photo from my daughter. I hope she didn't steal it from someone who minds! For some of us it was actual fireworks. For others, the fireworks may have been going off inside pounding skulls. It's that traditional time of year when people make resolutions.

Personally, I've quit that habit. For me, at least, resolutions have become bars in a cage that I feel compelled to enter. Then I'm "locked in"; bound by whatever constraints the resolutions impose. I do, however, take a bit to look back for a sort of "debrief". I look at what worked out and what didn't. When I look to the year ahead, I'm looking to set guidelines. More importantly, I'm looking to see what I'm motivated to do. That's why New Year's resolutions don't work for me. If we're not truly motivated then the mental decisions won't stick. While the turning of the year is pretty arbitrary in the big picture, it's as good as time as any to take stock. Maybe the close timing to the holidays helps us to be more contemplative at this time. As opposed, say, to the stress of April 15th!

For me motivation comes all during the year. I'm either motivated to keep after something I'm already doing or change course slightly. Maybe both. If something doesn't work I'm not going to wait until the coming year to knock it off. If there's something I'm motivated to do, same story. For example, I used to be pretty good with a guitar. Then I quit playing for years. Clinton plays well but I never really joined him. Other things called. This year I'm going to take it up again. Not as a resolution. I'm motivated to do it because I need the relaxation and peace that playing and being creative will bring me. The timing will manifest itself to me when it's right.

One thing I've always been pretty motivated to keep on with is riding and teaching others. Motorcycles have always been a part of my life. You know you've become solidly identified with something when people are always giving you stuff related to your activity. Stuff like this.

Somebody gave this to Katie and I a number of years ago. We keep it on the fireplace mantle.

A motorcycle is a vehicle that moves my physical body from Point A to Point B. Somewhere along those physical journeys I've picked up spiritual enlightment, too. The positive rewards have extended far beyond the two wheeled world. Because of everything wonderful that riding has done for me I've been moved to give something back. One of the ways I've chosen to do that is to reach back and help other riders come to where I am. Teaching rider classes works both ways. I start out by being the one giving. By the end, the students are sharing with me, too. The synergism and dynamics provide an endless motivation loop. We all go away better off for having been together.

It's been said in many ways and much more eloquently than what I can manage, but an axiom to live by is this:

It's not what you take away but what you leave behind that matters most.

That acts as one of my guidelines during the course of the year. Sometimes it's hard to know if we've actually lived up to that. Once in a while, though, we get some positive sign that we're making a difference.

We had our instructor banquet in November. I still had a couple of classes to teach. For the most part, though, our year was ended. The grand total of students would end up being 9972. If we'd known we were going to get that close to 10,000 we might have tried to sneak in a couple more classes!

The banquet is a nice time to see everybody. It's also about recognizing the tremendous effort put forth by the instructor body. Instructors get certificates and recognition for classes taught. The ones who teach 5 classes are just as respected as those who teach 25. None of us are full time. It's all a matter of sharing from the heart. If a person doesn't have the motivation to teach they won't stay around long. It's not like a regular part time job, believe me! We have a chance to nominate our peers for Awards of Merit, Rookie of the Year, and Instructor of the Year. I was Instructor of the Year in 2002. My good friend Dean, who comments here, got that award a couple of years later, I think. I know he received that honor, I just can't remember which year for sure. We also have a chance to nominate someone for the annual Lifetime Achievement Award. Of course, staff has the final say on the matter.

This year I was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not entirely altruistic. I enjoy a pat on the back as much as anyone. This was a really nice pat! To put it into perspective, though, remember this is an annual award that's been given out for quite a few years. I'm simply one of maybe 15 or 18 who've gone before me. It's still nice, though, since it starts with nominations from our fellow instructors.

The bottom reads: In recognition of your tireless energy, dedication, and service to the motorcyclists of Oregon.

I have to say that feels pretty good!

I've been lucky to have been surrounded by people like Dean who take on leadership roles and always strive for excellence. Not only do they care about helping motorcyclists, but each other, as well. There's been a couple of really great mentors who've helped me along the way. I've tried to return the favor to other instructors in turn. I'd like to recognize my fellow instructors around the world. I know some of you who read here are instructors, or Rider Coaches, or whatever you're known by in your program. We may be in different areas and teaching different programs, but I've probably felt every emotion and had similar experiences to all of you. We have a connection that transcends physical distance. You're doing a fine thing and I thank you.

I also consider myself lucky to have made the acquaintance of you all through this blog and those you keep. I can't tell you how much positive energy you have brought to my life as we exchange comments. My hope for the coming year is that it continue to be worth your time to keep coming here.

As 2009 dawns, may you all find passion, motivation, and fulfillment in your journey. I'm sure there's still going to be political and financial stresses. You think? Those kind of things can be consuming and depressing. At the risk of sounding like a hopeless optimist, I have to say that there's still a lot of great things to be lived as well. Go find your passion and pursue it. When this year takes its turn to fade away, my hope would be that we could all say we've left something of value behind.

Miles and smiles,