Monday, March 30, 2009

A special parking spot.

Every once in a while I need to get back to what this blog was actually started for. That's the encouragement to use a motorcycle for commuting. Even further, to use a bike for everyday transportation as much as possible. Whatever I write about in this blog, that factor is always on my mind.

As I travel around I keep a watch for bikes being used as work commuters. I came across one in a very special parking place. Back to that in just a minute.

In accordance with my established habit, I can't stop myself from taking a very short side trip first!

The other day I was in the middle of trying to help an architect sell a client on a product I represent. One of our lines is a plastic locker. It's pretty beefy while looking good. The other popular choice is metal lockers. Our line is more durable. Not only that, but we use recycled content. The standard locker contains 30 percent post consumer material. There is also the option of having a hundred percent recycled content. Between the increasing push to use "green" products and the ever growing LEEDS standards, our lockers are being specified more often.

So this client wants to see some lockers that have already been installed. The client is a big health care facility. I happened to know of a similar facility in Eugene. I offered to meet the client there but they did not want to make the four hour round trip. The next best thing was pictures. Which is how I found myself riding to Eugene with the Nikon in a saddlebag.

This is one of the photos. Imagine this. You show up at a medical clinic. Nobody knows you from Adam or Charlie Manson. The riding gear is stashed in the bike to reveal business casual attire. Nothing hides the helmet hair, though. Finding a likely person to accost, you request to take some pictures of their lockers. Fortunately, the girl you see above has an adventuresome spirit! Between that and my winning personality, I find myself in the women's locker room with her. It's evident I've won her trust. Although she made sure the room was clear, first!

So that's the background.

I parked among a bunch of cars far out in the lot. When I got close to the building, I saw this scooter parked right up next to the sidwalk near the employee's entry.

This is a very interesting building. It's built on a very modern philosophy of green construction. Showing a level of sophistication not commonly found, the areas not open to wandering members of the public are protected by electronic card access portals. A number of buildings have card access systems. What makes this one more unique is that the readers are biometric. They read thumbprints.

The green construction is also reflected in the parking lot. Note the lettering behind the scooter.

The intent is obvious. Whether or not motorcycles actually qualify could be up for grabs. Admittedly, I haven't made a deep study of the subject. My general understanding is that the total volume of exhaust pollutants are lower than cars. Proportionately, however, motorcycles aren't exactly what you would call "clean". Although the standards keep going up for newer models.

What's important here, I think, is the perception factor. As you know, perception is reality for a great deal of the population. It's human nature. Take the age old example of walking along a trail in the forest. If a person dressed in a bear costume jumps out in front of us from behind a tree, our perception certainly becomes our reality at that moment. The brain doesn't say, "Hmmm, let's take a minute to see what's really here." No, it immediately takes the perception as reality and starts the feet pumping. A definite possible additional act might be making loud noises as we scream and run. Of course, I'd never do that, but you get the point of the illustration!

The same thing applies to motorcycles. I get so many students who come into classes with the desire for more economical transportation. The reality might be different. Once tires and maintenance are figured in, the costs may not be that much less than an economy car. There's no arguing the fact that two wheeled vehicles certainly tread more lightly upon our planet, though. A fact I'm pretty smug about as I intermingle with Hummer drivers.

Whatever the reality versus perception, I'm pleased to see a large entity like this medical clinic recognize and reward the use of motorcycles for transportation. The more of us who ride to work, the more of this kind of thing will happen. Here's to building positive perceptions!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, March 23, 2009

Gaining stability.

I know some of you are reading the title and wondering what it means. There's a few who just can't wait to tap dance all over my head with pointed comments. I'll be the first to agree that it could very well apply to my mental state. There ain't no cure for that, folks! This post has nothing to do with any of my scrambled brain cells. It might be a manifestation of said brain cells, but the post isn't about making them any better. So you just put those Blue Suede Shoes back in the closet with your Velvet Elvis. This has to do with photography.

Katie and I recently went to a funeral. It's always sad to see the folks who figured so prominently in your younger years pass away. Such was the case with Buck and Babe. I have a childhood buddy. We've gone different directions in the ensuing decades. He's a bird nut while I'm a bike nut. He leads ocean cruises to spot rare birds on weekends. I teach motorcycle safety classes on weekends.

Some guy's crouched patiently in the bushes with binoculars. Just in front of him is a tiny flock of some nearly extinct bird rarely seen in civilization. The birds are getting a little closer. Just a bit more and he'll get some rare photos that very few humans have ever snapped. That would be my buddy Greg.

Just at the critical moment some asshole on a motorcycle goes roaring by on the roadway. The bike doesn't have loud pipes. It does make noise, however. Especially when he beeps the horn at the pervert in the bushes with the binoculars. And what's this bright yellow and black creature rapidly bearing down on us? So ask the birds. You know birds. Off they fly, never to be seen by humans again in this lifetime. Greg shakes his fist at the jerk who violated his sacred moment. That jerk would be me. Yee freakin' haw!

Despite all that, nothing can erase our long history. We've raised kids together. We're still married to the same women we started with. We still make these women shake their heads when we talk about our teenage exploits. Greg and his wife live close again. Once upon a time they took up residence in Oxnard, California. It's not far out of L.A. The first time we went to see them was the first time I'd ever eaten shark. Purchased from a grocery store meat counter, no less! It would have been more fun to eat it in a restaurant, though. Never one to resist a bad joke, I wanted to see some little girl talking exitedly to her mother.

"Mommy, there's a man eating shark over there!"

Dang it. Meandered off onto a back road, again didn't I? Or maybe rode into the ditch. Told you there was no cure for my mental state. Buck and Babe were Greg's grandparents. Buck passed away around 11 years ago. Babe recently passed away at the age of 97. Describing this couple would take up a few posts on its own. Buck was an Intrepid Motorcyclist. I'd see the two of them all over town on a Honda CB175 like this.

Theirs had a big box of some sort on the back. Come Winter, the bike would be strapped onto the back bumper of their pickup, snuggled up against the camper. Buck and Babe were Snow Birds. They'd spend months down in Arizona picking up rocks and collectibles from the desert. Buck was a pretty fair camp fire guitar picker. Babe was always to be found on the back of the bike. I don't know so much how she felt about riding. She just felt that her place was with Buck. If he was on the bike, then she'd be right behind him. That little bike seemed to work just fine for them.

I saw Greg at the funeral, of course. We were comparing our photographic skills. Actually, Greg was laughing at me for not having any. I told him of my recent purchase of a 55-200mm lense to go with the Nikon D40 SLR camera. Greg says he regularly uses a 300mm but that's as big as he can focus without a tripod. I told Greg that my lense had some sort of anti vibration thing-a-ma-bob in it but my pictures still tended to blur a bit.

Next thing I know, Greg's tap dancing on my head. He tells me that maybe it's not the camera or lense. Actually, he says if the pictures are blurry with the 200mm lense that has a built-in stabilizer then it's definitely me. "What is it you say?", he asks. "Buying a 1000cc sport bike doesn't automatically make you a good rider?"

Man, that smarts.

Fast forward a few weeks. Lingering in the back of my mind was a post by John McClane. He showed a picture of something called a Gorilla Pod. I didn't take time to find the exact post to link to here. Sorry, John. I always admire how clean and crisp some of the photos in other blogs are. Steve Williams and Gail Hatch have exceptionally clean photos. I like the photos on most of the other blogs. No insult is meant because I only mentioned these two. I do have to say I like Conchscooter's photos quite a bit. Mostly for the human element he captures. That, and the fact that he gets away with lurking about at 2 AM snapping covert pictures.

Conch says he likes to use a small pocket camera. No muss, no fuss, just snap and go. AA battery powered and all. I can just see him in the wee dawn hours. Photo subject spotted. Camera in front pants pocket. The photo subject looks over at Conch.

Conch says, "Hang on a minute while I whip something out!" How does he get away with that? I'd get arrested for sure. With my luck, he'd be the dispatcher that got the call. He's make sure that about fifty cops swarmed on me. All on scooters. With no helmets. One of the scooters would have a milk crate on the back of it.

"Ok, Buddy! In the crate. We're taking you in!"

This is in no way, shape or form, any sort of comment on Key West's finest. I've taken a few jabs at Conch over on his blog and I can see him taking the chance to get back at me. That's one of the reasons I like him!

Anyway, I figure Steve and Gail have two things I don't. Great skills in making and developing their photos, and a tripod. Hey, I can do that, too! Yes, I could march right out and buy a tripod. It just hadn't come up on the top of the list, yet. Then fate stepped in.

Katie and I were wandering around Joe's. It's a sporting goods store. I took a Camelbak apart in December. Come March, and I forgot how to exactly put it back together. Okay, so maybe you shouldn't have put away your dancing shoes, just yet. We didn't find one just like it in Joe's but I finally figured it out. These new CamelBaks are more complicated than they look. Seriously. Before leaving the store, I decided to check the ammunition stock. Turning the corner, I had an unexpected encounter. Sort of like meeting an old flame. Something that's been on your mind but you never acted on it. Suddenly you're face to face. Such was the meeting with the rack that held several Gorilla Pods.

Except, unlike an old flame, I could actually fondle this one around Katie. Well, I could have done the same with an old flame, but I would have gotten my ass torched. Get it? Old flame, ass torched? Fine, be that way. Anyway, I took a Gorilla Pod home and hooked it to the camera. If you think I don't have any photography skills, then answer me this. Pretty good job getting the Nikon to take a self portrait with its new Gorilla Pod, isn't it? You don't believe that, do you? Then I can tell you've been looking at my photos for a long time.

Do you want to know what's really ironic? I used a point and shoot digital camera to take a picture of the Nikon with the tripod. Held in my hands. Freestyle. The tripod is supposed to make my photos a lot more clear and sharp. My freehand photo of the camera and tripod is one of the clearest and sharpest photos I've taken in forever. AAAAARRRGGGHHH!

I haven't taken a picture using the tripod, yet, but the anticipation is fun. One of these days I actually will snap a photo using the tripod. As soon as I can find the shutter release. I told you I can't resist a bad joke. Didn't I warn you?

I can see some advantages to this kind of tripod over one with rigid legs. I just hope I can keep it from getting wrapped around my neck!

Stay tuned. The photos here are bound to get better. Or not.

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sport tourer or submarine?

As I write this there's actually a little bit of sunshine outside. What I am I doing in here? Should be out on the bike! Oh, wait, It's Oregon. Five minutes ago it was sunny. Now there's black clouds and sprinkles. Suddenly I get this urge to turn a lamp on. A week ago the sunshine was arriving as buckets of liquid. Good ole Oregon liquid sunshine. In other words, it was raining cats and dogs as the old saying goes. I'd agreed to head to Portland and supervise an instructor workshop. Elvira and I were going to get pretty wet. After that ride, I considered changing her name to something with a more nautical ring to it. Maybe I should call her Ariel the Mermaid.

Actually, that's what I'm going to rename my wife. Not long before it was time to leave, Katie pipes up and says she wants to go along. I ask her if she knows I'm riding. Close to 70 miles one way. There's no option. The workshop is about honing riding skills. It would look pretty bad if the one directing the exercise showed up in a car. I'd be laughed out of the Corp. Turns out, that's why she wanted to go. Katie claims it's been too long since I took her out on a bike. Muttering things about insane people under my breath, I tell her to get her gear. Not that I don't want her along. It's just that, unlike me, she's got a choice. Why would anyone willingly choose to ride 140 miles in the pouring rain? Maybe I should go look in the mirror for answers.

The workshop is at Portland Community College's Sylvania Center. Our workshop is on the upper range. This is a group on the lower range. They're taking what we call the Intermediate Rider Training, or IRT for short. It's for people who know how to ride but want to get legal. We work on mental strategies and accident avoidance skills. Students can use our bikes or their own. Most opt to use our training bikes. Some, though, get an extra advantage by using their own bikes. Except for beginner riders, it's better to train on the bike a person's actually be going to ride. This group had a scooter and several dual sports. Here's a closeup. You can also see how wet it is! In fact, the skies drained on us the whole time we were out there.

For this class and the Rider Skills Practice class, the instructors ride the demonstrations on their personal motorcycles. It's about credibility. Speaking of which, I have to tell a little story on myself. It's about getting carried away with one's own fun.

A few years ago we used to teach the MSF's Experienced Rider Course. We would set up a very large offset cone weave. It was used as an initial evaluation tool. If a rider couldn't somewhat manage this weave we would encourage them to take a more basic course. I loved this weave. The two lines of cones would be almost two thirds of the range apart. The idea was to slow before each cone, run an even arc around the cone under power, then head across the range for the next one. This would require a fairly tight turn. To do it successfully, you'd have to crank your head way around. We'd run two laps for the demonstration, being smooth and precise. Note, that's in contrast to fast and furious.

Of course, nuts like me would always like to play a little, if you get my drift. My fellow instructor had the weave set up while the students were gone to lunch. I ate my own lunch. During the summer I always have a hot lunch. I just leave my sandwich on the bike seat! Anway, I was going to ride the demo. We have to warm up, right? This was when Sophie was a couple of years old. Her and I were pretty darn comfortable with each other by then.

The range where we were teaching has a hump near where one line of cones would be. I'm not afraid to lean a bike. Not even in a parking lot. Note that I said the demo had to be smooth and precise. This was play, not a demo! So I'm out there weaving and leaning happily away. A couple of times I literally scraped the bottom of Sophie's saddlebags on the hump. In between I'd do some quick stops, swerves, and so on. My concentration is totally on my play, er, I mean, serious practice. Having stolen a glance at the dash clock I decide I should call it quits and get ready for the students to arrive.

Only to find out they'd already done so. Steve Smith, the other instructor, and all the students were lined up on the sidewalk watching me ride. Mouths were hanging open. One of the students came up to me with hand extended.

"Congratulations! If you were trying to establish credibility, you've done it!"

Steve later told me that while they were watching, somebody made the comment,

"Uh, he rides pretty well, doesn't he?"

"Yes, he does," was Steve's reply. What he didn't say was that I shouldn't have been scaring the students like that!

My workshop was attended by some newer instructors who wanted to hone their own skills. One is a brand new instructor but not a new rider. He's a former Army Ranger. He finished 6th in the 2003 Iron Butt Rally. Yet, he showed up to hone his demo techniques and never said a word about anything else. There was no ego, only a desire to learn. I can't say enough about how impressed I was with this group. It was by no means a mandatory session but they braved the nasty weather in pursuit of further excellence. No wonder I'm so proud to be a part of this organization!

One of the instructors is riding this Star Stratoliner. No matter how you cut it, this is a big bike! It's dry weight is listed at a little over 800 pounds. The wheelbase is 67.5 inches. One of the exercises we need to ride demonstration runs for is the infamous offset cone weave. Yes, it can be done on almost any bike. It's a matter of technique.

This instructor was having a little trouble getting through it. My task was to watch and coach. When he asked me for feedback, I flashed back to Nancy and her Yamaha Vino. What could that dimunitive scooter and this behemoth cruiser have in common?

"Think about initiating the next turn sooner. As soon as your front tire reaches the cone, start back the other direction".

Bingo! The instructor already had the clutch work figured out. It just took a small adjustment in timing to get the rest down. Now he was running it flawlessly every time.

Here's some photos I took in the rain and in a hurry. We ran until almost dark. As you can see by the headlight reflections on the wet surface.

Here's the big bike in the 90 degree sharp turn. Look at the instructor's head turn. The bike is in the middle of the lane and in perfect position to make the corner.

We run a barrel ride in the Rider Skills Practice, or RSP. Here's some photos of bikes around the cones. Again, notice the head turns. So critical for directional control.

Practice over, everybody parted company for their respective rides home. Katie and I jetted home in the dark, just as wet as the ride up. These are the times, two up in the rain and dark, that I feel so comforted having ABS on a bike. Once we got home we could hardly move for all the wet gear hanging about here and there. All in all, though, a great day, rain or not.

There may be more on the cone weave coming up this week. The skills test is an interesting subject. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bending the rules.

I'd like to introduce you to Nancy and her pretty blue Yamaha Vino. I met Nancy and her scooter when she came to retest on the skills test. Nancy had not passed the first time. Students under a certain score threshold are given the opportunity to try it again. Nancy was joining our group as they took their skill test for the first time.

The scooter arrived at the range on the back of a pickup. Busy coaching my students, I didn't watch the unloading process closely. I did notice it was odd that the ramp being used was a long 2 X 4. The pickup was quite tall. Unloading the scooter went well. Later on, when it was being reloaded, there were a couple of hairy moments. So much so that Jeff, who was auditing the class and whom you met here a few posts ago, felt compelled to run over and help to steady the scooter.

We send the students for a 15 minute break prior to conducting the skills test. During this time we run a warm-up exercise for students joining us for the retest. I introduced myself to Nancy. I could tell she was quite nervous. Most of them are. Understandably, of course. My first self-imposed task is to try to put the students more at ease.

In the last three years or so I've noticed something interesting about my rapport with students. It seems I've developed this ability to quickly and easily bond with middle-aged and older women. It's both satisfying and scary. Being able to bond with students is useful. An increasing number of students fall into the above named category. I feel more effective with these students. On the other hand, what does it say about me? That gray in my sideburns only happens because my helmet rubs and damages the hair follicles. Really.

Nancy bought the scooter to be, in her words, "A garage sale Mama."

Students often have this huge mental struggle with the offset cone weave. Nancy was no exception. She claimed to have failed the test because of it. What's interesting is that nobody can fail on one given exercise. A student can have up to 20 points and pass. The most points a student can get in one exercise, short of outright dropping the bike, is 10. I've seen a couple of 8 point scores but even the weak students usually only score about 6. Even at 8 points in the cone weave, there's still 12 to burn in other places.

If a student fails the evaluation it's because there's a demonstrated general lack of control. It might be just nerves or a lack of ability. The evaluation and scoring discussion and its relevance can take up several posts. The important part for this post is that the cone weave gets most of the blame. Maybe it's the reputation floating around there from failed DMV tests. Whatever the reason, it's become the "Dreaded Cone Weave"!

So we finish the warmup for Nancy. Her scooter is parked in staging at the back of the group. Now Nancy tells me that she never successfully completed the cone weave when she took the class. She also stated that she really wished the instructors would have ridden her scooter in the weave so she could see it. I don't know if what she said about not being successful was true or not. I was not there. That's all I can say about that.

There's a few minutes left in the break. So I put on helmet and gloves. Nancy gives me permission to ride the weave on the Vino. Which I do. Quite successfully, I might add. I put the bike back in line. Here's where the bending the rules part comes in. I know some instructors are reading this. I'm probably busted. It was nice teaching while it lasted!

We're told that retests are there to do exactly that, not to retrain. However, I'm faced with a woman who is going to be on the streets legally the next day if she passes. Does she really have the low speed control she'll need for riding a 150cc scooter? Does she have the confidence that she can control the scooter? Confidence counts for a lot when a rider faces making a critical decision. Do I follow policy to the letter or do I satisfy myself as a professional that this woman leaves with a very important skill? I can't take long but I decide to give it a quick shot. My coaching can't be nearly as long as my blog posts!

Nancy is still geared up. I tell her to ride the weave and let me watch. I observe that she is doing two things detrimental to her success. She's waiting too long to initiate the next lean. All the while she's also rolling on the throttle and gaining too much speed. I give her two pieces of coaching. Short and sweet. Maybe my long blog posts are a release from having to give two or three word coaching tips on the range!

I tell Nancy to start thinking about the next lean as soon as the front tire clears the cone. I also show her how to roll a little bit of throttle then plant her thumb on a flat spot to keep it steady. I had watched two runs. I coached her after that. Her next run was successful. That's all the time we had. By the way, that same advice works really well for big cruisers. More on that in the next post.

When the students were leaving staging to get in line, I patted Nancy on the shoulder. I told her, "don't accelerate, just lean". She nailed a perfect offset cone weave in the eval. Nancy also passed the whole test with a decent score. The picture above was taken after I told Nancy she passed. Can you see her beaming?

I think all Nancy needed was confidence. Conquering a personal demon does a lot for that. It's amazing how a mental block can screw up everything else. I decided helping her face the challenge was a worthwhile pursuit. What I observed about her other skills during the eval confirmed that. She had a good foundation. We just needed to shore up a corner of it some.

On a side note, I'd urge anyone teaching motorcycle safety classes to spend some time on a scooter. I know that quite a number of readers here ride scooters. Reading your blogs and your comments has helped me tremendously. Let me offer my sincere thanks for what you have shared. I feel I have a much better awareness of the validity and value of scooters in the riding world because of it. I take them and their riders very seriously. So much so that I have gone and ridden several different models on my own. Begging, borrowing, and stealing all along the way! More people are bringing scooters to classes. Instructors owe it to their students to learn the quirks and differences. In some ways they're more twitchy. In other ways, they seem to take longer to respond. Having a good understanding is part of being truly professional, in my humble opinion. Ok, maybe not so humble. Whatever.

All in all, it was a win-win situation. Both Nancy and I came away with positive experiences. I wish her all the joy in the world as she enters the two wheeled world as a full fledged member!

Miles and smiles,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Full meal deal in a fast food world?

Yesterday I rode to Portland to conduct an instructor training exercise. It poured all day. I may dry out by Wednesday. More on that later. Maybe. Right now I'm interrupting the regularly scheduled programming for some self reflection. I'm going to focus on the Musings part of the blog title. Just to show I'm still an outlaw at heart, there's not going to be any photos, either.

A couple of things happened in quick succession. Here's a quote from a comment on my last post. To those who commented, by the way, I'm sorry I haven't replied. Life's been hectic the last few days. Anyway, on to the quote.

"This is an absolutely fantastic view behind the scenes. Although a bit long and windy..I did enjoy the article ."

This isn't the first time I've been accused of this. Gary C. of Rush Hour Rambling fame, said something similar. Of course, he had to resort to pretending to be Yoda when he said it! There's a lot more blogs out there than when Gary, Steve, and I started. Maybe people need shorter posts so they can keep up with all their reading. Maybe not everyone's attention span is what it used to be.

Recently, I gained a dubious distinction. According to Jay Green, the author of Road Captain Usa, I am now in a three way tie for the longest post. You can see his comment here. Jay suggests that those of us providing riding tips should cut our posts down to bite size bits. His comment is directed at Ruben Torres but I feel the innuendo.

I have to admit that Jay brings up a good point. Even if he is a Harley guy! For those of you who just found your leather fringes in a knot, relax. It's a joke! Although it might be just as fun to be flamed on a Harley forum as it was to be flamed on a scooter forum. I've always considered myself to be an equal opportunity offender, after all.

Anyway, I guess it's good to remember that some people like seven course dinners while others prefer a snack.

I'm going to think it all over for a bit. I guess when it comes to writing I feel like a chef. There's so much to share. As a motorcyclist I find the journey much more fun than the actual destination. It's a desirable trait in other areas, too. ( blush ) Maybe I'll have to mix it up a little. It's my blog and I can do what I want, but it should also serve to add some value to others. What will work best for the folks who take their time to read here?

Perhaps a blog isn't the proper venue for me anymore. I like to think I'd be a pretty decent writer with a little more effort. Katie says I should write a book. Remember James Herriot? He's the Yorkshire veterinarian who wrote "All Things Bright and Beautiful", "All Creatures Great and Small", and "All Things Wise and Wonderful".

Katie says I have enough stories from teaching that I should do something similar. I've been likened here to John Wayne and Brett Favre. I believe it was Gail who called me the Robert B. Parker of motorcycling. He's an author who's pretty descriptive in his writing. Along the lines of Raymond Chandler. Maybe it's time to become the James Herriot of the motorcycle training world.

There's always room in the market place for a well written book on riding skills, too. Who better to share riding wisdom spiced by my abundant sense of humor?

Tuesday will be the soonest I post again. The rest of today and tomorrow are booked pretty solidly.
I have to keep moving so I don't rust. In the meantime, I'll be planning the menu. Full meal deal or fast food?

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

More tales from the weekend.

Teaching motorcycle safety classes is never boring for me. Suits me just fine as I crave variety and new experiences. Or, as Katie says, guys just want something "different"! Each group of students has their own particular dynamic. Throw in the fact that I seldom work with the same instructor more than a couple of times a year and there's another layer of intrigue. I always wonder about that last part. There's only so many instructors in the mid valley. You'd think pure chance would dictate more duplication of teaching partners. For some reason there's always these last minute cancellations. Oh well.

Speaking of which, once in a while people come along who must be sort of unbalanced. This is evidenced by their desire to become instructors. They actually think it's a desirable thing to stand on hard pavement in the rain, cold, and blazing heat. These poor people have some sort of sick need to dodge motorcycles piloted by riders who move erratically and unpredictably. Not only that, but giving up perfectly good riding weekends to do it. As if life isn't hard enough already.

Stacy hung around and watched her second class. Poor girl is moving closer and closer to her doom. Now we have another one headed in the same direction. These people are actually smiling and happy about it! Come to think of it, maybe that's why I like them so much. We're supposed to be drawn to people like ourself aren't we? If we're going to be crazy let's be crazy together.

Anyway, I'd like to introduce you to Jeff.

Jeff is on the left. That's his R1200RT. On the right is Douglas, my teaching partner for the weekend. Yes, it's been a long time since I worked with Douglas. I tell you, it's tough having a reputation. I'm surprised they let me teach at all.

Sorry for the fuzzy picture. The camera lense was so cold I couldn't see my photo. I just shut my eyes and squeezed. Kind of like what a lot of our new riders do in the braking chutes!

It was a reunion of sorts for Jeff and Douglas. Jeff took our class a while back and Douglas was one of his instructors. On a serious note, let me say I really found myself liking Jeff. I met him for the first time Thursday night in the classroom. Throughout the whole cold weekend Jeff was cheerful and personable. I could see that he was taking an interest in the students and cared about their progress. If you think about it, that's a good trait for an instructor to have!

Jeff also braved the cold and snow by riding both days. He lives far enough away that riding on Sunday was a task. That's my kind of rider. Stacy's like that, too. Hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here. Anyway, I'm pleased to have Jeff working on joining us. I'm also looking forward to working with him. At least once, anyway, until he joins the rest of the turncoats!

R.G. commented on my last post that he feels I have an uncanny ability to connect with people. It's really weird because I'm not a "people" person, per se. In other words, I treasure my own company and don't feel the need to be hanging out with others too often. Which perfectly suits a long distance rider by the way. Bear in mind, though, that I actually do have friends. They're crazy fellow instructors like me or cops. Anyway, being able to connect with people is a critical and vital part of becoming an effective instructor, in my opinion.

Think of it this way. What does a new rider need to succeed? They need confidence. Confidence comes from success. A brand new rider doesn't have the skills to achieve success. At least not at first. That's why so many are so nervous. The critical element is how well the instructor can quickly get the student to trust them. There has to be a great deal of trust in the beginning. I'm asking these people to do things above and beyond their current comfort level. I'm also telling them that if they do what I ask them to, it will all work out for the good. Once the student actually feels the success of doing something their confidence increases. Which reinforces their trust in me. The goal is to keep that process moving all weekend. I like to think I've gotten sort of good at that.

One of my methods is to use a little humor along the way. In the first night's classroom, for instance, I'll tell the students that we need for them to trust our coaching. I tell them that the instructors are motorcycle people. I tell the students that the motorcycles belong to us as part of TEAM OREGON. Therefore, the students can completely trust our coaching. After all, we'd never ask them to do anything that would HARM OUR MOTORCYCLES!

Here's an example of developing trust with a brand new rider. I was actually pretty touched by what the husband told me Saturday afternoon after classroom. Meet Marvin and Susan.

Marvin has a new FZ-1 sitting in the garage. He's exhibited great self control to avoid riding it until he's legal. He does, however, start it up about five times a day! Can't have the battery going dead can we? Susan expressed her reason for taking the class as learning to become a better passenger. She did hold out the possibility that she might actually find riding on her own to be fun.

On the first day of range we spend a lot of time cementing the basic building blocks. Susan had some issues with coordinating the clutch and throttle successfully in the beginning. I worked with her and we conquered it together. Another tool I make great use of is positive reinforcement. I deeply believe that students not only need coaching on what they are needing to work on, but some sort of feedback on what's going right, as well. Back to that confidence and success thing. When I see a student has been working on something and conquers it, we celebrate together. Some thousand watt smiles happen then. They're priceless. Such was the case with Susan.

As luck would have it, Susan ended up being behind Marvin for several of the exercises. Marvin, by the way, needed some tuning but has a firm grasp on good riding skills. Anyway, on the first break Marvin told me he could look in his mirrors and see Susan smiling back there.

"You don't know how much that means to me", he told me.

We finished the range day on a positive note and headed to classroom. When class was dismissed Susan went to use the lady's powder room. That's when Marvin shared more with me.

Marvin told me he was an ex cop, as well, having been with the California Highway Patrol before he moved up here. Fellow cynics recognize each other, I guess. Marvin said he tended to be over-protective of Susan. I know exactly what he means. Just let anybody look at Katie wrong. Marvin said he had gotten to the point where he could relax and leave Susan to us. Particularly to me. He wasn't worried about her anymore and could concentrate on his own training.

That's a huge compliment. It's exactly what we're trying to accomplish as instructors. I thanked Marvin for sharing that with me. Sophie's wheels hardly touched the ground on my way home.

Unfortunately, things began to unravel on Sunday.

On our snowy Sunday morning, everyone was there except Marvin and Susan. I wondered if they had enough snow at their place that they couldn't get here. Douglas and I stalled a bit getting started. Still they weren't there. The time came for the cut-off for late students. Still not there. I finally had to shrug it off and continue. Forty five minutes later they showed up.

It seems they had a family argument about whether to set the clocks forward or back for Daylight Saving Time. Susan held out for going back and won the debate. Too bad it wasn't the correct choice. It was too late to have them join our group. However, the afternoon group was short a few people. We arranged for Marvin and Susan to join them. There was some time to kill before the afternoon group started their morning classroom session. I expressed my disappointment that they would no longer be my direct students. Marvin expressed that they were going to go seek counselling while they waited.

Marvin did okay the rest of the day. Things didn't go as well for Susan. Several things could have come into play. Since they switched groups, other students were riding the exact same bikes that the pair had been using. It wouldn't have been fair to those students to kick them off their bikes. Marvin was on a TW200 and was moved to a DR200. Dual sport to dual sport worked out. Susan had been on a standard Suzuki GN125. We had to move her to a Kawasaki BN125 cruiser. Between switching bikes, switching instructors, and the greater complexity of the second day's exercises, Susan struggled. She didn't pass the course. Would she have done better had she remained in my group? I don't really know.

My ego wants to say yes, but the afternoon instructors are top notch, too. If the pair hadn't been able to switch groups, they'd probably have been sorta out of luck for being so late on Sunday. This way they at least had the opportunity to salvage some of it. I think Susan had a chance to explore in a safe environment and find out where she is in this two wheeled world. Her expressed goal was to learn more and become a better passenger. She accomplished that. Will the fun she had on the first day outweigh the anxiety she felt on the second? If so, she'll find a way to get where she wants to be. I'm sure Marvin will support her either way.

For now, all I can say is that I'm comfortable that Marvin will be equipped to ride his FZ-1 with a lot of competence. Having had the two of them as students added to the richness I've received from teaching.

I'm going to cut this post off here. Stay tuned. There's still the student who's been watching too many episodes of The Flintstones and another scooter tale. I actually rode the scooter for a bit!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update on Kevin.

Here's a picture of Kevin and his new scooter. I do have to make a correction from the last post, though. Kevin's scooter has a displacement of 150cc, not 50cc as I stated. I'm so ashamed!

Now that the class is done I thought I'd bring you an update.

Saturday was a typical March day. Cold with clouds, but dry. At least until the afternoon group took to the range. That was their problem. We were warm and cozy in the classroom. Actually, it wasn't rain. It was ice pellets. Riding home around 3:30 PM, most of them had melted again. Sunday was a slightly different story.

Moisture from the South combined with cold air from Canada ( thanks a lot, Bryce! ) brought more snow. Daylight savings time took effect Saturday night. Douglas and I were setting up for the day in the dark and the snow. It's not a great picture but you can see the snowflakes in the lamp's light. We got snow and ice for most of the morning. Fortunately, the temperature was above freezing and we didn't have a problem with it sticking on the parking lot.

The snow wasn't enough to keep us from riding. It just added to our sense of adventure!

One of our classes in Portland to the North of us wasn't so lucky, however. The parking lot is at an elevation of around seven hundred feet. Here's a picture one of the instructors took. During the evaluation there was a big flurry of snow which ended up as slush on the pavement. She said all they needed was flavored syrup to make snow cones!

The bikes on the left are in line to do the sharp turn. The ones on the right are lined up for the quick stop. It's probably a good thing the instructors called a stop to things. The quick stop might have turned into the long slide!

Kevin did pretty well in his riding. As some of you mentioned in your comments, Kevin's experience on a bicycle showed through. He was comfortable and competent during the riding. Whatever sense of self preservation he's gained from bicycling is still an unknown at this point. I have to think he'll be well aware of his vulnerability and act prudently in harmony with that.

During the evaluations Kevin had a bit of anxiety. He'll have to tell you himself if you ever meet him whether he passed or not. A lot of students do well during the practice sessions only to fall apart during the evaluation. There's something about the word "test" that greatly multiplies the nervousness of students. Yes, there's pressure during the riding evaluation. It's also a good time for the students to gain an awareness of how they react in pressure situations.

For example, we practice the sharp turn over and over. We coach the students to use their head and eyes to guide the bike. We tell them to look at the desired outcome and not down at the hazard. Most students do it really well during practice. What happens during the eval? Now they're worried about crossing the painted lines. So where do they look? Right down at the bloody lines! No surprise when they launch outside the boundaries.

It's just a parking lot for today. Tomorrow could be the real thing. The skills test shows the students how easily they revert to habit. It also reinforces the need to make good habits so ingrained that the rider will do the right thing at the right time no matter how great the stress.

I had a chance to engage Kevin in conversation. I was curious how he was feeling about riding. His stated purpose was to use the scooter just for transportation. I wanted to know if his time spent riding had kindled a spark of fun. Was he going to use the scooter to take little trips to explore the world around him? Here's what he told me.

"It might go to McDonald's or something. If I have to go farther than that I'll get a ride with someone."

Interesting comment. Kevin's an interesting person. He has personality. He is a night manager at a Thriftway grocery store. Obviously, he's got friends and / or family who will do him favors. The scooter was delivered in a big white diesel pickup with dual rear tires. The truck was driven by a friend of Kevin's who was willing to help him out. So it's not like Kevin is some kind of strange loner. Oh wait, that would describe me, wouldn't it?

I think Kevin's just a practical person. According to the study of Neurolinguistic Programming, people relate to the world in one of two ways. They either function according to possibilities or by necessity. He's probably one of the latter. Of course, this is just the beginning. There's plenty of time for Kevin to discover the fun factor!

If not, no harm, no foul as far as I'm concerned. Motorcycle manufacturers are looking for new markets. There's only so many enthusiasts. If those corporations are anything like the one I work for, the emphasis is on growth. A lot of the motorcycle and scooter makers are starting to think about how they can lure car drivers towards two wheels. Selling the practical and economic aspects are at the top of the list.

Kevin seems to be one of those who could have been a car driver except for the fact that he claimed being behind the wheel of a car freaked him out. He needs motorized transportation and the scooter fills the bill. Weather isn't an issue as he's spent a lot of time on a bicycle in the rain and cold. Kevin's taken training and has the appropriate gear. Whatever his reasons for riding, he's doing it right.

May he find success and whatever else he's looking for in the future.

Stay tuned. There were several interesting stories from the weekend. I'll be sharing those in the next few posts.

Miles and smiles,


Friday, March 06, 2009

A scooter tale.

This entry really has nothing to do with my recent posts about some folks who choose to ride scooters. In an interesting coincidence, though, it does sort of dovetail. This is just a short story on a particular man. There's no moral to the story. Take it for what you will. Of course, typical for a long distance rider, I'm going to meander a back road or two on the way to my destination.

I'm teaching this weekend, again. The Weather Guessers are talking about snow showers Sunday morning. Oh, goodie! Last weekend I taught in Salem. My group was interesting. Heck, they all are, really. Sam and I had nine students. Seven of the nine were career military people. Five men and two women. Anthony has been a Medic for ten years. Thankfully, we didn't need his services. Ironically, though, he nailed a big handful of front brake on the quick stop drill Sunday. The pavement was wet and the front tire washed out. He jumped up and took a bow for the benefit of the others. He didn't need his own services, either. He was certainly a lot smoother after that! One of the guys and one of the gals had never ridden before. Everybody did fine. They're used to following orders, after all! At the end of class I made sure to express my appreciation for their service.

This weekend I'm here in Albany at Linn Benton Community College. Rolling in on Sophie around 5 PM, ( yes, I still can't let go, although there's currently an ad in Cycle Trader ) I checked out the motorcycle parking corral. Sitting there by itself, quiet and proud, was Balisada's Rebel. I swear, girl, I'm not stalking you! I'm a motorcyclist and so I'm naturally drawn to other motorcycles. The fact that I consider you a friend and fellow hard core commuter does add a bit more of a draw, though. You're a great example of what this blog is about. Serious about using a motorcycle for transportation with a great attitude about gear and training.

Anyway, the Rebel was a proud symbol of a dedicated commuter. It was parked back in the corner quietly waiting for the ride home. I hope you two beat the rain that spiced my own ride home later.

Like I mentioned earlier, each class has its own appeal and stories. This group has four couples. Three that are more middle aged, and one younger couple. What I find interesting are the reasons for taking the class that the gals offered.

One stated that she's just not going to ride behind her husband anymore. They're in my group so I may get a further clue. I gather there's an unpleasant experience or two there. Another gal says she doesn't know if she wants to ride on her own or not. Mainly, so she says, she just wants to be a better passenger. One lady is very enthused about doing her own thing. The young woman probably plans to mostly be a passenger but wants to be able to ride the motorcycle should that be required. I hope she finds her own passion for riding in the journey this weekend.

Which brings me to Kevin. He's just bought a scooter like these. Only 50cc but big and fast enough that DMV says an endorsement is required. A few days ago there were three of these sitting here. Today there's two. The third now lives with Kevin. His story is interesting.

Kevin was sitting in the hallway when I arrived to open the classroom. He said he'd been there since three. That's when his ride was coming to town so that's when he had to travel. Kevin lives in Sweet Home which is about 25 miles SE of here.

Things got interesting when I asked Kevin to fill out the waiver and to leave his driver's license out so I could take a look at it. Kevin stated he had just gotten his driver's license for the first time. No, he's not 16. He's a little over 40. The only reason he got the driver's license is because he discovered he needed to get that first so he could get the motorcycle endorsement for the scooter.

It seems being behind the wheel of a car "freaks me out" to quote Kevin. Circumstances turned out so that Kevin needed motorized transportation. He saw the scooter on sale for eight hundred dollars and decided he could do that. Since Kevin was the first student there, I took the opportunity to probe a little bit.

Up until now, Kevin had a roomie. This guy worked at the same place and owned an SUV. They worked slightly different shifts. Kevin would get a ride to work with his bicycle stashed in the back of the SUV. When he got off at night, Kevin would ride the bicycle home. Then the roomie moved out of state, leaving Kevin alone. Besides the now extended bicycle ride, Kevin was faced with things like getting big bags of dog food home. Due to his anxiety over driving, Kevin saw the scooter and decided to buy that. He needs an endorsement so here he is. Actually, there's just a little bit more to the story.

Kevin purchased the scooter at Joe's. One of the points that was brought up earlier was how the place of purchase could affect the rider's decision on taking training. So I asked Kevin if the people at Joe's had said anything about gear and training.

To my pleasant surprise, Kevin pulled out a piece of paper. He had all the stuff with him, by the way, even the owner's manual. The paper was an 8 X 10 photocopied document. Basically it stated that Joe's had partnered with TEAM OREGON to provide a resource for training. The paper provided our website and phone number for registration. I do not know if there was any financial consideration provided to Kevin. He didn't offer and I didn't pry.

I was out and about this morning so I stopped to take these photos. It seems our blog posts just aren't complete without pictures anymore! I asked the gal at the customer service desk if I could get a copy of the paper. It would have been nice to post it here. In typical teenaged bubblegum chomping fashion, she was less than helpful. Probably her Friday night date was a lot more important than her job and customers. I decided it wasn't worth the trouble and let it go. My Grandfather always told me to never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig. Save it for the really worthwhile stuff. Not that I'm calling the girl a pig, mind you. Just picture the general principle without picturing Petunia. Er, I mean, the girl.

Kevin was also pretty freaked out about the shifting thing. That's another reason he bought the scooter. "I want nothing to do with that shifting stuff", he declared.

I encouraged Kevin to take the class on his scooter if he could get it there legally. Kevin said he had a friend who could haul it down for him and would like to do that. He's not in my group but I'm going to keep in touch with the PM instructor to see how it's going. I'd hope Kevin's enthusiasm for riding will catch fire over the weekend. If the scooter remains practical transportation only, I'm still happy. He's here for training and we'll do our best to do right by him!

Keep you posted. No, that's not really a pun even though it sounds like it.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, March 02, 2009

On to other things.

If you remember a while back I mentioned I received notice about an ignition switch recall on the 06-09 Yamaha FJR's. Actually, I was going to say, "If you recall" but then I would have written the word "recall" again and that would have been redundant. So I won't do it. There was some sort of heat problem in a connection which could cause the bike to quit running. Whatever you happened to be doing at the time!

I called Yamaha and they told me it wasn't in the system yet, but not to ride the bike in the meantime. What else could Yamaha say? Anyway, I finally received the official letter. You know how the first thing that goes through your mind at times like these is that you'll be facing a big hassle? Much to my relief and pleasure, things couldn't have gone more smoothly.

On a Saturday morning I called the dealer where I had purchased Elvira. It's Bob Lamphere's Beaverton Honda-Yamaha-Suzuki. A fellow named Nate told me he'd have to initiate a work order and order the ignition switch. When the switch came in, he'd call me to set up the actual work. That worked for me. About ten minutes later Nate called me back and said he actually had a switch in stock. We set up an appointment for the following Thursday.

At 9 AM when they opened I showed up at their new service location. It was a cold, brisk, 74 mile ride. Awesome! That was just one way and the ride home was still ahead of us. Elvira and I happened to roll up next to a fellow who turned out to be an employee. He was riding a beautiful copper colored R6 to work. I was greeted and shown to the roll-up door where I needed to be. Nate met me and said to give them two hours or so. I stashed my gear in a quiet corner of an empty room and headed out on foot. Quite conveniently, there's a huge mall called Washington Square located within a three quarter mile walk. Even better, there's two Starbucks!

I made some business phone calls while getting a little exercise strolling the corridors. True to his word, when the little hand on my watch was on 11 and the big hand on 12, a call came from Nate. Elvira was ready to go. Walking back to the shop, I saw Elvira sitting where I'd left her but facing the opposite direction. I signed the paperwork and was good to go. They'd even spiffed her up a little!

Lamphere's service department really deserves a hearty round of praise. The recall correction was handled for me as smoothly, professionally, and cheerfully as I could ever ask for. As I told the guys, they rock!

By the way, in case you're wondering why there's a picture of Elvira by a crate?

She's got a wicked heart under that bodywork. Elvira's sleek, agile, body and hot burning motor cause us to do things that, well, ummm, we probably shouldn't do. I'm a motorcycle safety professional, for heaven's sake! I don't condone or approve of those kind of things. Seriously, quit snickering. Elvira's a bad influence on me. Here I am, minding my own business, and she's trying to stir up trouble. So I parked her next to a crated FJR.

Got that, Elvira? Behave yourself or I'll sell you for scrap and buy another FJR that looks just like you!

Miles and smiles,