Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Got grip?

Wow! Life seems to be swirling about me at a rapid pace. Training season is in full swing. I've spent the last three days working with riders from rank beginners to professionals. Saturday and Sunday I taught a basic riding course. Yesterday saw me joining a group of instructors for another motor cop training day. I'm looking forward to sharing a few of the stories. I haven't been posting much lately due to the time element. The pressure's been building so be prepared for a flurry.

Lucky and Lady Luck are back in Oregon. We talked on the phone Saturday. They were actually in my town but we missed connections. In the meantime, Lucky's haunting the Pacific Coast as they work their way North. I know for sure that Lucky's stirring up trouble. Whether Lady Luck is a co-conspirator or innocent bystander remains to be seen! They'll be in Portland at the end of the week and I'm looking forward to seeing them again.

One bit of good news is that I'm still riding for work. Today my business was close to home. I don't know if I feel a connection or I'm just a stalker at heart. I find myself drawn to places where I know folks who ride to work. This time it was to Barenbrug. It's a large grass seed distributor where Bradley is a logistics coordinator. He's also a fellow blogger. The building has a neat look. Here's a picture of Elvira out in front.

It's not in the photo, but a lot of the building is made up of that dark glass. Kind of a Darth Vader thing. You can see the bikes on the background. Want a closer look?

That's Bradley's Triumph on the left. There was a bunch of bright sunlight and I forgot the hood for the Nikon lense. It looks like a couple of folks have joined Bradley in riding to work. By the way, Mr. Troubadour, you're a great example of a motorcycle commuter. I'd be honored to add you to my blog roll with your permission.

I spent a bit of time riding circles in Barenbrug's parking lot. I wanted to stop and take the photos but didn't want to attract too much attention. I could see some people peering out the windows. I figured I should finally either park or leave. You can see how it came out. Nobody came out to talk to me. I'm not as interesting as I think I am, it seems.

On another note, I'm taking a class in digital photography. It's one night a week for five weeks. Like in many endeavours, professional instruction can provide a faster track to a higher skill level. While making photographs doesn't have the same risk as riding, it sure adds to the quality of life. Interestingly, the two main cameras the instructor is using as examples are the Canon 40D and the Nikon D40. I happen to own the Nikon D40. Neat. Everything applies directly to what I'm riding, as it were. This week we'll be learning about exposure. Will it be the art of stripping or how to deal with lighting conditions? We'll see what reveals itself, so to speak!

In a reversal of the parent taking the child to the first day of class, Clinton wanted to ride with me to Lebanon where the class is being held. That's about 16 miles from home if you take the straight route. Who does that on a bike? So I picked a back road route with a few curves. I'm both proud and greatly pleased to ride with one or the other of my sons. I totally enjoyed the ride with Clinton.

It was an interesting ride. Several of the corners had gravel scattered in them. The gravel really seemed to get to Clinton. I'd be ripping through and look back to see Clinton far behind. I thought of how it was a great lesson in riding.

This is a good time to make a clarification. Clinton is a good rider. He's had an endorsement since he got his driver's license at 16. Now he's 21. However, he's only been riding seriously for the past couple of years since he got the VFR. When you look at the two bikes in the photo, you see two sport touring bikes. What you don't see is the vast experience difference between the two riders. One of the riders has a good start on gaining experience. The other has a lifetime of exposure to different situations covering every kind of weather over hundreds of thousands of miles.

There's the intellectual side of things. Things we know we should do. Things that we sometimes haven't actually done. One of these days we'll finally encounter a situation where the thinking and the execution come together. That's a powerful combination. By now you're probably wondering what I'm really trying to say. Let's go back to the corners.

I'm looking far ahead. I see the gravel well ahead of time. I have the opportunity to slightly change my line into the clear spot. A lifetime of riding and over a decade of training other riders combine to make me precise. I can put the front tire exactly where I want it. Even if the clear spot is only as wide as the tire itself. I also know from experience that my front or rear tire might slip slightly if I can't find a totally clear spot to ride in. I can adjust my speed and lean angle to my benefit. If the tires do slip a bit, I know they won't slide out from under me. Grip will come back pretty quickly if I trust the tires to do their job. I do my job as a rider and the tires do theirs. I'm prudent but fast in the gravel strewn curves.

My fellow rider, on the other hand, is competent but doesn't have the same foundation. This is the point of the story. Clinton was riding within his limits which is totally the right thing to do. What if he had found himself in the middle of a gravel patch where he hadn't really intended to be? His reaction to the situation, rather than the gravel itself, could have been the difference between successfully negotiating the corner or crashing.

This happens in a great many of the motorcycle crashes. The rider panics and the fear of crashing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have a chance, you should check out the April issue of Rider Magazine. Eric Trow does a column entitled "Riding Well". Here's an excerpt from his "Still Got Air?" column.

"Scuba divers are trained to first focus on one main thing above all else in panic situations. When a scene becomes overwhelming and the odds seem grimly stacked against the diver, the first question he must ask himself is 'Do I still have air?' If the answer is "yes" then the diver can reassure himself that, despite any other looming threat, he still has the primary thing necessary to survive under water. The rest is just stuff to work through. Calmly.

Like divers, far too many riders are injured or killed unnecessarily because they allow panic to take over when things go wrong. If we pick up on the advice of diving instructors-to recognize what is still working in our favor-it stands to reason that we could significantly improve our chances of survival on the street. In other words, we must discipline ourselves to push aside the threats that are screaming for our immediate attention ( Guardrail! Rock face! Approaching car! and I add Gravel! ) and concentrate on the important stuff. "Still got grip?' Terrific. Now let's focus on the exit of the turn and ride to it."

I tried to find a link to the entire article but couldn't in the time allotted. I'd recommend that you try to find a copy of the magazine. It would be well worth the effort.

Experience is an ally. Panic is a foe. The more experience enters the picture the less influence panic will have. In the meantime, stay calm. Focus on the solution, not the problem. Ask yourself the all important question. Got grip?

Miles and smiles,


Monday, June 22, 2009

Are you looking at me?

This is the rest of the story of Ride to Work Day. After leaving Corvallis I headed to Beaverton. My plan was to stop at Beaverton Honda and order some new helmets for Katie and I. We have matching Arai helmets for when we ride together. Otherwise I use a different Arai. Anyway, it suddenly dawned on me that these helmets were now nine years old. Time to get new ones. What didn't dawn on me was that the shop isn't open on Monday's, yet. They close on Sunday and Monday during the off season. Since their parking lot was also gated shut, I pulled into the parking lot of the Staples across the street.

Being a factory rep, I had to hit a job site and look at some supposedly defective product. There's just no substitute for actually seeing what's going on. Besides, the factories will hardly talk to you unless you've gone and taken a look. So I called the distributor to find out who to see. He offered to join me. Cool. We set a time for a half hour hence. As it turns out, that was a little optimistic on my part.

Beaverton is a suburb of Portland. There's a population of a million or more in the area these days. It sounds simple to head East, skirt the South side of Portland, hit the West side, then head North to Vancouver, Washington. Highways 26 and 84 are the main East-West routes. The roads aren't big enough for the current volume of traffic. Then there's I-205 that takes you over the Columbia River into Washington. Let's just say it took longer than expected. Either way, it's certainly better being on a bike than idling in traffic trapped in a car.

Which leads me to the punch line, so to speak.

My destination was Southwest Washington Medical Center. It's a very large hospital which specializes in cancer treatment. It's as busy as an ant hill, sad to say. I pull into the parking lot and notice the distributor's Cadillac Escalade parked there already. I rode in that once, by the way. I just don't get it. My seat was five feet from the dash. I sank into the plush leather until I could hardly see over the faraway dash. The instrument cluster, radio with extra large LDC display, and polished wood looked as big as the top of my desk if I stood it up on its side. I guess it's the ultimate way to insulate and isolate yourself from the road. It's just not for me. I'll have enough isolation and insulation when I'm in a casket underground. Life's precious. Let's feel it while we can.

I don't expect the visit to last very long. Not my earthly one; the job site one. I'm already late. Due to having extra stuff and the Nikon in the bags, there's not a lot of extra room to stash my gear. It would take time and effort to tuck it all away. So I decide to just stash the helmet and gloves. I walk over to the contractor's modular office in my 'Stich. Hi-Viz and all.

Do you know how something can be totally second nature to you but sort of freak out other people? It wasn't so much the riding gear itself. The distributor knows I ride. He has a model of a cruiser on his bookshelf. He doesn't ride but says he would if his wife would let him. Whatever. I'd noticed on earlier visits that there were a couple of ratty looking chopper type bikes parked by the job shack. The man in charge has a magazine page of a Harley Night Rod on his office wall. So it wasn't the riding gear that really mattered. The fun began over head wear.

This photo isn't from that actual job site. It's actually from a project at Linn Benton Community College where Balisada works. However, it reflects the typical policy on job sites these days. Contractors are being extra fussy about safety these days. I certainly understand why. In some places I'm even required to don a bright orange safety vest. As are all the subcontractor's employees. No vest on this job but the first question out of the Project Engineer's mouth was,

"Do you have a hard hat?"

I usually carry a hardhat if I'm in a car. Mostly, though, I'm on a bike so I don't take up the space. Believe me, contractors always have spares to cover themselves. No pun intended. I replied that I didn't have a hard hat but I had a motorcycle helmet. Being told that wouldn't do, I was handed a hard hat. It wouldn't have been so bad if I had taken off the 'Stich and left it in the office. I never even thought of it. A riding suit is like my regular clothing. So off we went into the new tower.

You would think the workers on the job had never seen a motorcyclist before. Was I at a hospital or a zoo? I got some really strange looks. I mean, other than the fact that it's my middle-aged, going-to-fat body, what's so strange about this picture? ( too much taking people out to eat, too much riding, not enough gym time; better change that ratio, I think ) I had a white hard hat on the job site. This is my own Green Bay hard hat. I mean, the color even complements the Hi-Viz, doesn't it?

I have to say that I think I accomplished the purpose of Ride to Work Day, don't you? Isn't that your goal, Andy? To call attention to the fact that people ride motorcycles to work and use them for everday transportation? We want to make sure that the public notices us, don't we? I'd check off "mission accomplished" on all counts.

As I suspected, the actual time on the job didn't last too long. Once I pointed out the glaring installation error it was clear that it was not a factory problem. As a bonus, and trying to be ever helpful, I even showed them how to quickly fix the error. I was off the hook, the contractor was happy, and it sure looked like the distributor was providing good customer service. A totally winning situation.

Since it was Ride to Work Day, I decided to check out the grounds for other bikes. Some were familiar and some I hadn't seen before. Here's a photo tour.

This beauty was parked outside the Family Birthing Center. Do you think a pregnant lady was transported on the passenger seat on her way to give birth? Wouldn't it be cool to say you were born on Ride to Work Day?

This parking area is right around the corner from the Physical Plant. That's where the Maintenance and Facilities offices are. What's interesting is that you must have to ride either a dual sport or a scooter to park here. I've never seen any other species here.

This scooter is intriguing. It says "Scarabeo" on the side. I believe it's made by Aprilia. If I remember correctly, there's a 125, a 250, and a 500. Risking being incorrect, I'd venture to say this is the 500. There's a badge on the front fairing that says "ABS". Wow! This thing is plush. Kind of like a rolling easy chair with ABS for stopping during those flying trips to the icebox or bathroom!

Seriously, it looks like a sweet and comfortable ride. I'm intrigued by it. Wonder if I could finagle a ride sometime?

Here's the other side of the parking area. Like I said, scooters or dual sports!

Walking around to the other side of the campus, I didn't see any other bikes except for this Kawasaki hunkered down at the entrance to the parking structure.

The distributor had remained behind to deal with a couple of matters that had nothing to do with me. Coincidentally, I passed by the job shack on the way back to the bike. He was also heading to the parking lot. Passing up his Cadillac, he walked with me to the bike. I could see the hunger in his eyes. At least I thought it was for the bike. Maybe it was, but he invited me to lunch, his treat. Usually it's me buying lunch or dinner. We had great fish and chips at an Irish Pub. You see my problem? No beer, though. I still have to ride home.

Afterwards, that what I did. Arriving home, there was a little over two hundred milles racked up for the day. A great Ride to Work Day, don't you think?

Miles and smiles,


Friday, June 19, 2009

Ride to Work (tm) stories.

I have a couple of stories and a very funny experience to share from Monday's Ride to Work Day. First, though, a little housekeeping.

A little clarification seems to be in order. It concerns my hundred mile per hour maximum braking run. Mr. Riepe made a joke about trying to duplicate the feat in a parking lot. I'm hoping it was just a joke, Jack. You never know about those BMW riders, after all. Then somebody else made a comment that made it look like they thought I was in traffic or a parking lot. Just to be clear, I was on a coned off airport taxiway. It was set expressly for the purpose of conducting high speed braking and swerving drills for the motor cops. The standard disclaimer of this being a professional rider on a closed course is literally true.

This next comment is specifically for Mr. Steve Williams. Yes, I chided you for purposely skidding the rear tire to see what the bike does. Now you know the correct way to practice. You're wasting your time on skidding the rear tire. Everyone knows that the most stopping power is in the front so that's the one you should practice sliding first! ( note: The last statement was written with tongue firmly in cheek! )

Life has been hectic, as you can see by the lack of posts. Elvira is home. However, the curse continues. I ordered a new mirror for the right side of the bike to replace the scratched up one. Three times it has come in as a left side mirror. No amount of explaining that this is the THROTTLE side of the bike seems to help. I don't think it's the dealer's fault. There seems to be some sort of glitch with the Yamaha warehouse. One of the boxes even had the correct part number on it. The mirror was still wrong. Tuesday morning will see Elvira fitted with new Metzeler Road Tec Z6 tires. I really like these tires, for whatever it's worth.

Training season is in full swing. We're seeing a bit of affect from the down economy. Where classes used to be filled 90 days out, now it's closer to 45. Good news for those who want to take training as the wait isn't as long, I guess. I taught a class last night. As I was cruising through the parking lots of the community college I spied Balisada walking towards her Rebel. We briefly chatted. I'm often at the college for one reason or another. The Rebel is almost always there. A tip of my helmet to you, girl! You're a great example of what this blog is about.

Monday found me riding for work, as usual. One of my stops was at Oregon State University. I'd been down to Medford over the weekend conducting an instructor training exercise. We were following a morning group of new riders. In the afternoons on both days there were what we call IRT ( Intermediate Rider Training ) classes going on. This class is for folks who know the basics of riding but need to get endorsed. We work on mental strategies and accident avoidance skills in the process. Students can bring their own bikes or use ours. In the class pictured above three riders brought their own bikes. Two guys looked like the ZZ Top band. They both also had Harleys. The gal in the back brought her little red scooter. It struck me as an interesting contrast. The ZZ Top guys were a little worried about image, even though I give them great credit for taking training on their own bikes. The girl was just there to learn and was having a great time.

As you can see in the photo, I caught an instructor in mid stride. His name is Alain. He's French Canadian. Alain likes to move quickly. I consider Alain a close friend and it was good to see him, again. Even if I had to travel over two hundred miles to do it!

TEAM OREGON is headquartered at OSU. I had stuff to take back to the office. There's a few curves on the route if you ride through Bryant Drive and Riverside Drive. Unfortunately, I had to hit Highway 34 to finish my trip to Corvallis. As some of the locals know, this four lane highway isn't the most pleasant place to ride. People think it's the freeway and drive like crazy while still talking on cell phones, eating, reading the paper, etc. The accident rate is pretty high.

As I neared Corvallis I was in the left lane. To my right was a small, beat up gray sedan. The driver was a somewhat plump girl. She looked to be in her mid twenties. Her passenger was a tall, thin, scruffy looking fellow. I'm immediately on alert. I would be anyway, but the beat up condition of the car suggested the possibility of less than careful driving, if you know what I mean. We're approaching a stop light where you can either go left to take the bypass towards the coast or cross the bridge into downtown Corvallis. The light is a few blocks away, yet. The sedan is coming up behind a slow moving truck. The little voice in my head tells me to roll off the throttle.

Sure enough, the girl looks over her shoulder to change lanes. Trouble is, the look happens at the exact moment she moves the car into my lane. I always thought you should look first, then move if it's clear. If you have enough attention span, you also throw in an advance turn signal. Since I'm prepared, it's a case of no harm, no foul. However, if I hadn't been ready, she'd have taken me out. It was pretty close as it was. Interestingly, there's more.

After the driver had violated my space, I gave her a slight beep of the horn. I mean, how else does a factory motorcycle horn sound? It wasn't an angry blast, just a reminder that there was actually a person on the bike she tried to cut off or run over. The horn button tap was accompanied by a sort of half shrug with my left hand and arm. Sort of, "What where you thinking, if you even were?" There was no response from the girl. At least not yet.

As we approached the bridge, the gal pulled back into the right lane as she had passed the truck. I pulled even with her. I know, living dangerously, isn't it? Her window was down. She looked over at me. Both hands came off the steering wheel in the supplicational position commonly associated with prayer. She mouthed "I'm sorry" to me. Did I mention both hands were off the steering wheel? Did I also mention that we were going over a narrow two lane bridge with concrete walls on both sides? As she was busy genuflecting her car was rapidly drifting to the right. Now I'm praying, too. Albeit with both hands still firmly on the grips. I'm praying she doesn't bounce off the wall and come back into my lane. Fortunately, it all came out okay. Hey, I appreciate the apology, but for heaven's sake use some sense, here!

Farther down Harrison street I saw a woman sitting at a stop light on a side street. She appeared to be middle aged. She was dressed just like you'd expect a mom to be dressed as she went shopping. Tennis shoes, shorts, a button down blouse, and a three quarter face helmet. Oh, did I mention she was on a scooter? I believe it was a Honda Metropolitan. Anyway, as I was approaching I waved. I'm on Elvira, a sleek black big sport touring motorcycle. The full 'Stich, gloves, and full face helmet on my body. The ultimate hard core rider. We're about a half block apart when I wave at Scooter Mom. She stares back. As her face is out in the open, I can clearly see several expressions cross her face in a very short time. There's plenty of time to watch her as the speed limit is 25. As everyone knows, I am a very meek and law abiding person!

First is the blank look. Then confusion comes in. I can see her look around a bit. Like she's searching for somebody. Then a bit of understanding crosses her countenance. Almost like it was literally written on her face, I see,

"Holy crap, he's actually waving at ME!"

A smile and a return wave end the brief interchange between us. I can't help but think I made her morning. Is she new to riding? Does she commonly get ignored by riders of shifting bikes? I don't know. I always wave at scooter riders. We're all on two wheels for one thing. Sometimes there's not much difference between so called motorcycles and scooters these days, for another. The lines are becoming more blurred all the time. Who needs divisions? Let's just ride.

This was only the start of my day. The best and funniest experience is yet to come. However, this post is getting pretty long by itself. I know how easily I can bore you all, so I'll continue it in the next post. Here's a hint. Think construction job sites, a Roadcrafter riding suit, and hard hats!

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Front wheel skid, or Things I really don't want to do again!

Like I mentioned earlier, we conducted a motor cop training class yesterday. I managed to borrow our program's ST1100. It's a 2003 model but it only has about 7600 miles on it. Originally the bike was set up as a police bike. Most of the fun stuff has been stripped off of it. We're using it for the Eye Tracker project I wrote about previously. I can't tell you how good it felt to be back in the saddle of a bike like Sophie! It felt like coming home after a long journey.

This post isn't about the police training per se. I'll probably catch up on that down the road a bit. This is a story about what happens when you have a bike, the opportunity, and too much time on your hands.

We all met up at the track while the cops were in the classroom. From there we split into two groups of four. That would give each group somewhere around 14 or 15 cops. Jeff Earls of IronButt fame, Dan Batz the ultimate sportbike guy, Ray our training manager, and Dean W ( who reads and comments here ) were to be one group. Dean was FJR mounted. He's one of the few I've seen who can really get the most out of the FJR's sporting side. You know how some riders are all elbows and knees? They look like they're doing a lot but it's all flailing about. Dean's just the opposite. He's deceptively smooth. Also wickedly fast!

Scott, a state cop and former motor officer himself, went to help The Director with paperwork in the classroom. That left Laurie and I to meander over to the airport. The plan was to have half the motor officers start at the airport while the other half would start at the track. At lunchtime our groups would switch venues.

At the airport we use a taxiway that we block off. Since we do maximum braking and swerving drills at speeds up to 70 mph, we need a lot of straight line room. So there you have the background. Laurie and I were with the group starting at the airport and were hanging around waiting for the other two instructors to arrive with our half of the motor cops.

We were told to be ready for this arrival at about 10 AM. As it turns out, it would be about 40 minutes later than that when everyone else showed up. Hmmm. Time to kill. As much as we enjoy each other's company, time started to drag. We have all this space and two perfectly capable bikes just sitting there begging to play.

Laurie's ZX-12 is an awesome bike. However, in the right hands, the ST is no slouch, either!

I know. Let's practice our high speed braking and swerving demonstrations. Soon there's two bikes zooming up and down the pavement. Riding certainly makes the time pass much more enjoyably than standing around waiting!

When the motor officers run the braking drills, they start at 45 mph. Then we move to 60 mph. Then we do it at 70 mph. I use the word "we" on purpose. In our program, you're not allowed to teach motors unless you can prove to The Director that you actually have the physical and coaching skills required. That's why there's only about 8 of us certified for this course. You can't effectively coach unless you've personally experienced it. Over and over. Then there's the credibility thing. Cops can smell incompetency a mile away. They're not going to respect an instructor's coaching if they feel the instructor doesn't have the skills themselves. Being conscientious folks, we take advantages of opportunities to run the maximum braking drills at high speeds. Over and over. You need to know how the bike reacts and how it feels. You need to be able to watch a bike coming at you and see what's really happening. Then describe to the officer how to fine tune their technique. And, we have to do demonstrations at the start of each exercise. Any one of us who's handy.

With me so far?

Laurie decides to park her bike and get some water. Then I have this idea. It's either really brave or really, really stupid. Maybe I should have just taken a water break, too.

I remember when I first started training motor cops. The idea of doing a maximum braking stop from 70 mph kind of freaked me out. I've written about this before. Riders always think they can do whatever even though they've never actually done it. I had stopped quickly from about 40 to 45 mph before. I figured I could do it from 70 if I had to. Or could I? Now that I've actually done it, I know for sure, There's no guessing. That's a value of training, by the way. I know for sure that I can stop a bike quickly and safely from very high speeds because I did it just yesterday. How many can say that?

But I'm rambling, again.

Sometimes during the runs, I'll let the speeds creep up. A few stops were at 80 mph. So far so good. That's when I had my brain flash, if you will.

What about a hundred miles per hour? Isn't that a magical number? Say it with me. A hundred miles per hour. The magical "ton". Not that I'd ever ride that fast on the streets, mind you. Well, there's always the chance that I'd be passing somebody and roll a little more throttle than I intended. You know how some of these bikes respond so quickly. However, if I WERE to suddenly find myself at that speed, could I execute a maximum straight line braking maneuver without crashing?

Come on, don't tell me you never wondered about it. I mean, wouldn't you just like to know? I suddenly had this powerful urge to find out. Did I mention that this ST doesn't have ABS?

Let's find out. I start my run. Normally, on a straight piece of pavement like this, a hundred miles per hour would seem like a whole bunch of fun. I'm getting a little uneasy for some reason. There's a bit of burning in my cheeks. My stomach knots up some. I take a deep breath and try to relax. No guts, no glory, I shout in my helmet. A hundred isn't much more than 80. The speedo needle doesn't even move very far.

The cue cones are coming up fast. It's time. I tell myself "shake the hand". In case that doesn't mean to you what it means to me, I'll tell you. That's how I describe to students how they should apply the front brake. It's like a handshake. You grasp their hand then firmly, but smoothly, apply pressure. I squeeze and press while tap dancing on the shift lever. Speed's scrubbing off nicely when I suddenly feel the bars start their own dance. They're dancing to a song with a funny sounding squeal to it. The front tire is sliding.

Here's a picture of the skid mark.

I'll show you another angle in a bit. As we've been trained and train others, I instantly recognize it and let go. Then reapply. The bike and I come to a stop upright. The skid mark is about 35 feet long. That seems like a long ways. I guess it is, but there's another way to look at it.

Here's the other angle.

You can see the mark right down the middle of the photo.

I really can't say how fast the bike was going when the skid started. I was at a hundred when I started braking. The skid happened shortly after I applied the brakes. About 25 feet after the start cone. You can just see the bottom of the cue cone at the top of the photo. I'd estimate the speed to be around 60 or 65. Maybe a little faster. At 60 mph the bike is covering 88 feet per second. The length of the skid mark gives me a reaction time of just under a half second. Remember, I knew ahead of time where and when I would start braking. You can also bet I was VERY tuned into the front tire. So I was ready to react as instantly as possible. We don't have that luxury on the streets when we're surprised, obviously. And, too, this was just an estimate on speed. My eyes were locked onto the horizon. Staring at the speedometer while doing a quick stop like this is pretty poor technique!

I'd like to point out that skidding the front tire was not a failure. Sure, the best technique is to achieve the shortest stop possible without sliding either tire. Life on the streets on a bike is not perfect, by any means. There are just too many variables. Knowing what to do is important. Knowing what to do if the first plan goes awry is just as important. The ability to recognize and properly react to a front wheel skid is vital. A successful rider needs to be rigidly flexible when it comes to reacting to changing circumstances. At the end, the bike and I still achieved a quick stop in an upright position from a hundred miles per hour. I sort of consider that a success!

The upshot? Now I know for sure. I've been there and peered over that edge. Some may call it brave. Some may call it foolish. Before anyone reaches a verdict, though, please remember this. We are professional riders and trainers. I speak for all of us when I say we've all paid our dues. We pretty much live on bikes. We've spent countless hours training and honing skills. We've all seen thousands of students, from beginners to those who ride for a living. We're intimately familiar with how bikes react in all kinds of situations.

For me this was just another step forward from a place I'd been many times before. So the skid mark on the pavement was the only skid mark on the scene, if you know what I mean. This would be a good time to issue the standard warning not to try this at home.

Still, though, every rider should ask themselves the same question.

"Wouldn't I just like to know for sure?"

It doesn't have to be ( and shouldn't be ) at the same level. What about lower speeds? Wouldn't you like to know you could actually swerve, brake, or otherwise properly execute an emergency maneuver at actual riding speeds? The only way to know is to actually do it. So go to professional training or practice prudently on your own. Some day you'll be really thankful you did! Because then you can say,

"I know".

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Troubling month.

It's been a troubling month here in Lake Wobegon. Thus would Garrison Keillor start the story on his radio show. "The Prairie Home Companion". I'm not sure if Mr. Keillor ever rode a motorcycle. Either way, the name of his fictional town surely describes how I feel. As the sun sets on May, I'm hoping for better things in June. Speaking of sunsets, I took this photo at the coast over Mother's Day weekend. The Nikon captured an interesting second sun in the water.

I don't know if I have somehow angered the Motorcycling Gods. Perhaps I've disturbed the Great Cosmic Karma. After a lifetime of owning and riding Hondas, perhaps my switch to Yamaha has created unsettling eddies in the flow of The Force. Sellling Sophie after so many miles together has to have shaken up the natural order of things. It could even be that I have offended the Gods by naming my FJR after the Mistress of Darkness, Elvira. Whatever the reason, things are totally out of synch at the moment. Even as I write this, there is a huge thunderstorm overhead. Big lightning flashes are accompanied by peals of thunder only a couple of seconds behind. As the title of this post says, May was a troubling month.

Go back early in the month. You may recall my writing of a particular trip back to the Mothership in Kirkland. I wrote of a little "incident". I've decided to share it with you. I find it sort of personally shameful. I will swallow my pride in order that you all may benefit from a timely reminder.

I'm on the way home from Kirkland. It's around 7 PM. Elvira and I are 17 hours into what will turn out to be a 20 hour day. On very little sleep the night before, we set out at 3 AM. The plan was to ride to Kirkland, attend an all day meeting, then ride back home right afterwards. For 17 hours the plan has come off without a hitch. Suddenly, I find myself in the middle of a slow motion nightmare.

We're back in Woodland. 14 hours earlier I'd met Annie, the pixie pouring coffee at Starbucks. My destination this time was a Subway sandwich shop on the other side of the freeway. The plan was to buy a sandwich, ride back to Starbucks, and enjoy the sandwich with coffee. That would refresh me for the balance of the ride home, another couple of hours. I needed the break. So far I'd been riding into a stiff headwind full of cold rain. I could warm up and relax some tired muscles. A side benefit would be that commuter traffic in Portland would have more of a chance to clear off the freeway. The coffee and sandwich were good. Then things went horribly wrong.

All the convenient parking spots sloped uphill towards the coffee shop. I backed into the spot on the far right. I struggled some, but managed to push the bike backwards up hill. I left Elvira in gear and she stayed put. There were two empty spaces to my right. Besides sloping uphill towards the building. the whole landscape sloped down towards our right. Backing in allowed me to have the sidestand deployed on the high side of the slope. The wind was still gusting enthusiastically. The pavement has some standing water on it. I'm still not sure of the exact sequence, but it was something like this.

I mounted Elvira and straightened her up. With the sidestand up, I started the bike. Both feet down on the ground. Hands on the clutch and front brake. I let out the clutch. As per habit, the wheels have barely begun to turn when my feet go onto the pegs. The bike doesn't smoothly take off. Instead, the front wheel jerks to the right. I would see later that the front tire had caught on a small rippled rut in the blacktop. At the same time, the jarring causes my clutch hand to slip off the lever. My soaked glove let go its grip. So, of course, the bike stalls. I have no power with which to save things. I quickly try to get my fingers back around the lever so I can fire the bike up once more. At the same time, I put my feet back down to try to catch the bike. My right boot slips on the wet pavement that slopes away from the bike. Extreme fatigue has me thinking a little slowly. I should have immediately squared up the handlebars. The delay in doing so starts us down the road to disaster.

By now Elvira's weight is over center to the right. The fall has begun and I am powerless to stop it. Oh, I try, all right! With everything I have I'm trying to stop the tip over. I finally gain purchase with the right boot but it's way too late. The best I can do is to slow the descent. All the way down I'm still straddling the bike. At the last minute I'm forced into a pratfall of my own over the right side and land on my hands and knees. I get up to see Elvira on the pavement on her side.

Dang. I am less than enchanted.

Maybe it was good that there were empty parking spots next to us. At least nobody's car got scratched or dented. On the other hand, the bike might not have gone all the way over. A few people were still in the coffee shop. Next door is a busy Safeway lot. Well, as busy as a small place like Woodland gets. Nobody came out to help. I know how to pick up a big bike by myself. This is the first time I've ever had to do it with a bike of my own, however.

The damage to the bike isn't bad. The mirror folded under and got some scratches, as you can see. The right saddlebag has some scratches, as well. The fairing and one pipe have a couple of small gouges. We made it the rest of the way home without further injury. Except for me kicking myself. No matter how you look at it, or how I describe it, the tip-over was my own fault. Fatigue, a second's inattention, bad weather, and a weird parking spot combined to defeat my resources at that instant.

When I told Katie about it, here was her comment:

"Maybe it was a reminder that you're not superhuman. Not even if you think you are."

She said it kindly while giving me a consoling hug. I had been pushing hard for a long time up to that point. Long hours between two jobs, a lot of riding for those two jobs, sprinkled with a topping of short sleep. The incident makes us think hard about our personal limits. I like to think mine are pretty high. Yet, I found the breaking point that evening. At least it was only a parking lot tip-over. It could have been much worse. Something to think about. That's why I'm sharing, even though I come out looking foolish here.

You'd think that would be enough by itself. Tipping one's bike over should be plenty for one month. There was more to come.

Katie and I went for a ride on Saturday over Memorial Day weekend. Sunday saw me going for the grill. We were finally enjoying some warmer weather. Time to cook some steaks. While I was bringing the grill out, I glanced over at Elvira. There was a puddle of oil underneath her.

Of course, my first thought was to go over my list of so-called friends. With friends like mine, who just happen to also be fellow instructors, one never knows. It could be a joke. Either that, or I'd suddenly found myself owning American Iron or a British bike!

No, it was no joke. There was a small drip of oil falling every eight to ten seconds. I grabbed a pan and started looking. It appeared that the oil pan gasket was leaking.

Dang. I was less than enchanted.

Not being willing to ride the bike to the dealer, I decided to rent a trailer. The closest dealer is about 35 miles away. It would be my bad luck for the pressure from the oil pump to make the leak speed up. I'd run the engine dry about halfway there. No thanks.

Of course, my current truck isn't wired for trailer lights. My big red truck died a long time ago. I now have a 1997 S-10 Chevy truck. My mother gave it to me when my father passed away. I haven't had a need to pull a trailer with it. Until now, that is. Lights finally wired, and trailer attached, I loaded Elvira.

This is a view of one of my bikes I really don't ever want to see. In all these years, it has only happened twice before now. Once was mechanical related, and the other was required due to the logistics of hauling our training bikes to the Southern Oregon Coast.

I believe I spent more time looking in the rear view mirror at the bike than I did looking forwards while driving. We arrived at the dealer in one piece.

Earlier I had ordered a replacement mirror. The Service Manager called me with two pieces of news. Firstly, the mirror they ordered came in for the left side, and not the right side. They would try it again. And, by the way, the oil leak? The oil pan is cracked. It will need to be replaced. They would order the pan and let me know when it arrived. I hope it's a warranty item. I guess that makes the pain of having the wrong mirror less. Who needs a mirror when the bike can't be ridden?

So there you have the story of May. It's not a pleasant one. Around this sad tale has been weaved some other stories. I'll share those as well as the progress with Elvira. I have a police training class coming up on Monday. I think I have another ST1100 lined up to use. I also taught our first ART ( Advanced Rider Training ) class of the year in May. So life wasn't all bad! Stay tuned!

Miles and smiles,