Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ask the Maniac

Dear Maniac,

I can always count on you to find yourself in unusual situations. I can't always count on you though to do the rebellious thing it seems.Maniac, perhaps you can redeem yourself by answering a high level technical question.

While looking at a Honda Goldwing I was told about the amazing and miraculous rear brake feathering technique that makes handling one of these behemoths during slow speed turns and maneuvers so simple that anyone can ride.

Now as a scooter rider I'm not privy to these most secret techniques. As I understand things it involves keeping your foot on the rear brake and the throttle on so you have constant, controlled power through a turn and don't have to worry about stalls. Too fast? A little more brake please and the bike leans a bit more. Leaning too much and about to drop? Ease up on the brake and upright the boat goes.I tried it with a Triumph on a little track and it seemed to work. But Maniac, is this good and proper technique or merely something for tricksters???

Helpless in the sticks.

Dear Helpless,

I'm not into rebellion much these days. My previous handcuff scars hurt me when the weather turns cold. It hurts my feelings when my reputation keeps me from getting invited to church socials. These days I'm only into tame and comforting pursuits. Thinks like watering and taking pictures of flowers.

The plants really need the water these days. Today's high was 108 degrees (f).

Yes, just like Ferdinand the Bull, I'm only going to do peaceful and law abiding things.

What's that? Did I hear laughter ringing around the internet? What's the matter with you all? Do you think I'm making this stuff up? Ok, Ok, I admit it. I still love getting into trouble. I just didn't happen to choose to do it in front of 19 police officers. I was representing our training program and had to behave, all right?

Anyway, back to your question.

First off, it's important to understand that we might possibly be talking about two different things, here. There is the matter of using the rear brake during low speed maneuvers. There is another trick to braking in faster corners called trail braking. I would caution street riders to not use trail braking. It's mostly a racing technique. These are two entirely different creatures. Since you mentioned that you tried it out on a track, this makes the distinction pertinent. With that in mind, I will cover trail braking in the next post.

In this photo you can see Julie executing a slow turn around a pivot cone. This is the type of slow maneuver where the rear brake is used as both a sort of rudder and anchor. Typically the speed would be at a fast walking pace or slower. The rear brake is used for speed control as opposed to controlling lean angle. It's actually the amount of power to the engine that determines whether the bike stays upright or wants to lean. Remember the instructor's coaching in the training classes? Riders need enough speed for stability. This applies when doing slow, tight, turns but it's complicated by the lower speeds required to actually make these turns.

There's the conflict. A certain amount of power is required to hold a bike up. Think for a moment of a spring. When you press your hand against the end of a spring you should feel resistance against your palm. Even though the spring isn't fully extended, you know that if you release the pressing force, the coiled tension will cause the spring to then fully extend. The tighter the coils and the stiffer the metal, the more coiled tension there will be and the more readily the spring will extend.

Now think of a motorcycle. When a bike is standing upright, the spring is fully extended. Making the bike lean, whether by pressing or steering, is like compressing the spring. The hope is that when the pressure is released, the bike will stand back up. The power of the engine applied to the rear wheel is the spring tension. The more power, the greater the tension. What you want to happen is that when you make a bike lean you are pressing against this tension just like you would press against the resistance of a spring coil. The bike should not fall, it should gradually lean like it's pushing against whatever is holding it up.

Normally this is accomplished on a motorcycle by using the friction zone. In other words, slipping the clutch. During a slow speed maneuver the clutch is never fully engaged nor is it fully disengaged. The friction zone is a place in the middle. The rider must keep a small amount of steady throttle and control speed and lean angle with the clutch. Take away a little power to make the bike lean. Give it back some power to make it stand up again. You could do the same thing with the throttle but it's almost impossible to control the power smoothly. Engine torque is a killer of smooth control inputs at very low speeds. Using the friction zone makes smooth control inputs an easy matter.

For most situations using the friction zone is adequate by itself. Depending upon the bike and the circumstances, however, additional help can be gained from using the rear brake as a sort of drag anchor. The rear brake is used along with, not instead of, the friction zone.

Where you would typically see the need to use the rear brake is in very slow speed turns with big, heavy bikes with a lot of trail. A prime example of this kind of bike are the big cruisers. In case you're not familiar with it, trail refers to the distance between where the theoretical steering axis would hit the ground versus where the tire's contact patch actually touches down. The more trail the bike has, the more resistant it is to turning. Sport bikes are designed to change directions quickly so they have less trail. Gold Wings are somewhere in the middle. Cruisers are primarily intended for straight line riding so they have more trail. This makes them pretty stable going down the road. There's a peculiar side effect of this trail, though.

The resistance to turning displayed by a bike with a large amount of trail causes the initial force required to initiate a turn to be fairly large. This resistance isn't totally linear, however. At some point the resistance abruptly decreases. Due to the physics of the configuration, the tire reaches a point where it suddenly "falls" into a turn. In normal cornering this point isn't usually reached. In slow speed turns, however, it happens right about the time the rider really needs the bike to be holding itself up. This is where holding more power and controlling the speed with the rear brake come into play.

Just to make sure we're not lost, let's do a quick summary. The bike needs a certain amount of power to the rear wheel to hold the bike up. When I say "hold the bike up" I don't mean that the bike is straight up and down. What I'm referring to is the force acting as resistance against the bike's falling. The coiled spring, as it were. Something to press against. At the same time the bike needs power to provide this resistance, the actual ground speed of the bike needs to be lower in order to physically accomplish the maneuver. Somehow this conflict between power and speed needs to be buffered.

That's what the rear brake is for. So let's talk specifics.

Here's a good practice exercise. Position the bike so that you can ride in a straight line for a few hundred feet. Roll the throttle on until the engine is at about 1500 rpm. This can be a little higher but don't exceed twice the idle rpm of the bike's motor. Keeping your head and eyes up level with the horizon, engage the clutch into the friction zone. This means letting the clutch out until the the bike just starts to move. Ease the clutch out just a bit more until it's just short of fully engaged. Remember, you don't want full clutch engagement. Stay in the friction zone. Once you're at this point, don't move either the throttle or clutch lever.

Now apply more and less pressure to the rear brake pedal. Find a point where you can keep the bike moving at a normal walking pace. You'll see how much pressure is required in short order. This is the sweet spot. The friction zone is providing enough power to the rear tire to make the bike stand up while the brake pedal controls the speed. Once you have a feel for that, the same technique can be used for tight turns like figure eights, u-turns, slow cone weaves, and so on. Many of these things are what we encounter in everyday riding like needing to turn around in the width of a standard roadway. I'd bet that the majority of riders out there can't do this. It's all about technique. Don't forget the power of head turns, either!

The Triumph you played with had a clutch. I realize your scooter does not. The same principle applies except you obviously can't use the friction zone. However, you can certainly roll on some throttle, hold it there, and use the rear brake for controlling your speed. I teach this to my scooter mounted students. So many times they try to use the throttle to control their speed in the offset cone weave or the 90 degree turn. What usually happens is that they make the first couple of cones but gain too much speed to make the rest. Or they blow outside the lines in the sharp turn. Steady throttle to provide resistance to falling and the rear brake to control the speed. It's that simple.

I know this got a little long. I sincerely hope it has been of value to you. Please feel free to let me know if I didn't explain something clearly or you need more information. Look for the post on trail braking next.

Miles and smiles,

The Maniac, a.k.a. Dan

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fun on forty wheels

Sometimes fun presents itself in unexpected places. Take, for instance, our last police training session.

I was "officially" informed that one of my duties would be to escort our half of the group to the track. The police officers come from all over Oregon. The first part of their day is spent in a classroom session. Then they're divided into two groups. One group goes to the track and the other to the airport. After lunch the groups switch venues. The classroom is pretty much across the highway from the classroom. Makes it pretty easy to find. The classroom instructor will take care of that, anyway. It's a bit more complicated to find the track. How do you ask a cop for directions when they're from a different part of the state? Hence my services as a guide.

Since it only takes one instructor to do classroom, the rest of us met early at the track. We spent some time playing, er, I mean, practicing our lines. We had the track for the day, why waste it? You know, there's really worse ways to start a Monday than running lap after lap on a tight and technical track. The instructors had it all to themselves. All good things come to an end, they say. All too soon it was time to go get the cops and get down to some real work.

The photo above is what I saw when I arrived at the parking lot. A sea of police bikes. There were thirty eight all together. My Nikon was in a saddlebag back at the track. Those of us with sport touring bikes strip the bags off for the track time. The picture was taken in bright sunshine with my camera phone. It's not the best camera but you get the idea.

I dismounted Elvira and walked into the classroom. When you walk into a small room crowded with almost forty uniformed police officers it can feel a little strange. It's old stuff to me but I can imagine someone thinking they walked onto the set of a "Cops" episode. Depending on the person, some might start heading towards the nearest wall, if you know what I mean. "Assume the position!"

Everybody finally got sorted into the two groups. They were all busy chatting with each other. I finally started Elvira rolling and made some sort of smart mouthed comment to get their attention. Time to go. I'm riding point with 19 police bikes in formation behind me. We had a ten minute ride through downtown McMinnville. It's interesting what goes through your mind at a time like this. With a lively mind like mine, the possibilities are endless.

First off, I'm torn between riding at a legal speed or taking advantage of the situation. Do we set a good example to the public or take the attitude that with so many police bikes it's really a non-issue. I opted for prudent. Take that for what you will. Then I had another idea.

I could ask them all to activate their lights. How cool to have so many police bikes with lights flashing following me at 30 miles an hour. Let's do an "O.J." guys! Remember that slow speed chase?

Then I thought it would be cool to really piss off some driver. Especially some guy a whole lot bigger than me and driving one of those ridiculously jacked up pickups. It would have been so fun to watch the conflicting emotions in his face. On the one hand the dude would want to pound me. Not that it would be easy, mind you. I'm much tougher than my five feet eight and a half inches would lead one to believe. The guy's anger would be tempered by glances at all the police bikes parked behind me. I'd taunt the dude, for sure. Hey, you mess with me, you mess with all my friends.

Of course, with my luck the cops would let the guy have at me without stepping in. They'd sit on their bikes and laugh their back ends off. Suddenly the entertainer becomes the entertainment. Would you all really do that to me?

None of this came to pass. It was merely entertainment in my head. We did have a bit of real life amusement, though.

It wasn't long before our group came up behind a mid-sized grey sedan. An average looking woman was driving. I'm sure she had absolutely no reason to be nervous of the group behind her. I doubt there were any warrants out for her. She's probably never even had a speeding ticket. Imagine driving along minding your own business. Suddenly, there's this pack of motor cops on your tail. They say the best safety device in the world is a police officer in your rear view mirror. How about 19 of them led by a Hi-Viz wildman on a black FJR?

In between chuckles I actually felt sorry for her. I'm sure she probably had a sore neck before long. I was right behind her, being at the head of the pack. There was a repeating pattern to her head movements. Look down at the speedometer. Look back up to check the rearview mirror. Check the left side mirror. Check the right side mirror. Look out the front windshield on the way back down to the speedometer. Worry, glance, repeat.

We followed her for probably three quarters of the way. The speed option was totally taken out of my hands. The speed limit was 35 mph. According to Elvira's speedo, we were doing 33. When the speed limit was reduced to 25, she actually put on her brakes to make sure she was slowed before the new speed limit sign. You got it, the speed was 23. She finally turned off, but not after signaling for almost a whole block before the turn. I can imagine the huge sigh of relief when she saw we weren't following her!

When you've been on the other side of the badge and still spend a lot of time around police officers in various capacities, you don't think much of it anymore. Most civilians are coming from a different place. I sort of wished there had been a way to assure the poor woman that she could relax and enjoy her drive. We had other things going on. Unless she had just robbed a bank or decided to do some street racing, she was simply a part of the scenery. I'll bet we came up in her dinner table conversation with the family that night.

Our group arrived at the track without terrorizing anyone else. Stay tuned for more from the track. By the way, have you figured out the "fun on forty wheels" part by now? It was probably obvious right away. I thought it was kind of clever, myself.

Miles and smiles,


Monday, July 20, 2009

A higher level of training.

Once again the instructors' bikes are sitting patiently while we do our thing. At least this time a couple of them will get to play a bit. The two bikes in front of Elvira belong to instructors teaching a basic course. They won't get to participate, sorry to say. I'm waiting for the class to get off the range. I'm way early but eager to go. My friend Julie and I are going to teach an RSP class. Otherwise known as Rider Skills Practice. The students will participate using their own bikes. Some of the drills have demonstrations. Yee haw, we get to ride our own bikes for those!

While I was waiting I took some time to mess around with shutter speeds and aperature settings on the Nikon. The beginning students became my subjects. I'm actually starting to understand how all that stuff relates and works together! The "Trinity of Exposure" is coming alive in my head little by little. Not that this is a great photo, but I actually made the camera do this type of shot on purpose. The auto mode used to be the only mode I used. Now I'm making little side trips.

You all have met Elvira. I don't know if Julie has named her bike or not. It's a V-Star 1100. Julie handles that big bike with ease. She's smooth and precise. I love the rumble of that motor!

Today we have a student of special interest to me. It's my youngest son, Clinton.

We had a small group so there was plenty of room. I told Clinton that I would pay for the class if he wanted to take part. I was gratified that he took me up on the offer. Clinton's been an endorsed rider for about five years, now. This would be a chance for me to see where his skill level was. At the same time, he'd get some valuable training.

The RSP was designed as a riding clinic with no classroom time. We do have some discussions on street strategies, mental skills, and the mechanics of accident avoidance skills. However, each session is short. The students receive what we call a pocket guide for their own personal study later. The main thing is to ride. The class covers cornering, braking, swerving, and low speed maneuvers. We run drills based on having to accomplish two accident avoidance maneuvers in quick succession. Once students get around 3,000 miles or so of riding experience we encourage them to come back for this class. Basic skills are taken to a higher level. Some of the turns are tighter, for example. Which requires a lot more of a head turn and precise control.

Last year we scheduled a large number of RSP classes. Attendance wasn't what we had expected. Another class designed to get unendorsed riders legal and give them some training experienced the high demand. When an RSP is scheduled, full or not, it eats up range space. In fact, a lot of the RSP classes got cancelled due to low enrollment. Which means we wasted a range slot. Not to mention that some of the students who were enrolled in cancelled classes had to wait for another slot. It was a less than ideal situation.

This year we scheduled less RSP classes but committed to running them even with low registration. Which is how we came to run this class with five students.

What I like is that these students are serious riders. Sadly, a huge number of our Basic students never come back for more training. That really bothers me. I'll share what I consider a very important thought about this at the end of the post. Anyway, these folks braved a 90 degree afternoon to improve their skills. One of the students just bought a new Concours and wanted to get familiar with it. One was a Basic course student come back for more training. One got a new to him Harley and wanted to make sure his skills were solid before taking a passenger on it. One of the guys was riding a SilverWing scooter. I've been teaching him in various advanced classes for a decade or more. His goal is to come back every so often to keep skills sharp.

Our RSP starts with a circuit ride. Briefly, it's a timed course and the students get points added for mistakes in the run. It's not pass or fail, of course. Merely a baseline to see where they are when they come in to the class. The circuit ride assesses skills used in everyday riding.

The course starts with a 90 degree tight turn where the rider needs to keep the bike inside the boundaries. Then on to a barrel ride between three cones. Just like the horse people do. Then on to a curve. Next comes a swerve with the cue cones 13 feet from the barrier. When the swerve is done the rider goes around and makes a quick stop in the shortest distance possible. All of it is scored. Then we conduct exercises designed to sharpen specific skills.

At the end of the session we run the circuit ride again. The students are able to compare their beginning score with the new score. 98 percent show marked improvements. The goal is for the students to take these newly sharpened skills and use them effectively in the real world. It's quite satisfying as an instructor.

Did I mention demonstrations? Each time we do the circuit ride one of has to ride a demo. What a rough life!

And what of Clinton, you might ask? I know this is going to sound a lot like a father bragging about his son. Probably that's because it is. I was gratified to see that Clinton's physical skills were at a pretty high level coming in. I was greatly impressed. Not that he didn't need some tuning up. I told Julie coming in to treat Clinton like any other student. Which meant to cut him no slack! Actually, I held him to a higher level just because of him being the son of the Great Irondad! Man, I almost made myself gag there. But you know what I mean. I don't believe in "good enough" when it comes to riding.

By the way, I think Clinton was showing off a bit for me. Yes, I know it's possible to scrape the pegs on the VFR in a parking lot. You didn't need to show me!

I want to leave you with something to think about. It relates to training. Whether it be under the watchful eye of a professional or repeated efforts on your own. Sometimes a rider might think that when a situation presents itself, the right action and skill will be there. Despite the fact that a rider hasn't actually practiced that particular thing once, let alone over and over. Let me share with you a statement made to a few of us by an instructor from a different venue.

Some stuff just never leaves your blood. Kind of like riding. During a tactical training exercise a fellow student made some remark to the instructor. It had to do with the fact the student thought he would just be able to handle a situation when it came up even though he hadn't specifically trained for it previously. Here's what the instructor told us:

"You will not rise to the occasion. You will default to your level of training."

Pretty powerful statement, don't you agree?

Miles and smiles,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Traveling lightly.

Where among all this stuff did I put that? Fortunately, when traveling on a bike, that's a question I never need to ask. There's not much room to fill up on a bike. The saddle bags on Elvira hold a bit less than Sophie's did. Besides, on this trip I had a passenger as well. I had to make a trip to Medford for our training program. That's a little over a couple of hundred miles south of here. With a few essentials in the bags and my soulmate riding pillion, what more could I want?

I've written this before, but I'll say it again. I'm firmly convinced that the less stuff you take on a ride, the more fulfilling it will be. A lot of people try to take too much of "home" with them, be it on a bike or in a car. I believe that all the extra things tend to lessen the sense of adventure and discovery. The more "stuff" a person has along, the more it acts like a bungee cord or something. They might be having a little trip but they're still pretty much tied to home. They are always operating out of a secure "base", as it were.

Having very little "stuff" along seems to produce the opposite result. At least it does for us. Carrying just a few essentials forces me to change my "base" to wherever I might be at the time. My focus is very much outwards. Since I'm tied to so little, both mentally and physically, it's so easy to move freely about in each new environment. Adventures are easier to find. I also find I connect more readily with local folks. I'm totally immersed in the new environment because I brought so little of my own with me.

A classic example is last summer when we were in Klamath Falls. Katie wanted to see Crater Lake again. Which meant we needed to change our previous plan and leave much earlier. We literally each put on our gear, picked up a small bag which we stashed on the bike, then took off. Literally a ten minute operation. It was a great adventure. If we had faced the mental hurdle of repacking a bunch of "stuff" we probably would have missed out on it.

Anyway, I'm probably not explaining myself as clearly as I could. The beauty of riding is that we all come at it from different angles and find our own meanings in things. This is just how I feel. Your results may vary.

This is the equivalent of Steve Williams' "plate of food" photos. There's a couple of notebooks on the bottom of the trunk. I needed these for my work in Medford. Katie has a liner she puts under the 'Stich if the mercury goes down too far. One ziplock bag has Fig Newtons in it. The bigger one has a bottle with ice water. We wrap it in the towel to take care of the condensation factor. We each have a hat. This time I took the point and shoot digital since the Nikon takes up more room. In each saddlebag is a change of clothes and toiletry items. The tank bag has a couple of pens, antacids, painkillers, and, shall we say, a personal protection device. Pretty spartan.

I was actually surprised to be on the bike instead of driving. This was going to be quick trip. Originally, the plan was to work Saturday, stay an extra night, and goof off down there on Sunday. Then circumstances changed. We had to be back home for a Sunday afternoon family event. Katie still wanted to come along. It's pretty darn sad when she has to travel with me to get time together! So I offered her a choice. Katie picked riding. She assured me that she was making that choice for her sake, not mine. You gotta love a woman like that! Her t-shirt is one of my old ones from the Oregon Motorcycle Roadracing Association. It says, "Life begins at 45 degrees".

Actually, I think she wanted to try out her spiffy new helmet. Our old matching Arai helmets are nine years old. Man, how time flies, doesn't it? I scraped up all my cans and bottles and bought us a couple of new ones.

When we arrived at the hotel I was surprised to see hordes of dogs roaming about. Ok, not really roaming. They were on the ends of leashes as they walked their owners. A large dog show was being held at the fairgrounds. Interestingly, despite the canine abundance, things were quiet during the night.

The dog photos are with the point and shoot through the hotel window. It seemed like a constant parade of dogs was passing by the bike. I really wanted to shout out the window a reminder that the bike tires were not fire hydrants or flowers and should not be watered!

I never saw any urinary infractions involving Elvira. By the way, the reason she's parked head in is that the spots slope sharply uphill. Sometimes, "cool" has to give way to practicality.

I accomplished my mission on Saturday. The reason for my visit was a sort of quality control spot check. We call them Site Audits. Sites are visited once a year and the dates are set before the instructor assignments are made. The audits therefore aren't targeted at instructors. Those of us who conduct audits check up on the facilities, supplies, etc. We watch the instruction with an eye to making sure all the sites in the state are consistent with the program standards.

Mid afternoon saw us back on the bike and headed North. There wasn't much time for scenic stuff this time. As you can probably see, most of the photos are either from the hotel or at rest areas.

As it turns out, it was just as well we headed home when we did. Elvira's thermometer showed either upper 80's or low 90's depending on the elevation. We climbed some passes in the 2,000 foot elevation range. You have to love the horsepower on tap with a big bike. Elvira never noticed the climb.

If we had waited another day to ride home we'd have been in the middle of a huge thunderstorm. The winds even ripped a large limb off the century old tree in front of our local courthouse. As Katie told me, I was definitely crazy enough to like to ride in that stuff. As for her, she's at a higher level of civility and prefers not to do stuff like that. We're a typical Badman married to an Angel couple!

Like I said, it was a quick trip. Still, a fast 500 mile jaunt is another chance for fun on a bike. Another reason to travel light. I'm ready to go at a moment's notice!

Miles and smiles,


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Stay on top of things.....literally!

I usually try to stay with original content here. Which means my own writings, as painful as they are to wade through! Today, however, two things came together to make me deviate from that pattern for the second time in a couple of days. All right, you guys, I didn't say it made me a deviate, I said it made me deviate. There's actually a difference there. Pay attention.

I'm headed out the door to teach a riding skills clinic. Secondly, this is just too good not to share. This is a news release from the Oregon State Police.

News Release from: Oregon State Police
Posted: July 15th, 2009 9:07 AM

Photo/sound file: http://www.flashalertnewswire.net/images/news/2009-07/061809.i84mp85.mtc.crash.wmv

An Oregon State Police (OSP) in-car video of an incident that happened June 18th is being released after a motorcycle operator pled guilty to Careless Driving when he lost control and separated from his motorcycle. The in-car video caught the sliding motorcycle and rolling operator as both passed the trooper's stopped patrol car along Interstate 84 in The Dalles.

Following several recent serious injury and fatal traffic crashes, some involving motorcycles, the video is a great example of why it is so important to drive at the posted speed limits, to be aware of your surroundings and not be distracted. "It only takes a second for something to happen that you may have to react to while keeping your vehicle under control," said OSP The Dalles Area Command Sergeant Pat Shortt.

On June 18, 2009 at 7:18 a.m. OSP Senior Trooper Michael Holloran was sitting in his stopped OSP patrol car on the right eastbound shoulder of Interstate 84 near milepost 85 writing information in his notebook. With the patrol car's radar unit on, Holloran heard an approaching fast vehicle and began to look in the side mirror when he saw a motorcycle lose control. The motorcycle dropped onto its side and the operator went down onto the pavement as the radar unit obtained a speed of 85 mph.

The sliding motorcycle and rolling operator both went past the stationary patrol car and surprised trooper. Shortly after the motorcycle's operator, KENNETH CARL THEIMAN JR., age 31, from Dallesport, Washington, stopped rolling, Holloran got out of the patrol car and ran up to help THEIMAN as he was picking himself up off the pavement.

THEIMAN told Holloran that he was surprised how quickly things happened when he lost control of the motorcycle. THEIMAN thought his speed was about 85 mph when he lost control.

THEIMAN was transported by ambulance to Mid-Columbia Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries, mostly abrasions. He was wearing a protective helmet.

Holloran cited THEIMAN for Careless Driving and he pled guilty in Wasco County Circuit Court.

Video Source: Oregon State Police (Note: there is no audio until the end of the 47 second video clip)

I can just imagine sitting in the car and seeing the bike going by. Shortly thereafter, here comes the rider. It sounds like the rider was a bit shocked, too.

Ride prudently and stay on top of things!

Miles and smiles,


Monday, July 13, 2009

New Oregon legislation.

There are a couple of new developments on the horizon here in Oregon. I thought they might be of interest to you. As motorcycle safety professionals they certainly hold some implications for our instructors.

Here's the first one.

Senate Bill 124B was signed into law June 24, 2009 by Governor Kulongoski. This act amends 807.010 to strengthen the penalty for riding unendorsed from a Class B traffic violation ($360) to a Class A traffic violation ($720), with provisions for waiving the fine with completion of a rider training course. The law goes into effect January 1, 2010.
The summary of changes follow:

(4) Except as provided in subsection (5) of this section, the offense described in subsection

(1) of this section, [vehicle] operating a vehicle without driving privileges, is a Class B traffic violation.

(5) The offense described in subsection (1) of this section, operating a vehicle without
driving privileges, that results from a person operating a motorcycle without a motorcycle
endorsement, is a Class A traffic violation.

(6)(a) The court shall suspend a fine imposed under subsection (5) of this section on the
condition that the person, within 120 days of the date of sentencing:

(A) Complete a motorcycle education course established by the department under ORS
802.320; and

(B) Obtain a motorcycle endorsement issued under ORS 807.170.
(b) The court shall set a hearing date for 120 days from the date of sentencing. At the
hearing the court shall:

(A) If the person has successfully completed the requirements described in paragraph
(a)(A) and (B) of this subsection, dismiss the fine imposed under subsection (5) of this section;

(B) If the person has not successfully completed the requirements described in paragraph
(a)(A) and (B) of this subsection:

(i) Grant the person an extension based on good cause shown; or
(ii) Impose the fine under subsection (5) of this section.

Here’s the bill:


I'm all for riders being properly endorsed. For one thing, endorsed riders are less represented statistically in accidents that unendorsed riders. Secondly, our program is funded solely by motorcyclists. TEAM OREGON was set up to be funded by student tuitions and a portion of new and renewal endorsements. Obviously, I think education is much more powerful than punitive measures. The good news is that the fine gets waived if the rider successfully becomes endorsed within 120 days of sentencing.

Here's the piece of legislation that will probably have the biggest impact on our program.

This is to inform you that Senate Bill (SB) 546A passed the House last night on a vote of 33 to 25 and awaits the Governor’s signature to become law. If signed (which is expected), SB546 amends ORS 807.175 to require that all beginning (unendorsed) riders successfully complete a motorcycle rider training course before becoming eligible for a motorcycle endorsement. As you know, the law today requires course attendance for all new riders under the age of 21. Effective January 1, 2011, that age will raise to under 31 and continue to phase-in, as shown below:

(1) On or after January 1, 2011, to persons who are under 31
years of age as of that date.

(2) On or after January 1, 2012, to persons who are under 41
years of age as of that date.

(3) On or after January 1, 2013, to persons who are under 51
years of age as of that date.

(4) On or after January 1, 2014, to persons who are under 61
years of age as of that date.

(5) On or after January 1, 2015, to all persons. + }

Here’s a copy of the bill:


The graduated implementation schedule is necesary for us to be able to ramp up. Interestingly, it won't be quite as much of a stretch as it might look. For example, last year we trained almost 10,000 students in all our classes. There were 12,000 new endorsements in the state. We weren't too far away. Who knows if the continued climb in new riders will continue? Time will tell.

That's all I'm going to offer for editorials. I'll leave the rest to you all should you wish!

Miles and smiles,


Thursday, July 09, 2009

Who's teaching who?

If it hasn't come through by now, the main thrust of this blog is to promote using a motorcycle as a part of everyday life. It's open to debate, as most things are, as to whether or not we live a motorcycle lifestyle or if motorcycling is a way of life. To me, the word "lifestyle" has the meaning of affectation, or putting on. In my world, motorcycles are a part of daily life. Kind of like my coffee maker but a whole lot more fun. I'm passionate about riding just like I'm passionate about living with Katie. I'm lucky to have had two truly great loves. I just hope I never have to chose between them!

I've really enjoyed being an active motorcycle instructor. I have a chance to share my motorcycling philosophy with a receptive audience. Some of my students catch the fever and use a bike a lot. For example, Marv came through a class of mine earlier this year. Now I see his beautiful FZ-1 parked outside his work place almost every day. I've invited Marv to appear here as a guest. Here's hoping he takes me up on the offer. Marv's an enthusiastic and interesting fellow. I'm able to plant a seed with many new riders. Sometimes it sprouts, sometimes not.

Regardless of what happens down the road, riders all start at the same place. They start with learning to ride. Here in Oregon the vast majority of new endorsements are obtained by our Basic Rider Training graduates. Since I teach a lot, this means I get to touch many of these folks early on. The goal is to get these students to the point where they can demonstrate a basic level of skill. That skill level is demonstrated during our formal riding evaluation. It sounds simple, doesn't it? Take new students. Teach them to ride. Give them the riding test. Sign completion card and send them on their way. There's much more involved than it might seem.

As in motorcycling in general, so it is in this particular endeavour. The journey itself is where the real experience happens. Sometimes the journey is fairly uneventful. Other times not so much. In fact, the journey can be downright trialsome for some. The journey is what keeps me so enthused about teaching. I've had to acquire a whole new set of skills myself in the process. These skills have served me well in other areas of my life. Sometimes I wonder who's teaching who. In my not-so-humble opinion, I feel that being an effective instructor involves much more than passing along information. A truly skilled instructor makes a huge emotional investment in the students. We also need to be somewhat skilled parking lot psychologists, as well. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Here's a photo of a recent group of students. This isn't all of them as there's a few wandering around loose during the break. A full class numbers twelve students. Each one of those is a distinct and different personality. Each is there to reach the destination of becoming endorsed riders. Every one of them will require a slightly different journey to get there. The key to being an effective instructor is to give each and every one of them what they need. Which means we need to make an effort to tune in to each individual. To get them "there" you need to know where their current "here" is.

So what do you do with a young man who seems to have an attitude? He's there with his girlfriend. As you guessed, the young man needs to show off for her. He doesn't want it to be obvious that he needs training as much as she does. This makes him a bit less cooperative than he could be. I could choose one of three options. Firstly, I could ignore him. This won't give him what he needs. It could possibly hinder other students in their own learning process. Secondly, I could impose my "authority" on him. Sure, he'd comply but not align. I want alignment and I won't get it by shutting him down and making him think I'm a bad guy. I don't really care so much about his opinion of me. If he closes his mind, though, the important stuff won't be absorbed. The young man still won't get what he needs. I go for the third option. I make him my ally.

"Hey, it looks like you've maybe ridden before. I can see some good basic skills there. Your classmates are going to see this and they'll start looking up to you. It would sure be of help to them to see your great example as we ride the exercises."

Now he's having to focus on the proper technique because he wants to be looked up to. Deep down he's as insecure as the rest of the group. The young man rose to the challenge. He needed to be looked up to by his girlfriend. As a bonus I gave him the whole class. The truth of the matter is that the rest of the class is so absorbed in their own journey that they'll hardly notice him. Doesn't matter. Perception became reality for the young man. He got what he needed as evidenced by his doing very well on the skills test. I got what I needed. The chance to do my job. Which is to be the best instructor I can possibly be. Each student has the right to expect that from me.

That's my teaching partner Mike in the picture above. The skills test is done and we're starting a couple of traffic interaction exercises. The students will have a chance to mingle and deal with other traffic before facing the real world in a day or two. Mike's reading the directions so I took a moment to snap a photo.

One of the gals had purchased a beautiful red and cream colored Honda Rebel. She told me her first venture on the bike ended as quickly as it had started. With a spectacular launch and a broken ankle. Now she was here as a student to perhaps get a bit better start this time. Her enthusiasm level was sky high. Her skill level, well, a little closer to the ground. I love this kind of challenge. Rebel Lady didn't pass the skills test. However, during the journey her skill levels gained some altitude.

The other day I was in a department store. I guess my Hi-Viz 'Stich made me an easy target. One minute I'm walking down the aisle towards the back of the store. The next minute I feel this crushing pressure while my nostrils register the strong scent of leather. There was a brief moment of disorientation. Thinking it might be Mr. Riepe come to Oregon to do some bondage with me, I mean bonding, I twisted around to face my attacker. It was Rebel Lady. She laid a big hug on me and excitedly squealed that she had made it.

Taking what we had taught her in class, she practiced on her bike. Having a permit, she was able to ride along with her boyfriend. Then she went back and did the skills test on her Rebel. This time she passed just fine. She spent the next fifteen minutes telling me how she hears my voice in her head talking her through all the situations she's been encountering. Then she took me out and showed me her bike. Some people might find this annoying. It's just one of the perks for me. Can you hear the happiness in her voice? I had a part in that. By the way, Rebel Lady, you're welcome to use my voice in your head until your own develops.

Most of the students fall into one of three categories. There's aggressive and overconfident. There's the middle of the road bunch. Then there's the timid and nervous riders. Once in a while, though, a person will come in at the extreme end of the first or last group. One of our gals was at the extreme end of nervous. You could accurately say she was scared. In fact, she herself told me she was scared "spitless". Well, the word she used had to do with an excretion at the other end of the alimentary canal. I took the liberty of making a slight change.

In short, she told me that she used to ride as a passenger when she was a kid. The rider was her older brother and things were fun. Nothing bad happened to her brother, by the way. He just moved across the country and wasn't nearby for support anymore. Now in her fifties the woman decided she wanted to explore riding a motorcycle on her own. Whether her family is extra controlling or she allows herself to be controlled isn't a subject for this discussion. However, there was a lot of that going on. Basically the theme was "if you ride a motorcycle you will end up dead". Apparently it was an intense campaign. Yet, here she was. Totally scared but determined. I wish I could say this was a rousing success story. It wasn't. I guess it depends on how you measure success. Sometimes success isn't determined solely by reaching the destination. In some cases the victory comes from starting on the journey.

During one of the first few exercises the woman came to a stop, then did a slow tipover. This really freaked her out. She was determined to go on but needed some time to pull herself together. We gave it to her. A bit later she came to a stop beside me for some coaching. She told me she was feeling like she wanted to pass out. She didn't want to quit, though.

Now I had to make a decision as an instructor. I obviously can't have a student riding who's on the verge of passing out. Safety is job one for us. On the other hand, even if the student has no chance of passing the skills test, everyone deserves the chance to experience the discovery process. It's not my place to say when that journey should end for them. I'm only going to pull them out if it's very clear that to continue would put them or the other students in harm's way. One has to use reasoned judgement in the matter. That's why I try so hard to connect with the students. I need to know where they are at any point in time.

The woman and I had a conversation during the break. She opened up to me about where she was coming from. I asked her why she was feeling like she wanted to pass out. The woman explained that it was from the pressure to perform. She was doing all she could just to ride the bike, let alone be pressured to meet the objectives. It's not that the instructors apply pressure. We simply cheerfully coach. Putting myself in her place I realized that any amount of coaching would seem like pressure to an already overwhelmed student.

Just the fact that she opened up to me was gratifying. You might not realize how hugely the trust factor figures in. We're asking already timid and nervous students to do things way out of their comfort level. It is critically vital to be trustworthy to that student. There's no way they can experience success until they trust us enough to try what we're coaching them to do. Once they have their own success the process gets easier. It's those first steps that are so hard.

One of my stock jokes is about how the instructors are motorcycle people. That the program owns these bikes. I assure the students that they can trust my coaching. After all, I'd never ask them to do anything that would hurt my bikes!

Anyway, the woman and I worked out a system. I later informed Mike so we'd be on the same page. I told her that she needed to remember first and foremost that we were on her side. She was welcome to continue. If I felt her safety was at risk I would pull her out. Short of that, we would not put any pressure on her. For every exercise she was welcome to just ride the path of travel at her comfort level. She could participate in the actual skill practice when she felt she was ready.

You know, it worked. She never crashed or even dropped the bike, for that matter. She actually made some meaningful progress on her skills. When she showed she was ready, we offered coaching. All the while mixed with abundant reassurance. As you might expect she didn't pass the skills test. She knows that there's no way she'd be ready to ride a bike on the streets any time soon. Yet, at the end of the day, this woman was beaming with victory. She had taken the journey and conquered a huge fear. That's a win any way you look at it. Now that it's no longer a mystery as to what is involved, she told me she wants to come take the class again. I'm sure her results will be much better next time.

Yes, at the end of a class you're ready to just plop down on something and take a load off. The journey takes a lot out of all of us, instructors and students alike. It can be extra draining for the instructors as we become the catalyst that binds all the diverse personalities together to head for the common goal. At the same time, how many chances do we get to do something so meaningful for others? Not only that, but to do it with something we so deeply enjoy and believe in? When one class is finished, I get to start fresh with a new group the next week. It's a fascinating and rewarding role.

Like I said before, developing skills that will help the students get what they need has made me so much better at understanding and communicating with people I meet other places, as well. We need a lot more of that in this world. I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.

Who's teaching who?

Miles and smiles,


Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The boring life of an instructor's bike?

The other day my cell phone rang. The caller ID indicated it was Tallie. She's the one who does the instructor scheduling. It's an always hectic and sometimes very demanding job. Tallie handles it all with unending grace and charm. She's one of my heroes. I answer the call.

"Hey, Dan, this is Tallie. Do you want to teach ART next week?"

That's like asking if the government wants to raise taxes. Or asking a Lion if it prefers raw meat. Come to think of it, it's also a lot like asking Jack Riepe if he likes pole dancers. Of course, I said yes right away. Not for me, mind you, but for Elvira's sake.

ART stands for Advanced Rider Training. It's our flagship motorcycle training class. We hold the course on an enclosed go kart track. Strictly speaking it's not a track class. We do spend a lot of time on proper cornering technique. The big difference is that we teach street lines as opposed to racing lines. In a racing line the goal is to use as much of the track as needed. In a street line, it's imperative to always leave a way out. Remember "Plan B"?

This would make my fourth time so far this year. I taught the first civilian ART in May. In between were two Police ART sessions. Now it was back to a civilian group once more. As much as I love the hard charging atmosphere of the police training, it's good to pull the throttle back a notch or two, so to speak.

You'd think that the bike of an active instructor would have it made. In some ways the bikes do have it good. There's a few of us who practically live on a bike. Elvira and I are together almost every week day. It's a good life, but it's mostly work related. A Saturday and / or Sunday should see the work week behind us. The weekend should be a time to just go out and stretch the legs with miles of relaxed riding. Third star to the right and on 'til morning, as Peter Pan would say. That's the way it should be, at least.

Our work week doesn't really end. Weekends during the summer mean teaching. A lot. In June I racked up 63 hours of teaching. On top of my actual bread and butter job. What that means to our bikes is a bit more riding to work. Then just sitting and waiting patiently. Since the bulk of our classes are the Basic Rider Training, that means a lot of sitting, watching, and waiting. The bikes DO get to be in a motorcycle related environment all weekend. Sadly, they're only spectators. It's for an excellent cause, mind you. I find teaching riders to be extremely satisfying and rewarding. It's just hard on Elvira as it was on Sophie.

The photo above is of Elvira with Mike's ST1100. Both bikes sitting on the sidelines while watching the training bikes have all the fun. I can just see the bikes looking at each other and wincing. Some new rider will make some sort of abrupt move. Our bikes will be saying something like,

"I'm sure glad I'm not a training bike!" Or, "If Dan did that to me I'd dump him on his head, just for spite. Of course, MY rider would never do a thing like that in the first place."

Sound far fetched? How do we really know what they're thinking when they're forced to be sidelined?

Here's a shot from the very next weekend.

Different scenery, different companions, same situation. Just sitting around waiting. That's tough for a bike that's born to run. Ho, hum.

ART, in contrast, is so much more fun for the bikes. Our bikes are an integral part of the course. We're like cowboys on fast horses riding among the herd. Using our speed and skill we cut individuals out from the group. We might have the student follow us to see the proper lines. We might park the student and have them ride with us on our bikes for a bit. That's an awesome tool for imparting understanding of the many aspects involved in proper cornering. By the way, you might not have thought about it, but an instructor has to be as fast two up as the solo mounted students are. Can't be holding up the group while we take somebody on a tour of the track. Sometimes it's just a quick chat to pass on a tip. Either way, the bikes get to play and they have a total blast. Believe me, the bikes know where they're headed and get excited. Kind of like how a dog knows they're going to the vet, but with an opposite reaction.

I arrive early. It's fun to have that half hour or so with an empty track all to myself. In this case, Jeff Earls arrived at the same time as I did. I guess I'm not the only who likes to come early and play, eh? I'm coming in from the West and Jeff's coming in from the East. We meet in the middle. Jeff's another of my heroes. He's a perpetual top five finisher in the Iron Butt Rally. Take the last two rallies, for example. The IBR is held every two years. In 2005 Jeff finished 3rd. In 2007 he finished 4th. That's tough and smart in the same package!

I park Elvira. Jeff does the same to his Moto Guzzi Breva 1100. His usual bike is the BMW K1200GT, affectionately nicknamed "Battle Star Galactica". It's currently being readied for the upcoming IBR so isn't available for duty. The gate's locked. Jeff and I fish out the key and open the padlock. Walking back to the bikes I look at Elvira. She's been here before. She knows why we're here. Like the flaring nostrils of a fine mare, Elvira's ram air scoops are open more fully. She's picking up the scent that surrounds the track.

Jeff and I head up the long gravel road that leads to the track. Elvira's trembling. Far more than the roughness of the road would call for. She's getting more excited by the second. Jeff's bike is picking up the pace, too. The track is calling. Soon Elvira and I are seeing the Guzzi through the dust cloud ahead of us.

For just a bit the track is hidden behind a bunch of parked cargo trailers. We burst out of them and there it is. An empty track just begging to be ridden. With two eager bikes we happily comply.

We play, I mean, work as long as we can. Well, somebody has to make sure the track's clean and safe for the students don't they? We do that job very thoroughly as befits the good instructors we are. All too soon, though, it's time to get things set up. The bikes are content as they know much more fun is coming their way. This time the waiting is easier for them. They know it won't be for long.

In short order the other two instructors arrive. Dan arrives on his GSX-R. Dan's a partner in the PSSR, an organization that runs actual track days. Stan rolls in on a red Interceptor. It's kind of funny when this group works together. There's two Dan's and a Stan! As a side note, Stan's the one responsible for my taking my first professional training class 22 years ago. Also for becoming an instructor myself later on. A sincere thanks to you on both counts, Stan!

Unfortunately for Elvira, I'm teaching classroom for the regular ART group. Since we have the track for the day, a cornering clinic for instructors is being held in the morning. Three of the four bikes will get to play twice. I give Elvira a gentle pat on her shapely seat. I assure her that when the other instructors are eating lunch, we'll put on enough "warm-up" miles to make up for it.

Later in the day Elvira gets her chance to play. She even gets to run down a "fast guy" on an R6! Maybe being an instructor's bike isn't so bad after all!

Miles and smiles,