Brake time!Time to shake off the new baby euphoria and get back to work. I had a meeting in Portland. Afterwards I cruised by Lloyd Center Mall. I like to park the bike inside the parking structure. Seems more protected that way, for some reason. There's a place near Barnes and Noble that's not really motorcycle parking but where Security never bothers a motorcycle that happens to land there. Riding up Halsey Street, I was greeted by this.
Seriously. True story. What's the military term? NSTIW, I believe. "No s**t, there I was!"
Not only did I avoid trouble, but my skill level was so high I saw it early enough to get stopped and take a photo while it was happening.
All right, so I admit to coming back and taking a photo of a different car. Despite my jesting, this was a real life situation. The kind riders encounter all the time. It seemed a great illustration of what we had talked about earlier.
What's the difference between one year's experience repeated several times over and having several years' progressive experience?
Let's use this scenario to break it down a bit more. We'll look at other situations down the road as I see things that are applicable. Remember how I said we would look at the three levels in situations? This is a good case to use as an illustration.
The worst of the winter weather is past. A rider deems it safe, or comfortable enough, to pull the bike out of hibernation. What a rider also needs to be aware of is that their skills have been in hibernation as well. We humans are interesting creatures. There are two kinds of storage space available in our brains. Most of the space is dedicated to what you might call deep storage. This is where things go that aren't needed too often. Think of this space as the back of a filing cabinet drawer.
Some space is dedicated to storing things that are needed often and quickly. This is like the front of the top drawer. Unfortunately, the space available here is much smaller, and thus more limited, than the deep storage space. If something in this space ends up not being used for a while, it's moved elsewhere to make room for new things. Motor skills, or what you might call "mind-muscle connections" are examples of things that get shuffled between these file drawers. Often used connections are kept readily accessible while less frequently used ones get filed deeper. Which means it takes the brain a bit longer to find and put them on the table. That can be a bad thing if we need them RIGHT NOW!
It's a good thing for a rider to go out and encourage the brain to move important motor skills back to the quickly accessible storage space. In this case, to go out and re-establish the mind-muscle connections involved in smooth braking. Simply put, to practice in a parking lot or someplace where it's safe to do so. It's important to be smooth when braking. It's also important to be able to stop quickly.
I've talked to many riders who practice quick stops. Once or twice. They get up a little speed, pick a braking marker, then do the squeeze and press thing. Since their skills are a bit rusty to start with, and might not have been at a high level in the first place, the first couple of attempts are pretty rough.
"Oooh, that was scary!"
No more attempts are made. A rider figures that's good enough and they will just deal with it when the time comes. After all, they know the basics of brake application in their heads. For far too many riders, that is the extent of the quick stop practice.
This is what I call Level One. It's a well populated level, unfortunately. These riders might be lucky enough to go a whole riding season and not have a close call. The question always remains, though. What if? Some have to answer that question without quite being prepared. Ouch!
Remember that "mind-muscle" connection that's supposed to go into the front of the file drawer? Guess what? This ain't no magical drawer. If we didn't put it there, we aren't going to find it there. Putting it another way, I had a training sergeant who told me,
"You won't rise to the occasion, you'll default to your level of training."
When we face that "moment" the only thing our brains will be able to pull out of the drawer is what we have put in there. Oh sure, we might think we know how to brake on an intellectual level and we'll think of what we need to do in order to stop quickly and correctly when the time comes.
I've studied what happens to humans under stress. Actually been there several times, too! You know the kind of high adrenaline situations I'm talking about. When every orifice in our body wants to pucker. When we will never fall off the bike because we have the seat's fabric tucked tightly up you know where. I'm here to tell you that there's not much intellectual activity going on. That's why our responses are called "reactions".
Another way to look at it is to say we react with whatever our habit is. Which makes the secret easy to figure out. Make sure the habit there to fall back on is the correct thing. You knew it would come back to this, didn't you? The answer is practice. Lot's of it.
What really needs to happen is repeated quick stops. That one went well? Good. Do it again. And again. And again. The muscle actions involved need to literally become second nature. They should happen without too much thinking about it going on. I'm not going to go into the specific actual application of the brakes. This is more about strategy.
I do want to mention one quick thing, though. If we do slide the rear tire, and avoid falling down or a high side, does the sliding tire matter? Definitely. The net result will be longer stopping distance. It might only make a difference of three, four, or five feet. Take a look at the photo above. Notice how Elvira's sidestand is at the 15 foot mark. Now look at this photo.
Look where the leading edge of Elvira's front tire is. It's at the 19 foot mark, just four feet farther forward. Just four feet? No big deal? What if the car's bumper were at the 15 foot mark? Where would that put the front wheel of our bike? On a small car that puts it somewhere in the back seat. Yes, every foot counts. Which is why repeated practice and developing the proper mind-muscle connection is so critical.
The good news is that a lot of riders come to our more advanced classes to practice these kind of skills. At the least, they do it on their own. That's wonderful. That's highly commendable. However, it's still only
The next level adds another component to the physical skills. Our definition of an expert rider is
"A rider who uses excellent judgement to avoid using expert skills."
Expert skills are wonderful and, in fact, necessary. By themselves, however, expert skills aren't really enough to keep riders out of trouble. The really great news is that developing these mental skills is more a matter of effort than the passage of time. Many riders go year after year and don't pick up the proper mental skills. A motorcyclist with a short riding season can still work on and develop great mental skills. The key is to carry them over year to year and build on them as we get more saddle time.
Riders who I would call truly experienced and successful have great mental skills. This is how they reach the highest level.
Here is where the skill of getting critical information early does so much to help a rider take care of themself on the streets. I plan to write much more about this skill in coming posts but this one is getting long already. So let's look at it specifically in the context of our opening scenario.
I stated that a rider should be able to stop a motorcycle in no more than 79 feet at 40 mph on a non-abs bike. So let's say that we're 80 feet from the car that pulled out in front of us. Due to our repeated practice we can stop the bike quickly and safely in 75 feet. Score? Not quite.
There's this little thing called reaction time. At 40 mph we're covering 58.66 feet per second. Let's just call it 60 feet per second. If it takes us a half second to react and start braking, which is actually pretty quick, we've covered an additional 30 feet. Suddenly we find that if we can physically stop the bike in 75 feet, we actually need 105 feet to pull off a successful stop. If it takes us a bit longer to react, if we were distracted, or whatever, that distance will vary considerably. Does your head hurt, yet? Is there a better strategy?
Actually, there is. Take a look at the opening photo again. One measure of our success might be how soon we saw the car pulling out in order to have the quickest reaction time possible and get stopped. What if we were to take another look and see if we could be even more prepared, car or no car? Take a look at this photo.
I took this photo before the car pulled out. I don't see a hazard. Or do I? Remember when I introduced this series I stated that key to success is to think like a motorcyclist? Let's do that and see what we find.
Firstly, I know I'm riding in an area with a lot of congestion. It's a major shopping mall in a city of over half a million people. Cars darting in and out of multiple places. Thinking like a motorcyclist, I know I have less protection than if I were in a car. I know it's trickier to stop the bike quickly than it is in a car. I know quick reactions are essential. So I'm covering the clutch and brake levers.
I know it's critical to get information early so I'm aggressively scanning my surroundings. Once I see something I have it on my radar and can track it. However, I find that there's a place I can't see. To my right is a parking structure. I can see into it when I look that way. Cars have to enter and exit this structure someplace. I see the big box truck coming up on my right. I can't see around the front of it. What I do see, however, gives me an early clue to what's there.
Notice how the truck is parked in a painted box sort of parking place? You can see the white lines on the roadside. Now I see there's no parking space immediately in front of the truck. Looking farther ahead, I see the orange cone at the left rear of the big food service truck. It's a little compressed due to my zoom lense, but there's a long space of plain black roadway between the two trucks. Why do you suppose that is?
Probably because that's a way in and out of the parking structure, I figure. An intersection. Since I can't see for sure, but make an educated guess, I'm taking preventative measures. I slow down and move slightly left in my lane. Which means I can see the driveway sooner and any car coming out can see me sooner. I don't count on them seeing me, but I make sure I see them as early as possible.
Sure enough, a car pulls out but it's not even a close call for me. I made use of all the available clues and prepared accordingly. I call the top skills level three, for simplicity, but I personally want my skills at Warp Factor 9!
Again, a rider can get these skills independent of time in the saddle. Riding time will only help hone these skills by putting them into practice. First and foremost is the mindset to acquire mental strategies.
Success secret #2: Physical skills are necessary. Don't rely on them. Get critical information as early as possible. This includes clues, not just the hazard itself.
I know a lot of you are already a Level 3. I figure it never hurts to review. There might be a new way of looking at things that helps put it all in perspective. Whatever your skill level I hope this is useful information.
More to come later.
Miles and smiles,