Friday, September 23, 2011

Foot down? Precisely!

I would like to introduce you to Precision. She is the sister to Prudence and Purpose. Precision is the studious one of the three. She gets straight A's in school and is good at math and science.

Her social life isn't what you might expect. You see, she's not impressed by flash. One or two grand gestures just won't cut it. No, what Precision loves is somebody who makes little efforts to court her favor each day. Some say she's playing hard to get. Others say she's stand-offish and aloof. They misjudge her, I'm afraid. Once a person makes the effort to really get to know Precision they are always so glad they did. It will be a rewarding relationship that will be forever cherished.

When someone writes about riding with precision the first thing that often comes to mind is endless hours of practicing grueling drills. This tends to be a bit overwhelming mentally. As a result, not many start on the journey towards a relationship with Precision. I think more riders would take that trip if they only realized that, like any other journey, it all boils down to a series of small steps.

That's my intent over the next few months. I want to break down the road to excellence into its simple steps. There are small things we can do today. There are small things we can do tomorrow. It doesn't seem like much from day to day. Get a ways into the trip, though, and look back. It's always amazing and rewarding to see how far we've really come.

I saw a poster years ago. It said:

"Success is the sum of small efforts made every day."

It really is that simple. We just want to make it harder than it is. I know I'm taking a risk here. Making it seem simple will probably shatter the illusion people have of my standing as a professional motorcyclist. The mystique will evaporate faster than dew in the desert. That's ok. I've never claimed to be some mysterious motorcycle god. I've simply been around some great people and have worked hard to get where I'm at. It would really please me to have the company of anyone else who wants to tag along.

Speaking of steps, let's start with something literally having to do with our feet. That's the matter of putting our feet down at stops. Or not.

I don't know what it is, but it seems like riders have this sick aversion to putting their feet down. You've seen it. They'll twist the handlebars back and forth, put their tongue between their teeth, blink fifty times quickly, and anything else they can think of in an effort to avoid putting their foot down at a stop.

Sometimes this is ok. Other times it's not.

There are times when being able to balance the bike at very low speeds is a sign of great skills and control. There are also times when it's appropriate to adjust our speed so that we don't have to stop and put our foot down. Coming up to a signal light is an example. We can adjust our speed in order to get the timing down. Hopefully, we'll keep a bit of momentum and be able to flow smoothly through the intersection when the light turns. That's control applied to achieve a smooth flow through traffic.

Even then, we need to be careful. For example, when other drivers are behind us they expect a certain thing. Years of driving with other traffic has taught us that there is an expected point where the vehicle ahead of us will begin slowing for a traffic light or stop sign. It we start slowing significantly earlier than that, we are guilty of causing a ripple in the current, is it were. If a driver behind us were to have a close call, or even hit us, it would technically be their fault. On the other hand, as we point a finger at them there are four pointing back at us. We actually caused the situation by changing the flow.

When we make bad decisions in order to avoid putting our foot down, then it becomes a real problem.

I will be the first to admit that I was guilty of this. A lot of getting to where I am has happened by looking at what I do. I either put it in the "that works" stack or in the "that needs some adjustment" stack. Having been there, I'll write this in the first person. I do not operate the same way now but it will help you understand why I saw the need to become more precise in this matter.

So here I am. Riding a big street bike. Sometimes with a passenger who is usally the person nearest and dearest to me. We are exiting a parking lot. The downward slope of the driveway towards the street is a bit disconcerting. I want to make a right turn and blend into traffic. I can't simply proceed as I need to find a gap. Traffic isn't really heavy but it's enough to make me pause.

Because of the mental thing about putting my foot down and a bit of worry about the slope I'm going to create two problems for myself. Remember, too, that I'm using a parking lot as an illustration but I could be anywhere. A four way stop. Pulling out of an alleyway. The possibilities are numerous. Back to my potential problems.

Firstly, I'm going to spend a lot of time in a really ugly, unbalanced situation. I am barely in control of the bike because we are at like, 1 mph. God only knows what will happen if a pedestrian suddenly darts in front of me. Or what if a car turns in beside me and goes a bit wide? I'm really vulnerable because I'm not in a stable position from which to respond. What if I need to move right but my handlebars are doing a side to side dance in an effort to keep balance? If I quickly pull a bit of throttle I'm as likely to go down as I am to successfully move the bike. I don't even want to talk about what will happen if, in a shocked response to almost being hit, I get a big grip on the front brake while the bars are turned so far to one side. By doing all this shucking and jiving to avoid putting my foot down I'm actually stacking the odds against me.

One reason to come to a stop and create a firm and balanced platform from which to work. If I'm stopped and stable I can also more freely move my head back to forth scan for bogies.

Granted, the odds of having an issue at this point may seem small. I can see arguments both ways. What is not up for discussion is that being in this situation is the opposite of riding with precision.

Now we come to the second, and far more sinister, complication.

Remember the need to pick a gap in traffic so we can pull out? We really shouldn't be seeing how close we can cut it. If we were sitting stable, with a foot down, we would take our time and pick a suitable gap. Instead, here I am, about to crash any minute because I'm so unstable. Again, for whatever reason, I feel my foot will fall off if I put it down and actually stop. This becomes the primary factor in my next decision. I decide to take a chance because I don't want to put my foot down.

Now I pick a questionable gap, pull out, and do some heavy throttle rolling. I'm lucky in that there was room in front of me to get a bit ahead of the car I pulled out in front of. I was also lucky because there was nothing slippery in the road that could compromise traction on my rear tire when I gassed it. I'm also feeling a bit guilty that I put my sweetie in a dangerous spot. Guess what will happen the next time?

Yep. Same-o, same-o.

Like I say, I was often there myself. I see it over and over. That's what I do. I watch riders when I see them. I'm a professional trainer and evaluator. It's in my blood and I can't "not" do it. I know you've seen it, too.

So much better to be precise. Solid stop. Foot down. Ready to respond accurately and intelligently.

Small thing? Exactly. The journey towards riding with precision literally begins a foot a time.

Next time we'll talk about changing lanes and passing.

Miles and smiles,



Unknown said...

Mr Irondad:

Finally someone gets IT. A whole blog post about feet , , ,

usually I stop but recently I did the unthinkable, I was coming to a stop sign and it was too much trouble to put my foot down, so I went for it . . . except that the car was coming faster than I thought. I only had time for a quick glance. If I had been stopped I could have surveyed the scene longer and come to a different conclusion.

I was also thinking about this same situation the other day whilst all lanes on the freeway were stopped and snaking along in 4 ft increments. It was too tiring to clutch in every 4 ft, so once in a while I waited for a longer gap, but cars don't understand why you aren't moving with the traffic, and cars in the other lane often move into your safety space.

Riding the Wet Coast

redlegsrides said...

I really like to time things so I can arrive at a light in time for it to turn green, allow me a head check for light-runners, and cruise into the intersection without putting a foo down.

Then there's the times when you see how long you are just barely moving, using gyroscopic force from the engine to keep the bike upright....

It took me the longest time to learn to time the braking of the bike to placing one's foot on the ground so one is not trying to stop the bike with one's foot!

Now when I am on the sidecar rig.... : )


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

RichardM said...

Guilty. There have been times when approaching boulevard stop when I just stop for a fraction of a second before proceeding. Back when I rode my bicycle a lot, a police friend of mine told me that they usually watch and see if the wheels actually stop rolling. That behavior carried over.

Thank you for the reminder....

Richard - my blog

Keith - Circle Blue said...

Thanks for this post. It was right on time for me. I've been working on complete stops and foot down. I'd gotten sloppy living here in the land of rolling stops.

I, also, appreciated the concept of causing a "ripple" by slowing too soon. I don't think the folks behind me during my urban riding get frustrated by how slow I pick up speed, but more often how soon I begin to slow.

Lots for me to ponder in this piece. Again, thanks.

Anonymous said...

The commentary about foot/feet down at inspection stations (traffic signals) reminds me of a
story told me many years ago. City of Toronto police motorcycle division put sidecars on their Harley-Davidson motorcycle every year in the fall. The motorcycles were more stable in snow, slush and ice and the rigs could be used for just about anything. When riding a sidecar rig, the feet don't go down to terra firma at stops and similar. Come spring, the sidecars are removed, cleaned and stored until the next winter season arrives.
However for a few days after the now solo machines and their operators had a problem. Used to be riding with three wheels instead of the now two. Up comes a traffic signal, feet don't to the ground as the constable still recalls using the sidecar, nota solo. No feet go down, but the motorcycle falls over. Gee I wonder why?

Derek said...

Great post. The tendency to get into traffic and get in a big hurry is really overwhelming sometimes. We just have to be reminded that rushing usually doesn't lead to good riding technique.

david said...

I dropped my fazer exiting the gas station that way :(
Yes, it was slippery, yes, i stopped unexpectedly, no, i didn't have my feet down when i was supposed to ...

peace and thanks for the reminder irondad

Bucky said...

Those downward-sloping driveways can be tough. More than once I got myself into the position of not being able to get my foot down far enough when turning right from such a drive. Now, I stop headed straight down, and do my turning once I start up again.

I have noticed several things related to those you write of during my 3+ years of learning to ride:

-I touch my left foot down smoothly, just as the bike stops completely. And the foot goes back on the peg almost immediately upon starting. There is no sliding of my foot while stopping or sliding/duck walking when starting.

-I find that I am much better off stopping fully, and looking carefully once stopped, before entering traffic. In a car, there is no chance of it falling over so I can look while coasting to a stop.

-After doing most of the braking with both front and rear brakes together, I use the rear brake only from walking speed to zero. Then I maintain rear brake while stopped to keep the stop lamp illuminated. Left foot down. I only remove pressure on the rear brake when I am ready to start out again.

Sound right, you more experienced riders?

Stacy said...

Guilty as charged. What can I say, I just like being able to come to a complete stop, in balance, without putting my feet down. The challenge makes being stuck in stop-and-go traffic so much more interesting.

BeemerGirl said...

Very interesting. I find the thought process intriguing because it is so foreign to me. I've had thoughts of not hindering traffic behind me by stopping too slowly. I practice only when no one is waiting. Leaving parking lots or turns I find I like the time required to survey the situation for the exact reasons you described, so have never worried about trying to not put my foot down.

Thanks for helping me understand how people don't think that way.