Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat

Curiosity Did Not Kill the Cat

This is the sequel to the essay I posted yesterday called “The Crash That Wasn’t.”

Ever since I’d gotten home from that incident it had bothered me.  A lot. I’ve ridden this road for decades, and had never come across anything like what I encountered.

I’ve taken enough advanced rider courses of one sort or another to be well aware of the wisdom of always looking for gravel and sand at the apex of corners, either kicked up by vehicles edging off the pavement or by run-off from dirt driveways and fields, etc.  Been there, done that, and could design the t-shirt.

So what happened?

Years ago I knew a fine fellow who was an expert in accident reconstruction, and owned a small company that did such work for individuals, police departments, and municipalities.  I had assisted John on a couple of occasions by using my vast work motorcycle e-mail contacts to find some who owned a particular year and model of motorcycle who would be willing to be filmed riding a particular section of road at a specific speed, and be paid for it.  John also put on a seminar I arranged at the dealership one Saturday morning educating all who attended on the technology, methods, and procedures he used.  I found it fascinating.

John’s first career had been with the State Patrol, and he rode a Honda Goldwing often and well.  On one of our trips he chided me for stopping the group for a rest on a wide area of pavement next to a hairpin corner in eastern Washington.  He felt I should have parked the group all the way to the end of the section I had chosen, because as it was, all of our bikes were parked in what he termed the “debris field” if someone overcooked the turn and created a disaster. I tucked that factoid away for future use.

One interesting tic of John’s was that the he rode the Goldwing but was an active member of the BMW club, including serving as the co-president. He explained that he liked Goldwing motorcycles and BMW people.

So after contemplating my near disaster for a day, I decided to do some accident reconstruction research of my own.  I’m off on a four day ride this Friday, so today was set aside to get the bike really cleaned, waxed, oiled, and generally spiffed, and then fueled to the brim.  Since I had to go out to fill the tank anyway, it made perfect sense to ride an extra 30 miles or so to check out the scene of my near-disaster.  Also, it was a perfect day for a ride…

As I turned onto Ben Howard road again, my senses grew more alert. I sort of remembered where the corner that caused me grief was, but not exactly.  I watched carefully as a couple of miles rolled by, but when I reached the scene it was pretty obvious, even though seen two days of traffic had rolled through the evidence. I trundled through the remaining gravel gingerly, and then turned around and rode back to a safe wide spot on the other side of the road.

Sorry for the sideways –  sufficient gravel even a week later

This was not the scene of a few random pieces of gravel. It was obvious that a small tsunami of dirt and gravel had flowed across the entire road.  The source was a very steep driveway of dirt and gravel that intersected the road on the right, just before the apex of the corner.  As I looked at it and noted the various tire tracks through the remains of the detritus (my own wild tire gyrations had been erased by later traffic), at last the penny dropped.

 

Agh!  Cannot get the pictures to be up and down!  Anyway, here is the offending driveway

I recalled that a few days earlier the Seattle area had been hit by truly momentous rain storms.  Yes, it does rain a lot here, but usually our rains are closer to mist, as in the old line “missed, Oregon, hit us.”  These were rains that were more like the summer rainstorms of my youth on Minnesota – true gully washers that remove almost all visibility.  In Minnesota those storms had lasted minutes, whereas these had lasted for hours.  It was now obvious that the storms had indeed been gulley washers for the driveway, washing a two inch wall of dirt and mud and gravel across both lanes of the narrow road.

I give up – just turn your head! 

I had not seen the danger because the problem was completely obscured by filtered sunshine and heavy tree cover at the entrance to this corner.  The dark mud and gravel looked just like the shaded elderly asphalt of the preceding two dozen corners.

Lesson learned:  if you are riding in, or just after very heavy rains in your area, the places that might be expected to have a little gravel, sand, or dirt, might very well have quite a lot of it.  Even if you’ve been riding that same road for decades.

Y’all be careful out there.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often

Copyright 2018                               David Preston

 

Posted in Motorcycles | 2 Comments

The Crash That Wasn’t

The Crash That Wasn’t

Since this essay deals with motorcycle safety, I should begin with some background for those who are not frequent perusers of my musings.  I’ve been riding motorcycles for 51 years.  After three decades of enthusiasm, including riding across all or part of our country several times, I wangled a job in the motorcycle business as a sort of glorified customer services representative.  In this capacity I led customers on rides from a day’s duration to nine days, did the initial break-in on a few dozen Harleys meant for a rental fleet, did test rides of service bikes and proposed new products, and rode every used bike I could get my hands on.  By the time I retired in late 2013 I had ridden well over 500 different motorcycles.  I posted my notes on most of them about three years ago on this site.  I have taken several rider safety courses, and helped with the curriculum for one. I have been trained in dual sport riding.

 I have published eight books, all of which are either about motorcycles of feature motorcycles prominently. And all of which can be purchased right from this site – shameless plug! – as e-readers (all), or paperbacks (most).

None of this is mentioned to brag, (OK, a little bit), but to make the point that this is not my first rodeo.  None of what follows was due to lack of experience or knowledge, or lack of concentration, or drugs or alcohol or any of the other factors that usually factor in.

Yesterday, I essentially crashed my 2016 Triumph Bonneville.  The “essentially” is added because I did not actually hit the ground, and neither the motorcycle nor I was damaged (more on the latter later).

For decades, various ad campaigns have proclaimed that “anyone can learn to ride a motorcycle.”  I disagree. Most people can learn to ride a motorcycle, but simply knowing how to do it is not enough.  You need to really want to do it, with passion. You need to accept the challenges and responsibilities that will come to you,  which are far greater than in a mere car, and to acknowledge that you must always be open to learning something new.  And that even when things are ideal, the world can go turnip-shaped in a second.  Like today, for example.

I was romping down Ben Howard road, ironically the same road that featured in my last essay about a hapless Mustang GT 350 driver who launched himself into a swamp.  But my incident was not comparable to his. 

On this occasion, I was leading three good friends on a perfect day, riding at an invigorating pace, but not really pushing it all that much. The sun was breaking through scattered cloud cover, and most of the corners were in deep shade.

Except for the corner than wasn’t.  I have been riding this road for 40 years, and I had never seen this. What appeared to be shade was actually a patch of deep and dark gravel.  Not a few random pebbles that might cause the front tire to skip and elevate your heart rate, but a section about 10 yards square with dark gravel about two inches deep!  I have no idea how it got there, as it was much too much to be the run-off from dirt driveways that can occasionally provide a threat.

Suddenly the motorcycle made a violent yank to the right. The front wheel was plowing into the gravel, while the rear was sashaying the left.  The bike was crashing to the right, and I was falling off the saddle.  I could see the left handlebar up to the right, and I knew it was all over.  But my right foot hit the ground at about the same time the front wheel got back to solid pavement. The bike then yanked itself and me back up and now it felt like I would “highside” off to the left.  Instead, the bike shook violently a couple of times and settled down to straight ahead, while my brain struggled to keep up with events.

My first thought was to pull over and stop, but as I continued down the road and past the site of the Mustang driver’s crash, I began to take stock.  The bike was not damaged, and neither was I.  My foot was a little sore where it had slammed into the gravel, and I could feel where my left palm had slapped onto the hand grip as the bike righted itself, but there was really no reason to stop.   If I kept going I might have a chance to calm down and not have anything negative happen. Like throwing up.

A couple of miles later I came to a stop and my friend Bob rode up next to me.  His face made me feel worse, as he was white as a sheet.  He asked if I was OK, obviously shaken by what he had seen.   Actually worse for him as an observer, as I was too busy to be aware of what was happening.   Pat and Tony were further back, and later told me that from the gravel being thrown to each side and the flashes of chrome, they just assumed I had crashed and were preparing to stop and assist.

When we stopped for lunch a half hour later I could see the gravel dust on the right side of the front tire.  It was a close thing.

So what saved me?   Years of experience?  No.  My incredible skills and top level reaction times?   No.  I believe that the Triumph saved itself.  The wheelbase was long enough that the front tire reached solid pavement before the bike hit the ground, and once there the forces of physics were enough to yank it upright.  The relative lack of weight compared to some other motorcycles kept it from pitching me off to the left.  If I’d been on the Triumph Speed Triple I loved and rode for eleven years and 50,000 miles, for example, I think I would have crashed. The Speed Triple has a much more aggressive turn-in and a shorter wheelbase.

Another factor that bears mentioning is physical fitness.  I am 71 years old, after all. For the past year I have been taking a class called “Essentrics” at my local YMCA.  At first glance, how tough can an hour of stretching and flexibility and muscle exercises be?  Ten minutes into the first class you notice that you need to pause here and there as your muscles scream out for relief, and then you notice that instructor Natalia does not pause – ever.   I’ve been doing this twice a week for almost a year, and I still cannot complete 100% of the exercises every time, but I am getting there.

This incident with the gravel wrenched my body in several directions in less than a second.  Again, I am 71.  I am positive I would have strained or pulled or torn several muscles had I not been taking this class.  It is also quite likely that improved flexibility helped me when I really needed it.  Once back home I realized that I was not in any pain, but simply filled with the pleasant fatigue that comes from a few hours of riding a motorcycle at a good pace on winding back roads.

There are other programs out there, but Essentrics I can wholeheartedly recommend, and Natalia and the Northshore YMCA if you live near me.

Thoughts in conclusion?  Safe riding classes are a cheap investment.  Really good equipment is a great place to reward yourself for good behavior.  Experience is helpful.  Getting in shape and staying there offers more rewards that might be apparent.

But sometimes – stuff happens.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often

 

David A Preston                  Copyright 2018

Posted in Equipment, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

Risk vs. Reward: There but for the grace of Whomever…

Risk vs. Reward: There but for the grace of whomever…

As a motorcyclist, do you feel you have “fast” days and “slow” days?  Sometimes you’re in a great mood and really into the road and the machine. You ride aggressively,focusing on smooth corner entry with a late apex (on public roads) and vigorous acceleration at corner exit, for miles and miles of winding back roads.  On other days you choose to simply relax and meander. 

This has always struck me as one of the many differences between a passionate enthusiast and a pro racer. A pro is never allowed to have a not fast day.  It does not matter if jet lagged, in a foreign country, upset about some personal issue, and bags lost on the way to the hotel from yet another airport – it’s time to practice or qualify and to be fast. Right now.

I am sort of glad I never had the talent to ever approach such a life circumstance.

Yesterday, for me, was a “slow” day.  There are few motorcycles better suited to this than a Triumph Bonneville 1200.   Of course the Bonneville can go fast, but even then, when I’m in the right mood on the right road, the bike seems to be whispering in my ear.  “Really? OK, but look at the scenery you are missing.  Oh right, sorry. Back to it.”

Motorcycle choice does affect this. The Muzzy Raptor I once owned was essentially a road race bike with a license plate.  It did not suffer fools gladly, and had no interest in just poodling around.  The Kawasaki ZX 12R I owned could accelerate so hard the information was streaming into my visor faster than my brain could process.  My Triumph Speed Triple was a few steps back from those, and could be a fine companion on a “slow” day, although it seemed to prefer a more rapid pace.

Whatever your motorcycle, you are constantly evaluating risk vs. reward.  Going fast has been a reward for men and women since the first ox cart got smoother wheels.  How fast are you comfy with? How fast is the bike comfy with?  A  Triumph Rocket 3 can go very fast, but I always felt that if an error was made by the rider, the bike would take out a house or a small forest on its way to disaster.  Harleys may be designed for cruising, but one of the best rides of my life was on a winding back road on a Road King.  Here again, the mass of the thing was always present, but it was fun to be aware of it and control it – more or less.

Yesterday I was riding relatively slowly on Ben Howard Road.  This is a lovely stretch of 10 miles or so east of Seattle that runs from Monroe to Sultan along a river, rising and falling through fields and trees, with many corners of differing degree. I’ve been riding this road for decades, and it is a favorite.  What came to mind were the Isle of Man races I’ve been watching on TV this week.  Ben Howard road resembles parts of the Isle of Man course, except Ben Howard is a bit wider, and I was going up to about 65 miles an hour, where the current lap record at the Isle of Man is an AVERAGE of 137mph!    That makes you think.

For me, the risk vs. reward ratio at the Isle of Man is terribly out of whack.  Over the past century and more, an average of one racer per year has died at these races, and many of us feel slightly guilty about enjoying the coverage. It is awesome to watch, but the price is exorbitant.

One of the many reasons some people like motorcycles is identical to one of the many reasons some people do not like motorcycles.  Your fate is usually in your own hands. You can dial the degree of risk up or down as you choose.  Modern motorcycles are much safer than the steeds of yore, with ABS brakes and traction controls and triple disc brakes – but you can still choose to “ride like a knob” at any time, and you will bear the responsibility for the result, whether good or ill.

Compare this to cars.  I had the opportunity to drive a Mercedes Benz 500 AMG convertible around a race track at speed about a decade ago.  It was so frustrating!   No manual shift, of course. Worse, there were so many safety electronic bibbity bobs present that the car did not want to do what I wanted it to do. The race instructor in the passenger seat was telling me to hit the inside rounded curb with the inside front tire, but the car would apply brakes and other systems to make sure the car did not act as desired.  After a couple of laps I wondered what you would have to do to make the car crash!  I have never pondered that on a motorcycle.  The risk is always right there, attached to your hands and feet.

I had a friend who died in a motorcycle accident years ago. He was a custom painter, and a very nice guy. Unfortunately, he liked beer. A lot of beer.  His favorite pastime was to sit at a bar in the evening, and then ride home at speed. His bike was a Sportster with (natch) a lovely custom paint job.  I had a mild argument with him once about the likely consequences.  His Sportster had stock suspension and brakes, and the stock headlight.  I told him his pastime would end in disaster, and one night it did. Many people blamed the guy who backed out of his driveway at 11pm as my friend came roaring down the suburban street at 60 mph.  I did not.

Back in the 1990s. I watched the birth of two separate Seattle-city based sport bike clubs.  They would show up at the dealership en masse in their brightly colored vests.  In a matter of a couple of years both of the clubs LITERALLY died out.  The leader of one of them was drunk in a bar at 2am. His friends tried to take his keys, but he ran out of the bar, hopped on his GSX-R and ran down the freeway at about 160mph, until he ran into the back of a van going the speed limit.  Incidents like this strain the definition of “accident.”

With choice comes responsibility, and when you are given the opportunity to select your chosen level of risk, you then will accept the consequences, whether you like it or not.

Does this include all sad endings?  Of course not. Sometimes you are not doing anything wrong, not at risk, and yet the world can suddenly go pear shaped.  I experienced this in driver training (!) a long time ago.  I was driving down a suburban street, and up ahead I saw a milk truck at the curb and kids playing on the lawn.  “I remember this from the film!” I thought. I moved to the middle of the street and took my foot off the gas. As I was coasting by the milk truck, the ball bounced into the street, and a little boy ran out and planted his face into the door!  The instructor was out of the car before it stopped from 15mph.  The little boy got a swollen lip for his trouble and wet his pants. I am surprised I did not do likewise.  When we went to move the car we discovered that I had braked so hard that all four tires were stuck to the asphalt, which came up in pieces when we moved the car.  The driver’s ed instructor used me as an example for years that sometimes you can have an accident even when doing things perfectly.

So I am pondering all of these heavy thoughts when I come to the site of… an accident.  Not a motorcycle, but a late model Mustang GT 350.   The road runs downhill into a sharp left 90 degree corner marked as 20mph.  The Mustang had not completed the corner, run off into the weeds and flown through the air, landing in about a foot of mud and water and greenery, which it plowed through for twenty or thirty yards.  A pickup truck had stopped, and it looked like nobody had been injured, so I continued on.  Later, on my way back home, I took the same route in reverse, and as I had guessed, there was now a tow truck on the scene. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I parked the Bonneville and strolled around to see what I could see. There were no skid marks on the road leading into the corner at all.  It looked like the driver had been distracted and was not aware there was a corner there at all.  Hmmm.  The driver and his passenger were standing around smoking cigarettes (I presumed they were cigarettes, but now I wonder).  Both had a lot of tattoos, and looked like life has not been pleasant up to now. As I took a couple of pictures, the driver sort of growled at me – “You’re not going to put those online are you?” 

“Um, no. Why?” 

“I’d prefer they weren’t.”

Then I noticed the car did not have a rear license plate.  “Where’s the plate?” I asked.

“In the car,” he mumbled.

By now the little voice we all have in our heads was screaming at me.  “Get thee hence – now!”  I was not comfortable with the situation at all, as it seemed that the driver really needed to be answering questions from someone wearing a badge and armed with a gun.   Although I wanted to see what the tow truck driver did, as he was now waking around and obviously deciding whether to pull the car out frontwards or backwards, I chose to listen to the voice.

I took a last look at the car and noticed that the left from headlight opening was all covered up with lots of black duct tape.  Clearly this was not the first adventure for this car.

Having assessed the situation, I got back to the Bonneville, strapped the helmet on my head, and rode away.   I realized that in analyzing the situation and the dodgy people involved I had applied risk vs. reward in a different way.

I rode home at even a slower pace.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often

Copyright 2018                                David Preston

 

Posted in Cars, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

The Misunderstood Career of Danica Patrick

The Misunderstood Career of Danica Patrick

Danica Patrick completed her racing career yesterday at the Indy 500, which she had announced earlier would be her last race.  Many before her have made the decision to retire and then changed their minds later – usually with dismal or disastrous results. In any case, she lost control of her race car and spun into the wall, ending her race and career. Probably.

Today there are comments arising in the great public forum that is Facebook criticizing her for her lack of success yesterday and going further to state she was never very good and yadayadaya.  Of course, in equal equipment at almost any venue Ms. Patrick could whomp her critics by many seconds a lap, because she is a professional driver and has impressive skills far beyond the capability or even understanding of most. 

Further, most of her critics choose to ignore that several male drivers had their race end in almost identical fashion – losing the rear end going into Turn 3 and rotating into the wall. Among them was a former winner of the race.  This year’s cars, by regulation, have vastly decreased levels of down force. This has made the cars much more difficult to drive, especially at high speeds.  The driver’s seem united in their delight with these harder to drive cars, and the racing is spectacular, which leads to bigger crowds and more enthusiasm, and more money. 

And that is where the criticism of Ms. Patrick crashes into a misconception.  Many people believe that professional race drivers are paid to win.  This is categorically false.  They are not paid to win, but to make money.  Winning certainly helps a driver to make money, but it is not the only tool that can be used.

Car and motorcycle racing is now primarily an entertainment business, while still retaining the mantle of sport.  Racing is expensive, and the vehicles used are now, almost entirely, sponsored by large companies – either commercial entities or manufacturers.  A sponsored driver’s main task is to create a return on the considerable financial investment in marketing and sales success.  A successful driver needs to be attractive and well spoken, and able to master emotions that might be crushing when a microphone is stuck in his or her face and the cameras are on, which is almost all of the time.

At the Formula 1 level, most of the drivers got to that height by bringing with them shipping crates full of money, either from their wealthy families or from companies that have chosen to back them in hopes of a return.  There is a question now if Formula 1 drivers are really the best in the world, or merely very good drivers with almost bottomless pockets of financial support.

As for Danica, she walks away from the sport hale in mind and body, and joins a limited selection of women who have been successful in racing.  I think Lynn St. James was a better driver, and you can dredge up several others. Angelle Sampey, Courtney and Brittany Force and Erica Enders Stevens in drag racing, which has led the way in allowing women to succeed in the sport.  My friend Mary McGee in off-road and pavement car and motorcycle racing. Several women from the 1920’s to 1940s.  And many others.  Some won a lot, some won at times, but the definition of success has changed over the decades. 

Danica’s skills can be debated, but success, oh yes.  She made a lot of money for Go Daddy and her other sponsors, and also for herself.  She took her talent, and recognized that her looks could be used to her advantage.  She learned how to talk to media personnel, and how to create or avoid controversy. At the end of the day, she walks away with mind and body intact, and as the owner or several businesses. She will have many options for her future, all of them positive.

Good for her.

 

Copyright 2018                                       David Preston

Posted in Cars, Equipment, Marketing, Motorcycles, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

2016 Triumph 1200 Thruxton for sale!

My brother in law was intended to be the half-owner of my 2016 Triumph 1200 Thruxton.  After it was all put together with the addition of the R model rear shocks and the Triumph flyscreen he wanted,  I paid for it and insured it and we were set to go.  Then… he changed his mind.  Now I have a motorcycle I do not ride as much at my 2016 Triumph T 120 Bonneville, and I really cannot afford the luxury of a 2nd bike that is seldom ridden. It has 1252 miles, has never been dropped or ridden in anger, and is virtually brand new with the addition of a $1000 worth of add-ons- the shocks and the windscreen. It features the larger 1200cc engine, with fuel injection and dual front disc brakes.  It weighs 40 pounds less (!) than the Bonneville and makes more power.  I have the title and it is ready to go.  Reluctantly for sale for $9,000.   206 484 3000 or david@davidpreston,biz.   Feel free to share with anyone you know who wants a fantastic gentleman’s  (or ladies) sport bike for relatively little.

 

Posted in Motorcycles | Leave a comment

The Dark Underside of #MeToo

The Dark Underside of #MeToo

If you believe in women’s rights, as I do, and if you also believe that women can do anything they want to and should have full access to opportunities, then you also have to accept that women can also do things that are immoral and awful.

Right now the social collective is focused on sexual abuse in all of its forms, and rightly so.  However, there is scant attention paid to claims of such that are false.  There are a lot more of them than you would suspect, or at least more of them than I did.  I Googled “False claims of molestation” and was immediately goggled.  Such claims are not at all rare.

Many of the national-level cases are, of course, entirely valid, and the perpetrators have had their personal and professional lives dismantled, at the very least.  As they should be.

Having experienced a false accusation myself, I began asking questions of close friends.  From the first four people I talked with I gathered TEN examples! 

A first year female 2nd grader teacher accused by a boy of having groped him when he was held in from recess.  She was immediately removed from her classroom and put on paid leave. For six months. When the little boy finally admitted he had made it all up because he was mad that she had kept him in from recess because he had not completed his homework, the school district’s response was “OK – you can go back now.” How would you feel if you were in your first year of a career you had sacrificed so much to attain?

One young woman accused two different step-fathers of molestation.  The extended family eventually caught on.  A US Army cadet was falsely accused while at West Point of raping a female cadet. You can imagine the uproar and the depth of the investigation and the likely destruction of his service career.  What agony!

A man was falsely accused by a niece, which sent ripples of discord through an entire family that went on for years, long after the original allegation had been withdrawn.

And so on.  And on.

In a way, it is a perfect crime.  In none of the ten cases I have heard of, with the exception of the Army incident, did the original false accuser suffer any punishment.  If you want to bring a world of hurt to someone, this is a sure-fire way to do it.

There is a statute of limitations on many crimes, but there is no statute of limitations on accusations.   Furthermore, any response from the falsely accused sounds like an admission of guilt, because all of the possible  excuses have now been used by famous people who turned out to be guilty of exactly what they were accused of.   You can start, sadly, with the current President of the United States, and run through so many elected officials, movie stars and producers, comedians, and on and on.

If you are accused and reply “I did not do anything,” most people will nod, and not believe you.  Same goes for anything else you might say.  Many people, both friends and relatives, will immediately cease all communication with you. There is no recourse.

For this reason, most people in this situation, in my limited experience, tend to clam up and not talk about it. It is not fair or right, but it is the only course that seems available.

Today in the national news it is the turn of Tom Brokaw. An accusation decades old has turned his life inside out and upside down. Is he guilty? Maybe.  Will it make a difference? Maybe not.

I continue to support the rights of women and the worthy goals still left to be accomplished.  I hope that along the way we can spare some concern for the many men and a few women who have been falsely accused.

There are many thousands of them.

 

Copyright 2018             David Preston

Posted in Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

Distracted Rider Awareness Month

Distracted Ride Awareness Month

April is national distracted driver awareness month, which you’d know if you didn’t spend so much time on your phone…  Anyway, let us counter steer away from that to think for a bit about – distracted riders.

As motorcyclists, we are all used to keeping a swiveling head and sharp eyes on the lookout for distracted drivers.  The parent dealing with kids, the careless person about the make a left turn or lane change, the ditz reading the paper or drinking coffee or shaving, and the masses ignoring the laws and statistics about texting while driving.  They’re all out there all the time.  Your eyes and alertness are your only defense, assisted by your fingers at the ready on the brake lever and, if needed, the likelihood that you can probably out-accelerate the perpetrator.

I once avoided an accident by noticing the driver’s shoulder begin to flex as he began a lane change.  I am sure you have similar stories if you’ve been riding for any length of time.

Things have become an exponentially worse in recent years as cars add more and more control options, many of which can be accessed on the fly.  Even my VW Tiguan has more choices to make than I’m happy with, and one of my reasons for purchase was that it had less than many competitors.  I can scroll through many screen options, adjust the mirrors for angle and heat, set the wipers for intermittent or full on – front and rear, move the seat in several directions, adjust the heat on each side of the car, radio or CD, or the nav system showing, and on and on.

As technology hurtles us toward the debatable benefits of autonomous vehicles, distractions will only increase. My brother in law has a company car that speeds up and slows down by itself on the freeway while maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front. It also can parallel park itself. He has already noticed that his driving skills are atrophying. He no longer has to be aware of what he is doing a pretty good percentage of the time, and no longer has to know how to parallel park. Skills that are not practiced evanesce, and may take related skills with them.

But what about us?

Distractions for motorcycle riders can come from two sources. One is ourselves, and these days the other is our own motorcycle. 

A few decades ago, a motorcycle was pretty simple and offered few if any distractions. My first motorcycle was a Yamaha YDS-3.  It had a 250cc engine, clutch and brake levers, and shift and brake pedals. The instrument cluster told you what speed you had attained, more or less, and the rpm of the engine.  That was it.  There were not even turn signals on a 1965 Yamaha.  I used to wear white leather handball gloves at night. Not much for protection, but more easily seen when I stuck my left hand out or up to signal a turn.

Contrast that to today.  Have you looked at the controls layout of a modern luxury tourer, for example?  The display of buttons on a recent Honda Goldwing looks like the flight panel of a jet passenger plane.  I was working at a BMW dealership when the first BMW 6 cylinder tourer came in.  We had a customer demo ride the next day. The owner told me that I could ride it, and so could the salesman going along (just to start the break-in process), but we should not let customers sample the excellence of the bike because he did not want any customer to ride it before having a 15 minute talk by a trained salesperson on how the myriad of options and controls could be understood and tailored to taste.  I always thought it was amusing that he did not seem concerned about the salesman or me riding the bike, as we knew nothing more about it than the customers.

Even a motorcycle as simple as either of my two Triumphs offers a lot of distractions. There are multiple screens on the instruments I can stroll through.  I can set the engine parameters on the Bonneville for road or rain, and on the Thruxton for road, rain, or sport.  The Bonneville also has three levels of heated grips accessed by a small button that you have to look at to locate.  I can also turn off the ABS, or access the four way flashers.  And these bikes are simple!

However, the real distractions are now to be found on the handlebars or in the rider’s head, assuming he or she is wearing a helmet. If the rider is not wearing a helmet, she or he is probably not reading this.

You can now purchase a helmet that will allow you to talk to another rider, accept and maintain a phone call, or listen to music.  And more! On the handlebars you can mount your phone or other device with GPS, or perhaps the motorcycle has that in the instrument panel.  All of these can be distractions, and all of them can and occasionally do lead to disaster.

I was working at a large multi-make dealership when GPS units that could be mounted on the handlebars became available. I recall at least three customers who crashed because they were looking at the GPS instead of where they were going.

Music systems are even worse, for a few reasons.  In this state (Washington), the use of one ear bud is legal, but two is not.  What minion of the law can check for that under the rider’s helmet?

When the first BMW S 1000RR came out, customers could take the demo bike I had broken in out for a test ride, but only with me leading them on a second bike.  I had two or three routes I could use, and in the first few miles I made the choice of route based on what I was seeing in the rear view mirror. 

One customer asked if we could stop so he could use a bathroom. No problem. In the parking lot of the gas station he pulled off his helmet and pulled the two ear buds out of his ears.  He was riding a brand new motorcycle with more power than he had ever experienced while listening to music.  I tried not to stare as he explained to me that he knew I worked for the dealership and had to be reasonable, but it would be OK with him if I picked up the speed.   He went into the bathroom as I tried to keep the smoke from venting out of my ears. To get that far we had ridden ten miles up a freeway known as a daily hunting ground for state patrol officers looking to hand out “performance riding awards.”  How much faster could I have gone?

As we resumed riding I gave myself a stern lecture to not try to run away from this guy on the R 1100 R I was riding, as crashing because this guy had gotten to my ego was too horrid to contemplate.  We got to the one twisty road I had decided to allow this clown to experience. Usually deserted, it had several nice corners, and ran steeply uphill, which reduced the chances of an incident.  To allow him some space to enjoy the S 1000RR I accelerated with gusto up the hill and arced through several corners.   At the top I looked in the mirrors and was frightened that he was not there.   No worries, he was simply about 30 seconds behind me.  On a motorcycle with over twice the power, better brakes, and etc.

Idling through suburban traffic on the way back to the freeway, we paused at a stop light. He turned to me and said “Wow, this is kind of snatchy in stop and go traffic, isn’t it?”

“What mode do you have the engine set to?”

“Race.”

Once back at the dealership, I took the time to look at the bike he’s parked in the lot. A clapped out Suzuki GSXR that had been crashed a few times and taped back together, and a rear tire that was bald except in the middle.  Where the cord was.

After that learning experience I always tried to check out the customer’s own motorcycle before the ride.

Now for the best distracted rider story ever! I knew a fellow who was riding a dirt goat track on his BMW GS.  He pulled over for a drink of water and a rest.  A friend of his slid to a stop next to him on another GS and asked if he wanted to ride together. The first guy could tell that the friend had been riding a lot faster, so he declined and urged his friend to go on ahead. He roared off into the distance.   A few miles later the guy was sitting on a rock by the side of the trail.  His BMW lay on its side, oil spewing from a hole in the crankcase. His helmet was off and the ear buds straggled down his chest.

“Highway to Hell?”

“How did you know?”

The problem with street rides is similar.  You’re bombing along a winding back road, listening to your favorite music. By golly, the road seems to be in the same rhythm as the song as you speed along. However, what you fail to realize is that the engineers who laid out the road were – not listening to the same song!  Suddenly, a tight hairpin occurs where it should not be, as it does not fit the music in your head.  Your entry is too fast because you’re distracted by that great song, and a curve should not have appeared.  But it did, and now you are going to pay for your folly.

Another way to look at this is to imagine you get the opportunity to bat against a really top-level pitcher, either baseball or fast pitch softball.  If it is baseball, the pitcher will be 90 feet away and the ball will come at you at 90mph per hour or more. If it is in the strike zone you should hit it. If not, let it go. If it is at your head, you should duck.  You have a fraction of a second to decide. If it is fast pitch, the ball will be bigger, but it is arriving from only 60 feet away.  Worse, it is released down by the pitcher’s knee, and will appear to be rising and heading right for your face.  Same drill – decide to swing, let it go, or get out of the way. In this example, or in any other sport you can think of that involves speed and reaction, would you be wearing an earbud and listening to music?

An athlete who intends to succeed wants to have every advantage to increase her or his level of performance.  That is how you win.  Riding a motorcycle is an athletic activity that may call upon your sight or hearing or muscles or reflexes or a combination of several of these.  At any moment.  Do you want to win the ride?  Why would you give away any of the human capabilities you might need?

As for all the other things that you can stream into your helmet, I have never understood why you would want them.    One of the joys of riding for me is that there are no phone calls, no e-mails, and no reminders of meetings.  Just the ride.  As for GPS, when you’re taking a break at a rest stop, go ahead and check things out.  But en route, let yourself relax and see what you can see.  I have never made a wrong turn and gotten lost on a ride that did not turn out to improve the ride at the end of the day.  Ever.

I wrote a column for a magazine article a long time ago railing against the use of GPS on a motorcycle.  There was some negative response, as you might imagine, but then I got an e-mail from an Army combat helicopter pilot who agreed with me. He explained that he had started his career in Cobra gunship helicopters, which did not have GPS.  (They are also one of the most frightening things ever created, to my mind.) He was proud of his ability to fly a complex route and arrive “on station” at the assigned time.  Now he and all the younger pilots were using Apache helicopters with full GPS and a lot more. His younger colleagues were quite used to bombing along at a high rate of speed just a few feet above the ground, as the technology would take care of the helicopter. Worse, he could feel his ability to know where he was and where he was going eroding, because there was much less reason to look around.

You have a certain innate ability to know where you are and to formulate a good idea of where you are going.  Why let that atrophy?

 If you look in Wikipedia under ‘motorcycle safety’ you’ll find a quote by me.   “When the helmet drops the bullshit stops.”   I think I did originate that, but I can’t be sure.  I used it in a book, so therefore it is mine.  Evidently.  You need to leave behind all of your daily cares, worries, petty arguments, bills, life concerns, etc. I just looked for the quote and could not find it, so perhaps it was removed for inappropriate language.  Still holds true, however.

At the end of the day you are riding along on a great road. You’re enjoying the meshed capabilities of two wondrously complex devices – a motorcycle and your own body.  Your brain and nose and ears and reflexes and sense of touch are fully engaged, and you are using both of your hands and feet separately and together in a wonderful ballet of coordination.   You can smell your surroundings while your eyes keep transitioning to new views of the road and scenery, and your brain is spinning with calculations of grip and cornering angle and speed and brakes.  Your ears are taking in the rush of wind and the melody of the engine.

That is enough.

Copyright 2018                    David Preston

 

Posted in Education, Equipment, Motorcycles | 6 Comments

How to Be Comfortable on Your Motorcycle

How to Be Comfortable on Your Motorcycle

I’ve seen a lot of discussions lately about the pros and cons of changing out the stock seat on a motorcycle and replacing it with an aftermarket item.  One thing missing in these discussions is that in most cases it is not the seat of the motorcycle that is the problem.  It is yours.

There are exceptions to any rule, and sometimes an aftermarket seat can make all the difference.  There’s a man I know in my area who has been making custom seats for decades, and he is evidently very, very, good. The product is expensive, and may take a day or more, but you end up with a saddle made to fit your own personal derriere and your usual riding style,

I digress.  Cue the usual caveats: I am not a doctor, not an expert in any of the topics that follow, your results may vary, and all that sort of thing. The following may be worth exactly what you are paying for it.

I’ve been riding for 50 years and have experienced over 500 different motorcycles. In my experience, the problem with seat discomfort can usually be traced to problems with the seat of the rider.  In other words, get thee hence to a gym. 

I have lived this. In the year 2000 I was hired to work for a large multi-make dealership as the customer relations person – a job I invented.  I did lots of e-mail (which was becoming a thing way back then); organized store events, wrote newsletters, attended lots of off-site club rides and races and so on, and led customers on rides. A lot of them.  I usually rode a used bike that matched the event, and took home a different used bike almost every day for “staff development.”   I also did the break-in mileage on a couple of dozen new Harleys destined for rental duty, at 500 miles a pop.  It was, for me, pretty much the ideal job, but then again I invented it so it should have been.

Prior to my first day, it occurred to me that if I were going to be riding lots of different bikes in all sorts of circumstances, being in better shape would be a good idea.  My here and there visits to my local YMCA ramped up to now, where I go four days a week – two “light” days that involve weights and walking, and two days where added to that is an hour long class called “Essentrics,” which leaves me exhausted.

The benefits have been obvious.  My usual ride is a 2016 Triumph Bonneville, and during a 400-500 mile day there is certainly some discomfort, but easily bearable.  The gym has also made it much easier to rotate my body into turns and keep my head on a swivel, and these things become even more important as you age.  I just turned 71.

Again, I am not a physical fitness pro, or kinesiologist, or anything of the sort.  The computer you are reading this on can lead you to all sorts of recommendations for what exercises to do, how to do them, when to do them, and so on.   Here is what must of them fail to cover:  you need to want to do it.

HOW TO WANT TO WORK OUT

Some folks invest in gym equipment in their home and do just fine.  That did not work for me.  I had a rowing machine that sat under the bed, some weights that kept the house from blowing away, and other items. I learned that I needed to go to a facility meant for exercise.

For most, that means joining a gym or club.  There are many of them to choose from if you live in a more than sparsely populated area, and you want to visit one or two.  There’s a club down the street from the YMCA I go to, for example, and one of my friends checked it out. He did not like it at all, because everyone he saw was working out with earbuds installed. Nobody made eye contact, and nobody spoke to each other. You might like that. He did not. Nor would I.

If you find a place that seems like a good fit for you, then you need to find a consistent schedule to follow.  If you go to the same place at the same time on the same days of the week, in a short time you will have “work-out” friends that you may not see anywhere else. 

There seems to be a difference between sexes here. Women will begin to talk to each other on about the 3rd occasion, whereas men take a lot longer. For men there may be a nod or two of recognition after a few times.  Eventually, conversations will start with something like “Hey.”  In time, someone will ask a question, and relationships grow.

We now have established the YMCA as a social occasion that involves physical exertion.  Names are usually first only, and the usual crew includes “original Bob” and “ski Bob” and “Dick” and “Steve.”  That sort of thing.  The women include “Mickey,”  “older Paula,”  “younger Paula,”  “Lori,” you get the idea.  Occasionally one of the women will invite everyone over for a mid-morning coffee and goodies get -together for those who do not need to be at work.

Now our YMCA efforts include friends, and I would miss them if I did not go.  More reason to go! The same will work for you.

Your schedule will dictate when you can do this, and not all times are the same.  For a while, while I was still teaching school I tried to work out after school.   My home was eight blocks past where I would turn to drive two miles to the YMCA, and often my car would not make the turn.  If I was on my motorcycle, I would need to ride home, take off my gear, and then get in the car and leave. That did not work very well.  We also tried working out in the evening, but by then you are… tired.

Working out in the morning has the bonus of getting all of your systems working and fluids flowing, and you will notice it the rest of your day.

You may need to make a sacrifice, and it will probably involve less TV.  When we were both working we needed to be at the YMCA at 5am (when it opens) to be able to have a work out before trundling off to our jobs.  I wanted to shower and eat before working out, so the alarm was set for 4am.  It is amazing how little of importance happens after 8pm at night.

HOW TO WORK OUT

Again, tons or research and good advice is available to you, but in my experience, the most important part of your work out is completed before your first exercise.   To wit: you got there.  

If you are new, and walk into a room with all sorts of machines, it does not really matter very much which machines you use, how many reps you can perform, or what weight you select.  Anything you can handle will work.  Lighter weight and more reps should be your guide.  After a few visits you will begin to learn by watching others how some of the pieces of equipment work, and you can add an exercise or two.  Once conversations have begun with some of your regulars, people will offer suggestions. Sometimes one of the personal trainers on staff will not be able to resist giving you a tip about body posture for a certain exercise, even though you are not a paying client.  Of course, if you can afford it, a few sessions with one of these trainers would be an excellent idea.

RESULTS

If you can make the first few steps the rest is easy.  You have to decide you want to do this, find a place where you feel comfortable, find a time slot that will work for you, and establish a consistent pattern.  At first, nothing will happen, but over a few weeks you will notice changes.  Perhaps bending over is easier than you remembered.  You pull on a shirt and notice that it fits differently.  You ride your motorcycle and notice that you are swiveling your head and body more, and at the end of the day you are less tired and possibly not tired at all.

Stuff I left out:

Obviously, the motorcycle you ride and how far you ride in a day are factors. On a Honda Goldwing you will probably feel better at the end of a long day than your friend on a 600cc sport bike.  My other bike is a Triumph Thruxton, and although I love it, a long tour is not really what it was made for. However, you can tour on virtually anything with some forethought and planning.  My first long trips were on a Yamaha 250 and then a Honda 450 Street Scrambler, so if you want to tour on the bike you own – go for it.

Equally obvious, the ergonomics of your motorcycle are key. I assume the bars are at a good height for you, the levers adjusted for angle and finger span, and so forth.

Last but not least: Your weight is not the end goal.  If you are quite rotund, you will lose weight for sure. But muscle weighs more than fat, so at a certain point (for me that seems to be 225 pounds) your weight will tend to remain the same or decline with glacial slowness, but each month you will feel and look better.

Summer riding is coming – get off your butt and get ready!
Copyright 2018                                                   David Preston

Posted in Education, Motorcycles | 3 Comments

What I Have In Common With the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team

What I Have In Common With the USA Women’s Olympic Hockey Team

 

Today is an exciting day if you watched the final game of the women’s hockey tournament at the Winter Olympics.  The USA women won the gold medal in an exciting shoot out after the game ended in a tie in regulation.   Full respect to the Canadian women.  Canada won the last four Olympic Gold Medals and could easily have won this one. 

So what do I have in common with the US women’s team?

Not much, you might say…but no!  First of all, six of the women on the team attended the University of Minnesota and played hockey there. So did I.  They won the gold medal in a shootout.  I won a game in college the same way.

After that the comparisons dim a bit, but let us review. 

In high school I played a lot of hockey on the weekends, because I was not good enough to play for the school team. No shame there, as high school hockey in Minnesota sets a high standard of excellence.

In college I played on an intramural team.  The intramural games were played on the same ice in the same arena where the Gopher varsity men played their games. I attended almost all of them, watching people with skills I could only dream of possessing.  (There were no women’s hockey games in those days)  On one occasion I turned down an invitation to be part of an exhibition of Frisbee skills at halftime of a Gopher basketball game because I would need to miss the hockey game next door at the same time.

Playing hockey on the same ice as the varsity, with goalies in full gear and real referees, was a great thrill for someone of my skill level.

I have only two memories of the games. The first is that when I started student teaching I was suddenly racking up the most penalty minutes of anyone on my team.  In truth, intramural games were not meant to be violent, so you did not have to commit much violence to earn time in the penalty box. Still, I did some things that had even my own teammates looking at me and saying “What is wrong with you?”  I did not know at the time how stressful my student teaching experience was.   Another story, but it had little to do with the students.

The other memory is the overtime shootout after one game.  In intramurals, the rules called for three players from each team to take turns going “one on none” against the other team’s goalie.  If those six attempts did not determine a winner, you did it again with three different players from each team.  If no result then, the game was simply declared a tie, because ice time was precious and the next game needed to start.

I was not one of the three best players on my team. In fact, I was adjudged to be the 6th.  When it came to me the score was still tied 1 to 1.  If I scored, we would win. If not, the game was over and it would be a tie.

As I skated to center ice to await the referee dropping the puck, I was aware that a large crowd had gathered.  The two teams and friends who were watching my game had been joined by the teams and friends awaiting the next game.   The ice surface was huge, and glowed in the powerful lights.  The referee dropped the puck and waved me forward and now I was skating toward the goalie.

If you have seen the winning shot for the USA women, it is exactly what I did not want to do.  The woman skated in, faked one way, and then the other, and then back again, moving the puck and her legs from side to side in a dizzying cadence, and then tucked puck off her stick and into the net behind the goalie.  I knew that if I tried something like that I would probably simply lose the puck during one of the maneuvers or make an ass of myself in any of a couple of dozen other ways.

Instead, I decided to skate to about 20 feet in front of the goalie and let loose with a slap shot. If it went in, fine. If the goalie stopped it I would at least not look like a total fool.

I swooped toward the goalie, and wound up for a mighty slap shot, I swung the stick in a big arc down to the sliding puck – and totally missed it.

I’d done exactly what I’d wanted to avoid. What an idiot! As feelings of shame began to crush my soul, my adrenaline-fueled brain realized I had not actually taken a shot.  You are allowed one shot, and I had not touched the puck at all. In panic, I swiped at the puck with my stick, and my actual “shot” slid toward the goal with all of the speed of a Zamboni surfacing the ice.

My whiffed shot had been so close that the goalie had reacted to it, moving his stick and body toward where he calculated the puck would go. He was still moving that way, and his stick was tipped back a bit. The puck hit his stick, popped up and over, almost in slow motion, and went in the goal.  We had won!

There was a huge pig pile on the ice, and I could hear the applause of the crowd. The goalie was smashing his stick on the ice in frustration. My teammates all thought I had done the greatest fake slap shot ever, and so did everyone else in the arena.  I kept my mouth shut. (For once!)

There were only two people who knew what had happened. Me, and I think the goalie.

Congratulations to the USA Women’s Hockey team, and thank you for reviving a cherished memory.

 

Copyright 2018                       David Preston

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Another shot at gun control

Another shot at gun control

I know, a terrible pun, but laughing is better than sobbing.  The best idea below is not mine,  but I do not remember where I read it.  In any case, since any mention of gun control seems to send gun enthusiasts into paroxysms of dismay (to put it mildly), perhaps we can do this another way.   It would take three steps.

  1. Elect representatives and senators who are not owned by the NRA. This would be the most difficult part, but perhaps the massive surge in school shootings where the perpetrator used an AR 15 assault rifle (or similar) will create voter outrage when the amounts a candidate received from the NRA are made public.  Those amounts are coming out now, and the numbers are eye-opening.

 

  1. Have the newly elected representatives come up with a new category definition: “weapons of war.”   This would no longer be considered “arms,” as in the right to keep and bear yadayadayada, but would be defined according to their original design intent – war.  Target shooters and hunters (both of which groups deserve to exist and have a long history of fine behavior in the main) do not need a weapon capable or expelling tens or hundreds of bullets at a time. 

 

It would not be enough to simply specify particular weapons by name, such as AR-15, because weapons manufacturers would simply design a new model in search of more profit.  Instead, the definition would have to include a performance standard. I would leave that to people with more gun expertise than I (which would include most) but perhaps a limit of 5 rounds per minute would be a place to start.  If you are a target shooter, is a shot every 12 seconds enough?   If you are a hunter, would the inability to hit your target in 5 shots indicate you might need a new hobby?

 

  1. Banning the sale of such weapons would not solve the problem, of course, as there are hundreds of thousands of them already in existence. But it would be a start.  Once the sale is banned, there might be a change of opinion among the mass public and such weapons might soon be seen as not the cool thing to have.

 

Back when people began talking of banning cigarettes it was thought to be impossible.  People smoked in their offices (I was one of them), in restaurants, on planes, and pretty much everywhere.   Look around you today.

It can be done. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

 

Copyright 2018           David Preston

 

Posted in Education, Equipment, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment