Archive for March, 2009

One Man’s Junk is Another Man’s Hazard

March 20, 2009

I’m always amazed by what some people manage to pile into and onto the back of their trucks, open utility trailers or in the trunks of their cars — and how feeble their attempts are to secure it all in place. Many times I think they rely completely on a length of twine, gravity and the power of positive thinking to keep their goods from scattering all over the roadway. This becomes particularly important to us folks on two wheels. Having a loose trash can fly out of the back of a pickup truck and skim across the hood of one’s car is an annoyance. Getting hit by one while riding a bike can be deadly. overloaded-truckJust think what a vintage flathead V-8 engine such as the one seen in the photograph. I took this shot while riding in Georgia last year on my way to work with Pete Tamblyn on a Stayin’ Safe Smokies tour. Take a close look at this truck and all of the heavy guage anti-motorcycle “artillery” that this fellow is carrying — undoubtedly on his way to the scrap yard to cash in. If you look carefully, you’ll see that there are just a couple wire cables holding all of that heavy metal in place — and the only thing keeping that old V-8 engine from falling off the back is that the guy snagged one of the head bolts with the cable. That’s it! That’s all that’s keeping that thing from becoming a cast iron tumbleweed rolling directly into the path of an unsuspecting motorist.

A few years ago I was riding out west on one of LA’s freeways and found myself following an overloaded pickup truck filled with construction refuse. Suddenly a length of metal banding strap flew off the back of the truck and sailed at my head. I ducked as the metal band skimmed across the top of my helmet (had I remained sitting up it very well could have sliced my throat). When I pulled off the highway and removed my helmet, I found a deep gash in the top of my helmet that would otherwise had been my scalp had I not been wearing a helmet. That was the moment when I decided I would never ride without one on the street again. Anyway, what could I have done to avoid this situation? I think I could have benefitted by maintaining a bit more following distance when following a loaded vehicle, even if it meant that another vehicle could have slipped into the space in front of me. I also would have been better served to simply get as far away from that vehicle altogether — preferably ahead of it considering that any vehicle following may suddenly swerve or slam on brakes as a reaction to something falling into their path. I wouldn’t want to get caught up in that.

Maybe everyone who carries crap loosely in or on their vehicles should have to post a placard on their vehicles like the big trucks do when they carry something particularly dangerous. The sign should read “Hazardous Material … Especially for Motorcyclists.”

ET

Over the Hill

March 12, 2009
Note the tertiary road to the right at the crest of the hill. What should you do?

Note the tertiary road to the right at the crest of the hill. What should you do?

Here’s the scene. You’re approaching a rise in the road. Being the astute type, you notice the side road on your right just at the crest of the hill. So … what are your expectations? Is there any potential threat? What steps do you take as you get closer?

Now, just as you get close, this becomes the scene. Now what would you expect? What should you do as this car approaches and slows? Would you adjust speed? Lane position? What about what’s behind you?

The plot thickens as this car appears and slows. Now what?

The plot thickens as this car appears and slows. Now what?

As riders, we have three primary tactics we can utilize. We can adjust speed, adjust position and communicate. Think about how you might create more time and space as you enter this situation. Slowing creates time and space. Shifting to the right 1/3 portion of the lane creates an additional space cushion. Communication is okay, but remember that it can be misinterpreted (does a headlight flash mean “don’t go” or does it mean “go ahead”?) or ignored altogether.

We also must retain a full 360-degree awareness of the riding environment. Consider any vehicles behind you early while you still have time to check mirrors. You’ve recognized the potential of the turning car, but has the driver or rider behind you picked up on it? Will they slow in time if you have to stop quickly? Recognizing potential threats early gives you time to adjust calmly and provides sufficient opportunity to manage traffic behind you.  You’ve probably experienced this riding scenario dozens and dozens of times before. What would you do?

This is just one of the common scenarios we address in the Stayin’ Safe on-street training program. For more information, visit http://www.stayinsafe.com

ET

“Do As I Say Not As I Do?” What Do We Tell Our Kids?

March 12, 2009

I’ve been a lifelong motorcyclist. I’ve ridden hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles. Unfortunately, I’ve also ridden a few dozen more that weren’t so trouble free. In addition to all of the great times I’ve had on two wheels, I’ve had a handful of occasions — especially in the early years — when I learned a few lessons the hard way and periodically placed myself directly off of two wheels and onto my arse.

Parker takes the MSF course

Parker takes the MSF course

So, when my son grew old enough to pilot a bike on the street by himself, I found myself feeling surprisingly conflicted. I was thrilled that he shared my passion. I thought of rides we could take together and how much fun it would be to head off on our own bikes. At the same time I found myself experiencing unexpected anxiety-filled moments when reality settled in. He would now be subjected to all of the threats out there in real-world riding that I have spent years learning to overcome. Having him as my passenger was one thing. Seeing him flying solo was different.

Parker gets on-street training

Parker gets on-street training

Was I encouraging Parker to participate in something that would put him in danger? The fact is, I recognized that he was destined to ride at some point and there would come a time when I would have no say in that. He might do what I did and buy a motorcycle when away at college and use that time to teach himself how to ride on the street. By accepting that, I was then able to concentrate on giving him the best headstart I could. Instead of fighting him on it, I focused energies on making sure he got all of the training he could get while still under my watchful eye. I made it easy for him to participate in a variety of training experiences, from the MSF Basic Rider Course to low speed parking drills to backroad jaunts and supervised rides through urban and suburban traffic. And, after he had a couple thousand miles under his belt, Parker participated in one of our Stayin’ Safe on-street rider training programs (a great way for parents and kids to improve skills together, by the way). My goal was to give him the ultimate year of training before

Dad and son make it to California as part of the "ultimate training tour"

Dad and son make it to California as part of the "ultimate training tour"

he headed off for school so, to the dismay of his mother, we set off on a 7200 mile cross country adventure that would expose him to virtually every riding environment imaginable. Today Parker is off at school and on his own where he rides a motorcycle regularly.

Parker ready to head off to college on his own

Parker ready to head off to college on his own

Was my approach a responsible move as a parent or should I have made more of an effort to discourage him fromriding a motorcycle until he was out of college? Should I have tried to keep him from riding at all or would I have been a hypocrit to say “do as I say and not as I do?” If our kids are destined to ride, what is our role and responsibility as riding parents? What can we do to assure they ride as safely and responsibly as possible? In my view, we need to do everything we can to give them the best training possible while we have them in our grasp.

ET