Archive for the ‘Continuing Rider Education’ Category

Riding in the Future

December 2, 2009

One of the most common questions we hear from our Stayin’ Safe rider students is, “just how far ahead am I supposed to be looking?” My response? “Far enough to be able to predict the future.” In other words, we really like to get our eyes up and looking well ahead. In effect, we want to get beyond riding in the present and project ourselves into the future. You see, so often we look just far enough ahead to get information about the next curve or the next hillcrest. And while that’s great, we are often missing out on some very helpful information that’s available if we just get ourselves to broaden our view. Take these images for instance.

Looking ahead, we see the road crests a slight hill.

In the first photo (above), the camera shows us the view we often have as we ride along. We can see the road ahead until it disappears at the slight hill crest. And while this is a good place for us to focus most of our attention, we may be missing opportunities to see a bit farther into the future. Such as in the second image found below.

But when we widen our view, we can see into the future!

Here, just by widening our view and turning our head a bit to look across the fields, we have a good bit of information available to us. From where we are at this moment, we can see at least 20 seconds into the future. And even from our distant vantage point, we can see that the road dips to the right, rises to another hill crest near a house on the left, and then drops to what appears to be an intersection surrounded by several houses before the road rises again. We can predict then that there may be crossing traffic from side roads over that second hill. And we can begin to formulate a loose plan, just in case. But if we miss this opportunity to take in the big picture, this sneak preview will quickly disappear as we crest the rise immediately ahead. As a result, we will be limited to riding in the present. Or at least the very near future. And, while we do need to keep our primary attention on the section of roadway we can see directly in front of us (we surely wouldn’t want ot ride off into that field to the right as a result of fixing our attention on the distant houses), it’s important to recognize that a glance farther ahead or across a valley may just give us a glimpse into the future. So, on your next ride, try to become more aware of just how much information is available to you when you widen your view. And see how well you can begin riding in and predicting the future.  ET

Simple Intersection. Complex threats?

November 26, 2009
Compound risks

How many potential threats do you see?

I took this shot recently while on a ride. Although there are no visible vehicles, what in this scene is of concern to us as a rider with this vantage point? What do we need to consider? Where is our greatest threat? What, if anything, should we do as we approach? Post your comments and we’ll see how many potential threats we can identify in this one seemingly simple intersection.

All It’s Cracked Up to Be

November 26, 2009

Road surface irregularities impact lane position choice

Nothing takes away the joy of riding a favorite stretch of road like a few poorly-placed surface hazards.  Instead of looking farther up the road and carving a nice, clean arc, our eyes are drawn down to the surface and our cornering line becomes nothing but a series of corrections to avoid surface issues. Like the big, man-made pavement cracks visible in the photo to the left. So what do we do?

Instinct tells us to do all we can to keep our tires from touching the cracks for fear that something bad might happen (“step on a crack/break your mother’s back” flashbacks perhaps?). But is that always the right answer? Would side-stepping that road irregularity successfully keep our tire firmly planted but simultaneously place us dangerously close to oncoming vehicles — especially on a curve? No doubt, there’s going to be a compromise of some sort, but what should it be?

The general rule of thumb we practice in the Stayin’ Safe program (borrowed from our friends in the UK) is to determine lane placement based on the following priorities: First and foremost, “Safety” rules. Provided the desired lane position is the safest option, the second priority is “Stability” — do we have sufficient traction and can we maintain control? Provided that the first two priorities are met, we can pick a lane position that enhances “Sight” (or Vision in the UK). In other words, does our lane position enhance our ability to see and/or be seen.

Rider avoids pavement grooves

Has this rider made the best choice?

So, in the case of our road cracks and based on the pictures here, the first priority is to remain in a safe position. Then, it would pay to determine if the surface irregularity really is likely to be anything more than an unpleasant riding condition. For example, these cracks are most likely more disconcerting than disabling when ridden across — but be sure to recognize that wider, deeper cracks or sudden steep changes in road surface height can be dangerous.  Looking at the picture with the motorcycle, has this rider picked the best lane position based on our established priorities?

Separation Anxiety — Your Ideas?

July 31, 2009

Rider September 2009

In the September issue of Rider magazine, my Riding Well column’s focus is on being prepared for when things go wrong. This was written following a ride my son had taken back to college when the KLR 650 he was riding suddenly gave up the ghost. As the sun set and his cell phone battery did as well, he was stranded in the growing darkness, out of touch with civilization. The gory details are in the column, but following this event he and I drew up this list:

Eight things we can do to simplify an unexpected situation:

1.    Have a working cell phone with a fully-charged battery. Bring a wall charger for use at a restaurant, gas station or motel if necessary. Having a small emergency power source for your phone is a plus. Plus, a SPOT satellite tracker enables contact even where cell phone reception is non-existent and even lets you call for help, pinpointing your exact location.

2.    Even if you choose not to wear bright colored clothing when you ride, take a high-visibility article with you. A bright, retro-reflective vest will show brilliantly both day and night and is easy to pack.

3.    Carry a small flashlight or “head” lamp with you at all times. It can be used for working on the bike and can be helpful in attracting attention at night.

4.    Bring your owner’s manual. Read it prior to taking off to improve your familiarity with the machine beyond basic controls. A workshop manual is even better.

5.    Know where your tool kit is located and how to perform basic functions like side panel and seat removal. The time to learn how to get to the battery or fuse block isn’t in the dark.

6.    If something on the bike is acting up when at a stop, don’t press your luck by pressing on. It’s better to lose some time getting things worked out than to be stranded in the middle of nowhere. Just ask Parker.

7.    Make certain someone knows the route you’ll be taking and when you’ll be traveling. Make a point to check in by phone at various stops. When Parker and I took a cross-country trip last summer, we used text messages on Twitter to keep friends and family posted on our progress. It’s simple and also captures a record of your travels.

8.    Join AMA and get free roadside assistance (www.ama-cycle.org). The $39 annual fee more than pays for itself with a single tow. I could have paid dues for nearly seven years with the KLR’s $267 tow charge.

Since this column was published, the feedback from readers has been extremely high, each with valuable additional suggestions. I’ll post some of those as well but please provide your suggestions here as well. ET

Curve With a Curve Ball

June 18, 2009
Is there a left-turning car behind those trees?

Is there a left-turning car behind those trees?

Sometimes life can throw us a curve. As motorcyclists, we tend to like that. After all, curves are fun, right? But what about when a curve — especially one that seems relatively routine — throws us a curve of its own? I’m talking about the left hand bend that has a side road or driveway to the right. While we can often see if a vehicle is situated on that side road as we approach, we are often unable to see around the bend for any potential threat. What are we looking for? What should we expect? A fun curve like the one shown can be a real drag when an oncoming vehicle decides to turn left across our lane onto that tertiary road as we maintain speed. So what can we do? First, we need to recognize that a side road on a left hand bend can be one of the most dangerous situations we encounter on back roads. Become aware of side roads and adjust your speed downward, no matter how much that curve is beckoning your throttle. By moving to the right side of your lane you’ll see any oncoming vehicles sooner, giving you more time and more space to work with should that driver opt to turn in front of you. The number one scenario for motorcycle crashes involving another vehicle is a left turning car crossing the rider’s path. The risks go up on blind left curves with a side road to the right. The only safe play when a curve throws you this curve ball is to create sufficient time and space. Note the skid marks on the road in the photo that are the likely result of drivers being surprised by a left-turning car.

ET

How to Avoid a Spill

June 18, 2009

This past weekend I was working a private training session with a great group of guys from New Jersey. At one of our breaks we were discussing the value of keeping our eyes up while riding. In addition to improving a rider’s ability to see more of what might be developing up ahead, it is also one of the best tools to establish overall stability and smoothness. Ever see a rider wobbling about at low speed in a parking lot or struggling to turn smoothly from a stop? Chances are, he or she is looking just a few feet in front of the motorcycle and down toward the road surface. Probably due to fear of dumping the bike. The result is choppy and awkward riding and potentially a low speed spill … exactly what the rider was trying so hard to avoid. Conversely, when a rider gets his eyes up and looks to a distant point where he will ultimately place the motorcycle, the bike tracks smoothly and neatly with little drama. Not buying it? As Tom — one of the guys in the training session –suggested, it’s a lot like carrying a cup of coffee.

The Coffee Method: Look up to avoid spillage!

The Coffee Method: Look up to avoid spillage!

He’s absolutely right. Try filling a cup with coffee to just below the brim. Then attempt to walk across the floor without spilling any. Human nature makes you want to look down at the cup as you walk.  You know, to be absolutely certain you don’t spill any of the liquid onto the carpet. Unfortunately, when you do that and concentrate so hard on what is immediately in front of you, you’re likely to leave a nice long trail of java across the carpet. On the other hand, if you can force yourself to peer all the way across the room as you walk, with your eyes fixed on your destination, you will walk more smoothly, the cup will stay steady and, most likely, you won’t spill so much as a drop — even if you climb the stairs. The very same technique works for riding — especially at low speeds. So, next time you face a situation when you’re concerned about spilling your bike, consider having a cup of coffee before you pull away. Figuratively speaking of course.

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