Monday, February 27, 2012

Motors: some initial thoughts

It weighs 580 lbs, not 20. Stock photo from WWW
Very similar bike to the one in the garage
Rider in photo knows what he is doing, unlike some
I've noticed a few things after riding a motorcycle again for several months. First, I'm a lot more aware of everything when on the big bike. That says a lot, since I'm normally pretty wired in to traffic while on my bicycles or in the car. Maybe its because the motorcycle is new to me after almost 25 years (1987-now) without having one or maybe its because unlike those college years with the inboard knee hovering slightly off the pavement, I am now old enough to sense my own mortality.

Second, I find myself working even harder to maintain optimal lane position, situational awareness, and visibility. I'm scanning like a fighter pilot flying into Germany. I work even harder to second guess motorists and do my "what if" drills. Riding at 15-20 mph usually leaves you more time to contemplate an unfolding Holy Shit Moment compared to riding at 35-55. If you have any doubts, call my Dad, whose BMW R60 kissed the side of a left turning motorist who failed to yield. Fortunately, both the old man and the BMW are still with us, although both required considerable collision work. He shakes his head when he thinks about his three sons all riding motorcycles and everyone else riding their cell phone. Can't blame him, given he knows all about Mr. Pavement.

Thirdly, when things start to go wrong they can go wrong in alarming ways. On Sunday, we were doing chores all morning after walking the dogs. I decided to let lunch settle by taking the K1100 over to the gas station and filling up before we left the house for a bike ride on the tandem. On the way home, I decided to take North Mesa Road rather than South San Ildefonso, because North Mesa road has a nice set of 15 mph (advisory, W13-5) curves in it. Well, it was pretty cold out and the bike was only five miles into a ride. In the first 15 mph curve, I felt the rear tire start to wash out, so I countersteered to straighten the rig upright a little. It worked, fortunately. I found this note on the web about cold motorcycle tire side tread and curves. Sides of motorcycle tires don't heat up very fast, since they generally aren't doing much work.

Finally, that responsibly used 100 HP at the flick of a wrist can be seductive and addictive but its kinda overkill for riding to work and back. The moto will never replace the human power bike for the short haul, i.e., for me, 5-10 miles or less. Especially if I want to look like me rather than like a guy trying out for sumo wrestling.

Its interesting to push the envelope this way, but pushed too hard, the envelope pushes back. I lost a couple turn signals back in my misspent youth, had friends lose turn signals and footpegs, and one lost an elbow as I watched the sparks fly.  But getting back on a moto has given me a chance to see what I have not been seeing for a while; outside the box a little. The application to bicycling is that there is always something you don't know yet, you can always be a better rider, and most of safety is between the earlobes. Watch for those surprises, Practice, Practice, Practice, and don't ever paint yourself into a nasty corner, real or metaphorical. Motor or not, we are all on two wheels. Keep the rubber side down, he says knowingly.

p.s. In response to Walter's SIPDE comment, which is a brief version of my situational awareness tome, and more quantitative (Aloha, Walter!):
  • S—Sweep, Search, and Scan (keep your eyes moving at all times to effectively see imminent danger)You should search a minimum of 25 to 30 seconds down the roadway. At highway speeds (55-70 mph) this would be a minimum of 1/3 to 1/2 of a mile down the roadway. In an urban setting (25-30 mph) this would equal at least one to two blocks.
  • I—Identify hazards, Identify what's happening 12 to 15 seconds in front of you. (road-way features) (take notice of things that could cause trouble)
  • P—Predict which hazards could potentially come into conflict with you; predict 2 things 1-worst case scenario and 2-actions
  • D—Decide 3 to 5 seconds in advance on a safe action (decide on something to do should the dog run across the road)decide on the path that will put you in the least amount of danger.
  • E—Execute that safe action; use communication; confidently execute the manoeuver.


Steve A said...

One advantage cyclists usually have that bikers do not: "speed kills." With you in spirit, old one...

Khal said...

Indeed. I've sometimes wondered about that when descending NM-4 from the mountains at considerable speed, wearing lycra, a bicycle helmet, and on 700-23 tires.

Anonymous said...

Aloha Khal,
SIPDE. Repeat until stuck in head forever. Keith Code's books are helpful too. You will take defensive driving to a whole new personal level.
Rode MC's for 8+ years along with bikes. One lowside on cold tires was the worst I had.
Walter from Maui

Neale said...

This is only tangientially related, apologies in advance.

When I took my MSF class, I got top marks on the written portion and near the top of the class on the riding. They asked me what kind of bike I would be getting. I replied that I just wanted to be licensed to ride my wife's 125cc scooter and besides, I didn't feel like I could handle the confusion with my rear brake lever being the clutch. The response, from all students and both teachers, was that I should get a much larger motorcycle, because I did so well on the tests. They were borderline derisive about my concern that I might get confused with the brakes.

This irritated me, because earlier they were trying to convince us to know our limits.

So if you see a tall man riding around town on a small orange scooter, try to remember that it's okay to ride these things with no other purpose than getting from A to B.

Khal said...

Neale, the scoot I remember seeing you on was no toy store item. My main consideration for a motorcycle or motor scooter is that it has to be a minimum size so it is capable of getting out of its own way in a crisis (I can explain that some time, but it basically involved a Buick and a red traffic light...). Without that capability, I would prefer to be on a bicycle.

In retrospect, I wish I had found a smaller bike that was affordable and that I wanted. What I really wanted was something in the 500-750 class that was lighter around town and still capable of riding to Colorado on a whim. I was trolling the internet for several months and the smaller bikes seemed to hold a premium price or were designed as crotch rockets. The 1100 is a little excessive, but amazingly, gets 50 mph.

Maybe its because I have been riding a bicycle and a motorcycle since God was a child, but I seem to be able to switch seamlessly between the different controls. Famous last words, of course..