Monday, June 8, 2009

Animal Hazards

I was in a group ride of 10-12 bikes yesterday morning. About 2 miles into our trip, a deer leapt over the guardrail into the path of the lead bike. He had no time to maneuver and struck the broad side of the deer at about 40MPH. His passenger was thrown from the bike. He managed to stay on and ride the bike to a stop (amazingly!!), but discovered that his right ankle had a compound fracture. Here's hoping for a speedy recovery, and thanks to the county police and medical workers.

It's hard to even think about animals when we ride, but they're out there. Plus, they're pretty damned stupid, when you come right down to it. They're not always smart enough to avoid an active roadway. This was an odd time for deer to be out, was about 11AM. Usually the deer are moving from dusk to dawn.

I've seen several groundhogs and rabbits lately. The young don't know about the road yet and sometimes sprint out. If it's something small, the best thing to do is hold your line and let it get out of the way...don't try to guess what it's doing. Bigger things are best to try to swerve around, in most cases.

What I see a lot of these days is turtles...who as long as I'm not on a blind section of road, I will pick up and help across. :)

I know a lot of riders feel like helmets and safety gear are restrictive, but remember, it's not always your fault if you go down. This was a freak accident yesterday. Suddenly a deer was someplace where a deer was not before. The side of the road was all underbrush...there was no seeing it until it made its move. A patch of gravel or a pothole you can scout for ahead of time. Animals move...there's no guarantee what you see this time is going to be the same next time.

The best thing you can do is suit up. It's cheap insurance. I can guarantee that if the passenger had not been wearing a helmet, she would've had a concussion or worse. She managed to get off with just an ankle sprain. The rider was wearing protective boots, but they were street boots, not true race gear like the Sidi Vertigos I now prefer. I'm glad I have those now...I don't know if even that would've saved my legs hitting a spinning deer at 40MPH, but the better chance I can give myself...

Stay safe out there.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Life Lessons from Cornering - You Go Where You Look

One thing has improved my ability to ride my motorcycle more than anything else...the ability to look through a corner. The deeper I've been able to will myself to look through a turn, the easier it is to negotiate that turn and the faster I can go through it and still be in control of myself and the machine.

Beginning riders often have a habit of focusing on where they DON'T want to drive the bike. When you look at something you don't want to hit, though, your mind (often in a panicked state), focuses its attention wherever you direct it.

If you stare down that guardrail, your brain isn't thinking about how to negotiate the corner, it's thinking about how to hit that guardrail with the least amount of personal damage. By putting your focus on it, you've already decided you're going to hit it. Now that's natural...we want to focus on damage control. But it's not what you want to happen. You don't want to survive a crash so much as you want to not crash at ALL.

The next step, after you've learned to NOT focus on what you DON'T want is to extend your focus beyond where you ARE, to where you WANT to be.

When amateur riders come up on a tight corner, many of them want to focus on their "entry point", where they start to turn the bike into the corner. What happens is a lot of riders focus ALL of their attention on their front wheel and that entry point, making sure they hit the intial turn just perfectly. Then they suddenly find themselves in the turn, but not knowing where they are because they've been so focused on entering the turn that they haven't had any time to look up ahead and see what's coming. So their brain goes into overload as they try to process a scene that they're just now seeing for the first time. By the time they figure out what they want to do, they've already muddled through what ends up being a very sloppy turn.

One suggestion made to me by a more experienced rider was to try to look a little bit further ahead of your bike every time you go through a particular stretch of road. Just a couple feet at a time. See your turn entry, and then trust that what you saw was "right" and focus your attention to what's coming next. Give your mind the visual information it needs to formulate a plan to get through that corner BEFORE you're in it.

I can say without any doubt in my mind that when I look as FAR as I possibly can through a turn, it opens my world up. It gives my brain a chance to process everything in advance, so once my bike and I get to a specific point in the road, I already know what I need to do there. All I have to do is execute.

A Life Lesson

I started thinking to myself...maybe life in general is a lot like cornering on a motorcycle.

Most people, when they try something new in life, focus on the potential negative outcome. A guy who wants to talk to a pretty girl often focuses on how to mitigate the embarassment of his rejection, rather than actually attracting the girl. People who come up with business ideas worry about how a failure would set them back, rather than focusing on the goal at hand.

Even more people tend to focus on their present condition, rather than looking ahead to the goal and formulating a plan. People trying to lose weight look in the mirror, get frustrated, and give up because they see themselves day-by-day as overweight instead of looking ahead to the thin goal they're after and forming a plan. There's the old saying, "dress for the job you want", that implies the same thing. If you see where you are now, it's not going to help you plan to get where you WANT to be.

Maybe, through every day we live, we should try to look just a few feet further ahead of our front wheels each time.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Balance Between Fraternity and Peace

One of the harder things for me to decide these days is whether I want to share the names and locations of the roads I ride with other riders.

On one hand, I want to share the joy I feel accelerating out of a nice sweeping corner with some of the other riders around here. I would like to see more sportbikers especially be less squiddish, less inclined to wheelie down I-95 at 150MPH. I want them to learn how much more fun it is and how much more skill it takes to corner the machine well, to discover the character of a particular set of corners or switchbacks and to become more intimately acquainted with the road.

On the other hand, I know that the more press that a stretch of road gets, the more riders want to try it out for themselves. Two or three screwballs dragging knees on an out-of-the-way road tends to go unnoticed. Twenty or thirty, on the other hand, start to draw unwanted attention from casual drivers and area residents.

There's also the stigma around motorcycling that draws a lot of less-than-responsible individuals to it. If word gets out that road X is a "good bike road", you end up drawing a lot of hooligans. Unsafe or sloppy riding, accidents, and in some extreme cases, criminal activity can sometimes end up putting a damper on a good riding spot, either directly or by drawing the attention of law enforcement. The perfect example would be US 129 on the NC/TN border. Several riding groups have been campaigning the road as a tourist attraction. Now it's almost impossible to ride down that stretch of road without being hassled by the police or run off the road by irresponsible drivers/riders.

These days...I err on the side of keeping my mouth shut. The last thing any canyon-carving backroad rider wants is publicity. I'd rather no one know where or how I ride.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Countersteering - Leaning to Turn

As I explained in my previous entry, the biggest misunderstanding about how to steer a motorcycle is a result of how we first learn to ride two-wheeled very slow speeds.

The art of balancing a motorcycle or any two-wheeled vehicle involves steering so that the wheels stay under the bike. At low speeds, (on a bicycle, for example) the rider is constantly steering in the direction that the bicycle is leaning, to prevent the bike from falling over.

There's nothing WRONG with this...that's exactly what a rider should be doing. The problem is that the rider doesn't realize how the turn was initiated in the first place. They assume that because they are steering in the direction that the bike is turning that it's their steering motion that causes the bike to turn. This is a half-truth at best.

Now this usually isn't a problem for most bicycle riders. At bicycle speeds, most people learn subconsciously that to steer the bike, it has to be leaned over first to initiate the steering motion. But the rider not realizing this consciously comes back to bite them when they move to a faster vehicle, such as a motorcycle.

Steering a Car - The Stability of Two Wheel-Tracks

In the previous post, I talked a little bit about the difference between cars and bikes. Now I'm going to talk a little more about those differences, specifically how a car steers differently from a bike.

Cars and bikes are both affected by Newton's First Law of Motion - mass going in a straight line wants to keep going in a straight line. Turning is "unnatural" for anything and requires force.

When you turn the wheels of your car, it's the force of the tires tracking to one side that pulls the rest of the vehicle (and its passenger) through a turn. When you turn your car hard to the right, for example, as the wheels start to track to the right, you will feel the rest of the car wanting to keep going straight. This manifests itself as the body of the car rolling to the outside. You feel it in your body as well, as a hard right turn will have you pressed against your driver-side door. (or the center-console, for those who drive in left-laned countries)

Think about what would happen if you tried to turn sharply at speed in a top-heavy box truck or van. As the tires turn one way, the body of the vehicle could actually ROLL the other way, tilting to the outside of the turn and eventually capsizing. (I almost did this with mom's minivan when learning to drive)

This is why sporty cars are designed low to the ground with wide wheelbases. When a vehicle has two wheel-tracks, one opposes the tendency of the other to lean to the outside when turning. The inside two wheels can't tilt to the outside because the outside wheels are bracing them. The outside wheels cannot tilt because the inside wheels are weighing them down.

So the inside wheel-track and outside wheel-track actually cancel each other out and prevent the car from tilting over as the wheels move in the direction they're turned. The chassis, being connected to the wheels, is dragged through the turn by sheer cornering force. This act of the inside and outside tires fighting each other results in the pronounced howling you hear when a 4-wheeled vehicle negotiates a hard corner.

Steering a Motorcycle - The Consequences of One Wheel-Track

When you steer a motorcycle, the process is different. There is no opposing track of wheels to stabilize a motorcycle. That means that when the front wheel starts to turn in one direction, the rest of the bike wants to continue in a straight line. Now there's no second set of wheels to help prevent this tilting motion and drag the rest of the bike through the turn like the car.

This means that when the front wheel of a motorcycle is turned, the wheels actually steer out from under the motorcycle. The bottom half of the bike goes in the direction that the wheels were steered, while the top half of the bike tries to keep going straight. The result is that the motorcycle leans.

For example, if you're moving at a decent clip on a motorcycle and you turn your handlebars to the right, the tires will steer out from under you to the right. Gravity starts to pull the top half of your bike downward, now that your wheels are out from under you. The end result is that the motorcycle will lean to the left.

"The Bike is Fighting Me!"

When an untrained motorcyclist tries to turn at speed for the first time, he will often complain about the motorcycle "fighting" against his turning motion. This is because when the motorcycle is moving at speed, the untrained rider will try to initiate a turn by turning the bars in the direction he wants to go.

What happens when he does this is that the tires of the bike instantly steer out from under the rider in the direction that the bars were turned, causing the bike to make a sudden tilt in the opposite direction. This actually ends up steering the bike in that opposite direction...but more on that later. The typical rider usually gets scared as soon as he feels that unfamiliar tilt and immediately straightens the bars. The result is that he thinks that the machine is "fighting him" for control.

I first experienced this on a 90cc scooter that my uncle had bought to get around-town prior to purchasing his Harley-Davidson. I had taken it out for a spin not even having ridden a bicycle in several years. I was doing all-right until I drifted slightly wide and ended up headed for a parked car. I tried to steer quickly to the left, but the result was that the scooter leaned to the right and directed me even closer to a certain crash. (I managed to brake before I hit the parked car, but it scared me enough to where I knew I didn't know what I was doing!!)

The Simple Truth - Bikes Cannot Be Steered Like Cars

The bottom line is this: a motorcycle can't be steered like a car. Unless you want to put training wheels on your motorcycle, or you have both feet on the ground and are walking the bike around the garage, a motorcycle doesn't have the static balance a car does and cannot be turned by steering in the direction that you want to go.

The result of steering a bike in the direction you want to go is that the bike will lean in the opposite direction as your wheels steer out from under you.

This is a good thing for two reasons. The first is that this steering of the wheels independent of the mass of the bike is what allows your bike to stabilize itself at speed. Again, the previous article goes over the physics of the front wheel and how the front wheel keeps your bike upright by constantly steering in the direction the bike is leaned.

The second reason that this is a good thing is that by steering the wheels out from under you and back, you can use the handlebars to control the lean of the motorcycle.

How to REALLY Steer a Motorcycle

Now that the first two "Countersteering" articles have laid the groundwork for understanding how a motorcycle steers, the next "Countersteering" article can finally explain how to turn a motorcycle, hopefully in a way that the average rider can understand.

The short explanation, though, can be summed up like this:

1 - Motorcycles cannot be steered like cars...they will lean in the opposite direction.
2 - Given #1, motorcycle handlebars can't steer the motorcycle, only control its lean.
3 - Given #1 and #2, the only way to steer a motorcycle is by controlling its lean.

More later.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Countersteering - Stability Explained

Being raised and trained on cars and trucks, we sometimes take stability for granted.

If you're in your car and you come to a stop on a level piece of land, shut off the engine, and get out of the car, your car stays where you put it. Do the same thing with a motorcycle and it will immediately fall over to one side. (which is why motorcycles come with sidestands)

Statically speaking, bikes have no upright static stability. For a bike to be statically stable, you need at least three points of contact on the ground to prevent gravity from pulling the bike to the ground. That's why we slap training-wheels on our childrens' bicycles. When they first jump on, they're too nervous to get the bicycle moving at any speed, so we add a point of contact to keep the bike upright until they learn to ride.

The strangest thing happens, though, as we get the motorcycle moving. Once the bike gets up to a certain speed, it seems to stand upright on its own, without any input from the rider. In fact, we have to TRY to get the bike to fall over now.

While it's true that a two-wheeled vehicle has no static stability, as it gets moving, it acquires dynamic stability.

The Front Wheel - A Dynamic Stability Engine

I like to call a motorcycle's front wheel its "dynamic stability engine". It's the physics of the front wheel that stabilize a motorcycle once it gets moving. In fact, your motorcycle is constantly trying to "fall over", even when moving. It's the small corrections of the front wheel that prevent it from doing so.

The simplest way to explain this is that as the bike tries to fall over to one side, the physics of the bike's front end cause the front wheel to turn in the direction of the fall, essentially steering your wheels back under you.

This is happening all the time when you're riding in (what you think is) a straight line. The bike is actually performing a very mild weave, constantly correcting to keep the motorcycle stable and moving relatively straight.

A Little More on the Physics

Two elements are responsible for most of the front wheel's propensity to steer the motorcycle's wheels back underneath it. I'm not going to go too much into the physics, since talking too much about them seems to confuse more people than it enlightens.

The first has to do with the rake and trail of the front forks. The forks of a motorcycle are never straight up-and-down. Rather, they are angled forward. When a motorcycle's wheel starts to tilt to one side (i.e. the bike starts to fall over), the weight of the bike pushes down on its front end. Because of the shape of the tire, this pushing force causes the tire to turn in slightly so the motorcycle "settles" on a different part of the tire.

The second has to do with the spinning motion of the wheel. If you hold a spinning bicycle wheel by the axle and try to tilt it to one side, you'll feel the wheel wanting to turn in the direction it's being tilted. This is called gyroscopic precession. If you've ever sent some loose change rolling, you'll notice that as it loses momentum, when it falls over, it turns in the direction it's falling, causing it to roll in a tight circle. The concept is the same for motorcycles. As the bike falls over, the force of gravity pulling the front wheel over generates a 90-degree offset force that makes the wheel steer into the turn.

Fast vs. Slow Speeds

So basically, a motorcycle is dynamically stable because the physics of the front wheel cause it to turn in the direction that the motorcycle falls, essentially "keeping your wheels underneath you".

At faster speeds, this provides enough stability that you can essentially cruise down the street without your hands on the handlebars. (except to give the bike gas to keep it moving) At slower speeds, however, you may notice that the bike is more likely to fall over. That's because your "dynamic stability engine", your front wheel, is no longer moving fast enough to provide a positive steering action or gyroscopic force.

What a lot of riders do to make up for this loss of stability is to turn the bars in the direction that the bike is falling. Essentially, when their "dynamic stability engine" is not running at full-steam, they take over its responsibilities manually. If you've ever watch children ride a bicycle at slow speed, this motion is obvious to spot.

Here's the problem...most people who learn to ride a bicycle, motorcycle, or other tandem 2-wheeled vehicle learn to ride at slow speeds before they ride faster. Because of this, they start believing that the motion that they're doing with the front wheel to help balance the bike is a steering motion, rather than a balancing one.

So many of them arrive at a mistaken idea that they are turning the bike by steering into the turn. And if they never understand what's going on, this can lead to trouble later on, when they need to steer the machine quickly at high-speed.

to be continued...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fashion Statement

I've noticed an encouraging trend. So far this year, I've seen relatively few squiddies riding around in flapping T-shirts. All the sportbike riders I've seen so far have been geared up in riding jackets.

Only a few years ago, riding gear was considered somewhat "uncool" by the masses. Literally. Most of the options out there were leather jackets and once summer rolled around, riders just couldn't get comfortable. With the advent of textiles and mesh jackets, I think the attitude is starting to change.

It's even become a bit of a fashion statement. As I mentioned in my post about selling bikes, many people are now buying jackets specifically to match their bikes and their wild paint schemes. A friend of mine bought an orange tribal-flame CBR600RR about the same time I got my new bike. The seller threw in an orange-and-black jacket that matches the bike perfectly.

It's a good thing. Road rash is a real pain and my jacket has saved my arms and back plenty of times. Even if people are wearing the jacket just to "look cool", at least they're wearing it.

Now if riders would only give up riding in loafers or tennis shoes. Some at least have the sense to put on a good pair of Timberland work boots. Work boots offer a minimum of protection, but aren't really going to protect you from snapping an ankle like a good pair of race-boots would.

Riding apparel companies need to start being more sensitive to the look of their riding boots and offer something that doesn't have styling ripped off from an old MegaMan game.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten Days of Rain Finally Ends

That's Baltimore for only rains when you want to go outside. After ten solid days of rain, we finally got a break this weekend.

They actually changed the forecast on was supposed to thunderstorm all day, so I stayed up late Friday and slept in. Saturday morning, I wake up at 10AM and there isn't a cloud in the sky.

After running some errands, I went up to the Squid Tank and saddled up my R1 for her first ride since the oil change. I still short-shift the hell out of it, though...I don't need all that power where I'm riding.

Checking Out your Driving Skills

The hardest thing to do when riding on the street, and what's driving me more and more toward some days at the racetrack, is getting a good pass down one of these local roads without running up into the back of a stack of cars.

There's always that old guy in the Buick who is going for a weekend cruise and really has nowhere to be. That must be a nice life, but they don't take into account that other people are on the road.

They must think I'm weird...I'll back off the gas and start putting along at a startling 20MPH down the road, giving them plenty of time to get ahead of me...then when I have two or three cars stacked up behind ME, as I come up on a nice set of corners, I take off and am right back up in Grampa's rear-view again in no time. Then I disappear again...30 seconds later, there I am.

The other thing I like to do is cruise along behind drivers and evaluate their driving skills.

The biggest thing I watch is where they're using the brakes. The better drivers will get their braking done early. The clueless ones grind 'em on halfway through the turn when they suddenly realize that things are tighter than they had distractedly anticipated.

As far as "lines" through a corner, it's hard to tell with a car. With bikes it's a little easier. I was behind a cruiser the other day and didn't feel like making an enemy by trying to pass him, so I sat behind him and watched. Maybe he was going slow because he had his girl on the back, but damned if he wasn't taking some good line through the turns...lines that showed he not only knew the road, but had an intimate knowledge of the corners he was riding.

Double Yellows

One thing I've gotten into the bad habit of doing is apexing turns very close to the lines. Now this is great for right-handers as long as you've got good pavement all the way to the white. The yellows are another story. If you put your wheel a couple inches from the yellow, chances are your helmet's hanging over into the oncoming lane. Also, you never know when a driver coming the other way is gonna be a little wide.

I had a scary corner Saturday...blind left-hander. Just as I was turning into it, I saw a line of oncoming vehicles, so I widened my line a little to let the first one past and then tightened up. Problem was the turn was straightening out already, so I ran right up on the yellows. I was kind of embarassed, because the next truck in line felt that he had to jink out of my way. I'm pretty sure I would've cleared him just fine, but the idea that I was close enough that he felt like he had to move...I don't want anyone else to have to do that. I shouldn't. So I guess I need to keep some more space from the yellows on those left-handers.

Man in the Stone House

I feel bad for the poor guy in the stone house right on the best corner on my favorite road. Apparently, there are enough people doing "spirited" riding on that road that he's taken a dislike to us sport-bikers. He flipped off my buddy Chris the other day, and Chris was stuck between a couple of those aforementioned Buick drivers, so he wasn't even "hauling ass". I've also heard that he was out watering his garden when a couple of bikes came by and they almost got a spray from the garden-hose.

That's one of the reasons I don't have any intention of getting an aftermarket exhaust. With 180-or-so horsepower, the R1 doesn't need any help. They say "loud pipes save lives", but I think that's just an excuse. All they do is piss people off.

I imagine I'd get upset after a week or two if bikes with modified pipes (cruisers too, not just the sportbikes) were constantly roaring by my house. It's a beautiful house, too...a nice stone house back in the woods just off the creek. I've often said I'd love to own that house. But it's RIGHT on the road. I guess if you're gonna live there, you have to put up with some noise.

I don't think he's enough of an asshole to "accidentally" drop some gravel out front, but I'm gonna sight that corner out before I get frisky in it from now on. I thought about giving the guy a fruit-basket or some Ravens tix or something just to see if I can change his attitude.

That IS the best corner in that series, though. I can't deny myself a run at it as long as it's clean. I can be patient and take my time through any other turn on that road, but that one I just MUST have.

...and the Rest

Roy got his bike back on Tuesday. We dragged it home in the back of his Dodge in the driving rain. He's scared to death of it now. He lost the front wheel braking too hard at like 10MPH over some slick pavement and now he thinks the brakes are going to kill him. Just as well...too much brake is a dangerous mistake. But it seems like he can't find a happy medium of respect for the bike. Either he feels like he has to dominate it, or he has to live in fear of it.

He and Chris went out for a night ride a little while after I got in. I don't like the idea of riding the R1 at night, when I can't see the road. I've been thinking about buying an FZ6 for night-rides, cruising, and long trips.

Don't get me wrong. I'm comfortable on the R1, but only when I'm moving...hanging off the bike or tucking and putting on speed. Cruising on a sportbike is an exercise in patience...I don't know why all these urban riders do it. Maybe they're small enough to where they're comfortable. If I'm gonna go for a long cruise though, Skyline Drive or something, I'm not doing it on an R1. Balls to that.

I'm trying to get Chris to do a track-day. (I know Roy isn't going to do one until he stops having his hyperbolic attitude toward his bike)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Don't Be an Ass when you Sell your Bike

I've been poking around the last day or two, looking for a second bike. Possibly a 600 supersport that I can use as a "backup", track mule, or just for a change of pace. Possibly a sport-tourer.

What I've noticed is that many people are delusional when selling their bikes. I've noticed a couple of patterns cropping up. Patterns that make the seller look like a total ass. Here's a few tips for you if you're going to sell your bike.

Bikes Depreciate

Not even dealers can sell a bike for MSRP, except to a new rider who doesn't know any better. That means you're not gonna be able to sell yours for $500 less than you bought it for.

Motorcycles drop in value about $1000-$2000 as soon as you drive them off the lot. They're not vehicles, they're toys. People are willing to pay a premium for buying new because they know no one else has played with their toy yet.

It's OK to ask a pretty penny, but be willing to compromise. If you stick to a price that's too high, don't be surprised if no one answers your listing...or if the people who do try to talk you down, despite your ad saying, "FIRM!!"

Performance Modifications Don't Increase the Bike's Value

Again, modifications to a bike are a sunk cost at best. Too many people try to recoup the value of their bike mods. The changes you made to that bike generally aren't worth anything to anyone but you.

Sometimes they can even warn a potential buyer off. If you have a full exhaust and ECU programmer, chances are you ride that bike HARD. Got a -1 front/+2 rear sprocket set? You've been doing lots of wheelies. New engine case covers and fairings? You've crashed it.

Even if all your modifications are tasteful, a potential buyer sees this kind of thing and knows that an amateur has probably been turning wrenches on this bike. Did you use the proper torque specs for everything? Don't know. Is it worth the hassle?

Unless your potential buyer is looking for a race-bike and you have a nice set of Ohlins forks and Marchesini wheels, you're not getting anything for your mods.

No One Wants your Sweaty Gear

My biggest pet peeve when shopping for a used bike is the number of people who think that "throwing in" a helmet or a jacket is worth anything to a potential buyer.

Let's get one thing straight first of one "throws in" anything. If you're offering to give away your helmet and gloves to the buyer of your bike "free", it's not really "free", you've just used that as an excuse to jack up the price of the bike.

So you're not doing me a favor by throwing in gear. I'd be doing YOU a favor by taking that stuff off of your hands. Gear is disposable. You'd be better off trying to scalp it on eBay than throwing it in with your bike...the truth is that you don't care to waste effort selling it, but you think you can throw it in with the bike and get a little extra money. Don't advertise it as "$1,000 worth of extras" when what you really means is, "If you pay me $750 more for this bike, I'll let you take my garbage with you".

Helmets are the most disposable item out there. A buyer doesn't want a helmet that your sweaty, dandruffy head has been inside of...that's just nasty. Not to mention that he doesn't know how you treated that helmet. Did you drop it? Did you bump your head in it? Is the EPS liner still good? It's a safety hazard to buy a used helmet.

Another thing most people forget is that their gear is not going to fit at least 4 out of 5 people who come to look at their bike. Even if the jacket matches the bike, if the buyer can't cram himself into it, then it's a no-sale.

Please...keep your gear. Sell it on eBay. But don't act like you can make more money on a "package deal". Most people just want the bike.

That's all for now. If I keep looking and find any more bike-selling ass-moves, I'll post up.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What did I do wrong? What DIDNT I do wrong??

The following is something I posted on an Internet forum following my accident at Deals Gap last year, where I totalled the R1 you see me on in the title image of this blog. Hopefully you'll take something from it.

Everyone who rides long enough will eventually have a "get-off" (the term used by motorcyclists too superstitious to say "accident" or "crash"). When that day comes, riders will inevitably sit home that evening and ask themselves the common question: "What did I do wrong?"

Such is the case with my latest get-off. I slid my R1 into the dirt on US 129, the infamous "Dragon", just below Deals Gap. The bike is borderline-totalled, and as I wait for the word from my "good neighbors" at StateFarm, I've been asking myself constantly what I did wrong to cause this accident.

As I think about it, the question becomes more like, "What DIDN'T I do wrong??" The Chernobyl-esque series of mistakes leading up to the accident incorporates about every mistake one could make in that situation. One of these factors alone may have caused me to slow down and take it easy. A couple may have induced a panic but could have been saveable. But with all of these mistakes together, I was WAY overdrawn and was doomed to end up in the side of the mountain.

So let's have a look at what I did wrong. Hopefully, other riders can use this as a guide for what NOT to do.


We had been riding up and down through the Dragon all day. Riding HARD. I had been trying to incorporate a lot of the things that the faster riders had been trying to teach me. On my last run down, though, everything finally "connected". I felt the so-called "rhythm" of the ride and found myself moving smoothly from corner to corner at speeds I had been afraid of only yesterday. I had found "the zone" and had the best ride of the day.When we stopped at Deals Gap, I could tell that being in "the zone" had taken its toll. After that ride, my entire body felt like Jell-o. I was giddy, the adrenaline surging through my veins. We sat down and took a 15 minute break, then decided to head home. I knew I was beat. But instead of just putting home like I SHOULD have, I decided to challenge the road again, not wanting to "waste" the rhythm I had found. Unfortunately, that rhythm had already left me and I was completely exhausted. When I tried to force myself back into that rhythm, my mind and body just shut down on me. I'm almost certain that riding in this state led to all the other errors I committed leading up to this get-off.


We had been riding Deals Gap for four days now. We had made numerous passes along the stretch of 129 between the Gap and the Overlook. By now I was starting to develop a rudimentary recognition of the area. I had a feel for what each corner was going to look like and what was "coming next" through each of them.The problem is that the Dragon extends for about a mile and a half both above the Overlook and below the Gap. We had come to the Dragon mostly from the north and only came down past the Gap twice in our time there, both times to head home and at a much slower pace. Had I known that the right-hander I was coming out of was the first half of a switchback, I probably wouldn't have gassed it as much exiting, which would've given me more time to react. But I was...


The "fast guy" was leading the way home. I knew that normally there was no way I could hold with him, and hadn't tried to chase him for the whole trip. This time, though, I knew he was riding off-pace, and with the adrenaline running, I was anxious to challenge myself to keep up with him. I actually DID keep up with him through the first few corners.Even at a reduced pace, though, I wasn't at the skill level or in the mental state to be following his lines through the corner. I should've rode my ow ride, selected my own line, but instead I fixated on him until he just "disappeared" into the corner. By the time I looked through the corner (like I should've been doing from the beginning), I had no time to develop a site-picture. This was probably compounded by....


When coming to help me with my bike, one of my fellow riders almost ran off the road in the same place I did. It wasn't a hard turn, and this guy was on a cruiser taking his time. The problem was that the sun had shifted so that the line of shade from the trees was right at the corner entrance, causing him to lose vision just for a split second. This, combined with target fixation, was surely enough to throw me off, in my fatigued mental state and adrenaline-fueled keep-up mindset. He, of course, made it through the turn, because he wasn't....


Yeah, I got caught with that one as well. Less-skilled riders (read: me) have a tendency to brake HARD before the turn, then flick the bike over quick and get HARD on the gas after the turn to pick up speed. Since I didn't know the road, I was probably winding on pretty hard to keep behind the lead bike out of the right hander, forcing me to carry way too much speed into the left-hander. And of course the R1, with its 1000cc engine, is only too happy to give me the gas I asked for. This extra speed led me into the big mistake of....


I had been practicing light "trail-braking" that day, since I discovered it would let me carry more speed into the corner. I was being extra-careful earlier in the day to make sure I was out of the brakes before I reached any significant lean-angle and definitely before I reached the corner apex. And it WAS working...I was carrying more speed making a smooth transition from brake to gas instead of relying on the bike's abundance of torque to clear the corner.The reason it bit me here is that I was physically and psychologically drained. I'm not completely certain, but I'm very suspicious that when I came hot into the left-hander, I attempted to scrub off the speed and didn't have the presence of mind to release the front brake as I leaned the bike. I noticed the bike simply FALLING OVER, instead of leaning in as it had in previous corners all day. My best guess is that the front wheel tucked under heavy braking. All this is a result of...


Even now, I can't get a clear picture of what happened. I remember seeing the lead rider get off the bike and disappear into the curve...then my sight picture goes blank. I remember the bike falling over, then I remember tucking and relaxing so I didn't break any bones. If I had focused my attention through the turn, I probably could have cleared that corner. I didn't know WHERE I was going. I fixated on the lead rider. Everyone knows this is a bad idea, since if that rider goes off, you're likely to follow him. Well this time, the rider in front cleared the corner with ease. But as a result, as soon as he disappeared into that corner, I was completely lost. I should've been looking through the turn. What I should NOT have been doing was...


The guys I was riding with, they've been riding for 20+ years. They've done multiple track days, and the pace that I think is "fast" that they run, they run with relative ease.On the street is no place to be trying to run with track-bred riders. They don't ride FAST, they ride SMOOTH, and speed comes naturally. Yes, they preach the "ride your own ride" line and are always fine with waiting at the next gas-stop, but my ego wouldn't let me take advantage of that generosity. I wanted to be with the pack, and that kind of mentality, especially on a public road, is a recipe for disaster.

The result of this day was that my 2007 R1 was totalled. It wasn't actually even beat up that bad. If your frame is scratched in an accident, though, the bike shop typically estimates what it'd take to take everything off of your old frame and put it on a new one. Labor for that usually totals the bike. (And you thought it was the plastics that were expensive!)

I took the rest of the season off. It gave me some time to think. So far, I seem to be learning my lessons well. The same group of riders is travelling to the Dragon again this May, but I'm not going with them this year. I'd rather wait for a track-day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Irony of Training Wheels

Like Riding a Bike

The other day, I was coming home from work and saw a bunch of kids out riding their bikes. These kids were probably between 6 and 8 years old.

I took a second to observe how they maneuvered on their bicycles. The intriguing thing I noticed is how they instinctively, although a bit awkwardly, stabilized the lean of their bikes. As the bike started to lean too far in one direction, these kids instinctively knew to swing their handlebars in the direction of the fall to stop it. To them, they were simply weaving their way down the street.

It strikes me as odd that kids learn countersteering instinctively, despite all our attempts to teach them incorrectly.

Countersteering in a Nutshell

Even motorcycle riders who are clueless about countersteering will tell you that bikes turn by leaning...if you want a bike to turn, you have to lean it over. Yet most of them still think that they lean the bike with their body and steer with the handlebars.

Motorcycles and bicycles both "countersteer". This means that to get them to turn, you have to lean them over by turning the bars in the opposite direction that you want to turn in. This action destabilizes the bike, essentially "steering the wheels out from under you". Once the bike is leaned in, depending on the front-end geometry, the bike either turns on its own or allows the rider to steer it into the turn.

Training Bad Habits

We don't teach children this, though. When a child gets his first "big-kids bike", the parents inevitably attach "training wheels" to it. These training wheels sit on either side of the bike and prevent the bike from falling over.

Now training wheels have a purpose, but it's less to train riding techniques than it is to allow the child to build confidence in riding the bike. A child left to ride without the benefit of training wheels does not yet trust the bicycle to stabilize itself as it gets moving, nor are they comfortable moving at any speed. So training wheels keep the bike upright enough for a child to learn that, in a straight line at least, a bicycle at speed is stabilized by motion.

The downside to this is that with training wheels, a child learns to steer a bike the same way they would steel a turning the bars TOWARD the direction they would want to go. Without training wheels, a quick turn to the right would make the bike suddenly fall to the left. But in this case, the left training wheel arrests the fall and the child confidently steers to the right, not realizing that this habit will require a lot of time un-training.

From Four to Two

Inevitably, the child becomes confident enough that mom and dad finally remove the training wheels. On the child's first trip out, one can often observe a "wobbling" behavior. As the child steers, the bike leans in the opposite direction, forcing the child to steer back in the other direction. But he commonly oversteers and has to correct back again, creating a gradual weave that all averages out to a straight line.

Turning is another matter. Most kids slow down severely to turn a bicycle when they first start riding. They do this because as they ride without training wheels, they notice how the bike falls to the outside of any turn initiated at speed. This makes it next to impossible to turn the bike while it's moving fast.

Fast Learners

Children, however, are very fast learners. They cleverly discover that if they "wind up" before the turn, i.e. steer the bike quickly out to the left before attempting to bang a fast right turn, they can take that right-hand turn with more speed than they ever could without the "wind-up" motion.

The "wind-up" motion is really a subconscious discovery of the art of countersteering. Although consciously the child is still thinking that they turn the bars in the direction they want to turn the bike, subconsciously, their "wind-up" motion for fast turns is what is REALLY doing the steering. By steering away, the bike leans into the turn and allows them to steer at high-speed without toppling over, since gravity and centripetal force are in balance.

Conscious vs. Subconscious Countersteering

Kids learn countersteering subconsciously. That means they're not really thinking about it and don't really know how it works. They're using it, and they likely understand that "something weird" is going on with their bikes. They know that turning into a fall stabilizes the bike and that swinging out before a turn lets them take the turn faster.

The problem is that kids' bicycles are still riding fairly slow. Once you throw a leg over a motorcycle, you're moving at highway-speeds. In a tight turn, you often don't have room in your lane to lean your bike by "swinging out".

Many riders simply slow down to a crawl to compensate for this. Others come up with other subconscious steering methods, thinking that they're leaning the bike by pressing their knee into the tank or weighting a footpeg. The truth is that they're still countersteering, they just don't know it.

The problem is that when an unexpected situation comes up, if you consciously believe that steering the bike in the direction of the turn will make it go in that direction, you're likely going to try to escape that situation by steering in the direction you want to turn, which will cause an uncomfortable bobble at best and a veer-off into the other direction at worst.

To be a safe and effective street-rider, let alone a FAST street-rider, learning to consciously countersteer a motorcycle is an absolute must.

That means learning to consciously push the inside bar forward and turn the bars in the opposite direction to lean the bike and thus steer it through a turn.

I'm sure I'll write more on Countersteering. It's one of my favorite topics.

Monday, April 27, 2009


Ever have one of those days where you get out for a ride and nothing seems to go right?

I got out of the gym at maybe 6:00 PM yesterday. I went upstairs and took a shower and started debating whether to take a ride. I was feeling a little lazy from just having worked out, but it was such a beautiful day that basically every bike in the state of Maryland was out on the road. I had had a hell of a ride the day before, but I felt like I "ought" to get out on so nice a day. That was my first mistake.

By the time I got to the garage, I was pressed for time. It was about a quarter to seven and the sun was low in the sky. I quickly laced up my gear and jumped on the bike with only a minor stretch.

My throttle free-play had been way too large on the last ride and it was giving me fits, especially when shifting, so that, stacked on my already pressed-for-time feeling made things even worse.

Then just as I got to the turn-off on to my favorite stretch of twisty road, my gas light comes on.

Oh well...the closest gas station takes me down that particular'll give me a good chance to warm up and have some fun. Wrong...I get stuck behind a Buick. Sometimes I feel like the county purposely dispatches old people to maintain speed limits. Oh well...their road too, right?

I finally arrive at the gas station...only to find that it's Sunday and the station is CLOSED. So I have to drive another 2-3 miles into civilization and traffic to fuel up. Then the pump doesn't want to take my credit card, so at this point I'm fuming.

Deep breaths...maybe it just wasn't meant to be. The one thing I don't want to do is ride frustrated. It's very hard to contain my ire, though, as the sun continues to fall.

So I FINALLY get gassed up and head back north to the twisties. As I'm about to dive into the first really gnarly turn of the run, I notice DIRT streaked right across where my line would be. It looks like someone drove a truck full of dirt down this road and dumped some of their load. It was only a small streak, nothing heavy, but enough that I felt better adjusting my line. Then as I came into the next turn...dirt, next turn...dirt, next turn...dirt.

After that, I had changed my line so much that I couldn't hit turns for s**t. Don't get me wrong...I was clearing the corners just fine. But I couldn't put the bike on the line that I wanted to save my life. My entire rhythm was thrown off.

I turned around and tried to run down the road in the other direction, since it was clean in that direction, when BAM, another Buick in front of me. 7:30PM on a Sunday and people just don't seem to have anywhere to be.

Deep breaths...don't ride frustrated. It just wasn't meant to be today, I tell myself as the sun begins to set in earnest. I may as well turn off on a back country road and head home.

As dusk starts to settle in and I'm cruising along, suddenly....*tick*....*tick*..*tick*.*tick*.....*tick*.......*tick*...*tick*, the sound of a billion insects rising from the grass to plaster themselves against my visor and windscreen. *tick*...OW! That one got me in my neck.

By now, I'm tired, frustrated, the throttle free-play is pissing me off more than usual, and I'm taking awkward lines through every corner on the road. I catch my route back to home-base.

The last traffic light on my trip is an intersection with a major highway that I have to pass over. And wouldn't you know it? It's red.

I try to position my bike along the road sensors. One cycle goes by, then another. No green light. I wait for a car to come up behind me to trip the sensor...but every car that comes up the road simply turns right and takes off.

Deep breaths...

I finally just bust a right and take off down the highway to an alternate turn-in. I pull into the garage, frustrated as hell and go searching for wrenches to fix that damned throttle free-play.

Some Days Just Don't Go Right

I've had days like this before, but it had been a while. Every now and then you'll get out on the road, only to find that things just aren't lining up the way they ought to. Whether it's a cruise up and down the highway or a brisk jaunt down a back-road, some days things just don't feel right.

Usually it's a combination of circumstances and the rider's state of body and mind. Feeling pressed for time, slow drivers, dirt in the corners, no gas, bugs, mechanical issues...they all add up. Sometimes it's something more subtle. I've had days where it felt like I was just out of touch with the road.

Sometimes you try to drive harder to escape the frustration. That's one of the best ways to get yourself into trouble on the road.

The best thing you can do, I've found, is to just take it a little easier than normal, take a deep breath, and accept the possibility that today's ride was just not meant to be. It's OK to keep riding and see if things don't straighten themselves out...often they do. But I always have that voice in the back of my mind (and believe me, that voice was formed through many hard lessons) that there are times when it's time to just settle down and go home. It was not listening to that voice that contributed greatly to my mishap on the Dragon last year.

For what it's worth, I finally sorted out that throttle free-play. Next time I ride, I'll likely have my new gloves as well. I'm hoping for a much better day. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

When the Bike Ceases to Matter

One with the Road

The more I ride, the more it seems as if the motorcycle "disappears" underneath me. I reach a point where I'm no longer treating the bike as a distinct entity. It becomes an extension of my body.

I understand when I intend my hand to close, for example, my hand closes. I don't think about it as "operating my hand", I'm just doing it. After enough riding, the same thing starts to happen with a motorcycle. You're no longer riding the're riding the road.

First You Learn to Ride the Bike...

When someone gets a new bike, especially when they get their first bike, most people aren't used to two-wheeled riding. They're used to cars. Cars don't countersteer. They don't have brakes and clutches and throttles up on the handlebars.

Much like a child learning to walk, much of the fine muscle control is learned via trial-and-error. Most new riders notice a period of what's called "ham-fisting", where you learn to tread the fine line between "too much throttle" and "not enough throttle". It's not that you don't understand it...your mind needs to learn to operate your hands in a different way than you're used to operating them.

Think of getting on a bike as if someone suddenly added a tail or third arm to your body. You wouldn't know how to operate it at first. Eventually, through trial-and-error, you would probably figure out the basics, but it'd take a while to develop any dexterity with it.

Now with a bike, it's a little faster because you often have the advantage of mechanical understanding, experienced riders or learning materials to help you pick up the techniques faster, but it still takes a while to put them into practice.

The danger during this time is that most riders have to split their attention between "riding the bike" and "riding the road". While the rider is focusing their conscious attention on operating the machine smoothly, they also have to be aware of road hazards and other drivers. Sometimes, coming into a corner too hot or a hazard in the road seizes too large a chunk of attention from the rider, leaving them fumbling at the controls and leading to a bad situation.

The Most Dangerous Time

The most dangerous time for a new rider is when they're just starting to "get it". As their minds start subconsciously sequencing the actions needed to control the bike, the rider starts to feel the actions flowing together without much thought. This feeling could be called an "a-ha" moment. Suddenly, everything you've been struggling so hard with starts to make perfect sense and flows almost effortlessly.

Because everything suddenly seems easier and more fluid, you lose track of exactly how much attention you're STILL using to manage the sequencing of these events and keep them flowing smoothly.

You may notice that even though you feel a lot smoother, if you take a break for a minute, you feel a rush of mental fatigue. It's because you've been straining to maintain the level of focus necessary to stay at that "next level".

Now imagine if something goes wrong. If you were riding at your previous level, taking your time and focusing carefully on both the bike and the road, you'd have plenty of focus and attention to deal with problems. You'd only be using maybe 75% of your attention. Now, you're so excited about finally starting to interface with the bike that you're driving 100% your attention into maintaining that level of riding. You don't have anything left to give in an emergency.

That's usually when season-ending or bike-destroying crashes occur. A hazard occurs in the road or you end up charging a corner too quickly and before you can even free up some attention to acknowledge the situation, you're sliding across the asphalt. (did you wear your leathers?)

Riding Confidence

If you survive the "dangerous time", eventually your subconscious mind starts to take over. You no longer have to devote a lot of your attention or focus to operating the becomes like second-nature. Like walking, or opening and closing your hand.

At this point, you are no longer controlling the machine. You ARE the machine. The bike becomes an extension of your will. You're no longer worried about steering the bike down the know that the motorcycle will do exactly what you direct it to do, and you finally can fluently speak its language.

You're now free to devote the bulk of your attention not to riding the bike, but to riding the road. Being able to focus on the road or track in front of you allows you to form a more complete relationship with it. With that understanding of the road comes smooth riding, and from smoothness comes grace and speed.

It's only when the bike no longer matters that you can truly start to understand the road.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Scary Corners

What kind of corner scares you? If you ask most riders, they'll quickly acknowledge that certain kinds of turns induce a lot more fear than others. Some riders just feel like they have a favorite "side" to turn to, left or right. Some remember with particular vividness a corner or turn that really made them pucker. Can you think of such a turn?


When I first started riding, I shared the sentiment that the majority of riders here in the states have. The scariest kind of corner for the new street-rider is the dreaded decreasing-radius right-hander. I'm not sure why this is, specifically, but I have a pretty good guess. Here in the states, we drive on the right-hand side of the road.

If you're out in the canyons or the wooded backroads and you run out of lean in a left-hand turn, usually the worst that'll happen is you slide into the dirt on the side of the road...maybe hit a tree if you're unlucky. Broken bones can happen, but likely you'll be able to walk or hobble away from the accident.

If you slide out in a right-hander, you're drifting right into oncoming traffic, possibly into the path of an oncoming pickup truck. Vehicle-to-vehicle accidents are much less forgiving. The last thing any rider wants to do is get run over.

(I'd be interested in finding out if our friends across the pond in the UK feel the same way about left-handers.)

Feeling the Squeeze

Decreasing-radius turns, turns that "tighten up" midway through the corner, only compound this fear. Now you don't even have to slide out of the corner. All you have to do is come in a little too hot to end up running into the "line-of-fire".

A decreasing radius often comes as a nasty surprise to a new rider on a new road. When the road starts tightening up, that's usually when panic sets in and mistakes happen. Fear draws our eyes away from our intended path (where they should be) and toward our potential untimely end, the guardrail or ditch on the other side of the road. And as everyone learns, the bike goes where you look.

Worse yet, many riders chop the throttle and start squeezing the brakes, overwhelming the front tire. The best-case scenario at that point is that the braking force causes the front wheel to turn in further, standing the bike up and running it right where you don't want it to go. The worst-case scenario is that you lock the front brake in the middle of the turn, tucking the front wheel and smashing your machine (and you) into the asphalt. Then you're sliding in the wrong direction instead of rolling there.

It's About Control

The interesting thing about the street-rider's fear of the tightening right-hand turn is that it's based on the rider's level of confidence in controlling the motorcycle. It's the idea that the rider may encounter a situation that he or she cannot control that will cause them to drift into oncoming traffic. This fear is indicative of a couple of attitudes that one should look to outgrow as one matures as a rider.

A mature street-rider should never get "surprised" by a turn. If you do, you're just going too fast. Not too fast for the turn, but too fast for YOU.

A good rider won't race into turns he doesn't have an intimate knowledge of. If it's your first time on a road, you shouldn't feel compelled to keep up with a rider who dives into a corner faster than you. Slow down, take your time, and leave plenty of lean in reserve your first time through.

This will give you the opportunity to discover how that corner works. Does it get looser? Does it get tighter? Is there wash-out or gravel in a certain part of the turn that you should be expecting? Is there a driveway? Does it lead into a set of switchbacks or a long straight?

Once you know a decreasing-radius right-hander, you can plan for it. You can hold some lean in reserve for when the turn tightens on you. Or you can get deeper into the turn before you commit to it and steer more aggressively to take a tighter line.

To be a mature street-rider, you also need to have full confidence in your ability to control the bike. That means if you DO end up getting into a corner too hot, you have the presence of mind to consciously control the bike, instead of letting your panic reactions take over.

That means that you have to develop the discipline to keep looking through your corner, even if it tightens on you. It means you have to know how to countersteer your motorcycle to lean it over further and tighten your line, if necessary. And it means you have to have the nerves to keep the gas on and leave the brakes alone.

In other words, you have to be confident that you, as a rider, can control your motorcycle enough to make that turn.


I realized a strange thing when I was out riding a couple of days ago on my favorite patch of back-road. I'm no longer as nervous about tightening right-handers. If I come on one that's particularly spooky, I just back off the speed a little bit. But even now I find I'm becoming faster and faster through those turns, mainly because I'm starting to acquire confidence in my ability and the machine's ability to make those corners. The idea that I am out of control of the machine doesn't typically cross my mind.

Now, I'm still more concerned about the decreasing-radius right-handers than other turns. Here's the kicker, though...they scare me more going the OTHER way.

A decreasing-radius right-hander going one way is an INCREASING-radius LEFT-hand turn coming the other way. So why should I be concerned about making this turn?

Truth be told, I'm not concerned about ME making this turn. I'm concerned about the traffic coming the other way. As I'm entering a loosening left-hand turn and setting up an early apex, I always feel this reminder in the back of my head that for oncoming traffic, that turn is still a tightening right-hander. That means if the truck coming the other way (or the squidly noob-rider) isn't prepared for it, they will end up with two wheels in MY lane.

So as it turns out, I can't really take the line I want to, because I have to account for the other traffic on the road. I'm comfortable with my ability to make the's the OTHER guy that makes me nervous these days.

Right-handers, I know as I approach my apex, I'm hanging close to the side of the road, so even if a car DOES drift into my lane, I'm well-over out of his way. And I have enough confidence that I'm not going to drift wide, that I know the road, my bike, and myself well enough to keep the bike in my lane...whether that means quicker steering, better line, or just slowing the hell down. :)