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.