Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Upper 20's into work this morning

The street outside my house looked like white velvet under the street light. I crossed my driveway and scuffed my boots across the fuzzy white surface to see if it was slippery. Although it looked intimidating, it felt like bare pavement.

I decided to give it a try.

The temperature was in the upper 20's when I rolled my bike out of the garage and started it up. Although we had a little bit of freezing fog during the night, the mist had dissipated and I could see stars overhead. My pre-dawn commute would be the first of the week; I had errands each day that demanded use of my car. I flipped my visor down, squeezed in the clutch, dropped it into first gear, gave it some gas and began to roll forward.

It barked far worse than it bit. Although I rode gingerly until I got to the main highway -- which is sprayed with de-icer -- I never lost traction or felt like I was about to. Once I was on the main highway westbound I knew I was in the clear.

There was an east wind in town that actually warmed things up several degrees. When riding, I can feel even minor temperature differences. The only part of my body that was cold was my cheekbones from the air swirling inside my helmet. Once at work, I dismounted and walked around the dark exterior of the office building and unlocked the front door and entered the warm lobby, ready for another day's work.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Riding across the metro area

Saturday I rode to Beaverton on the other side of the Portland metropolitan area to visit my good friend, Keith. We used to work together at a dot-com and haven't seen each other for nine years. He's thinking about getting into motorcycling so in addition to the visit among friends it was also a chance to have a little Q&A about bikes, riding, safety, training, etc.

The ride itself was about what you'd expect. I took expressways (Highway 26, I-84, I-405, and Highway 26 again) to get there as it was the fastest way across the city. Traffic was thick but wasn't slow. Riding a motorcycle in an urban environment like that is both stressful and kind of fun in a sick sort of way. There is zero margin for error if you crash -- emergency responders would be using sponges to get you off the pavement -- but you can maneuver amongst the cars a lot easier. I'm fortunate that my bike is rather tall so I have excellent visibility, and cars see me easier, too. Plus, my jacket and bike combination makes me look similar to a police officer, so that helps as well.

It was foggy and cold going there mid-day, and even foggier and colder on the way home. I got back to my house in Sandy just before dark amidst very thick fog, cold but safe. It's tiring to ride a motorcycle in the city, and doing so when the weather isn't 65 degrees and sunny makes it even more of a challenge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Additional blog

As if I don't already have enough going on in my life already, I've started another blog -- my third. This one chronicles my journey toward writing and publishing a fantasy novel.

You can check it out here:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ride actively

Engage your brain. It's the most effective and important piece of safety equipment at your disposal. Focus on what's happening right now and what can happen in the next several seconds. Events farther out than that are of only minor concern and what transpired yesterday is irrelevant.

Motorcycles don't stop any better than most cars but can accelerate quicker than just about anything on four wheels. Use this to your advantage when necessary and adjust your following distance accordingly.

Never pass on the right, ever. Only pass on the left when you can see that it's safe to do so. Be in the proper gear and have some engine revs built up before you start. Don't pass when both of you are accelerating; it makes it that much more difficult to do so. Be wary of the car in front of you potentially turning left. It's surprising how often motorcyclists t-bone a car turning left in front of them during a passing maneuver. Don't pass on curves unless you can safely handle the needed speed around the corner and you have full visibility of what's coming.

Pay attention not only to the vehicle in front of you, but to the vehicles in front of him. Their brake lights will come on first, giving you even more notice that things will be slowing down. Don't follow in the center of the lane. Follow in either the left or right tire track, depending on visibility and road conditions.

When you see a car on a side road waiting to pull out, weave side to side in your lane as this increases the chance they'll see you. Motorcycles are narrow and it is difficult to judge their speed when coming toward drivers, so the side-to-side weave helps give them a better depth perception of your speed and position. Some riders turn their brights on to increase visibility, but be careful about flashing your brights -- some drivers consider this a "Go ahead!" signal and will pull out in front of you.

Loud pipes don't save lives, they only make you look like an ass. Get a loud horn instead (never test it without wearing earplugs).

Riding is optional. Don't drink and ride, ever. Don't ride if you are tired or distracted. Some people ride to relieve stress; go back and read the first paragraph again. You don't want your thoughts to be anywhere other than the moment. That fight you had with your significant other and that overdue bill will still be waiting for you when you get back, yet all that concentration and focus you spent on the ride will magically ease their sting.

Take care of your bike. Change the oil and filter regularly and learn how to do it yourself. Performing basic maintenance tasks yourself will not only save you money, it will make you more familiar with your bike and help you notice when things need attention such as binding chain links, loose or broken hardware, low tire air pressure, or leaks.

Respect other riders as you want to be respected. Give the 'wave' to everyone on two wheels, even if they ride a bike or brand you may not like. If you see another motorcyclist in need, even when you are driving your car, stop and offer to help. There will come a day when you need help and karma goes a long way.

If you drop your helmet on a hard surface, replace it. They are made to destruct themselves in a collision in a sort of sacrifice on your behalf and this damage may not be visible to the naked eye. You don't want to find out the hard way (no pun intended) that your helmet's ability to protect your skull has already been used up. Never buy a used helmet.

Wear all your gear all the time. If it's hot out, get gear with hot-weather ventilation but still has proper padding and abrasion protection. There's nothing cool about road rash and no one will be impressed by the painful series of skin grafts you went through because you wrecked your motorcycle while only wearing shorts and a tank top.

Finally, motorcycling doesn't have to be any more dangerous than a lot of other activities we take for granted (you'd be surprised by the statistics) but the stakes are higher if something does happen compared to crashing in a car. However, once you have taken the proper precautions and practiced the needed skills, enjoy the experience. Fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy after a certain point so you don't want to be ruled by it.