Monday, August 29, 2011

Watch your Six

The instructors in my Experienced Riders Course gave us a statistical break down from which direction motorbikes are most likely to be hit.  Not surprisingly, the front and front quarters had the highest statistics and most discussions centered around it.  Accidents from behind, or called your "Six" had only garnered about 3% and the instructors glossed over that not much "real" danger comes from that direction.

My jaw hit the floor.  I took great umbrage to the easy dismissal of watching out for your rear.  Three weeks before class I might not have given it much more thought.  But two weeks before class Oilburner had been rear-ended on his motorcycle and I was still reeling.

As motorbike pilots we have all encountered someone turning in front of us.  In your case, hopefully it did not involve and metal or asphalt kissing.  Though I know that some here have.

We are all aware of our front and always try to keep our eyes peeled.  We know we are invisible.  It is easy to keep our eyes peeled for dangers in front of us.  We are looking in that direction anyways.

For me?  My closest encounters and near misses have always come from behind.  A direction we can't watch nearly as easily or nearly as frequently.  I would just like to recount two incidents that will hopefully help you with being aware of your surroundings at key times.

I may have mentioned in passing about Oilburners accident before.  It is a story that hadn't yet written itself and therefore hadn't been recounted here.

We were supposed to be on vacation.  We had taken two weeks off and meant to haul the dogs and travel trailer up to Maine.  A week before vacation my dog was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and had started on chemo.  We decided to cancel the vacation travel, but take the time still and just hang around locally.  We weren't sure how she would respond to the chemo and didn't want to stress her.

It was another one of those heat wave summers and was unbearably hot.  We had been camping locally and decided to cut that short when our other dog wasn't responding well to the heat.  Taking her to the vet, she was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia from a vaccine she was recently given.

This vacation isn't going as planned.

So Friday of that first week sees us all back at home.  Oilburner and I decide to jump on the bikes for a leisurely ride across town to a motorbike gear shop.  The time is currently the beginning of Sept 2008 a little after noon.  I had just taken ownership of my BMW two weeks ago.  I hadn't ridden it, except a couple miles around the neighborhood.  We were on vacation remember?  Oilburner was on his purple Harley Davidson 883.  Such a great bike.

We ran our errands and were on our way home.  We pulled up in the queue at a stop light, maybe the fourth position back from the light.  We were sitting there side-by-side, he on the left, me on the right.

I hadn't yet transferred my blinking brake lights from my Suzuki and was feeling a little vulnerable.  Oilburner and I were chatting through our helmet communicators and I "thought" I had seen the guy behind us stop.

I was wrong.

I suddenly am aware of Oilburner yelling "What the FUCK?!?" through the communicators and this black wall sliding along my left side, pushing Oilburner away, like a bug in the bow wave of a boat.  Thinking the guy behind us had stopped, I assumed it was the guy behind him that was causing this accident.  I'm watching Oilburner being pushed forward and this moving black wall sliding past, just waiting for an impact to me.  I'm wondering what it will feel like.  Will I be pushed forward or will it be a glancing blow that will just knock me over to the right?

Oilburner is gone.  Replaced by the sparkling black death star.  He was impacted hard enough to send him into the minivan we were behind (while Oilburner was engaging his brake).  A minivan we had stopped about 6 feet behind.  Hard enough to bend the forks and peel steel back.  The black wall hadn't stopped yet and impacted Oilburner a second time.  It was too much.  Oilburner was a dirt bike rider of old but he couldn't hold onto this anymore.  I remember seeing his helmet rolling off to the left, what little I could see over the hood of the black wall.  In actuality he had "stepped off" the bike and let it lay down.  He stumbled a little but remained on his feet, in the opposing lane of traffic.

I'm sitting astride my bike, untouched, and in complete shock.  The entire time I'm watching this occur, and waiting until I feel that push that makes me a participant of this nightmare and no longer a witness.  I am listening to a litany of incomprehension and outrage as Oilburner experiences all of this.  My eyes are wide, my mouth is hanging open, and I can't figure out what to do next.

I figure I need to get off my bike.  I just can't figure out how.  I can't just put the kickstand down and dismount.  That black wall is that close.  I cannot lean the bike onto its kickstand!  I consider just falling over to the right and tumbling me and the bike over.  But the dirt shoulder is quite a few inches lower than the edge of the asphalt and there is a very large puddle of murky water right where I would be landing.

I finally work out that I should ride the bike forward 10 feet where the shoulder is the height of the road and it is covered in grass.  I don't like riding on grass.  I've only been riding 3 months by this time.  On a very new to me bike that I didn't have any time on, and I felt was extremely tall and top heavy.  I didn't care what happened to the bike, I just couldn't figure out how to get off the damn thing and get to my husband.

By the time those brain synapses finally function and get me dismounted Oilburner has lain down on the pavement to the right of his bike.  And one young ass is running around waving his hands in the air (yes, one was clutching his cell phone) screaming "The brakes failed.  The brakes failed!"

All the time I was forced to listen to Oilburner get hit, Oilburner now has to listen to me screaming at this idiot that his brakes did not fucking fail.  See, that black wall was a BMW X5 only a year or so old.

I slowly realized that my "conscience" was talking to me in a low voice.  My conscience is telling me to call AAA for his bike.  At the time I didn't question.  I was on auto pilot and there wasn't any way I could think for myself.  I didn't call the police.  I didn't call our good friend 5 miles away.  I didn't take off my helmet and talk with Oilburner.  I called AAA.  What a frickin dipshit I am!!

Later...when I realized what I had done I asked Oilburner why he told me to call for towing.  His response was "to give you something to focus on."  He figured it would calm me down and keep me from killing this kid.

Kid he was.  He was all of 19, and he called both of his parents who came rushing to the accident site.

Emergency response was quick, though there was confusion on their end about who should respond.  East bound traffic belonged to the city and westbound traffic belonged to the county.  :)  Go figure.  The good news is that the hospital was right in front of us.  The bill for the ambulance had one mile transportation charge.  The EMT's mused that this was their new record.

Oilburner was OK, just mild whiplash in his lower back.  Physical therapy helped that.  The bike was totaled, the kid was distraught and his father rode a Hyabusa.  Hopefully this incident and his parents taught him a lesson about cell phones and driving.  I don't know if the kid was texting or talking.  I just know he didn't see us.  If we hadn't been there we are 95% certain he would have rear-ended the minivan anyway.  No one knows how I escaped unscathed.  I wasn't any farther to the right in the lane than normal.  The X5 had a good hole in the bumper from the Harley on the drivers side, so the SUV wasn't too far to the left.  We just don't know.  But we are grateful.

It was extremely difficult for me to get on the bike after that.  But I did.  And I religiously analyzed my "Six" approaching stop lights/signs for many months.  Now can you understand my outrage in my class two weeks later?

The second incident was graciously provided to me on that slow moving, scenic Blue Ridge Parkway trip we just completed.  It occurred on the first day we were on the parkway (so the second day of the trip).  This one a$$hole felt the need to turn this scenic parkway into his own private Daytona 500 race track.

I led  most of the distance and kept any tails on Oilburner in my sight.  While we were clipping along a little over the speed limit (a very little in honesty), I tuned into people who might want to go faster and got out of their way at the first opportunity.  I wish some people would have done that for us.

In this instance we were behind one of those oblivious drivers averaging 35 (in a 45 zone), without any chances of passing.  Someone came up on Oilburners tail and hovered there.

After maybe 10 miles the lead car must have spotted something shiny and finally pulled off.  We surpassed the speed limit again and the SUV stayed on Oilburners rear.

It took a couple miles for the next turnout to come up.  It happened to be on the left and happened to be just over a little rise, and happened to have a fairly straight stretch of road which just happened to be a "no-passing" zone.

I appropriately signed my intent to turn and get out of this guys way.  Just as I was preparing to turn I hear Oilburner in the helmet communicator yelling "Whoa!!" and hear his horn honking.  I can't see the SUV in my mirror and suddenly see a gold wall passing on my left with the sound of a screaming engine wound up as it flew by.  This all occurred in the span of about 2 seconds.  The ONLY reason I was not already committed in the turn was because of some traffic cones and people milling about at the entrance of the overlook.  I shudder to realize that if I hadn't paused for that split second I would have been turning across the left lane as that SUV accelerated to pass.  There wasn't anyplace for that SUV to go, or if he even would have had time to respond.

I'm still going over the situation in my mind when Oilburner expresses his desire to go after that son of a bitch.  I'm not shaking or in shock.  This wasn't really a "near miss" or anything.  But it could have been.  Or it could have been much worse.  Another fraction of a second, and while I know Oilburner wouldn't really "go after" the guy, I decide to.

Yeah, I know.  Not a good idea.  But this guy needs to understand just how close he came to taking my life.

He is already into the next curve when my throttle hand catches up to my thoughts.  I whomped on the throttle and off I shoot.  I am up to 75 mph before I catch the guy.  When I slow to match his speed (and keep a safe distance behind in case he wants to retaliate by slamming on the brakes) we are doing about 70 mph.  I lay on the horn and just flip the guy off.  Oilburner has caught me by this time and is telling me the error of my ways.  He takes the quickly flashed brake lights as a sign that the driver "understands me".  I don't take it that lightly.

I back off and try to find my zen.  That is rather difficult when I am scrutinizing every turnout for that damn vehicle.  We considered calling the park rangers or the cops.  But that probably won't do any good.  I take solace in my daydream of finding this a$$hole in some turnout, taking my helmet off and using it to bash his fucking head in.  However, I would be happy with just denting every panel on that SUV and breaking all the windows.  That guy is lucky I never saw him again.  But his license plate is burned in my memory and I will keep an eye out.  And according to Twitter, I am not the only person that has had a run in with this vehicle and driver.

I'm reliving these instances to impress upon you how important it is to be aware of your surroundings.  I know you are, but sometimes we need a refresher.  In a Stayin' Safe class Oilburner and I took while at the Georgia Mountain Rally (local BMW rally), the instructor pressed us on to look at our six before braking or turns.  If someone isn't paying attention to your actions, you might get in trouble.  As for tailgaters?  Try to keep the emotion and ego in check and just pull over for a break. I was honestly trying to do that.  I wasn't trying to police this guys speed.  I just didn't realize that he wanted to drive 70 in a 45 zone.

Stay Safe out there everyone.  I want you around for a long time to come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Power of Suggestion

Warning:  If you are susceptible to the power of suggestion I recommend you stop reading now.  To continue reading may set you up for having the wrong song in your helmet for a long time to come.


Helmet to helmet communicators can be a blessing or a curse.  Of course, I've only ever been connected to hubby.  So he is stuck with my rumblings and rants.  I'm not sure I could do well with "on" communication with anyone else.  I know it would be a connection with friends.  But your friend isn't always in your head to that degree.  And, honestly, do you really want them to be?  I mean, the spouse has signed up for your crazy, but your friend doesn't necessarily know the depth of it.
Do doo do-do

Oilburner and I don't keep up a constant patter of communication.  We have long periods of silence just listening to road noise, engine noise, wind noise.  But the line is there in case we spot something interesting, to warn each other of obstacles, or discuss what's for dinner.

We each have a Bluetooth connection with our own phones.  We can, and do, shut each other off and listen to music occassionally.


Many times I do enjoy listening to music while riding.  It's usually on just as background noise to drown out my wind/helmet noise.  But it is mostly when I ride alone.  I rarely listen while riding with Oilburner.  And he is the same way. 

This isn't a new thing for us.  Many times we will listen to the radio in the truck while driving.  When we are pulling the trailer?  The music is never on.  Pulling trailers is a responsibility.  I think we leave the radio off to tune into the trailer more, and keep alert for dangers.

Do do-do-do

I'm wondering if the same thing is true on the bikes.  Are we keeping the channel open, even though we aren't talking, "in case" we need to communicate in an emergency?  Or are we just concerned the other person will be offended if we didn't want to talk to them?  A way of ignoring each other?

The handful of times we have disconnected from each other was on the super slab and we wanted to make some miles.


So we went on a group ride this Saturday.  It was going to be a long distance day and the first leg was going to be slabbed to get us into Tennessee.  The pace was "spirited".

Oilburner was polite and offerend that I could listen to music if I wanted.  (Now I am beginning to wonder if he was telling me he didn't want to to talk to me, so he could listen to his music??  Hmmm....Why do I never think of these things at the time??) 

I told him I was OK.  I didn't need to listen to music.  I would just sing in my helmet.  Seriously, I really don't know the lyrics to too many songs.  So the default song came in...

It was over.  Oilburner had this song running through his head all day.  Karma for all the time he and his coworkers subtly whistled different tunes each week that their boss would unconciously pick up and hum, whistle, or sing for days.

And just when Oilburner was getting over it?


I have officially put 30,000 miles on my bike in three years.  I purchased my bike somewhere around this time in 2008, with 9,442 miles on the clock.  I flipped to 39,443 at the Saturday ride meeting location  It was a short lived victory since I went to put on an additional 400 miles that day.  But I'm still happy.  :)


The Saturday ride took us to places we have never been before.  Not even in a cage.  So it was lovely seeing a brand new area.  The group we went with are people from the local tag games.  So we "know" each other by avatar on the boards.  Some know each other in person as well.  This was our first time meeting most of them in person.  They are some good people.

However, I just don't mesh with their riding style.  I don't mind a spirited ride and allowing people to go their own pace.  I am fine falling behind and catching up, if you are good with that.  But please don't say you are good with that, and then not be in actuality.

Their idea of good riding was fast twisties come hell or high water and whisking along 45 mph roads at 60+ mph.  This involved passing on double yellows and even passing in the twisties.  I'm disheartened to say that I bowed to peer pressure and followed long as I was positive it was safe.  (Though nothing would have saved me if there had been a police officer.) There came a time when it was not safe and I fell way behind without any way of catching up.  Good.  It allowed me to actually spend some time looking at the scenery that was completely new to me.

The day was meant for the twisties and a minor amount of sightseeing.  Fine with me, except the roads where we were sucked!!  Lots of erosion and heaving, uneven surfaces with poor patch jobs.  There were a few decent areas, but many of the twisties were plagued by uneven drops.  After having read a face plant recently of someone that suffered broken ribs from a very minor 6 inch wide sink hole, I wasn't going to push my speeds on new-to-me roads.

In all, the twisties were fun.  It was wonderful being on new roads and having new vistas to look over.  We managed to make it to a state park with a beautiful waterfall, that we didn't see.  The heat was getting to Oilburner and he wasn't up to walking the trail to the overlook.  So we sat in the shade and hydrated.

It was nearing 2:00 pm by this time and we were 4 hours from home.  We had only progressed one third around the originally planned loop.  Oilburner and I decided it was time to split off and head for home to rescue the puppy and have a leisurely ride home.  We stopped at one overlook for photos.  :)  And the one patch of rain we hit was wonderfully refreshing, dropping temps from 100F to 74F  (38C to 23C).










Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Staying Cool to the Extreme

Saw a link to this video on Demenshea's site.  The video itself isn't really news worthy.  I am hoping my fellow riders won't go to this extent to keep cool while riding.  But you have to watch until timestamp 2:10.  That scream makes the entire video...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Motorcyclists: An Exercise in Patience

Patience is the ability to idle your motor
when you feel like stripping your gears.
-Barbara Johnson

Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
- Ambrose Bierce

As a motorcycle rider we can choose to be patient, or not, with many aspects of riding.  Should I head through that intersection on the very amber yellow?  Or not?  Should I speed up to pass this slow cager in front of me at the next available pass opportunity?  Or not?  Should I hang in this guys blind spot?  Or should I speed up?  Slow down?  Should I get on the throttle a little in these twisties that I know really well, but haven't ridden yet today?  Or not?

Answering any of those questions will result in either less waiting, quicker gratification, an adrenaline rush, delayed arrival time, relaxed sightseeing, depending on how "patient" you want to be.

However...there is ONE thing we motorcyclists have no choice over and we are forced to be patient...


What can we do if our foot itches?  Nothing.  Yeah, we can try moving our boot on the peg and see if we can satisfy the itch.  Similar to amputees scratching the phantom limb/itch.  Sometimes the psychosomatic scratch will work with that.

What can we do if our arm itches while we are properly attired?  (Meaning armored jacket and gloves.)  "Scratching" might actually work but can be unsatisfactory with gloves blunting and expanding our finger "footprints".  It might work, but nowhere near as satisfying as fingernails would be.

Same thing goes with torso or legs...if the spot can be reached.

But what about those of us wearing helmets?  (I am hoping that we all know the benefits of helmets and are wearing them.)  

Facial itches are annoying, but are usually OK.  Sure it's difficult stuffing sausage sized fingers through face shield space to scratch the tip of your nose.  But it does get the job done.  It's that itch on the top of your head that is not going to be satisfied!  Wearing a full face helmet I'm able to gab the chin bar and wiggle the helmet around in a limited fashion.  Unfortunately it rarely does any good.

It seems that our options are to "patiently" ignore the itch or patiently ignore the itch while safely finding a place to stop the bike, patiently remove gloves, patiently unthread the strap through the impossible D-hooks, patiently remove the helmet (and any scull caps or hair holders), then impatiently scratch the damn offending itch that has just disrupted your concentration!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

As Seen Through the Lens of a Helmet

Lying on my back with my foot pinned under the seat of my bike, it is surprising how much the view through the small window of the helmet resembles a movie screen.  The fluffy clouds floated along the deep blue backdrop.  The leaves on the trees fluttering in the snippets of breezes passing by.  I could even hear a few happily chirping birds.

That little viewport prevented me from seeing my position in this world.  I couldn't see that my bike was laying on the ground.  A most unnatural position for a "cruiser."  Thankfully I couldn't see my husbands frantic rush to get off his bike and rush towards me.  I could only imagine my knight in matte mesh armor standing up and throwing a leg over his steed.  Unmindful of actually killing the engine, putting it in neutral or putting the kickstand down, it would continue on down the road without him.  Of course, I didn't see or think any of this until later.  I was just watching the clouds roll by and wondering where it went wrong.

My left leg was free.  No troubles there.  A twitch of my right leg told me I hadn't gotten off that easily.  It was under the bike somewhere.  But I wasn't feeling any pain.  That must be a good sign, right?

Oilburner did almost forget to put his kickstand down with all of his concentration focused on her.  This is the bad thing of couples riding together sometimes; the unaffected spouse witnessing disastrous events, and not able to do anything about it.  Approaching, he saw her foot was trapped and his stomach was in his throat.  The trapped leg twitched a little and suddenly she is free.  She still isn't moving though.  Is she OK?

Kill the downed bike and he can hear laughter on the air.  He leans over her prone body, looks into the little viewport and sees mirth and merriment in her eyes.  If he could have seen her mouth through the chin bar he would have seen the smile he loves surrounding by laughter.

I lay there taking stock.  If the leg doesn't hurt just pull it a little and see if it comes free.  Huzzah!  I remained laying there with my arms flung wide and just started laughing.  A disembodied helmet leaned into my movie screen, with eyes big as saucers and full of worry.  The worry subsided a little and was supplanted with confusion.

For my first "get off" I couldn't have planned it any more perfectly.

I was making a left turn from a stop.  Here in America that means having to go to the far lanes in the road. :)  I dutifully stopped and checked traffic in both directions on my little sub-division road.  I "rolled" on the throttle, did not target fixate on the road edge, and leaned into my turn.

Hmmm...that edge seems to be getting closer, not moving to my right.  Lean further.  I'm executing such a perfect lean, I should be dragging knee.  But that edge still is in my way...

I calculate that I'm still going to be executing my perfect lean at my healthy 3 mph when I reach proper travel direction DIRECTLY in that transition between asphalt road and grass.  No curbs in this neighborhood.  I don't want to still be leaned over when I hit that transition.  I can just imagine the bike slipping out, dumping me on the road.


As taught, I right the bike before applying the brakes.  That much I did do correctly.  But I seem to still be aimed at the grass.  I executed my turn perfectly, how could this be? (At this beginning stage in my riding career any lean feels like knee dragging race track leans.)  So obviously something went wrong.

As much as I want to panic stop, just pull in the clutch and grab a death grip on my front brake.  I also don't want to go sliding across the grass that way.

I'm coming in hot at a 45 degree angle to the transition line.  Luckily the grass is green, lush, level, and recently groomed.  Unfortunately, it doesn't remain level very long and the beginning of a man dug drainage ditch that parallels the road is where I am headed.  It's a small ditch here though, maybe a foot wide, lined with grass.

I reach the obstacle just before the ditch starts in earnest, so I only feel a minor bump.  I safely, and successfully, brake to a stop on the top of the berm.  I have a fraction of a second to realize that I AM ALIVE and still upright when my traitorous motorbike slips down into that 6 inch deep canyon and bucks me off to the right.  I have a flicker of time to remember to roll limply like a rag doll.  Most "older" people break things when they react by flinging an arm out trying to catch themselves.  If I just roll with it I might not hurt anything.

This is how I end up laying on my back, taking an unexpected break, watching a moving cloud picture, arms and legs flung to the wind, laughing.  This falling thing wasn't so hard.


Disclaimer: This experience occurred in June 2008.  My pride wasn't wounded as I lived by the motto "Not if, but when."  I knew it would happen, just not when.  I couldn't have hoped for a better induction to motorbiking life.  This occurred on my first bike, a 2005 Suzuki S50 (think Intruder 800).  It broke a turn signal, but those things just begged to be destroyed.