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I came to motorcycling late in life, having grown up hearing, “Don’t ever get on a motorcycle, you’ll DIE!!” from my parents. That changed when, at the ripe old age of 40+, I learned that there was a class you could take to learn to ride (the MSF Basic Riders Course), and you didn’t need to have your own helmet, or even a motorcycle, to take it. I ended up on BMW because I didn’t want a cruiser and the only brand salesman who looked at ME as a buyer was the BMW representative at the local motorcycle show. I’ve been riding for not quite 15 years, and have been a certified Rider Coach for eight years. I survived my sophomore crash (July 2004) wearing BMW gear. I also survived a highway-speed encounter with road debris that cracked the front wheel casting on my Rockster (R 1150 R). I’ve taken Lee Parks’ Total Control and the MSF’s Advanced Riders’ Course several times (because it's fun!). Having recently moved to Lynchburg, VA, I am loving the amazing roads that are right outside.

 

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Top tags: Comfort  Ergonomics  refresher  safety  skills  spring 

Butt burn!

Posted By Steve Cantrill #38304, Monday, September 11, 2017

Most of us get it. No one wants it. If BUTT BURN had a personality, it would have a major inferiority complex from suffering repetitive rejection. I honestly cannot remember anyone writing about it. The guys who make custom seats can’t really say their saddle offers the least BUTT BURN. They hint at it. They want to claim that on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most BUTT BURN, theirs has proven to be closest to 1.

There is no scientific measurement for it. After you’ve spent 5-10 C-notes on a new tushy-pad, if it’s even a little bit better than the last one you had, you’re going to say, “it’s great”. What’s a die-hard rider to do?

Not all of us yearn to be Iron Butt contestants or log 500+ mile days. When I was 20 or 30, that came as a surprise to me. I think it’s safe to say that anyone who wants to ride further than the nearest Dairy Queen would like to settle into a really nice seat. I am reminded by several long-time Harley riding friends of mine, that the Motor Company has the best seat in the business. “Best” doesn’t mean that the burn never visits behind the gas tank. I’ve been riding 50+ years and so have many people I know; between us, we’ve got at least 1,000 years of experience and thoughts on this.

In spite of the fact that we are not orthopedic surgeons or physical therapists, we’ve had some useful ideas on this over the years. BUTT BURN comes with the motorcycle; they don’t charge extra for it. However, there are a lot of really useful tips on how to make it’s visit stay away longer. BUTT BURN can even be a kind of perverse friend by reminding you when to take a break.

TAKE A BREAK

That’s right. Get off the bike. Drink some water—you can hardly ever drink enough. Get some gas. Get some food. Shoot the bull with your riding friends or passenger. Take some pictures. Hike to a waterfall. Enjoy the parts of the ride that are not on the saddle. To some people—like me—this is an acquired taste. There are great things on the ride that occur when the wheels are not going around. I have often had to be reminded of that over the years.

WEAR THE RIGHT GEAR FOR THE RIGHT WEATHER

If it’s hot, wear a mesh jacket and cooling vest. If it’s wet, wear something so you don’t get soaked. If it’s cold, well, you know the drill. Don’t wear underwear that has a seam across the back of the leg intersecting the buttocks and the thigh. Don’t wear the jockey shorts. Model your pants and underwear after what the bicyclists wear. That is, one long, seamless area covering the butt. Cotton is good. The latest wicking, hi-tech fabrics are good. Nylon and normal synthetics are decidedly NOT good. Keeping your body at an overall comfortable temperature. This works in tandem with that butt that is in the middle sector of your body. Your butt is a hot spot anyway—don’t make it worse.

THINK BEFORE YOU CHOOSE A BIKE

If you are in the market for a new bike, consider some posture aspects. After you’ve bought the bike, there’s not much you can do to change the position and posture of your body on the bike. However, you can do something about it BEFORE you buy the bike. Take a close look at that ergonomic office chair that they’ve sold for years. Does this posture look familiar to you? That’s just about the same as a traditional motorcycle riding posture. It’s NOT normally a cruiser bike posture. On this chair or in this position, you are putting most of the weight on bottom/back of your upper leg—not your tail bone. You’re not sitting IN the bucket. You’re straddling the seat. In the end, in spite of knowing this, you may choose a bike just because you fall in love with the sight of it. Don’t say I didn’t mention alternatives.

photo from Modeets.comA modified change from this, slightly leaning forward as on a sport-touring bike, maintains the same weight on the bottom, back and inside of your thighs. This spreads the weight out much more than the little round areas in the middle of your buttocks, where the gluteus maximus muscles connect to the back of the hip bone. There is a pronounced pressure point on the top of the back of each leg where the leg’s bicep femoris muscle connects to the back of the femur under the gluteus maximus. Google it if you need to figure out how it all connects.

If you ride on those points of the leg all day, the daggers will soon start poking you in the butt. There’s a lot more surface area around the back of the leg on the femur. Of course, if you have a bike that puts you even more forward into the sport bike position, then some of us run into wrist pain from putting upper body weight on the wrists or back pain from an arched back. Fortunately, that stuff doesn’t bother me, but I use a tank bag and that carries my chest weight when I choose and this relieves a little pressure on the wrists. Lots of people don’t like tank bags. Sorry—they ruin the looks of your ride in some ways—but there is a comfort advantage.

Also whether in cruiser, sport-touring or aggressive crotch rocket position, each time your upper leg is closer to a 90 degree or smaller angle to your upper torso, you’re going to be stretching that bicep femoris muscle, thus subjecting it to increased pressure. Sit on a bike before you buy it and see if you can approximate the posture of the backless ergonomic chair. The upper leg is positioned very nicely between 120 and 150 degrees. If your bike DOES allow you to change positions a bit, it can help to sit up or lean back a little on the gluteus maximus for a break.

That brings us to the features offered by different custom seats. Some manufacturers claim to make a “world bike,” one that is supposed to suit everyone. That concept is like marriage. We are all different and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. We (probably) all know that as well. The custom seat offers the possibility of different foam density layers and shapes to accommodate people of different weights and different shaped butts. That’s a very good thing – if the maker of your seat works with you patiently and properly to get the right fit. This frequently takes some in-person trial and error sessions with a saddle maker professional enough to work with you on this. It is a hit-and-miss thing to believe the custom seat is going to be perfect on the first go around; it’s possible, but iffy. When the late Bill Mayer, Sr. was alive, he got it right the first time for my 1996 R 1100 RT. Buying a custom seat just might be a real world changer, but these other comments are still relevant.

The one thing that almost never works for me is a vinyl seat cover. Yeah, even the exclusive German car makers will try to sell you on the newest material, saying, “have you FELT this stuff? Current stuff really is better than the vinyl of yesteryear, but why do you think they sell air-cooled seats now? Yes, BUTT BURN exists even in the priciest four-wheelers. I can tell you that no matter how expensive the car I’ve ridden in, I get a stiff back and butt between stops—which I do NOT get on motorcycles.

My 2016 BMW R 1200 RS stock seat seems to work well for me, but I have close friends who say it does not work for them at all. Part of it for me is that I lean slightly forward—as described above—and I take those breaks at 100-125 mile intervals—also as described above. As I have gotten older I look back and wonder how I felt many years ago. My recollection is that when I was 25, I really didn’t want to ride more than 125 miles without a break of some sort.

I also wear the right underwear—also as described above. I prefer a leather cover for the seat, but leather is damaged if it repeatedly gets wet and it holds water longer than vinyl, so you need to be diligent about putting a cover over it for the night. Use a little common sense and put all these ideas together. I think they will help.

The only thing about taking a break every 100 miles is that it’s pretty hard to put in a 700-mile day in daylight. I think it is unquestioned that you’ll enjoy the ride a lot more if you set your mind to it and look forward to it.

Often I need to take my own advice. There are some people, of course, who just don’t care to ride very far. That’s another story.

Tags:  Comfort  Ergonomics 

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Never quit riding the motorcycle

Posted By Pam Fisher, Monday, October 3, 2016

ONE YEAR LATER

Cape Fear 1000 (April 2009)

Guitardad (Chaz) and I were on our way to Wilmington, NC for the Cape Fear Rally on Friday. We were making decent time, I was feeling surprisingly "fresh" for the distance we'd covered (the exercise IS working!).

We were traveling south on I-95, four lanes, divided by a wide grassy median. Traffic was thick (about 2-3 car lengths spacing) and moving along at about 80 mph. Hubby usually leads (he's a ROTTEN follower), that way, I don't have to kill him when we get where we're going.

We ride staggered, with about a bike length or two between us. He'll take the "traffic" side where ever we are on the highway. Our lane change pattern is for him to move from the left side of the right lane, to the right side of the left lane, and I'll swing over from the right side of the right lane, to the left side of the left lane.

About 20 miles north of Rocky Mount, NC, we were traveling in the right lane, with Chaz ahead by a bike length, in the left wheel track. We came up on a slower moving car, and there was space to switch to the left lane. Chaz swung left and just dodged a small piece of wood. I was changing lanes behind him, and he obscured my line of sight (my fault). As I cleared him, I spotted the 2-foot piece of rough timber, 4-5 inches in diameter, rolling/tumbling in my path. I had just enough time to grip the bars firmly, push down on the foot pegs, and aim to hit it as straight as possible.

WHAM! The bars bobbled left/right, and then 700+ pounds of momentum and gyroscopic force took over. The bike straightened and continued. I was amazed. But I could feel there was something wrong. I'd squeezed the clutch rather than braking, to reduce speed, after hitting the lumber. Now I applied the brakes gingerly. They worked, but the front wheel felt "heavy." And by this time, I'd slowed enough that traffic was zinging by me on my right and there was no way I was going to make it across to the shoulder. At least there was a bit of shoulder on the median side. I brought the bike to a stop, with my right sidecase just out of the travel lanes.

Chaz had seen this unfold in his mirror, and got himself stopped about 100 yards beyond me. He parked his bike walked back to where I was sitting on my bike. I didn't have enough pavement to put my sidestand on, so I motioned for him to find something to use. We had a look: The front tire seemed undamaged, but it had lost a significant amount of air. We both carry electric air compressors for tire repair, so I pulled mine out and tried to inflate the tire. The pressure went up a bit, but no further.

By that time, a county sheriff had stopped to see. After checking to see we weren’t injured, he used his lights and car to shepherd us over to the shoulder safely, then departed. At least the shoulder was very wide. Unfortunately, we were still more than 2 hours from our destination. We pulled out the air compressor again, but that's when I noticed a dent in my front rim. Maybe that’s why it wouldn't hold air!

So, out came our cell phones. (I should mention at this point that trying to use a phone on the shoulder of an interstate highway at 4 in the afternoon, is kind of like trying to do so in the middle of a rock concert). I knew that our 17 year old son would be at home on our computer. I called him and got him to post a "help" thread on our BMW club forum with my cell phone number... then I called Progressive, while hubby called AMA to arrange a MoTow (more about THAT). My phone rang within a few minutes. A club member (actually the club's secretary, Ron) offered to help. I told him where we were, what had happened, and what we needed.

AMA couldn't get us a tow for FOUR hours. We were still over a mile and a half from the next exit. And by the looks of things, there wasn’t anything useful there, except less danger from traffic. I got back on my bike and we limped along the shoulder. I prayed the tire would stay on the rim. I got to the top of the exit ramp. The helpful highway sign said left .2 mile to a Mobile station, and right .8 mile to camping. It didn't look like there was an OPEN gas station to the left. Chaz scouted both directions. The Mobile station was closed, but it was close. We limped there.

Meanwhile, Ron had found a Kawasaki dealership in Rocky Mount that was willing to keep my bike overnight. And THEN he found a replacement wheel at the BMW dealer in Raleigh, NC. I got phone numbers and made calls directly.

When we told the gentleman at the Kawi dealer how long before we'd be there, he offered to come get us - with his personal vehicle/trailer - when he got off work. It was 5 pm by this time, and when we called the AMA tow guy that we wouldn't need a tow after all. He was relieved.

Lorenzo arrived shortly before 6. His trailer even had a front wheel cradle! We got my crippled bike loaded and I rode with Lorenzo. We talked on our short trip. He is retired miliatary, from MD. Been in NC for a year. He loves to ride and has been in the situation of stranded on the side of the road. Helping other riders is just what is right. (I failed to mention the 30+ "loud pipes save lives" crew that rumbled past as we stood on the side of the road.) He's given up riding with the folks from around Rocky Mount - all talk and flash, but few skills.

He's got a Concourse and puts serious miles on it. I recommended that he hook up with the guys/gas on sport-touring.net for some folks with a clue to ride with.

We arrived at Kawasaki of Rocky Mount, unloaded my sad motorcycle and wheeled it inside the dealership. Then I had to decide what I needed to have with me that would fit in Chaz's saddlebags. Yes, we're continuing to Wilmington. Chaz had a rally to ride!

I geared up and climbed on board "Clifford" - Chaz's '94 BMW R 1100 RS - behind him. Not a lot of legroom back here. But it beats walking!! I waved to Lorenzo as we headed off. The first 40 minutes weren't too bad. I noticed that Chaz's shocks were going kinda soft. Then, once the sun went down, I started to get chilly. My riding jacket wasn't very windproof and the windproof/warm layer I had on underneath wasn't quite up to the task. I just tucked in my arms and hunkered down. . . two hours. By the time we got into Wilmington, my knees were screaming to be straightened!! (I've got a 34" inseam and the pillion seat/pegs are obviously designed for someone much shorter than me). Finally, I stuck my legs out and stretched to the ground at a stop light. Whew!

We checked into the hotel, then Chaz had to check in with the Rally Master. Its after 9pm by that time, and the "Rider's Meeting" was at 6pm. Chaz got a "private" meeting. About 12 folks from our local BMW club were riding in the rally. Eight, I think, were in the 10 hour, the rest were on the road running the 24-hour Cape Fear rally.

While we were stranded, I'd texted one of the other rally riders (BMWBMW club president, Tina) what had happened, and she'd texted me for an update shortly before we checked in. So, I went to visit her.

Once we had made it safely to Wilmington, I had to deal with making things happen so I could get my bike back to Baltimore on Sunday: I needed a car to drive to Raleigh to get the replacement wheel, and a co-rider to get the car back to Wilmington, while I rode my repaired motorcycle. While chatting with Tina about needing a car and someone to ride with me, she mentioned another club member was looking for a reason not to ride the rally. I texted him. He agreed. Next, to find a car. At the worst, there was an Enterprise Rental, half a mile away.

Chaz had his alarm set for O'dark thirty. He got himself ready and kissed me good-bye at around 5:15 (He was travelling with the SPOT tracker, so I didn't worry too badly about him.) I realized I couldn't get back to sleep, so I figured I'd wander up to rally headquarters and see about getting the use of a vehicle.

One of the rally staffers offered the use of his car. So, I woke up Mike (my volunteer) and we got ready to hit the road. The BMW dealership opens at 9am. The ride out there was (according to the GPS) about 2 hours. Mike met me at the car, and after a stop at Starbucks, we headed out. We made it to Capitol BMW-Triumph in Raleigh at 9:05. The service manager had gotten stuck in traffic so we had to wait a bit.

Now, I'll add that my bike is a limited edition model R1150R Rockster. Only 200 were sold in the US. It has white painted aluminum alloy wheels. The service manager still had the used front wheel from his own sister model bike (an R1150R "Roadster") that he no longer owns. This was the wheel that was going to get me back home. Jon arrived and we sat down to write up the service ticket. Since I've got power assisted ABS brakes, and BMWs are a bit "different" than most other motorcycles, I wanted the BMW dealer to mount and balance a new tire. Then I told him that it was a Kawasaki service tech who was going to do the install, and asked if he could please add whatever BMW details would be needed to ensure the install went smoothly. Jon gave me his card, and added his cell phone number so the tech could call him before he started.

The used wheel had been mounted on two other bikes and had been machined to fit one of them. Jon stated up front that he'd give a full refund if the wheel didn't work on my bike. 45 minutes to Rocky Mount from Raleigh. We arrived at around 11:30. The tech wanted to show me the REAL reason the tire wouldn't air. There was a 5 inch crack right through the casting. I figure if the wheel hadn't cracked at the impact, allowed air to escape, the next weakest point would have been the bead of the tire on the rim. The tire might have blown off the rim completely and I surely would have lost control. The telelever transferred the impact from the front forks to the front shock, keeping the forks from "tucking."

Mike and I went off to find something to eat for lunch while the tech did his stuff. (The Barbecue we had for lunch was mediocre at best). It took the Kawasaki tech an hour to do the switch. The wheel needed about 1/2 inch of "fill" added on one side of the fork and a bit more than that on the other side so it wouldn't fault the ABS sensor. It took some classic garage engineering to find the appropriate spacers to fill in. (There was more to it than that, but I can't even begin to explain it.) The BMW guy had recommended test fitting the wheel on the hub before switching the ABS hardware over.

He got everything buttoned up and I took her for a test ride at around 2:00. WOOOieee!!! Felt good! No issues! Not a bobble, or anything. The brakes worked fine. Hoooray! I paid up, thanked Lorenzo and company profusely for their help, and called the Rally Master (I was SUPPOSED to be helping with the rally) to let him know that I was back on two wheels and would be in Wilmington in about 2 hours. His response, "get here when you can, we NEED you" - there was a note of pleading in his voice. I already had my destination in my GPS, so I started off, with Mike following in the car.

I was a bit late arriving at rally headquarters, but I made myself useful. The ride back to Baltimore was uneventful.

One thing to remember: Crashing is optional. If you throw up your hands when things go pear shaped, you will crash. Keep your hands on the bars and get it stopped. It may not stop pretty, but maintaining the best control you are able is the key to survival.

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Ninety percent of riding is half mental

Posted By Pam Fisher, Tuesday, May 31, 2016

From my two most recent blog posts, it may seem like I’ve spent most of my riding career recovering from crashes. I haven’t.

It’s just I feel that the lessons learned from those two major incidents were very important to share. The thing is, too many riders cannot figure out why they crashed, which is baffling to me.

My husband is a member of the Long Distance Riding community, and one of his mantras is to “always make new mistakes” – that is, don’t repeat the same mistake. If you crash/dump/drop and don’t know what happened to end up on the ground or in the weeds, then you can’t make changes to keep from repeating the event. Be aware of what you’re doing, how you feel (mentally and physically), what the road surface looks like, what traffic (or wildlife) around you is doing, how your bike is handling.

If you let your brain wander off and engage in wondering whether that awesome Italian restaurant is off this exit or in the next county (and how magnificent their spaghetti Bolognese was), or whether you remembered to pack that extra pair of socks/gloves whatever, something will sneak up and surprise you as you’re tooling down the road, with potentially disastrous consequences.

I was staffing a recent LD rally, and in spite of the Rally Master’s admonitions to all riders to ride safe and smart, there were two crashes. Fortunately, both were more or less minor. Both could have been far worse, but both could have been avoided entirely if the riders had been 100% engaged in riding their motorcycles. I talked to both when they returned to Rally HQ, and they both knew what they’d done that led to their crashes. One was so focused on getting underway as soon as that red light turned green, that he neglected to make sure traffic around him had stopped when their light turned red. He was hit (fortunately at relatively slow speed) by a driver trying to make the light. The other rider was “riding angry,” took a turn too fast, and panicked when she encountered gravel in the turn. Fortunately, both riders were wearing full gear and suffered milder injuries than they would have otherwise. Another point in their favor.

It was Yogi Berra who said, “90 percent of baseball is half mental.” I’d venture to say the same applies to being safe on a motorcycle.

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Assumptions will bite you

Posted By Pam Fisher, Wednesday, May 25, 2016

So, I crashed my beautiful, dependable, and beloved Gryndl, my Rockster 80th Anniversary Limited Edition #196 on Mother’s Day, on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). My sturdy, but broken, steed sits forlorn at a Tow Yard, near Fancygap, VA, waiting to be picked up as salvage.


Photo courtesy of Blind Kenny

My friend and I had had a great weekend at Mountain Moxie 2016. I got comfortable with twisty riding, again, but still can’t keep up with her Versys' flickability. We had a great ride on Saturday, got photo captured by BlindKenny.com (May 7). We got to hang out with gobs of lady and men riders, all in this AMAZING LODGE, The Switzerland Inn, in Spruce Pines, NC. The event included terrific speakers, orgasmically delicious food, shopping, and OMFG unbelievable roads. My friend and I have ridden thousands of miles together over the years, but very little of that travel has been on winding two-lane country roads.

My crash wasn’t a case of not being comfortable riding together. It was a case of not realizing we had different expectations for a specific situation. Each of us reacted as we thought was correct for what unfolded.

We had opted to take the BRP homeward, until we hit the closure at Roanoke, or got tired of it. My friend led, because I get stressed (yes, really), and she had her Garmin, which is better for routing. I didn't even bring my GPS, because Waze works so well for me - until you are out of cell tower range, I discovered.

Anyway, we were doing great. Having fun. The weather was perfect. Not too warm, mostly cloudy, but no rain. One must also understand that passing on the BRP is a challenge because of the winding road, with generally short sightlines. There are passing zones, but not a lot, and they tend to be conservative. Nevertheless, we didn't have to follow slow traffic for very long.

Background: When my husband, Chaz, and I are on roads like this, he usually leads. He'll choose the passing point, signal, move out, and accelerate past, with me sling-shotting quickly after him. If oncoming cars should appear, he'll twist harder to make sure he allows me room to follow/complete the pass. It is understood between us that once he pulls into the oncoming lane, he’s essentially committed both of us to the pass.

She and I passed like this, all morning/afternoon (or so I assumed). Until that last fateful attempt, we hadn't encountered opposing traffic so near to us, from around the next turn. I saw the oncoming cars, and being in “habit” passing mode, I twisted harder, but she didn't accelerate as I expected.

I remember suddenly being right on her rear-end, a snapshot of the back of her red jacket, and reacting. I honestly don't remember what I decided to do. But it seems most likely that I simply jerked my bars left to avoid rear-ending her, which sent me across the left lane and down the steep embankment. She didn’t see a thing. She was focused on the target car, which paced her briefly, then slowed to let her in. She thought I'd dropped behind the target car. But when she finally had a chance to pull off safely, the car behind her told her I'd gone off the road. She had to turn around and go back.

...

 

The EMTs came quickly, as did the Park Police. I was unconscious/out of it/in pain. They had to cut off my left Cruiser Works Boot. Those were my original motorcycle boots. They survived my 2004 big crash, see "Stepping Up the Ladder of Risk." I was a bit sad at that. My other gear didn't get cut. How they got my jacket off, I don't know. My helmet has a big round, grassy impact/scrape mark behind my right ear. No pavement marks. My head must have stuck one of the small tree stumps left from recent brush clearing on that curve.

I remember little glimpses from being on the ground, with the EMTs working on me, My friend’s familiar calm voice, in snatches. Apparently, I talked to Chaz on my phone, while lying there. I remember more from the ambulance ride: Mostly looking up at the inside, with a face over me, Pain as they poked and prodded. Got an IV started.

Then I was on a bed in the ER. Once they figured out I wasn’t in immediate danger of dying, it got really boring. We spent a lot of time waiting. There was pain as they put plates behind my injured shoulder for an X-ray image. The ankle, not so much. I was rolled out for a CT scan to check for internal and brain injuries. My friend waited patiently with me, saying Chaz was on his way, that she'd made sure my wallet and phone were with me, and the tow truck driver would secure my cases and bags. Bless her, she collected my earrings, etc. from the EMTs as they pulled them off on scene, and pocketed them for me. When I needed a bed pan (yeah, that, too!), after being in ER for hours, she helped me get out of the layers I was still wearing. As a former RN, she handled all the medical stuff with calm assurance. Then Chaz was there, and we waited some more, while more critical cases were taken care of. I was finally okayed to leave. Wrapped up in temporary bandages and sent off. It was so late, that we got a room at the local Holiday Inn.

Let me just tell you, that you don't have any idea how many critical muscles are attached to your clavicle, until your clavicle is broken. Breaking my right clavicle when I’m right handed is even more aggravating.

My injuries: I've got a semi displaced fracture of the right clavicle, a non-displaced fracture of the left fibula, and some damn sore ribs on my right side as well. I’m also dealing with poison ivy from my brushy detour, and the roadside triage. At least I’m not super sensitive to it. Just itchy bumps.

My broken ankle means I can't work for 6-8 weeks. My boss can't hold my job. That sucks. But I'll hope that whoever he finds in the meantime is only adequate, and I can get back in.

What I learned: No matter how well you think you know a fellow’s riding style, when riding in a new situation, it is worth talking about expectations before heading out with others. My assumption of her response to that pass, based on previous successful passes, could have cost me my life. I am truly blessed that I survived. My BMW gear, though years old, saved my hide from being shredded in the brush. Now my friend is dealing with the aftermath of our lack of communication, as well.

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Stepping up the ladder of risk: a cautionary tale

Posted By Pam Fisher, Thursday, May 5, 2016

As a motorcyclist, I've heard tell that the first few months after passing a basic motorcycle training course aren't the most dangerous for a new rider. It’s the second part of the learning curve - once you begin to think you've got the hang of this motorcycling thing - where a rider can get in big trouble fast. On a clear bright day in July of 2004, I sure did. It was by sheer luck of timing, not masterful skill, that I escaped severe injury.

This is a caution to newer riders, and to veterans as well: Always keep your head in the ride and on the bike. My crash happened in my second year of riding., I’d begun to feel that I was actually becoming proficient at riding a motorcycle, having gotten beyond my initial ‘still learning’ caution.

I was a member of Women on Wheels (WOW), and our local BMW club, BMW Bikers of Metro-Washington (BMWBMW). My husband, Chaz, and I had had great fun going on day trips together and riding with the local BMW club. Hearing about all the rallies and such that our fellow BMW club members went to, I wanted to go on a longer motorcycle trip with my husband. I registered us for the 18th Annual WOW Ride In, which was held in Canaan Valley, WV that year. Not too far from our Baltimore home. He rode his Suzuki SV650, and I my BMW F 650 CS. We stayed at Blackwater Falls Lodge, near Canaan Valley.

The Ride In was a great adventure for us. It was so thrilling to see so many women riders, and feel the camaraderie. We attended a workshop called Accident Scene Management which taught the importance of paying attention to where you are while riding – so you can direct help to you – as well as how to deal with an accident scene so as to not cause more problems or further injuries to anyone.

The rally organizers provided route sheets, at the Ride In registration desk, with turn by turn directions for several different scenic ride loops. I picked up a ride sheet. As it happens, Chaz and I were participating in our BMW club’s scavenger hunt/ride contest. That year, the theme was county seats. With recognition going to those who rode their motorcycles to the most county seats in the five state area encompassing Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. The ride sheet we picked up was a loop that travelled fairly close to Elkins, Buckhannon, Philipi and Parsons.

We set out at around 10 am. The day was gorgeous! Sun shining, not too hot. There was little traffic. The route followed some two lane curvy roads as well as multi lane highways with fun sweeping curves. After stopping in Elkins, and Buckhannon, we had a late lunch in Philipi, before continuing on to Parsons for our last photo stop. I took the lead for the last leg of our ride.

219 out of Parsons, WV, is a long, straight, easy grade. I got focused on pushing my bike up the hill, forgetting to think beyond what I could see. I never saw the posted "20 mph" sign for the curve. I must have glanced at my speedometer as I whizzed past it. Next, I looked up to see one of those helpful yellow arrow signs pointing the way to the right.

I eased off the throttle a little, turned my head, and began to lean into the curve. Then, my stomach clenched as I suddenly realized that this turn was far sharper than I'd anticipated, and I was going far faster than my nerves were comfortable with. I was going to run into the other lane. (My husband got to watch helplessly as it all unfolded.) As a relatively unseasoned rider, I then began doing what I'd learned in the BRC: "Straighten. Then brake." It might have worked, but coming at me around the next curve was an 18 wheeler - and he was over the centerline by two feet. The shiny metal grill looked as big as a garage door as it came at me.

For an instant, I considered leaning harder, but discarded it. I didn't have the confidence to try it. The consequences of failing would surely put me under the truck's wheels. Looking to the outside of the corner, it seemed I had just enough room to cross in front of the truck toward the opposite shoulder, but I’d contend with a rough gravel-covered shoulder and drainage ditch. Beyond that rose a wall of steep, rocky mountainside. Being the somewhat less lethal looking option, I chose the outside of the curve. I was uncertain I could stop between getting across/out of the truck's path and hitting the rising rocky wall.

In retrospect, I'm ashamed to admit that in my moment of panic, I probably "laid it down" intentionally. At the time, it seemed better to follow the bike into the hillside, not the other way around. I slid across the lane, up the hill, my bike on my right leg. I remember the WHOOOSH of the truck's wheels past my head as I slid. I have no doubt that I disappeared from the trucker's line of sight; I was so close to the cab of the truck.

I came to a stop and lay still for a few breaths, waiting for the "starriness" from the impact of my helmet against the pavement to dissipate. Then I did a quick assessment: It seemed that all my parts were still attached and essentially intact. There was hot pain in my right knee, but it didn't feel like a break (I've broken bones before). I heard the sound of the big truck braking, stopping. Then, my husband's voice, “Are you okay?!”

I sat up slowly and pulled off my helmet. I hollered to my husband that I was okay. I could see him on the opposite shoulder next to his bike, with his cell phone out. The trucker, 60ish in a plaid shirt, was huffing uphill toward me, shouting, “Is he okay? Is he okay?! I’m sorry!” The man stopped in his tracks when I pulled off my helmet. Perhaps in relief, but maybe in shock that I was a woman.

I will NEVER regret spending the money on BMW gear. If I had been wearing jeans, or even cheap leather, I'm convinced that my right kneecap would have disintegrated from sliding 50 feet beneath my bike, and I'd have ended up sticking to hospital sheets in Elkins or another trauma center. I’m not sure my Joe Rocket gear would have done half as well.

The CE armor in my BMW Airflow 2 jacket and "zip off" Summer pants saved my bones from serious damage. The gear damage: a hole the size of a plum in the right pant knee, and a melted stripe on the left ankle. My right jacket shoulder was scuffed with road grime and there was a tiny hole on the right elbow of the jacket - the only place I had an actual abrasion - but that was from the edge of an elbow pad.

Physically, my right knee looked like an over-stuffed bag of rocks within several hours, but X-rays showed nothing broken. By later in the evening it felt like someone very large and angry had stomped on my right calf. I had a hyperextension hairline fracture in the hypoid bone of my left hand - probably got my thumb hooked against the handgrip as I went down. I spent about 6 weeks in an over-the-elbow cast on my left arm. My right knee was very painful for weeks, an orthopedist said I’d just have to live with it, until a chance encounter with a physical therapist while I was working. He was able to realign the small bone that had been displaced when I went down.

For all the stuff I did wrong. I did do a few things right: I was wearing full gear from toes to fingers and nose. Hubby and I had kept track of where we were in relationship to the previous town and our speed and direction, so emergency responders could find us quickly.

The MSF’s Basic Riders’ Course classroom section uses an analogy for the causes of motorcycle crashes called, the "Ladder of Risk." The concept being that crashes can rarely be said to be caused by a single factor. Essentially, the more issues thrown at a rider, the higher the risk of a crash. I can go back and count the steps up the "ladder of risk" that I went that day:

  • Step 1: Over confidence.
  • Step 2: Failure to be aware of road conditions/signage.
  • Step 3: Failure to recognize my own fatigue.
  • Step 4: Failure to think ahead/SEE and plan for the "what if" that became "now what?"

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Lessons from the road

Posted By Jon DelVecchio, Friday, April 8, 2016

Going back to school doesn’t sound like much fun. Boring lectures. Tests. Homework. Rules. Detention. Of course, after graduation comes the corporate training events and job certifications. Those aren’t much better, but at least you get paid for attendance. It’s no wonder most adults have had it with learning by the time they get on their motorcycles.

Times have changed. Instruction these days is much more engaging and personalized. Today monotone lecturers get poor reviews and learners are encouraged to talk and share ideas. Even basic motorcycle training courses are becoming more student-friendly experiences. But once the licensing course ends, few pursue further formal skill development.

Why many experienced riders shy away from sharpening their skills is anyone’s guess. Are you cutting class again? Motorcycle seat time will provide valuable experience, but are you getting the physical and mental stimulation necessary to ride at a higher level?

Part of the problem with advanced rider training is that it’s not readily available to the typical street rider. Most advanced riding courses are still confined to parking lots, which is about as appealing as a classroom. Track schools attract a limited number of people and are geographically out of reach for the curious.

So what’s left? The most rare of them all: small group on-road courses. These gatherings resemble Sunday morning rides down twisty back roads more than a learning environment. On-road courses fuse concepts to the real world in real time. They provide vivid examples of what to do when and where. Riding at peak performance requires a precise combination of physical and mental skills. While practical, books and videos can only provide the mental part of the equation.

Truth be told, the complexities of conducting motorcycling instruction on public roads are challenging. As a result, few providers venture outside the safe haven of parking lots. Those that offer on-road programs do it more for the love of teaching than profit. For that reason, enroll in and support on-road training when you can.

Don’t have access to on-road courses? Be your own teacher. Talk to fellow riders about what works for them. Read books. Watch videos. Choose a technique to focus on and go try it. Build skills one ride at a time. Here are some ideas to start you off:

  • Be Smooth
    • Every movement on a motorcycle should smooth. In order to be smooth, start by being relaxed. It sounds simple, but many riders will find themselves tense in traffic or the twisties upon reflection. Every squeeze, press and roll should be performed gently.
  • Move Your Eyes
    • Few hazards appear at the very last moment before a crash. Most can be anticipated by clues and plain ol’ paying attention. Looking straight ahead is not enough. Scan and sweep your field of view continuously to better identify problems. Our brains function better when we tell our eyes specifically what to look for. “Inattentional blindness” is a lack of attention that causes failure to recognize dangers in plain sight. This lack of diligence leads to countless close calls and mishaps. To defeat it, proactively look for hazards.
  • Anticipate
    • After building your search skills, the next step is predicting traffic patterns. It’s easy to get into the minds of other roadway users. Make it engaging by playing a game of chess with others on the road. Instead of reacting to traffic, attempt to anticipate the moves of others. Once you get really good, strategically place others on the road where you want them to go simply by opening up space.
  • Escape
    • Always have an escape path. There is no valid excuse for not having a pre-planned exit strategy on the streets. Given that motorcycles are less noticeable in traffic, having space to squirt into is essential. At minimum keep plenty of space in front of you. Large following distances are an underutilized escape path option.

Have questions about using the road as your classroom? Stop by and see me at the National Rally in Hamburg, NY. I’m looking forward to immersing myself into the BMW lifestyle this summer.

 

Jon DelVecchio is the owner of Street Skills LLC based in Rochester, NY. His motorcycling school specializes in advanced riding skill courses for street riders conducted on public roads and race tracks.

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What is "safe," anyway?

Posted By Pam Fisher, Saturday, April 2, 2016
Updated: Sunday, April 3, 2016

I’ve been mulling this over at work. What is safe? Is there safe enough? Too safe? How do you decide?

Do you head out on the road with the viewpoint that “what will happen, will happen,” and don’t fuss about taking safety precautions? Do you assume that every other driver on the road is out to kill you, and gear up like a Storm Trooper, keeping your head on a swivel at all times? Are you a training course fanatic? Do you avoid riding on certain types of roads, or riding at certain times of the day? How do you decide? What are reasonable precautions to take for you? Being on two wheels without a metal cage surrounding us comes with inherent risks.

It is up to the individual, how much we put into being safe on the road. When I started my two-wheel adventure, I was the parent of two school age children. I had to keep in mind the consequences for my family of me getting seriously injured on my motorcycle. I wear a seatbelt whenever I drive, I chose to gear up with the available protective clothing when on my motorcycle. I chose to be an ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time) rider.

When I first started my two wheel adventure, not quite 15 years ago, I accepted that I wouldn’t be as adept at danger avoidance as a more experienced rider. I remember getting caught by target fixation in a corner, riding right onto the sandy shoulder that had spooked me. No drop, no harm. But it was a wake up for me, and reminder of one of the more common pratfalls of riding. Not everyone is so lucky the first time that happens.

I wear armored riding pants, and motorcycle specific boots, because if I do go down, I know that my knees, ankles and feet stand a good chance of ending up between my bike and the road. I’ve also got at least a dozen pairs of motorcycle gloves. My first pair was the gauntlet length “Steve” style by Held. The rivets on the palms, saved me from injury when I crashed. I’ve got cold weather and even electric/heated gloves, as well as mesh and lighter weight leather gloves. I cringe at the thought of putting a hand out going down and wearing away skin, tendon and muscle. Consider: If you were to crash (or go down) this weekend, without full fingered gloves on, how would your hands fare? Would you be able to continue in your career, if you were to lose full use of the fingers on either hand?

If you visit any motorcycle forum, new riders will ask “what kind of gear should I get?” – its almost as discussion worthy as “what kind of oil should I use?” The most important answer for me is: What is in my budget, and what will I put on every time I head out? Being in the mid-Atlantic, that eliminates leather as an option for me. It is typically weighty, and rarely comes in lighter colors. As a moto-commuter, I chose BMW textile gear. I liked that I could wash out the bug-guts periodically, and it didn’t feel like armor. My first moto-kit was Joe Rocket, but I didn’t like the fit and feel. It did the job, while I was still figuring out this motorcycling thing. I still wear my original Cruiserworks boots.

Folks don’t often think of hearing protection. I hear “but I want to hear my engine,” “what about sirens” etc. It is an adaptation, learning to feel your bike, rather than hearing it. I learned from experience that wearing foam ear plugs in my helmet meant that I wasn’t beaten down with fatigue after a two hour ride. Long term riding without hearing protection, can mean accelerated loss of hearing. With extended exposure, noises that reach a decibel level of 85 can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Many common sounds may be louder than you think, as discussed in Dangerous Decibels and Lowering the Volume for Motorcyclists.

The critical element to rider safety is being intentional: you should know why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. They should be a decision, not an afterthought.

 

Photo by w:User:Light current - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Musicians_orange_plugs.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3165467

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Spring warm-up

Posted By Pam Fisher, Tuesday, March 22, 2016

I started to commute to work a few weeks ago. I'll admit that I haven’t ridden more than a handful of times, this year, but it is lovely to be able to take the Blue Ridge Parkway for part of the distance to Roanoke, VA, where I work.

I realize that I should probably spend some time in a parking lot, re-tuning my braking and swerving skills and becoming thoroughly reacquainted with my bike after the cold season. After an in depth visual check of the bike, it’s a good way to get my head back into the whole riding process for the season. Quick stops, slow turns, slow weaves, swerves. It’s good to limber up and shake the cobwebs out.

I’ll also go through my tail bag: Go through the pockets, and toss anything that is gummy, damaged or old. I’ll check my supply of Band-Aids, and things as well. Now is also a good time to change the batteries in my personal tracking gadget (I have a SPOT Generation II), and make sure the emergency ID (Road ID), I carry is where I can grab it to put on, and that the information on it is up to date. I've also got to renew the evacuation/transportation insurance (MedJet Assist).

Tags:  refresher  safety  skills  spring 

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