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Dangers around large, slow trucks

During my commute I’m always on the lookout for large, slow moving trucks (box trucks, semis, cement trucks, etc.). The reason is people commuting don’t want to get stuck behind them and as a result will often change lanes without signaling. In addition it’s difficult to see around them so if you were to pass them and don’t clear your blind spot you may find yourself in the path of another vehicle that merged when you couldn’t see it.

It pays to be wary of what goes on around these types of vehicles.

Waiting after green

I had another occasion where a light turned green and rather than pulling right out, I waited a second or two while clearing both opposing lanes visibly before proceeding. Sure enough a car coming from the side, ran the light and, had I pulled right out, may have hit me from the side. It’s a good rule to follow. Just because a light is green doesn’t mean the intersection is clear to proceed through. I always try to wait a heartbeat or two and on 4-lane roads I even use the car next to me as a screen for an extra level of protection. You have to always be mindful that you’re on a motorcycle and not in a car, you’re exposed so you have to think differently.

Ride safe.

How to handle a vicious animal ;-)

Many years ago I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginners’ safety course with my brother Dave. During the classroom portion we divided into groups, read the manual and took turns answering the questions as groups. We covered how to tackle an obstacle in the road (railroad tracks or a 2-by-4 for instance). The rules were “slow up, stand, bend your knees to absorb the impact, hit the obstacle square at 90 degrees, throttle up and ride over it and away”. Simple enough.

Next we covered what to do if an angry dog comes at you. It was my brother’s turn to answer for our group. Just before he answered I saw the grin creep across his face and he answered “slow up, stand, bend your knees to absorb the impact, hit the obstacle square at 90 degrees, throttle up and ride over it and away”.

Everyone roared, touche Dave.

Ride safe.

The Epitome of Cool

When my father died suddenly I asked my brother to keep his eyes peeled for a motorcycle that looked safe and only cost a few hundred dollars. I’d thought about learning to ride for years and my father’s passing sort of kick started my desire again. I figured if I hated it I was only out a few dollars and if I loved it I’d have something to share with my brother on weekends.

It didn’t take him long to find me a black 1981 Yamaha Maxim. I stored it under an old blue tarp near my woodpile and would uncover it, admire it, tinker with it, polish it. One day I threw the tarp aside, climbed aboard and headed off through the hills around my home in Pennsylvania. I found myself behind a car with two young ladies in the backseat. They were staring, waving, pointing at me, me, the nerd with a math degree, seasonal allergies and no game. It was probably the first time in my life I ever felt cool. A little while later I passed a father and son in their yard raking leaves. They waved, pointed and hollered as the Maxim’s throaty “airbox-less” growl drowned out their voices. I imagined the father yearning to get away and be where I was, feeling the wind in his face and the call of the open road. This sort of attention was exhilarating, life changing, things were gonna be different, I’d walk with confidence through the world, I’d be kickin’ ass and takin’ names from now on. The epitome of cool.

As I road home I was filled with confidence and bravado, the world seemed to stretch out before me filled with new possibilities. It wasn’t until I parked my trusty new steed and dismounted that I noticed the 8 foot long tarp I’d been dragging for the entire ride.

At that point I became just Bud again, with a whole lot left to learn.

Countersteering with more than your hands

There’s only one way to steer a motorcycle: countersteering. We all learned it in the safety course. “Push left go left, push right go right.” The physics are simple enough, to initiate a turn you must initially steer in the opposite direction. It’s something we do instinctively. However, I’m often surprised at the number of riders I come across who aren’t aware that it’s possible to use more than just one’s hands to “steer” a motorcycle. On a recent ride one of our more experience riders had an occasion to ride without his hands on the bars. Another rider asked how he was able to control the bike in a gentle curve with no hands. I myself have had occasion to adjust my gloves or jacket by removing both hands. The technique involves squeezing the tank between your legs and using pressure on the foot pegs to adjust your direction of travel.

You can test it easily and safely. With both hands on the bars, and traveling in a straight line, squeeze the tank with your knees to stabilize yourself and apply pressure to the left foot peg. You’ll feel the bike pull to the left. Once you get a feel for it applying the same pressure in curves will make your riding much smoother, requiring less input than before.

Ride safe.

Gas stations are mine fields

I needed gas on the commute this morning so I pulled into the local “pump and munch” to fill up. While looking for an open pump I slowed to let a pedestrian cross. As I did a car began backing out of the pumps directly toward me. I waited as long as I could but had no choice but to tap the airhorn to let him know he was about to hit me. Of course the pedestrian assumed I was honking at him and flipped me off. Another lesson learned.

Dangers of Yellow lights

July 22 was one of the hottest days of the summer. I believe the temperature was nearly 100F. During my commute home I found myself following a fellow rider on a Kawasaki Vulcan. We road through Plumsteadville, Pa. together. As we approached the last intersection out of town the light turned yellow. As is my custom I checked my mirrors for any sign of a speeding car and, seeing none, slowed to a stop for the light. The rider in front of me continued through the light. Without notice a car coming towards us who had been waiting to turn left did so directly in front of him. He tried to stop but, given the lack of warning, slid into the left front bumper of the oncoming car. His body was thrown parallel to the ground, slamming into the front grill of the car. I stopped to offer what assistance I could and have given statements to both insurance companies.

I road home wondering who the other rider wasn’t going to make it home to see, who would be wondering why he was running late and how all that confusion and pain may have been avoided had he just stopped for the yellow light. Not that he did anything illegal or incorrect but we must assume we are invisible (which I believe he was to the driver whom I believe was on a cell phone at the time). It was hot, I was wearing a light armored jacket that day, but we owe it to ourselves and those waiting home for us, to be as careful as we can and to continually develop an internal set of guidelines for riding that we practice daily to the point where they become second nature.

A few of my own internal rules:
Never (except of course, in a panic stop) use my brakes without checking my mirrors
Never drive through a yellow light unless not doing so may cause me to be struck from the rear
Always wear a helmet, boots and jeans (at the bare minimum)
Never ride more than 10-15 mph faster than the flow of traffic on 2+ lane roads
Always assume there is an obstacle hiding behind a truck that I can’t see around or over
Never ride in anyone’s blind spot longer than is necessary

more later…

One hand on the airhorn

I’ve mastered the ability, out of necessity, to shift while never removing my thumb from the horn trigger. This skill has been developed over a period of years of commuting on 4-lane roads. It seems today’s drivers are too preoccupied with cell phones and breakfast to signal their intentions before changing lanes. The tone of the Stebel air horn is akin to that of a semi truck. It tends to snap the focus of an errant driver back to where it needs to be.