5 Tips from an Aging Sport Bike Rider

Graham and Dan. I'm not saying their old, but where is their hair?
Graham and Dan. I’m not saying they’re old, but where is their hair?

Note: This article pertains to all types of riders. So, please read on.
What happens to sport bike riders when they get old? Most people think of sport bike riders as young men in their 20’s or 30’s. A lot of people don’t consider that sport bike motorcycle riders are often in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, or even 70’s.
It’s  assumed that those crazy riders on their rice rockets are young, testosterone laden young men. And this stereotype has some truth to it, since the attitude and ergonomics of sporting machinery suggests a fast and young lifestyle. But, many older riders do keep a sportbike in the garage if their body can handle the demands on aging bones, muscles and soft tissue.
A lot of sport bike riders move gradually to more upright machines with less demanding ergonomics and softer power delivery. But, if you look around at any sport riding gathering, track day, or even club race event, you’ll see that the median age is what is often considered over the hill. You’ll also see that these elders are often some of the most skilled riders on the road and the fastest on the track.
While the hair beneath the helmet may be gray, the desire to express mastery at the handlebars is as strong as ever. I’m not speaking for all sport bike elders, just the ones I know who keep at least one high-performance bike in their stable for those days when the back is feeling okay and the passion for a rip requires a razor-sharp tool.
Ken-smile
I’ve got a few more years behind the handlebars.

At 57 years old, I’m now qualified to speak from the perspective of a once young road racer and sporting street rider. Thankfully, I happen to have a slim physique, which makes me able to climb onto a sport bike with relative ease. I am also of average height so high rearsets don’t bother me. This makes riding a sport bike possible.

Pull up a Chair, Son

There are a lot of things I could share about aging. But, there are a few notable observations I think are worth mentioning.

1. Ride Smarter

Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some.
Tony, Ken and Graham. Older than many, not as old as some. Yes, this is the photo “borrowed” by whoever made that video that went viral.

When I’m on a motorcycle, I can step back and evaluate whether the speed I choose to ride matches my mood and personal limits, as well as the limits of the road or track, the weather, etc. While there are times when my inner squid emerges, I am much less prone to riding beyond the limits. I am closer to the edge of the risk:reward ratio than when I was young and felt invincible. Now, I ask myself whether riding a certain way is worth the possible aggravation.
Top photos © Ken Condon
Bottom photo © Annalisa Boucher

2. Ride more Efficiently

How is it that I can get through a two day track day event riding multiple groups and still get up the next day and go to work? I see a lot of track day riders many years my junior pack up halfway through the afternoon because they are too tired to go on anymore. How am I able to do this? It’s not because I’m in great shape.
It’s because I’ve learned to ride efficiently. This means hanging off the bike only as much as necessary to achieve the goals of keeping the pegs off the pavement and the tires in their sweet spot and perfectly loaded for maximum traction. It also means being relaxed as much as possible. Not only does this help my stamina, it also allows me to feel the tires and chassis so I can “listen” to the bike as it tells me how much traction I have.

3. Change Behavior

Getting old forces changes in behavior. At some point you have to recognize the fact that the mind, eyes, muscles and stamina are not what they used to be. Everyone is different, but from my experience, the rate of decline seems to accelerate once you pass 50 or so. This means I have to pace myself. I am more aware of the need to warm up my body for a few laps just like I do my tires.
The possibility of getting hurt is present no matter what age, but what may be a simple injury, quickly healed, can turn into a long, drawn out healing process if you are older. Riding smart and wearing really good personal protection is important for minimizing those injuries.

4. Stay in Shape

I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape, either. I walk almost every day, but I used to run. I lightly stretch when I need to, but not as often as I should. I have never smoked and my vitals are good. I guess I can say I’m in pretty good shape for my age.
Even so, I suffered a freak health issue a while ago that I’m lucky to have survived. Thankfully, I can still manage a full day of street riding and both days of a two day track day event without much trouble. Staying in shape is harder as you get older. Weight gain is a real problem for many. Weight can creep up on you slowly. Five pounds may not seem like much, but if that happens every year for 10 years, you’re looking at a whopping 50 pound weight gain that will be tough to get rid of.

Being an instructor gives the opportunity to pass on what you've learned.
Being an instructor provides an opportunity to pass on what you’ve learned.
photo: © Annalisa Boucher

5. Keep Your Skills Sharp

There is a real danger in complacency. It’s easy for veteran riders to assume they don’t need to maintain their mental and physical skills. After all, they’ve survived this far. This perception leads to diminished skills, which can lead to a crash.
Motorcycle riding skills are perishable. So, keep those skills sharp! Practice in a parking lot, attend a safety course periodically, and ride a track day or three. It’s also good to read about riding technique. Even if you already “know” the material, reading about a technique brings it into your consciousness.
And for you older folks returning to riding, GET TRAINING! I know you may know how to “operate” a motorcycle, but that’s not enough to ride safe and smart. You need to update your mental software and learn things you may not have known before that can literally save your wrinkled ass. I recommend taking the Basic MSF course, followed by an advanced training course.


Bonus Tip: Share Your Knowledge

I’m grateful that I can share knowledge that I have accumulated over the years to help people like you ride better and smarter. But, another benefit to writing and teaching is that it makes me a better rider. I constantly think about my riding, which keeps my skills sharp.
A lot of really fast, experienced riders can’t explain how they do what they do…they just do it. That’s fine, but thinking about the physiology and psychology of riding a motorcycle well makes a rider’s knowledge and skill indelibly deeper and accessible when you need it.
Oh, and don’t assume you know what you are talking about, even if you are “fast”. Learn the physics and language of communicating the complex concepts of motorcycle riding before you claim expert status.

How Much Longer?

At some point, we all must hang up our helmet for the last time. In my case, that appears to be several years away. I can still do things I did when I was younger, it just takes more effort. What are your experiences with aging behind the handlebars?
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Motorcycle Track Days: What You Need to Know

Two riders going through Turn 1a at Loudon.
Two riders going through Turn 1a at Loudon.

What are Track Days All About?

Track Days are the most exciting, fun and effective way to improve your riding skills…period! You will learn how to corner and brake with a lot more confidence and control. And you will have a freakin’ BLAST.
Track Days are held on a closed course (racetrack), which means you learn in a safe environment and at real-world speeds. Learning on a racetrack allows you to ride freely and concentrate on and advancing your skill level without the typical hazards faced on the street…potholes, sand, tar snakes and Buicks.
Many types of machines at our regular track day events. While most ride sport bikes, there are also those who ride Tourers, Adventure bikes, and Sport Tourers. There are even special “Non-Sportbike Days”.
It’s one of the best investments in fun and skill development money can buy.
You may want to listen to this short podcast where Tony and I discuss many track day FAQs.

Learn to Corner Better

While parking lot courses have their place, riding your bike on a track will let you practice riding skills at real-world speeds – without the normal distractions found on public roads (like cars, sand, cops, etc).
Classroom sessions are usually included in the price of your day where you will benefit from discussions and demonstrations of advanced riding technique that you can then try on the track.
The fact that you visit each corner several times a day allows you to perfect your technique without the changing variables found on the street. These techniques are transferable to street riding.
The skills typically learned:

 


My wife, Caroline in "the bowl" at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s
My wife, Caroline in “the bowl” at NH Motor Speedway on her Kawasaki z750s

 


The Racing vs. Track Day Myth

Who said anything about racing? Here’s the thing; A track day is NOT a race event. Many people respond to a suggestion of attending a track day by saying “but I don’t want to race”. Now, I understand that most people automatically think “racing” when they hear “racetrack”. This is why I spend a fair amount of energy on educating the potential new customer that a track day just might be worth considering, both for having a blast, but also for becoming a better rider (much better).

If it’s not a race, then what is it?

Imagine the perfect twisty road, but with no oncoming traffic, sand, gravel, guardrails or folks in big sedans trying to figure out their GPS while talking and texting on their phones and you start to get the idea of what a track day is. Oh, and did I mention no speed limits? So, riding on a racetrack is not only a safer place to ride, but you can also go as fast as you want without the risk of getting an expensive speeding ticket and insurance points.
Not only are track days fun, they are also a great place to develop your skills. Most track days offer some instruction, with classroom time and perhaps a garage seminar on body positioning. You can also get some on-track coaching if you ask for it. Then you go practice what you’ve learned by circulating around the track. The beauty of riding on a racetrack is that you visit each corner multiple times a day so you can perfect each corner as the day goes on. You also get to explore the limits of your bike, the tires and your ability. Woot!

It’s not about speed!

Yes, we are talking about riding on a racetrack, but that doesn’t mean you have to have the latest rocket, or even that you have to go a whole lot faster than you do already on the street (in the novice groups). That’s the beauty of track days as opposed to a competitive racing environment; they have two completely different purposes. Both track days and racing allow you to go as fast as you dare, but track days allow you to go as fast as you want without the pressure to win a competition. When racing, you risk a lot more because your goal is to try and beat the next guy.


The goal of a Track Day

So, what exactly is the point of doing a track day then?

  • A Safer Place to Have Fun! With no surface hazards or roadside obstacles to hit and an ambulance just seconds away, the track is the safest place to ride, especially if you want to ride fast.
  • A Safer Place to Learn! You will be able to concentrate on refining cornering and braking skills by riding the same corners over and over.
  • Socialize! Commiserate and socialize with like-minded motorcyclists. Most new track day riders show up for their first day nervous and afraid, only to find a friendly group of fellow riders eager to help you learn the ropes.

Ed carves a perfect line on his ST1300. photo: otmpix.com

Track Days Make Safer Street Riders

I am often about the benefits of track days for street riders. The bottom line is that a day or two spent at a training-oriented track day helps develop braking and cornering skills beyond what can be done in most other courses and certainly better than relying on experience alone.
Learning to brake harder and lean deeper pays benefits when a car pulls out in front of you or a corner tightens more than expected. Riders who have never experienced floorboard-dragging lean angles usually panic, stand the bike up and run off the road, even though they had more ground clearance available. Those who have learned to lean deeply and to trust their tires are much more likely to remain in control and stay in their lane.
On the track, a rider practices braking skills by waiting to brake deeper and deeper into corners. Not to go faster, but to see just how capable their bike is at slowing. Trailbraking is also practiced…an important skill to have for safe street riding.
Finally, highly-developed physical skills allow more automatic responses to challenging situations, freeing more bandwidth to manage the hazards and variables of street riding.
Be sure to check out the Non-Sportbike Street Rider Track Training Day page.


Top Excuses why riders don’t do track days:

  • I don’t have Proper Riding Gear
    Yes, you need to protect your body in the event of a crash, but that’s a good investment whether you ride on the track or the street. Most track day organizations allow street gear, so you should already have most of what you need.
  • I am worried about crashing my bike.
    It can happen on the track, but it can also happen on the street (with more severe consequences). Track day crashes usually happen because the rider pushed too hard before they learned to manage the extra speed. Rarely do two riders come together to cause a multi-bike incident. And with no trees, mailboxes or oncoming vehicles to run into, serious injuries are also rare.
  • I’ll be the slowest rider out there.
    So what if you are the slowest rider out there? You’ll get faster as the day goes on and will likely be passing people by the end of the day.
  • I’m afraid I will be in the way of faster riders. This is a common concern. The answer is to ride your own ride and be predictable so faster riders can safely pass. This means learning the line and staying on it. Oh, and keep your eyes looking forward. It is the passing rider’s responsibility to pass…just like when skiing.
  • I don’t have a way to get up to the track.
    Many organizations have a forum or Facebook page where you can ask for help getting your bike and yourself to the track. If it comes down to it, just ride your bike there. You are risking crashing the vehicle you planned on taking you home and you’ll be tired ride home, but many people do it. Bike prep is usually minimal and can be performed at the track. Here is a video I did showing what is required for Tony’s Track Days. NOTE: some of these requirements are no longer required. See the bike prep page on Tony’s Track Days site.
  • I don’t ride a Sportbike.
    Again, so what? All types of bikes show up at track days…sport tourers, adventure bikes, standards, vintage bikes, even the occasional Gold Wing and cruiser.
  • It’s too expensive. Why should I pay to ride someplace?
    It makes little financial sense to risk serious injury, a speeding ticket, and insurance points rather than pay to ride on the track. The cost of a track day varies from region to region and from track to track, but you can expect to pay anywhere from $150.00 to over $300.00 per day. This often includes some instruction.
  • I’m not comfortable doing a track day yet.
    Maybe you’re just nervous. If so, then rest assured that you’re not alone. It’s smart to have some street miles under your belt, but if you’re comfortable riding around corners at brisk street speeds, then you’re probably ready to do a track day. Many organizations allow spectators to come check out what it’s all about. This is a great way to see if it might be right for you. And most organizations have two or three group levels so you are matched to others’ experience level.

I hope this has shed some light on the mysteries behind track days.
If you have questions, let me know and I’ll do my darnedest to help out. You should also check out the website of the track day organization you plan on joining. FYI, I work as the chief instructor for Tony’s Track Days. And check out other track day related posts and videos.

http://www.tonystrackdays.com/

Check out the other track day related posts and videos.


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How to Not Suck at Motorcycle Maintenance

chain-copy
My daughter cleaning and lubing a chain.

Motorcycling is much more than simply owning a two-wheeler. It also means learning to ride well enough to be safe and having the ability to maintain your motorcycle so that the machine you straddle is in top-notch condition.
This is not a trivial requirement. Stories abound of hapless riders falling victim to incidents caused by ill-maintained motorcycles. Failure to lubricate, air-up, tighten or replace certain parts can lead to painful and expensive mishaps that could have been avoided with a bit of preventive maintenance.
New riders can easily become discouraged once they realize that it is time and cost-prohibitive to bring their motorcycle to their local repair shop or dealer to perform frequent chores. It just makes sense to learn how to lube and adjust your chain, change your oil and perform small adjustments that need attention from time to time. It also makes sense to have the ability to bolt on accessories.
The good news is that it’s not difficult to learn how to be self-sufficient. And once you start getting your hands dirty you’ll find a deeper connection with your motorcycle (and with riding).
Once you adopt these basic principals, the next step is to find your owner’s manual and buy a bike-specific repair manual so you can know what is involved with a particular project. Some jobs are better left to the pros, but a surprising number of tasks are very doable by an adventurous owner.
Below is a basic list of tips I put together that will help get you started.
Note: This article contains links from Bike Bandit. I usually turn down these sponsored post offers, but I said yes because I have been using them for years as my go-to source for OEM (original equipment) parts and other goodies. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own. Really.

1. Lefty Loosey

When my daughter was old enough to hold a wrench, I made sure to include her in some basic maintenance chores. She resisted at the time, but she now thanks me. She is not afraid to tackle maintenance chores partly because I exposed her to what it feels like to simply turn wrenches and screwdrivers on various fasteners and components. The first thing she needed to learn is the law of “lefty loosey, righty tighty”. If a nut or bolt won’t seem to budge, first confirm that you’re turning it the right way. Believe me, this happens all the time with newbies.

2. Use the Right Tools

There is a difference between a #2 and #3 Phillips screw driver. Asking a #2 to loosen a tight #3 screw may work out, but don’t be surprised if you then have to deal with a bunged screw head. Having a set of extractors, vice-grips and taps might save the day. Maybe. Get a comprehensive set of metric (or SAE for you American bike owners) sockets and wrenches so you avoid using adjustable wrenches and pliers, which often make your job downright miserable.

3. Stubborn Nuts

Speaking of tough nuts…Many people struggle because they don’t know how much force is needed to loosen a stubborn nut, screw or bolt. The right amount of oomph needed to get a fastener undone becomes a “sense”. I can usually feel when a bolt is about to strip (damage threads) or break (sh*t). This comes from experience. But, don’t be deterred. As long as you have the right sized tool (no adjustable wrenches, please) and follow the law of “lefty loosey, righty tighty”  then go for it. Just be sure to maintain pressure where the tool meets the fastener so it doesn’t slip on the screw, nut or bolt head.
If it still won’t budge, give it a squirt of Liquid Wrench and let it sit a bit, or apply heat for really stubborn fasteners. If it still won’t give, then clamp on a pair of vice-grips and give it a go. If you are still having trouble, you’re going to need help from someone who can extract the boogered fastener. Or keep at it yourself. Expect to use swear words not heard since your college days. @#%&@* It will eventually come out. Have faith.

4. Understand How Things Work

You will be a more daring and successful mechanic if you learn how a motorcycle’s brake, drive, electrical, and control systems work. It will make more sense why the manual says to remove the whatchamajigger if you know its relationship within the system. You will also be better able to diagnose problems if you know that the thingamajig drives the whatsahoozit.
There are lots of online articles to help with this, and to walk you through specific jobs. You can also take a look at the series of videos from the MC Garage that cover many of the basic maintenance tasks faced by us motorcycle riders. If you plan on doing more complex tasks like valve adjustments, you’d be smart to learn how the engine works, but it’s not necessary for most maintenance chores.

5. Have a Reliable Source for Motorcycle Parts

Let’s say you learned that you need to replace your chain and sprockets, air filter or clutch cable. You can go to your local dealer to buy parts, or you can choose to shop online without leaving your living room. I am a big supporter of my local dealers, but I sometimes feel like they are little more than middlemen between me and the parts distributor. However, if you’re new to this whole motorcycle fixing thing, a knowledgable dealer can offer advice and guidance not easily accessed from online retailers.
Also, delivery can be shorter if I ordered parts online myself and had them delivered directly to my door.
bikebandit-logo Bike Bandit has delivered prompt service time and again. Even if I end up buying from my dealer, I regularly use their online parts microfiche to learn about the project and make sure all the right parts are ordered. Their search function gets me to the correct page quickly. They also have a “My Garage” list to quickly find parts that fit the bikes I own.

Accessories

While I am ordering maintenance parts I usually end up shopping for other goodies like motorcycle accessories or motorcycle gear. Much of my accessory shopping is done at Twisted Throttle, but I always seem to have some “Bandit Bucks” to spend, so I end up adding something to my order. Besides, Bike Bandit has gear and accessories that Twisted doesn’t carry. I find Bike Bandit easy to work with and their selection is very good. Check them out at www.bikebandit.com.


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Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.
This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.
First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.
I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.
It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).
Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:
1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?
2. why did he fall over?
Here is my explanation:
1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.
Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.
2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.
Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.
1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.
Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.
2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.
Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.
This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.
Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.
Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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And Yet Another Video Lesson: Surviving the Unexpected

In this installment of Video Lessons, we see this guy on an R6 cruising down the highway when suddenly he finds himself facing a big yellow foam tube that fell off the back of a boat. The rider is okay (see interview video below), so watch with that in mind.
Take a look at the video and I’ll catch up with you on the other end. I’ll wait.

Nasty, right?
So, what can we learn from this video?
Be Wary of Shit Strapped to Vehicles. Whether the cargo is lashed to a boat, trailer, car roof, or back of a truck, you must be alert to the fact that a lot of drivers do the bare minimum to secure their load. Most use the “good enough” measuring device to determine acceptable compliance. Be extra wary if rope is used and if the load is moving in any way.
Be Ready! This bit of advice applies to all sorts of motorcycle mishaps. If you’re alert to the possibility of something bad happening you are essentially pre-loading the mental software required to respond fast and effectively. Daydreaming or failing to predict this possibility means you will not be ready when the poop hits the fan.
Don’t Just Sit There. OK, so you see the potential problem; what’s your plan to deal with it? Sure, maybe the cargo won’t come flying off, but you’re setting yourself up for trouble if you aren’t getting yourself away from the danger. This is the time to consider a change of lane or lane position and identify an escape plan if things do go pear-shaped.
Resist Target Fixation. Listen, it’s incredibly difficult to not put a laser focus directly on a real hazard like a big yellow foam tube bouncing in front of you. But, resist you must! The trick is to find an escape route and focus on that.
Act Fast! Let’s say the big yellow foam thing is now hitting the pavement ahead of you. Humans taken by surprise can’t help but freeze for a moment before acting. In the case of the R6 rider, he waited over half a second to move in his lane and waited almost 3 seconds to get on the brakes. As far as swerving right; situational awareness should have told him that the right lane was clear for him to make the maneuver, but I suspect he was not aware of his surroundings.
Have Skills! When he did move in his lane it was mostly ineffective…more of a drift, rather than a real swerve. And his braking attempt was equally weak. This is a common reaction from riders who have not developed these evasive skills and those who don’t keep those skills sharp.
Now to be fair, anyone would have freaked in this situation. But, there are things he coulda done. His first mistake was riding too close behind the boat. He should have predicted the possibility of a problem and maintained more following distance. When in these situations, we need to be ready to respond fast.
Unfortunately, he was taken by surprise and then froze, which used up precious moments that would have allowed him to respond more effectively. This freeze-up response is what humans tend to do, but is especially noticeable with unaware and untrained riders.

The takeaway: Be alert for the possibility of things like this and be ready, both mentally and physically.
You still may end up on your ass because we can’t control everything thrown at us. But, it’s your responsibility to do what you can to survive calamities like this. That includes being well trained and wearing full protection. Glad he is okay.
UPDATE: The local news station interviewed the 20 year old rider in THIS REPORT. It’s great that he had a helmet and motorcycle jacket, but wearing protection in itself does not prevent crashes…it’s keen situational awareness and having smart strategies that does that. I stand by my statements above.


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Guest Writer: Taking Control- Hope is not a plan

Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com
Jamie Renna on his FJR1300 at Thompson Motor Speedway. photo: otmpix.com

Guest contributor Jamie Renna shares his thoughts on sport touring and the benefits of advanced knowledge and training:
There is a genuine adrenaline rush that comes after carving a corner with a smooth approach; throttle roll off/brake, lean and a spirited throttle roll on.
I’m new to motorcycling. I’ve got less than 3 years of riding under my 52-year-old belt. They have been fun years. I’ve crammed two Non-Sport Bike Track Days and two trips down the famous Blue Ridge Parkway in my early years of this new challenging hobby. My bookshelf is populated with several well-read reference books including Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist II, Lee Park’s Total Control and Ken’s Motorcycling the Right Way. Reading, and re-reading these books have provided me with a much better understanding of how motorcycles work and why they behave the way they do.
Motorcycling is a learning activity and that really appeals to me. I get great satisfaction from beating a challenge by utilizing my small but growing collection of riding skills. The instantaneous feedback of successfully carving a corner can result in a grin that extends from ear to ear.

Getting it Right

My quest for a smoothly carved corner has too often been thwarted by factors that seemed to be out of my control. Something was happening that kept causing me to:

  • correct my lane position in mid-corner
  • swerve to avoid an obstacle I should have noticed
  • scrub off speed in a descending and/or decreasing radius turn
  • and other unplanned “Wow, that was close!” maneuvers.

The Big Question

I wondered: Were all these grin-defeating events out of my control and simply the price of admission for spirited riding in a non-track environment? I think not.

My Training Tour Experience

I’m now confident that I can take control of my riding in a way that will minimize the risk and make close calls a thing of the past, partly because I spent two fun (and rain) filled days touring southern VT and western MA with Ken as part of a 1 on 1 personal Training Tour.
I don’t want this to sound like an infomercial, but I wanted to share all of my thoughts beyond a brief testimonial.
I chose to invest in Ken’s training to augment the Track Days and copious reading I had previously completed. I concluded I needed on-street training to learn how to better manage the factors that prevented me from exiting EVERY corner EVERY time with a grin.
Ken tailored a 2-day curriculum that matched my skills and comfort level. We rode for ~250 miles over 2 days with frequent roadside stops to review Go-Pro video of my less-than-perfect technique. Ken provided crisp, objective, real-time commentary on my riding performance via Bluetooth communicators. You get to do a lot of neat things at a track day, but you can only get this type of personal observation and critique in a small group Training Tour.
The on-street coaching included a disciplined approach to observe and act upon all the leading indicators that are present before you even approach a curve. Ken provides the decoder ring so you can proactively read the leading indicators including:

  • curve radius
  • rate of change for the curve radius (increasing, decreasing or constant)
  • guardrail position
  • telephone poles
  • camber direction changes
  • and pedestrians

He will narrate to you via the Bluetooth communicator all of these indicators to better prepare you to ultimately exit a curve with a big grin.
Once comfortable, the roles will be reversed and you will get a chance to narrate to him all the indicators that each curve presents to you. It’s a bit intense. If you are like me, you will feel a fun change as you morph from a reactive (“I really hope there are no surprises on the other side of this corner.”) rider to a proactive curve-carver. Your confidence level will rise faster than your tachometer as you get comfortable reading the road and being in position to get every drop of fun out of every curve.
The on-road sessions are periodically interrupted with parking lot drills to sharpen skills that might have atrophied. These include slow speed U-turns and emergency swerving left or right. Other fun drills involved hard front or rear braking on a sandy surface to experience the shudder of your ABS system.
One last memorable drill was to rapidly stop from a speed of 55+ mph. This type of stopping might be needed to avoid hitting a deer if swerving is not an option. Ken had me do this drill in a remote area where we were sure no other vehicles were present. Doing it on a dry road was fun…doing it later in the day while it was raining was…rewarding.

Final Thoughts

  • Remember: Hope is not a plan.
  • Take full advantage of all your opportunities for qualified training.
  • Read.
  • Ask questions.
  • Read again.
  • Go to a Track Day.
  • Read some more.
  • Take a Training Tour.

There are lots of grins waiting for all of us in those curves. Go get your share.


Jamie_Renna-portraitJamie Renna is an aeronautical engineer who started motorcycling after his 50th birthday. He has aggressively pursued numerous forms of training to ride safely while seeking the next big grin. His newly found motorcycle peeps have been a great source of riding technique tips, motorcycle maintenance skills and most of all laughs.


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Yet Another Crash Video We Can Learn From

Here is another video that I’m pretty sure demonstrates how we humans don’t want to admit when we screw up.  See the video of the poor guy who sideswiped a big truck on his R6. The problem that he says the wind drove him into the truck. Whaaa?
Note: you only need to watch the first 15 seconds to see the incident, but you’ll have to stick it out until the first passerby arrives to hear him mention the wind. WARNING: The video may be difficult to listen to as the poor guy writhes in pain. He also swears a bit.

While I know the wind out west can be strong enough to knock over tractor trailer rigs, I’m pretty sure wind had nothing to do with this incident. I think it’s another case of inaccurate self-evaluation and lack of rider ability and/or a serious lack of concentration.
I can’t tell how strong the wind was at the time of the crash, but the trees aren’t being blown around very much and his friend’s hair (he appears later in the video) is barely moving at all. Maybe he’s wearing copious amounts of hairspray, but I don’t think so.
Besides, if it were strong enough to blow a bike across a lane, I doubt the rider would be chatting away so casually before the incident. Also, the rock formations on the side of the road should have blocked any direct side forces.

Dangerous Distraction

One explanation for this seemingly bizarre crash is a complete and total brain fart. I’m not sure if he is talking to himself or to his friend who is riding ahead, but he wasn’t focused on leaning enough to make the curve.

Early Turn Entry

Notice how the rider began heading toward the inside of the corner too early, causing his bike to be pointed toward the oncoming lane. – Thanks for readers for pointing this out.

Countersteering, Baby!

Another contributing factor is that perhaps he did not have a good grasp of countersteering. A hard push on the right handlebar should have kept him in his lane even if it were windy.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another likely contributing factor in this incident. Target fixation is a phenomenon that explains why we go where we look. Once the rider realized he was drifting wide into the path of a big truck, he likely couldn’t take his eyes off the hazard and that’s where he ended up. Look toward the solution, not the problem.

Human Nature Strikes Again

I think this is another example of someone blaming something other than their inability to stay focused or steer effectively. Deferring blame is a basic human response to help explain how they could have made such a serious and basic mistake.
See this video of another crash that demonstrates how humans can delude themselves.

The reason to highlight these videos is not to place blame, but to recognize the danger of not knowing why an incident happened. Without that, we are destined to repeat the mistake.
What do you think?


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Video Lesson: Group Riding Crash Video

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of the guy who crashes trying to avoid his buddy who just hit a dog. The second rider doesn’t hit his friend, but almost gets creamed by an oncoming Tractor Trailer. A lot of comments and Monday morning quarterbacking have filled social media already, so I wasn’t planning to add to the noise until a reader requested that I share my thoughts. So, here you go.
First off, I am really sorry this incident happened and I’m glad everyone is okay. I’m very thankful that the truck driver was paying attention so he was able to miss hitting the sliding rider. It’s really too bad about the dog, though.
For those of you who have not seen the video(s):

In addition to these clips, you can read a local TV station's post that interviews one of the riders, as well as a so-called "Expert". You can see that HERE.

Another Example of the “I Had to Lay It Down” BS

The second rider said he avoided hitting his friend by deliberately dropping his bike. I hear this all the time…”I had to lay it down to avoid [fill in the blank]”. It’s BS.
I know, the idea is to try to avoid what could be a worse crash. And in VERY rare situations, this may be true. But, 99.9% of the time, crashing to avoid a crash makes no sense. Today’s brakes and tires allow tons of grip and stopping power to scrub off big speed very rapidly…if executed correctly.
Even if this was a viable solution, having the presence of mind to deliberately crash while facing a panic situation is not bloody likely. It’s way more likely that a person will react the way untrained humans do…by grabbing the brakes abruptly enough to cause the front tire to skid. Classic mistake.
Unfortunately, this video will help keep this dangerous BS myth alive.

Human Nature

The truth is that the second rider who crashed screwed up by braking too abruptly. Don’t feel too bad. We humans make mistakes.
As much as you’d like to think of yourself as a hero for sacrificing your bike and riding gear to avoid hitting your buddy, the odds are that you just braked so hard as to loft the rear tire and skid the front tire, which dropped your moto to the ground in an instant.
You’re not alone. A lot of riders claim that they layed down their bike because they:

  • genuinely believe it was the best thing to do
  • probably know better, but are in denial
  • helps them feel better about screwing up. And who can blame them, after all people easily accept this explanation in a positive way. Just look at the TV reporters and so called expert who gave the rider a big attaboy.

The Case For Training

It’s likely that this guy has not been exposed to such a severe situation before and was not trained to handle it. Unfortunately, most riders are ill prepared to handle this.
To be fair, it’s possible that I might do the exact same thing, because I too am human and make mistakes. But the odds are that I won’t, because I’m trained. One thing for sure is that I would not have deliberately crashed my bike because I thought it was best to throw in the towel.
Practicing braking techniques not only teaches your body how to execute the maneuver, it also puts the maneuver into your muscle memory. This is key when you have a split second to respond. Untrained riders snap, whereas trained riders are more likely to remain in control. ABS would have helped the second rider stay upright, but deferring rider ability to technology has its problems, too.
Notice that I say “respond” and not “react”. There is a difference. Trained riders respond, untrained riders react.

What Went Wrong

A few things went wrong here:

Unleashed Animals

Animals are unpredictable, making it super difficult to know when they might dart in front of you. I hit a small dog last season when it ran out from some high brush and directly under my front wheel. We can’t control this, except to scan for movement along the sides of the road.

Staggered Formation

The staggered group riding formation that the group was using is not unreasonable when traveling on a straight section of road. But, if you look at the video from the rider ahead who looked back, you can see that the rider that struck the dog could not see the animal until it was really too late. That’s because the video rider was blocking the view of the side of the road.
Staggered formations also prevent the riders from using the full width of their lane and limited their option to swerve.
Instead of using a staggered formation that spans the full width of the lane, I suggest staggering only enough to see past the rider ahead so there is more distance between the yellow (center) line for riders staggering on the left part of the lane, and more distance between the white line for riders in the right part of the lane. This will help prevent them from “eclipsing” each other from hazards. This works best if there is ample following distance between riders.

Riding Too Close

It’s hard to tell just how close each rider is following, but a too close following distance commonly results in panic-induced over reaction. I suspect this was another factor.

A Lack of Training

We hit this already, but it is worthy of reiteration. The second rider got on the brakes hard, which is good. But, his abrupt braking caused his rear tire to leave the ground, which was quickly followed by smoke coming off the front tire from a skid. Once a front tire skids, it’s all over, most of the time.

Speed?

Speed is usually a factor in incidents, simply because the slower you go, the more time and space you have to respond to hazards. That said, it appears that the speed was reasonable for the road.

An Interview with a So-called “Expert”

The television station interviewed a local motorcycle safety instructor about the mishap:

“A perfect choice by the rider,” says Vandervest Harley-Davidson Riding Academy Coach Susie Davis. “The bikes can be fixed much easier than people can be fixed – so proud of them for doing that.”

Both men decided to drop their bikes and skid on the road instead of swerving to avoid the dog and then each other. Davis says that split-second decision may have saved their lives and the lives of the other motorcyclists with them.

”I think they did a miraculous job,” said Davis. “They let the bike go. They saved themselves. They came out alive. They’ve come out with minor injuries. I don’t know that it could have been done any differently.”

WRONG! This coach is dead wrong and is perpetuating this BS. Having a supposedly trained instructor miss the point just goes to show how deeply ingrained this myth has become. Sad.

A Similar Perspective

Riding Man author Mark Gardiner wrote these two excellent articles that corroborate my point of view. Check them out.
His Blog
Revzilla

The Takeaway

Untrained humans will react in a knee-jerk manner to panic situations. To avoid this:

  • Get yourself trained
  • Select lane positions that offer the best angle of view
  • Don’t lay your bike down, or at least stop claiming that laying it down was your only choice.

The guys did at least one thing right: They were wearing protective gear. Good job, there.
Share your thoughts below.


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8 Lessons to Learn from This Grom Crash

Grom-CrashGroms are fun…really fun. They are small, yet powerful enough to do all sorts of silly shenanigans. Just watch my fellow scribes Ari and Zack from Motorcyclist Magazine for proof:
Gromkhana 1
Gromkhana 2

Playbike Dangers

The thing is that playbikes like the Grom can trigger a false sense of safety that can make a person think he or she is invincible.
The truth is that you can certainly be hurt or killed even on a little bike.
Another reason that small bikes can be unsafe is becasue they disappear in traffic. It’s hard enough to be conspicuous on a normal sized bike, but it’s extra tough on a Grom.

Lesson

Case in point is a video I saw that is no longer available of a Grom crashing into the side of a car.

It’s pretty obvious that an elderly driver thought he was good to go after waiting for a car ahead of the Grom to pass. It’s a classic case of “I didn’t see him”. Likely another case of inattentional blindness.

Before you launch hate missiles at the old guy you’ve got to remember that people make mistakes. Sure, the driver was at fault…no argument there. His insurance company will pay.
Knowing 100% that we can’t possibly hope to stop people from making mistakes means it’s up to us to do all we can not to become a victim of these people.

The Rider’s Mistakes

The rider in the video could have noticed that the car ahead was blocking him from view. He should have also predicted that the driver was ready to go as soon as the gray car went past. This would have alerted the rider to slow way down and be ready to apply the brakes–hard!
By the time he realized what was unfolding, it was too late. The rider heroically attempted to swerve to the left, but there was not enough time or space to sneak by.
One significant mistake the rider did not make (unlike soooo many other riders) is to wear full protective gear. He was mostly unhurt in the crash. Unfortunately, the dark riding gear probably didn’t help in the conspicuity department.

The Takeaway

Posting this video isn’t intended to callout the rider’s ineptitude; we all act on assumptions that don’t turn out as we expect. Rather, I use this video as an illustration of one of the most common reasons for multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes, so we can learn from it. The following lessons can be applied to any situation involving intersections. The rider in this video did not necessarily break any of these lessons, but perhaps he did.
Lesson 1: Don’t be fooled into thinking because you’re riding a small, low powered bike that you cannot get hurt or killed…you can.
Lesson 2: Recognize that you are hard to see when riding a motorcycle, and you’re nearly invisible on a pint-sized bike like a Grom.
Lesson 3: Develop a sixth sense about your surroundings and then listen to that sense.
Lesson 4: Learn about the classic crash scenarios so you can recognize when they are developing in front of you.
Lesson 5: When approaching intersections with waiting cars, slow down and cover your brakes.
Lesson 6: Have an escape plan in mind in case something does happen.
Lesson 7: Plan for the Worst, hope for the best.
Lesson 8: Make sure your emergency braking skills are well-practiced, just in case.
Did I miss anything? Add you thoughts in the comments below.


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5 Ways to Avoid Being a Dumbass

Because I’m considered a motorcycle skills and safety “expert”, some people think I’m immune to doing dumb things. Well, I got news…I am just as susceptible as the next guy at being a dumbass.

The results of ignoring my inner voice.
The results of ignoring my inner voice.

I will concede that I am probably above average in the “ride smart” category. I should be…after years of coaching, writing and lecturing about how to ride “right”. But, it turns out training and knowledge can only go so far in mitigating the influence of the dumb-dumb gene. See the Crashing Sucks article for proof.
In the end, we all must realize that we are fallible. Thankfully, there are a few things we can do about it.

1. Get Smart

There are riders out there who learn to “operate” a motorcycle without ever really knowing how to “ride” their machine. The difference between these two things is more than semantics.

  • “Operating” a motorcycle means you can get it to go, stop and turn with enough competence to get around. That is a very loose definition of riding.
  • “Riding” means being able to not only operate the bike proficiently, it also means you can predict problems, strategize to prevent conflict, and then control the machine when shit goes wrong.

Too many riders think that having the ability to clutch, shift, brake and turn well enough to get to the local hangout without injury is sufficient. In reality, the basic skills needed to truly minimize the likelihood of an expensive and painful ride to the nearest medical center are simply not enough.

Non_Sport_Track
Doing a track day will increase your riding smarts…a lot.

This is the risk posed by giving new riders a motorcycle endorsement after only a weekend of basic training, which essentially gives the newb a false sense that they are proficient riders when in fact they are not even close.
I know what some of you are saying…”I never had no stinkin’ training (or no further training beyond the BRC) and I’m doing just fine.” The question is, How do you measure “fine”?
Remember that what skills and habits you have are the only tools available (besides dumb luck) when a catastrophic event unfolds in front of you. In this case, most riders’ definition of  “fine” is nowhere near good enough.
So, the first thing to do to avoid being a dumbass is to get smart. Read, take parking lot courses, on-street training, track days, or simply practice on your own or with friends to keep your “safety/skills” muscle active and to combat complacency.
Swerve-brake
Taking a breath will help prevent close calls like this.

2. Take a Breath

Sharing the road with idiots is infuriating. Many drivers are mindlessly “operating” their vehicles, putting little value in courtesy or your safety. But, don’t make a bad situation worse by succumbing to road rage. There are a bunch of YouTube vids showing riders being total asses to a driver who made a mistake. Keep in mind that those drivers are NOT out to kill you. They are humans who make mistakes.
And if you reflect on your last driver-versus-rider situation, you will likely see that YOU contributed to the driver making a bad decision.
When it comes to tailgaters, it takes all kinds of willpower not to react in frustration and anger. But don’t. Read this article about tailgaters before your next ride.

3. Listen to Your Inner Voice

At the risk of sounding all new-agey, I must point out the importance of developing a relationship with your inner voice. Yes, you have an inner voice. Some people call it a gut feeling, but for me I actually hear a voice. This voice isn’t the product of some mental condition, rather it is a trait of very sane people who pay attention.
Example 1 (Good): I’m approaching an intersection at or slightly above the speed limit. Everything looks to be in order with cars stopped at the traffic light and pedestrians waiting patiently. But a faint voice tells me to slow down. I roll off the gas just in time for a dog to run out from the brush. Whether a part of me actually saw movement in my periphery, I cannot say. All I know is that my gut said to slow, so I did.
Example 2 (Bad): I see a particularly beautiful vista that I want to photograph, so I stop on the edge of the remote road. The front of my bike is pointed down a rather steep hill, but instead of shutting down the motor and leaving it in gear, I click the transmission into neutral and keep the bike running. I dismount and check that the sidestand is fully lowered and tug on the handlebars to make sure the bike won’t roll forward.
But, as I start to walk uphill to snap the photo, my inner voice says “are you sure leaving the bike in neutral is wise?”. I remember looking back one more time to make sure the bike was okay and ignored the voice. I took a photo, then started walking a bit further up the hill when I heard the sound of plastic on asphalt (see opening photo). Dumbass.

Collarbone-XRay4. Remember that Crashing Sucks

Believe it or not, a lot of people never think about what it would really be like to crash. This is why so many riders choose to stunt and race in public and why people choose not to wear full protective gear. It’s really common for someone to suddenly “see the light” and start wearing a helmet, or armored gear, or real riding pants, or a back or chest protector, only after he, she, or a friend suffered an injury that would have been prevented by any one of these pieces of protection.
Same applies to behavior…people ride like idiots until someone gets really hurt, or until they get in legal trouble. Only after they’ve paid some crazy fine and lost their license do they figure out that there are ways to have just as much fun without so much risk, and at less cost. Cough…track days.
So, remind yourself that riding a motorcycle exposes you to risk of serious injury. This truth doesn’t have to kill your riding buzz; rather having a healthy sense of self-preservation helps you make better decisions and opens your mind to options that are just as much fun but with less risk.

Personal bests, competition, camaraderie... photo: otmpix.com
Track Days and Racing is a smarter and safer way to scratch that adrenaline itch. photo: otmpix.com

5. Wake Up!

If the thrill of high-stakes risk is your thing, but your riding smarts don’t match your risk-taking, then the likelihood of you being a dumbass is higher than most.
Unfortunately, I probably will not be able to change your mind. Like an addict, you can only help yourself and that usually only happens after you’ve reached your own personal rock bottom.
I just hope your rock bottom doesn’t include taking out a family in a mini-van or one of your buddies. Wake up before it’s too late. Seriously. Cough…Track days…. Cough…Racing.


What am I missing? Add your comments below.
Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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