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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Top 16 Off-Road Riding Tips

Fun and challenging!
Gettin’ My Mud On!

I recently returned from an epic dirt riding trip. But, instead of boring you with details about where I went and what I ate, I’m going to share some tips about how I survived the slimy, rocky, ascents and descents of the Rock House section of the Hatfield McCoy trail system in West Virginia.
smallrockhouse copy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy
Ken, Tony and the guys at Hatfield McCoy

It all started when a group of us from Tony’s Track Days arrived at the small town of Gilbert, WV to ride up and down some of the slimiest and rockiest terrain I’ve encountered.

Check out the video:

You’ll hear me talking while I slip, slide and bounce along the trails, because I am using Interphone brand Bluetooth communicators with my friend, Tony. I can’t recommend using communicators enough…it makes off road riding even more enjoyable and allows the person in the lead to warn about particularly gnarly hazards. I’m on a Kawasaki KLX250s.


Some hills are just too tough.
Some hills are just too tough.

Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.
Slippery, Slimy Mud on hard packed rock.

Why Do That?

To understand some reasons why I ride off-road (and why you should, too), you may want to read the blog article “10 Reasons Why Street Riders Should Ride in the Dirt” . Sure, riding off-road makes anyone a better street rider, but I also do it because it is challenging and fun, fun, fun.
I talk about “riding in the zone” as it pertains to street riding and even track riding, but off-road riding brings the zone experience to a whole new level of alertness.  Any significant lapse in focus could mean careening down a steep slope with the only thing stopping me from a long descent are stands of trees.

Fun and challenging!
Fun and challenging!

Tips for Surviving Mud, Rocks, Hills and Other Off-road Encounters

I’m no off-road riding expert. But, I know enough to share some tips that can help you survive your next off-road riding experience. With no further ado, here they are:

  1. 1. Manage Your Speed: Nothing increases risk more than a too fast speed for your ability and/or the conditions. Keeping your throttle hand in check is fairly easy to do, but managing speed on a steep, muddy downhill trail is tough. The trick is to see the problem well before you get to it and slow down to a crawl so you aren’t trying to scrub off speed where gravity and almost zero traction create the equivalent of a slip and slide.
  2. 2. Keep Your Eyes Up: We look down when we are scared or tired. The problem is that as soon as you look down, you’re unable to deal with the terrain that is suddenly under your front wheel. This problem compounds until you are so far behind what’s going on underneath you that you get more scared, look down more and eventually crash. This pertains to most athletic activities, including street riding.
  3. 3. Use Momentum: When traction is limited, you must rely more on momentum. This means keeping your eyes up to see what’s coming and getting on the gas before you are on a surface that has little grip.
  4. 4. Believe You Can Do it: If you hesitate, you will likely not make it up that steep incline. So, go for it! That said, avoid terrain that is over your head.
  5. 5. Stand Up, Sit Down: It’s nearly impossible to ride an off-road bike well if you aren’t good at riding while standing. It’s also important to know when it’s best to stand and when to sit. In general, stand for any significant bumps so your legs absorb the impacts and sit for corners, especially corners with berms so you can load the rear tire for the drive out.
  6. 6. Find the Center: Whether sitting or standing, you must find the spot where your body’s mass is located for optimum maneuverability and fluid control. This means sitting forward on the seat and standing so your belly is over the steering stem.
  7. 7. Bent Arms: The bike is going to move up, down, left and right at great frequency. Yet, you must hold onto the handlebars and operate the controls while the bike is jerking around. Bent arms allow the bike to move as necessary and for your hands to still control the throttle and brake with precision.
  8. 8. Counter-lean: This is something street riders have a hard time with when they first start dirt-riding. If you lean with the bike (or low and inside) then the bike will slip out from under you. The bike must lean to turn, but if you stay on top of the bike, your weight keeps the load pressing vertically to allow the tires to grip the terrain.
  9. 9. Forget the Clutch: Forget using the clutch for upshifts. There is usually no time to go for the clutch lever when you’re accelerating out of one rocky, muddy mess into another one.
  10. 10. Use the Clutch: On the other hand, you want to use the clutch to control drive as much as possible. By slipping the clutch you can stay in a taller gear to avoid excessive shifting and control your speed with greater precision.
  11. 11. Use the Rear Brake: On muddy terrain, you’ll rely heavily on the rear brake. Skidding the rear tire is not usually a big deal, but skidding the front will quickly toss you on your head.
  12. 12. Use the Front Brake: Yeah, I know what I just said, but when there is traction, you can (and should) use both the front and rear brakes when descending hills. This may sound tricky, and it is. But, sometimes you need all the slowing power available, just learn to apply the front brake carefully.
  13. 13. Learn to Wheelie and Jump: Not so you can be a squid, but so you can get over fallen trees, big rocks and to jump whoops like Pastrana. If you can’t wheelie, then at least learn to loft or bunny-hop over obstacles.
  14. 14. Steer with the Rear: When you don’t have a lot of grip, trying to steer with the front tire is a bad idea. Instead, get the bike turned in the general direction, but get on the gas to prevent a front tire washout.
  15. 15. Make sure Your Bike is Ready: It sucks to be stranded in the woods.
  16. 16. Take Breaks: Off-road riding uses a lot of physical and mental energy. If you get tired, you will start looking down and your timing will become imprecise. Before you know it, you’re on the ground.

Okay. It’s your turn. Please use the comments area below to share your favorite tips for riding rugged and muddy off-road terrain.


 

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Adjusting to a New Bike- Part 3 – Power Delivery

This is number 3 in a series on adapting to a new motorcycle, whether that means borrowing a friend’s bike, swapping bikes on a ride, or adapting to a new bike. Please share your experiences in the comments section. If you’d like, read Part 1 and Part 2 to see what other challenges we often face when adapting to a new motorcycle.

Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer
Too much throttle, too quickly. photo by Tim Richer

You Can’t Handle all that Power

Testing the brakes is probably the first thing you should do when swinging a leg over a new bike. Many people think that power delivery is the most important thing to calibrate to, because acceleration is a more obvious and intimidating force…fewer people seem intimidated by brakes. Even though more people seem to get into trouble with unfamiliar brakes, plenty of people fail to consider what they’re in for when twisting the throttle.

Throttle Transitions

One of the most common issues I have when riding different bikes is how smooth or abrupt the power delivery is when transitioning from off-to-on throttle. This can be a serious control issue if I am at full lean. When I crack the throttle, I am looking for a smooth delivery of power. But, some bikes are not mapped (FI bikes) or jetted (carbureted bikes) correctly for a gradual, controlled transition. What I get instead is a lurch that upsets the tires and sends the bike off line. One of the worst bikes I’ve ridden was an early model Honda RC51. It took all my tricks to control that bike’s fueling (see below).
I had my mind set on buying a new Yamaha FZ-09, but after hearing about the abrupt throttle delivery, I decided on the Street Triple, which is know for decent throttle control and response. Although it could be better, IMO.
Manufacturers try to find the balance between meeting emissions requirements and acceptable performance, which means that the fueling is often too lean for good throttle control. This is where Power Commanders and other aftermarket products come in. With a little time and a laptop, you can adjust the fueling the way it should be for performance, at the expense of emissions…something the manufacturers aren’t allowed to do.

Getting on the throttle
Getting on the throttle
photo: www.owenstrackdayphotos.com

Throttle Response

Throttle response is another factor that varies from bike to bike. Throttle response is how quickly the engine responds to rider throttle inputs. A snappy response is good for sportbike riders that want immediate results to get the bike launched as hard as possible. This is especially desirable when riding on the racetrack. Many racers install quick-turn throttle housings to get to full throttle with as little wrist movement as possible.
Street riders usually want a less aggressive throttle response so that inadvertent throttle movements don’t result in unwanted acceleration. But, slow throttle response can make a bike feel sluggish, unexciting and lazy.

Managing All That Power

To get a feel for throttle response and power delivery, find a straight section of road and roll on the throttle gradually. Grabbing a handful of throttle grip could land you on your ass if the rear tire spins or if you loop it in a mondo wheelie. In either case, you now own a bike that some idiot crashed (you).
If you are testing a bike with multiple power delivery modes, you may want to set it to the “rain” mode to soften power delivery. After some time, you can try the full power modes. Apparently, the FZ-09 has acceptable throttle transitions using the least aggressive power mode, but what fun is that?

Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.
Keep your right wrist in a comfortable down position for better control.

Throttle Tricks to Try

Here are some simple things to do to help manage throttle control:

  • Ratchet Throttle- Instead of rolling the throttle like a rheostat, move your wrist as though you are rotating through a series of “clicks”. This measures your throttle position better to help resist introducing too much throttle at one time.
  • Keep your wrist down- A comfortable wrist-down position “locks” your throttle in position and helps control throttle movements.
  • Relax- Arm tension transfers to the handlebars and handgrips.
  • Anchor your thumb- Stick your thumb out a bit to make contact with the handlebar control pod to lock your hand in place. This is especially useful when riding at slow speeds.

What experiences have you had with throttle characteristics on different bikes?
Part 1 can be found Here.
Part 2 can be found Here.

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