Tuesday, August 22, 2017

U-Turns as the Way Forward

When first learning to ride a motorcycle most of us* begin with plenty of slow-speed practice, including U-turns.  It’s a matter of basic bike control.  All too often these key foundation skills are underdeveloped or become rusty.  It’s not sexy to ride slowly…or is it?  (*There are plenty of people whose first-time-on-a-bike antics allow them to forever live in shame on YouTube.)

Slow speed riding comprises a specific set of skills requiring plenty of practice. We should always be able to ride at slow speeds with confidence, especially in urban areas, in order to:

  • travel slowly with prevailing traffic
  • make tight turns in narrow streets 
  • make U-turns
  • manoeuvre in confined spaces, such as garages and parking areas
  • filter – move safely between lanes of stationary traffic

Keys to confident slow-speed riding include: Observation – in particular, road surface and camber; Balance – keeping in mind your bike’s load; and, as ever, Looking where you want to go.

Specific machine control skills include:

  • using the brakes with a bias to the rear.  The rear brake is your best friend in slow-speed manoeuvres
  • slipping or ‘feathering’ the clutch at times to keep revs up and prevent the engine from stalling
  • staying relaxed.  Tension reduces your ability to steer or lean, at any speed.  Breathe 

One of the best ways to look like a numpty on our bike is to display incompetency at low speeds.  Dropping both legs like ‘outriggers’ is a dead giveaway that a rider is not in complete control. (This shameful act has, at times, provoked verbal remonstrance from the writer.)  As with any other riding skill honest self-assessment is the key to moving forward, and regular practice is essential.

Which aspects of low-speed manoeuvring do you find more difficult?  Find a safe environment and take opportunities to practise any manoeuvres at which you feel less confident.  Consider visiting a local learn-to-ride school to observe how these skills are taught or, speak with one of our qualified advanced rider development trainers.

Confidence and competence at low-speeds manifests itself at all speeds.  Be your inner tortoise, before unleashing your outer hare. 

(This missive includes content from Motorcycle Roadcraft)

Mike Moloney ©2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Road to Dorkdom

On a recent Peak Rider tour one of the participants briefly lamented looking like a dork.  Dorkdom; it’s a funny old thing that.  One rider’s hi-viz jacket is another’s eyesore.  A chap’s chaps are someone else’s laugh.

What defines cool or dorky is seldom much more than a fashion judgement.  Ambrose Bierce described fashion as, “A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey”.  The tension between fashion and function is exhibited in the bikes we ride, the accessories we install and the clothing we wear.  Cool or dorky?  It depends on which rickety soapbox a person chooses to stand on and the tint of the lens they peer through.

However, there is one thing which stands out as truly dorky.  It respects no brand or type of bike.  It has nothing to do with engine size or the perceived value of the equipment.  It might sometimes feature handlebar tassels or a paste-on pink Mohawk but could just as easily sport an expensive Rukka suit.  Whilst there can be plenty of farkle, there’s never sparkle.  It’s most often displayed by those who ride for recreational purposes.

Dorky riding is what we’re talking about.  Our ability to operate our machines, for better or worse, is on display every time we ride.  Even those who will never ever get on a motorcycle can recognize cack-handed riding when they see it. 

Dorky riding is easy to spot; it’s hazard in motion, manifested by a lack of planning & anticipation, poor lane positioning, inappropriate speed for circumstances, dangling legs as ‘outriggers’ during slow-speed maneuvers, and in dozens of other highly visible ways.  It can sometimes be accompanied by a cacophony of anti-social noise as riders attempt to ‘save lives’ or emulate racing bikes.

As a group, we are suckers for the aftermarket. It’s amazing how much money we’ll spent to make our bikes, and by extension ourselves, look cool.  As far back as 2004 the US motorcycle accessory market was estimated at $3.8 billion. In more recent times Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet), agreed in 2015 to buy Detlev Louis Motorradvertriebs GmbH, a German motorcycle apparel and accessories retailer, for 400 million euros ($452 million). They know where the money is.

Go to any bike meet and what you’ll mostly find are people going from bike to bike admiring the ‘farkle’.  Wow, look at this, look at that!  Does any of it make a rider more proficient, safer and someone whose riding we might wish to imitate?  Nope.  All it does is burnish the ego, the sense of self-importance or self-image.  If sufficient riding skills are not evident then the fa├žade disappears as soon as the bike begins to roll.  Dorkdom.

Ultimately, we are judged more for our actions than our appearance.  When a car or bike is poorly operated we soon stop valuing the machine. We rapidly switch to making judgements about the driver’s or rider’s behaviour.  Road rage anyone?  “That guy is an a**hole!”  A dork.

Wouldn’t it be better to work on enhancing riding skills and set a positive example which others might wish to follow?   There are some substantial payoffs.  Riding becomes mutually much safer and a lot more fun.  It’s much more meaningful, and sincere, to earn compliments for demonstrably well-developed skills rather than the power of your pocketbook.  One of the sweetest things heard is when a rider says, after witnessing advanced riding, “I want to ride like that!”

Advanced motorcycling is described as the ability to control the position and speed of the machine safely, systematically and smoothly, using road and traffic conditions to progress unobtrusively with skill and responsibility.  There’s nothing dorky about that.

Help is never far away.  All you have to do is ask. 

Mike Moloney ©2015

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fast and Furious?

Every so often we will hear someone suggesting that our ride-outs are "too fast". Let's see if we can shed some light on this.

With every participant's safety firmly in mind it is our policy that ride-outs should be run at legal road speeds where road and traffic conditions permit.   Our ride-out leaders* do exactly this.  In the pre-ride briefings participants are advised that everyone should 'ride their own ride", i.e. at a pace which is comfortable and safe for them. 

Because we want everyone to have a good time and not become lost each we employ the drop-off system where a rider 'marks' a junction by their presence, indicator lights and hand signals.  There also are regular stops to gather everyone up and there is a Tail-end Charlie or sweep rider.  There is absolutely no need to keep up with others who, for various reasons, may be riding at different speeds.  

It's a fact that some riders will negotiate bends more swiftly than others.  This may be due to higher levels of competence and confidence, an easier to ride machine or a combination of these.  While they may appear to be riding much faster they are simply carrying a more constant speed through bends.  They are not slowing down as much on bend entry and then having to recover their previous pace when the road opens up. 

If someone feels some sort of a need to 'keep up' it is a choice they are making, either consciously or unconsciously.  A motorcycle's speed is completely dependent on the input of its operator.  Only the individual rider can adjust their speed to what is appropriate for them in the circumstances.  It is completely and utterly their responsibility and most importantly, their choice.

Should ride-outs be run at speeds below the speed limit when it is perfectly safe to be at the speed limit?  In short, never.  Just as it is incumbent on road users to avoid hazards* there is an equal responsibility to avoid becoming one or creating one.  

In terms of group riding traveling in an artificially slow manner quickly creates a multi-vehicle rolling road hazard, never mind the mounting frustration of those stuck in the queue behind.  There is also the fact that most Highway Codes clearly state that you should not hold up other traffic. 

If someone is of the view that a Peak Rider Adventure ride-out is ‘too fast’ it is simply because they are riding faster than they are comfortable with.  The solution is simple; slow down and ride at a pace better suited to current abilities.  Better, safer riders are self-aware and honest with themselves.  

Ask yourself the question, "Would I like to be a more proficient and safer motorcycle rider?"  If the answer is no then you may need to question whether motorcycling is really for you.  If the answer is yes there are numerous ways to further develop riding skills.  The worst that can happen is that you will become a better, safer rider and have even more fun.

Our ride-outs are voluntary participation social rides.  They are wonderful opportunities for experiencing the many joys of motorcycling and sharing laughter with friends old and new.  Our safety record and the steady growth in numbers of enthusiastic attendees are proof of our success.  We hope to see you soon. 

*Peak Rider Adventure's UK ride-out leaders hold RoSPA Gold accreditation.  Those who have earned this distinction are acknowledged as among the most proficient and safest of British road riders.  To maintain this status a rider must undergo a rigorous and comprehensive re-test every three years. 

*A hazard is defined as any real or potential danger and anything which would cause a road user to change speed or position. 


© Mike Moloney 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Roadcraft Files - "I Made Eye Contact...Right Before We Collided."

"Are you lookin' at me?"  Okay, so we've taken some liberty with one of the most famous lines in moviedom - Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver - but it's a question we need to be asking.  Let's look at this in more detail.

Often heard in the motorcycling community is this; "Car drivers are all out to kill us."  
I don't know about you but of all the car drivers I've come across over the years I have yet to encounter one who deliberately set out to cause me serious harm.  There are plenty of ornery jerks out there, and tens of thousands who are distracted or not paying attention, but the ones who set out to commit vehicular homicide appear, thankfully,
 to be few and far between.  

A common phrase in police accident reports is this; "The driver looked but didn't see."  We often hear this referred to as a SMIDSY - Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You.  Why didn't that driver see you?  They were looking right at you, right?  How could they look, but not see?  It's a rather complicated issue.

Let's start with Global Precedence.  "Global Precedence occurs when an individual more readily identifies the global feature when presented with a stimulus containing both global and local features."  In other words the individual sees the big picture but perhaps not all of the smaller features within it; for example you, the motorcyclist.  Prime attention is directed to larger objects.  A truck is bigger than a car which is bigger and wider than a motorcycle which is bigger than a bicycle, etc. 

In the previous newsletter we noted that Reaction time is Decision-making and Output combined.  Both drivers and riders have similar response times (output) but vary greatly in the amount of time it takes to make a decision.  In demanding or complex situations key information may be forgotten or discarded before it can be stored in short-term memory.  It's entirely possible that in developing or busy traffic situations some road users may unconsciously 'choose' not to see you.  SMIDSY

What are you wearing?  Are you familiar with camouflage?  Are you aware that your bike and clothing colours may be blending in very nicely with your background.  Excellent. Zombie snipers will have a devil of a time picking you out.  On the other hand so will other road users. 

What else might cause us to go unseen?  The human eye is a true wonder but still short of nature's best, such as found on eagles and houseflies.  Not only do we have a dominant eye - meaning there is a weaker one - but each eye has its own blind spot. Then there is depth perception, itself a very complicated processing of sensory information, binocular and monocular visual cues.  If one or more aspects of that system are not working well then distance perception will be compromised.  Only your optometrist knows for sure and I don't know your optometrist. 

Is the person in the car next to you wearing their prescription eyewear?  Or did they leave their glasses/contacts home because they're unstylish or 'too uncomfortable'?  Any person over 40 can develop cataracts - a clouding of the lens - not ideal for crisp vision and subsequent decision-making and action.  Do they have a form of dyslexia, a headache, an itch to scratch?  What about glare from low sun, dirty windscreens, kids making a fuss in the back seat, that oh-so-important text message (What! There are people who text and drive?!), that heavy thought weighing on their mind, cement trucks; the list goes on and on.  SMIDSY

Are you lookin' at me?  Honestly I can't say for sure but I do know this.  You are the only one in control of your motorcycle. By claiming it's always the other guy's fault you abdicate your responsibility to put yourself in the right position at the right speed at the right time to avoid a hazard.  It's your move.

Mike Moloney ©2015


The Roadcraft Files - Every Day is a School Day

The Moto Guzzi California mini-test left me nearly exhausted so I went for lie-down.  And this got me to thinking. How many ways are there to learn?

According to Wikipedia, "A 2004 literature review identified 71 different learning styles theories." Whoa, we need to keep things simple here.

Let's take a brief look at these: Mistakes, Instruction and Example.

Mistakes: Soichiro Honda, a man who in the space of a brief few decades went from a piston ring manufacturer to global leader in motorcycle production was once asked why he was so successful. His reply was simple, "Because I made so many mistakes."

In terms of motorcycling learning from mistakes can be a bad proposition. Making an errors puts us at much greater risk of injury.  The best riders are extremely sensitive to the smallest errors in their riding and will figuratively kick themselves when they feel they didn't 'get it right'. They will immediately look for the cause of the error and take steps to correct it. 

How do you know whether you're making errors?  The best way is to take...

Instruction: It's about learning new skills, absorbing practical advise and applying knowledge you didn't have before.  Instead of being oblivious you can now act using information provided to you for your benefit.  As the old saying goes, "The more you know the better it gets."  

Reaching the third of the four stages of competence - Conscious Competence - is a very good place to be. That being said a truly Conscious Competent person does not fool themselves.  Self-awareness much match the reality. And finally...

Example: Good example or bad example? Bad example riders are easy to spot. Throttle and brake applications are abrupt or inconsistent.  They veer suddenly away from or even into things they did not anticipate or see in advance.  They are hesitant or stiff in bends.  They ride in car drivers' blind spots.  They constantly blame others for their actions. And so on.

Better riders are also easy to spot. They never have 'suddenly' or 'where did he come from' moments.  They take complete responsibility for their actions. They appear to flow effortlessly along their intended path and through traffic. They use the Roadcraft system of motorcycle control to put themselves in the right place at the right speed at the right time.  They ride unflustered and take joy in being masters of their time and space. Follow, observe and learn.

Looking for some free good examples and helpful advice? Follow the leaders on our Peak Rider ride-outs.

Mike Moloney © 2015