Tuesday, June 26, 2012

July Issue of City Bike

Gabe at City Bike published a submission of mine in the July, 2012 issue.  The topic is DIY motorcycle tours in the Alps.  If you want to read it you'll need to get your hands on a paper copy, but if you love motorcycling, you'll love City Bike, so that will be a good thing.  You can go to their website to find out how to get a copy.

City Bike web site 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Reflections On a Long Road Trip

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted due to being gone on an unplanned road trip.  There were many good things about this road trip, not the least of which was that it was via motorcycle, but one particularly bad thing - the cause.  My brother-in-law of many years, David McGuffey, died suddenly almost two weeks ago.  He had been ill, but I had hoped and believed he was going to get a good outcome.  Godspeed, David. 

There is much to be said about the events of the past two weeks, but for here I'll do my best to stick to things related to riding motorcycles, and riding goat trails, where possible.  Herein follows a list of observations, questions, thoughts.  A download, if you will.
  • For all of you who ride sportbikes, standards, and whatever else, where the hell are you?  Easily, 90% of the bikes observed out on the road the past two weeks have been either Harleys or metric cruisers.  All others comprise the remaining 10% of the bikes observed once you're out of major metropolitan areas.  BMW's?  In the remaining 10%.  Sport tourers of all brands?  In the remaining 10%.  Dual sports?  10%Gold Wings and other full dress tourers that aren't Harleys?  In the 10%.  Adventure bikes?  In the 10%.  Geez folks, get out and ride.
  • Rain.  It's a reality of road trips.  Being prepared makes a difference.  If you ride hundreds of miles in the rain, you'll find out whether or not you're prepared.  First issue is rain gear.  If like me, you wear gear with the rain liners inside, everything outside of the liners (including the contents of your pockets) will get soaked.  Eventually this soaking will make its way through the liner, and you'll be soaked too.  Know this.  It's not pleasant.  Next is luggage.  The only luggage I've ever used - hard or soft - that was 100% waterproof are dry bags.  If your tank bag, tail bag, saddlebags require that you put on a cover to stay dry, and you ride all day at speed, the contents of your luggage will get wet, and you may shred or lose your rain cover to boot.  There may be hard luggage that's waterproof, but I haven't used it, and the hard bags on my Triumph Tiger seemed to collect all the water that fell that day. 
  • Maps - they're a good thing.  I left home in such a rush to get to my sister's house, more than 600 miles distant, that I didn't bring maps.  Not a problem if you want to ride the interstate all the time.  A bit more problematic if you like to find distant goat trails.  The punchline - at least one of them - to this story is the 44.7 mile long dead end road I put myself on trying to find a goat trail between Reedsport and Drain, OR.  Great road until it just stopped.  Not turned to gravel, or dirt, or single track, just stopped at the the trees, forcing a 44.7 mile backtrack.  I hope to explore the area around Kentucky Falls someday.
  • It rocks to be a motorcyclist when you use the Washington State Ferries, where you can embark and disembark ahead of all the cars and trucks.
  • Many of the road surfaces in Washington and Oregon are great, but it's hard to beat California for great road - even if they're beat to crap sometimes.
  • It sucks to ride where lanesplitting is not legal.
  • It's great to ride where the state DOT's have not managed to get the volume discount on yellow paint that has become the hallmark of Caltrans.  Legal passing zones are more common and more reasonable in both Oregon and Washington.  
  • A shout out to the county mountie in Washington who warned me of the WSP radar placement ahead of me!  
It's good to be back, and I will be posting more regularly.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How Do You Get "Technically Proficient"?

Early on I wrote that goat trails are pretty fun if you have pretty good basic riding skills - that you're technically proficient.  How do you know if you are, and how do you improve?

Let's start with a definition of terms.  What do I mean by technically proficient?  This could go on and on, so let's focus on a few things first:
  • That you can consistently make the motorcycle go and stop when and where you want it to without coming off the bike.  Sounds simple, and I'll grant you that it's basic, but I see riders out there in the summer months who struggle with this.
  • That you can consistently make the motorcycle travel the path you intend.  This means that the wheels go pretty much (within a few inches or less either way) where you want them too.  There a couple of skills that are implied with this, so let's make them explicit.  You can consistently run a path less than half a foot wide, no matter what distractions you're facing, and you understand that when you're turning that the path your head follows will not be the same one your wheels follow.  For instance, if the road you're on has a lot of sand or gravel, or even snow on it, but there are car tire tracks exposing clean pavement, you'll want your wheels to on that clean pavement.  If you align your head with the tire tracks, as soon as the road turns your wheels will be off the tracks and you'll be out of traction. 
  • You can read the road well enough to make good decisions about corner entry speed.  Too slow is a better decision than too fast, so if you have to err, err on the side of slow.  This means looking at upcoming bends and using the cues the road and the surround terrain offer to imagine the radius of the turn, then choose an entry speed that will allow you to navigate a turn of that radius at a speed that keeps you on two wheels
That's a good start for defining basic technical proficiency, and even before we get to the above skills, it is necessary to have developed the muscle memory to be able to consistently operate the controls of your motorcycle - accelerate, shift, brake, steer - without having to dedicate much in the way of conscious thought to it.  

How do you get these skills if you don't have them now?  I'm a big fan of getting instruction.  Insightful observation by a trained instructor who can provide useful guidance and feedback is priceless (full disclosure; I am not and never have been a motorcycling instructor).  By the way, in almost all circumstances, "your friends" are not up to the task. 

Where do you find this priceless instruction?  Have you already completed the basic MSF course?  If not, do so.  When I started riding that sort of instruction didn't exist.  When I completed the basic MSF course with my daughter, I had already been riding for more than 30 years, and I still learned useful stuff.  

If you've already completed the basic MSF, have you considered their Experience Rider Course (ERC)?  It can build upon what you've already learned and practiced.  

Next up are some of the schools that can be found in many areas.  Some schools like the California Superbike School, American Supercamp, and Lee Parks' Total Control clinics travel around the country or even the world, and you can often find one relatively close by.   

Other schools are unique to a region.  Here in northern California we have couple of really great ones, and you might have local equivalents where you live.  The Alameda County Sheriff's Dept runs civilian versions of their police motorcycle training that are a bargain, and that get you time with some of the best trained, most effective motorcycle instructors to be found anywhere.  Another regional gem is Rich Oliver's Mystery School at which Rich shares the kind of training he got when he was racing GP's for Kenny Roberts.  Blasting little 125's around a tight dirt track will teach you more about dealing with sudden changes and adversity in your riding than you could ever imagine.  

The bottom line is that quality instruction and feedback combined with an open, learning mind is the fastest way to become a better rider.  Arranging for good instruction, then making yourself humble enough to benefit from it will take you far, far down the path of increased technical proficiency.  Whether you go to a world famous racing school, or a school aimed at improving your basic riding skills, you'll be a better rider as a result - if you choose to be.

Next time, books. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

From a Friend in France

A friend who lives near Lyon sent posted this youtube video for me.  Now that's a goat trail!

Next month!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Where Do You Find These Goat Trails?

Someone once asked me how I knew so many great, out of the way little roads.  My somewhat tongue-in-cheek answer was that I'm a crappy navigator, so I find great roads by getting lost.  Partially true.  Folks who've ridden with me often know that u-turns are part of the experience.  But, there's getting lost and there's getting lost. How do you make sure you get lost where you're most likely to find great roads?

One way to start is by studying maps.  It helps if the maps are very detailed.  Some of the best goat trails don't show up even on the relatively detailed maps that AAA sometimes provides (I found one today that wasn't on my AAA map).  Instead it helps to use atlases from Gazetteer or Benchmark.  In Europe, the finer detailed Michelin maps can serve the same purpose.  When looking at this maps you want to look for obstacles - mountain ranges, ridges between river valleys, canyons, etc. - anything that will make it difficult to build straight, smooth roads between any two points.  Then look for the major routes traversing those obstacles.  These are not goat trails.  Then look for roads, paved or not, that are alternates to the major routes, and these are your likely candidates.

Let's look at some examples.  Here in California there is a low but significant coastal range of mountains.  Using the area north of San Francisco as an example, there are several major roads between Hwy 1 on the coast, and Hwy 101 which runs inland from the coast.  Between Mill Valley, CA and Leggett, CA these roads include - Pt Reyes - Petaluma, Bodega Bay - Petaluma, Hwy 116 and Hwy 128 and Hwy 20.  These are beautiful roads which bear the bulk of the traffic between Hwy 1 and 101, but they're not goat trails.  The goat trails are the other roads that make the crossing - Marshall - Petaluma, Coleman Valley, Skaggs Springs - Stewarts Point, Mountain View, and so on.  

Whether you're in coastal California, the high Sierra, rural Connecticut, the French Alps, or even Kansas, you can apply the same approach to find the small, out of the way, and interesting roads that will make riding so much more fun.  Dig out some maps and start searching!