Select a topic

 + Open : Hearing Protection

Hearing Protection

"I have terrible hearing trouble. I have unwittingly helped to invent and refine a type of music that makes its principal proponents deaf."
- Pete Townshend

"What?"

You may find yourself saying that more and more as years of riding fall behind you.

When I was young I never really thought about losing some of my hearing. It never even crossed my mind.

Then in 1980 I took a job with the Department of Defense. My job was to work on the design of devices that blew large holes in the Nevada desert. Really large holes.

When one of these devices detonates far underground it vaporizes everything around it. Then like a bubble, that void slowly rises to the surface. The ceiling of the empty chamber collapses and the bubble moves a little closer to the surface. This occurs a number of times until eventually you end up with a very big hole in the desert. When you see this place from the air, you think, "Man, even the Moon doesn't look this bad."

My job included occasional trips out to the test site in Nevada.

You should know that the test site is highly radioactive, and will probably remain so longer than Human Beings will exist on this Earth. It's the dirt and dust that's radioactive actually, and so they made us wear these lead lined boots when we walked around out there.

Those in charge were probably worried about the effect of radiation on us. Out at the site we used to joke around about all those vintage 1950's horror movies about radiation mutation, like "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman". But I never saw the 50 foot woman walking around out at the test site, probably because she wore the proper government approved boots.

Before I was sent out to the test site, I had to go through a medical examination. It was a really thorough examination, and I suppose the reason for this was that they were worried about possible future litigation. Part of this examination included a thorough hearing test.

Now before anyone asks, I should say that I have no idea how radiation might affect my hearing. I doubt that it would actually. I imagine though that the Doctors were paid based on how many tests they ran. The more tests they run the more money they make, so they tested every darned thing they could think of.

After I emerged from the hearing booth, the Doctor examining me said, "You ride a motorcycle, don't you?" I was surprised and asked how he knew. He then showed me the graph of my hearing test results.

The graph showed normal hearing almost across the board, except within a narrow frequency range. At those select frequencies the graph dropped, looking a lot like the Grand Canyon. So my hearing was fine, except when the sound was at a certain tone, at those frequency levels I was practically deaf.

The Doctor said the pattern on my hearing graph was typical of people who rode motorcycles. He then said that the problem wasn't mechanical, that my ears were actually fine, and that if I were to stop riding my ears would return to normal after a few years.

He said that when you hear a certain sound all the time, your brain learns to tune it out. This type of hearing loss doesn't have much to do with how loud the sound is, only how often and long you hear it. The two largest contributors to this kind of hearing loss for those of us who ride are exhaust and wind noise.

I suppose this explains why I can't hear my wife's voice sometimes.

The most common cause of hearing loss is Noise Induced Hearing Loss or NIHL. NIHL can be caused by a one time impulse of sound ranging from 120 to 150 decibels. Sources for this level of noise include explosions and firearms.

A decibel is a unit of measurement for how loud a sound is. An increase of 10 decibels usually indicates the sound becoming twice as loud. The humming of your refrigerator is about 45 decibels, peoples voices in conversation is measured at approximately 60 decibels, and road noise runs at about 85 decibels.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, "Long or repeated exposure to sounds at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. The louder the sound, the shorter the time period before NIHL can occur."

The effect of NIHL for motorcycle riders can be hearing loss and tinnitus which is ringing, hissing, or buzzing in the ears or head that may diminish over time. The hearing loss can occur in one or both years. Tinnitus may be constant or just occur occasionally through out your lifetime.

NIHL can be prevented by using earplugs or other types of ear coverings. I generally buy "Hearos" ear plugs at the local drug store and use them especially on long rides. I recommend this to everyone that rides.

I still can't hear my wife though, maybe because she's not 50 feet tall.

 + Open : Target Fixation

Negative Target Fixation

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination."
      - Jimmy Dean

I want to talk about a phenomenon called "Negative Target Acquisition," sometimes also called "Negative Target Fixation." This is an aviation term conjured up by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) when they examined aircraft crash sites.

My father, who owned and flew a small private aircraft, informed me about this phenomenon when he was teaching me to ride a motorcycle.

Pilots are taught to always look two miles head as they fly. This is to see potential emergency landing sites should their engine fail or other problems arise.

What vexed the investigators was that a very high percentage of crashes in wide open fields would end up hitting a lone tree or power pole. So in this huge open area, nearly 50% of pilots would plough into a lone obstacle even though there was more than adequate room to land in the clear area.

It seemed to investigators that the pilots were drawn to that lone hazard in the same way that metal is drawn to a magnet. It turns out they weren't far wrong.

The pilots were fixating on that single object they did NOT want to hit. As in: "Ah, a place to put down. Don't hit that tree. Don't hit that tree. Don't hit that tree," and they hit the tree. The term "Negative Target Acquisition" came about because the pilots were acquiring and locking on to a negative target, and whatever you lock on to, you will fly to.

This is actually a well documented phenomenon where our brain focuses so intently on an object that awareness of any other object or danger vanishes. This usually happens in times of crisis.

If a road hazard, such as a board or a ladder, appears suddenly from beneath the car in front of you, fixating on the hazard can cause you to collide with it.

Another potential danger associated with Negative Target Acquisition occurs when the car in front of you suddenly brakes. The rider can focus so intently on the brake lights and the car that they lock on to it and end up plowing into the back of the car even when there was room to go around it.

The lesson for motorcycle riders is to not look at the hazards, but instead focus on the way around them. For example if you are riding down an old country road pockmarked with holes, don't focus or even look at the holes themselves, instead see and lock on to the path your bike has to take to avoid them.

Remember that we all have a tendency to ride to where we look. To avoid the danger inherit in this, practice focusing on positive rather than negative goals. Look at the path to safety that lies in the spaces that surround what we are trying to avoid. In traffic or on the highway focus your vision on the space between the cars in front of you, and let your peripheral vision alert to things like brake lights.

Also remember that as riders we are the smallest and most vulnerable vehicle on the road, and so always ride defensively and expect the unexpected.

Practice this, and you will find that it works!

 + Open : Interstate Riding

Interstate Riding

"How many times have you been on the freeway and had someone fly by you at 100 mph then end up two cars ahead of you at the off ramp? What's the point?"
      - Mark Harmon

Being from California I am well versed in freeway riding. Heck, the whole place is practically paved over, and in some places the freeways are eight to ten lanes wide on each side. Those are some pretty serious freeways especially when you consider the amount of traffic that is the norm out in California.

In the big cities even those huge 10 lane freeways are crowded at all hours of the day and night. The problem there is that everyone is weaving erratically between lanes in a mad rush to get to where ever they are going. There is also Road Rage to contend with, I have personally seen drivers get so angry and frustrated that they deliberately crash into one another.

Outside of the cities the freeways slim down to either two or three lanes. The traffic on these smaller highways is no less hazardous. On these roads cagers and big rigs are all flying down the road going 90 mph and tail gating the heck out of each other. All it takes is one person to tap their brakes and somebody is going to get rear ended.

Honestly riding the interstate out in California feels a lot like being a duck in a shooting gallery. It's dangerous business just being out there.

So how to stay safe in such a wild environment?

Regarding "rules" to follow for safety, I don't believe in absolutes. Everything about where or how you ride varies based on the situation and the environment. Therefore anything I write here should be taken as more of a general principal than a rule.

The first thing is to realize that "safe" is a relative term. None of us are ever completely safe when riding on two wheels. The minute anyone thinks they are such an excellent rider that they are safe, that is when they are ready for a really nasty awakening.

When my father taught me how to ride, he said that I should ride as if I were invisible. How many times have we heard some cager say "I didn't see him" after they ran into one of us? So it seems that at least within their vacuous and distracted world, we are indeed invisible. So keep that in mind.

I've often heard other bikers talk about "guarding their lane." My opinion is that this is a really dumb idea. A car is FOUR TIMES the size and weight of you and your bike. If that car wants to take your spot in your lane, they'll do it, and there really isn't much you can do about it. The driver may feel a little bump and the cage may shake a bit, and they will say to themselves, "Huh, I wonder what that was?" And if they get pulled over for running you over, do you know what they will say? They'll say, "I didn't see him."

So don't guard your lane. Ride so you can be seen as well as possible, but if the cager comes into your lane get out of their way and let them have it.

On the Interstate you have high speed danger coming at you from all sides. Ideally you want as much of a buffer between yourself and that danger as you can possibly create. To create that space you need to enlarge two things, these are distance and vision.

Increasing distance has obvious safety advantages. If you are tailgating the car in front of you and they decide to slam on their brakes, what are you going to do? So give yourself enough room to either stop or swerve around a car that suddenly stops in front of you.

Also, if some Bozo is tailgating you, either change lanes to get out of their way or slow down. Slowing down may serve to encourage them to change lanes and pass you. This is a good thing, as I've found it's best to have crazy drivers IN FRONT of me because that way I can keep an eye on them.

Another advantage to slowing down is that it increases the distance between you and the car in front of you. If that car in front of you were to suddenly stop, having that greater distance allows you to slow down at a slower rate, which will give the tailgater behind you more time to stop.

Increasing your vision of the road ahead is also a key to surviving the Interstate. I suggest that you adjust your lane position so that you can see at least two or three cars ahead. That way if someone up ahead stops you will have ample warning and can slow down gradually.

This technique is even more important when you have a van or big rig in front of you. Give yourself more forward room, and then adjust your lane position to the right or left so you can see around the large vehicle and can better prepare for what lies ahead.

In addition to distance and vision, it's also a good idea to watch for escape routes. As they say, "if you're about to crash aim for something soft and green." This has a lot to do with Negative Target Fixation.

A topic related to having an escape route is lane position. It's generally a good idea to ride in either the right or left wheel tracks made by cars. This position puts you toward the edge of the vehicle in front of you, and from this alignment you can swerve toward the outside edge of the car, either splitting the lane or escaping to the shoulder of the road.

The wheel tracks are usually clearer of highway debris and road hazards than is the area in the center of the lane. You definitely don't want to hit a ladder or a 4x4 post that suddenly appears from under the car in front of you.

One last consideration is to ride such that you are seen. Always be conscious of whether or not your are visible in the mirrors of the cars in front, or in the lanes around you. Never ride in the blind spot of any vehicle if you can possibly avoid it.

So keep all that in mind when you're out on the highway.

Ride safe.

 + Open : Splitting Lanes

Splitting Lanes

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
      - T. S. Eliot

"Common Sense in California" seems to be an oxymoron. As a native and former resident of what used to be a great state and a nice place to live, I have to say that in every case except one, "Common Sense in California" is in fact an oxymoron.

That singular exception is a law that allows motorcyclists to split lanes when traffic is slow or stopped. The way the guidelines for lane splitting are written, lane splitting makes sense and is safe.

Ok, with "Safe and Motorcycles" I may well be instigating another oxymoron. However anything can be unsafe if done in a foolish manner and pretty much anything can be safe if done with care. This rule can be applied to lane splitting.

Lane splitting (for those that don't know) is when a motorcycle rides between cars that are in adjacent lanes of traffic. Lane splitting is also commonly known as lane sharing, white lining, and filtering. The terms lane splitting, sharing, and white lining typically refer to moving between cars when they are moving, and filtering usually is when you slide up between stopped vehicles in traffic or at a stop light.

Lane splitting is really appealing if you ever find yourself sitting stopped on a road or freeway on a 100+ degree day while sitting on an air cooled motorcycle. The practice is legal in several countries in Europe and Asia but not in the United States, with the single exception of California.

To quote the California CMSP (California Motorcyclist Safety Program) "Lane splitting in a safe and prudent manner is not illegal in the state of California." This little bit of Lawyer-Speak means that it isn't actually LEGAL to split lanes, but it isn't ILLEGAL either. This little bit of vernacular wiggle room allows bikers in California to split lanes.

The CMSP guidelines for what is a "safe and prudent manner" of splitting lanes are as follows:

  1. Travel at a speed that is no more than 10 MPH faster than other traffic; danger increases at higher speed differentials.
  2. It is not advisable to lane split when traffic flow is at 30 MPH or faster; danger increases as overall speed increases.
  3. Typically, it is safer to split between the #1 and #2 (left) lanes than between other lanes.
  4. Consider the total environment in which you are splitting, including the width of the lanes, size of surrounding vehicles, as well as roadway, weather, and lighting conditions.
  5. Be alert and anticipate possible movements by other road users.

The truth is that there are accidents that occur along with lane splitting. In every case I've heard of personally, the rider was lacking common sense.

One accident that comes to mind involved a sport bike rider who crashed when a car suddenly changed lanes in front of him. The public perception at the time was that lane sharing was the cause of the accident. However when I learned more about the accident I found that the rider was splitting lanes at 90 MPH while traffic was moving at 60 MPH.

In that case I was tempted to ask, what the hell did he think was going to happen? My opinion is that there isn't a law anywhere that can actually protect someone from themselves.

There seems to be no definitive record or report regarding the number of motorcycle accidents that relate to lane splitting. However, there is some indication that lane splitting may actually be safer for riders than sitting in traffic. For example, the Department of Transportation Fatality Accident Reporting System indicates that fatalities due to a rear end impact are 30% lower in California than they are in Florida and Texas. This statistic is compelling because Florida and Texas have a similar rider demographic and riding season.

Like most California bikers, I've done my share of lane splitting and so I thought I would add my own "common sense" guidelines for lane splitting.

  1. Ride within your abilities. If you're not accustomed to lane splitting, ride slowly. Just because the rule states that you can go 10 MPH faster than the flow of traffic doesn't mean you should.
  2. The faster the traffic is flowing the greater the risk is of some Bozo in a cage changing lanes into you.
  3. Keep an eye on the side mirror of the cages you're passing. If you see the driver looking around as if he is considering changing lanes, brake and wait for him to make up his mind.
  4. Know the width of your bike and only put your nose in where you have enough room to get through.
  5. Watch out for mirrors on trucks and RV's.
  6. If you're riding right on the white line, watch out for Botts Dots because they can be slippery. Botts Dots are those ceramic domed things the DOT glues down to the white line that create a "rumble strip" effect.

Road rage is one last thing I should mention. Cagers can get upset when they are sitting still in traffic and you're flying by them between lanes. I've had car doors opened in front of me as I was splitting lanes. The stories attached to these situations I'll save for another time.

Keep all that in mind and take care.

 + Open : Superstition

Superstition

"Superstition is foolish, childish, primitive and irrational - but how much does it cost you to knock on wood?"
      - Judith Viorst

We Irish are a superstitious lot. So while we are inclined to be over alert to things that go "bump in the night," I am convinced that everyone is superstitious to some degree.

Long ago when I was growing up in a small town that lay deep in the coastal Redwood forests of California, my friends and I would walk the old back country roads at night. These are ancient Stage Coach Roads that have long gone unused. These dirt roads wind their way through hidden valleys of the forest and often provided a short cut between our homes.

Under the heavy canopy of Redwood branches on a moonless night those roads are as dark as any cave. Your eyes will simply not adjust to that darkness, and in the inky black with the furtive noises of the nighttime creatures of the forest moving about, all the ancient fears of our species step forward.

My friends and I would tell ghost stories to each other as we walked between our homes. In these times all it would take to bring terror to my friends would be to secretly toss a stone to the side of the road where it would make a sudden noise. Suddenly turning off the flashlight and quietly stepping back a few steps also worked.

Yes, we all had sick senses of humor back then.

My point is that our rational world is a superficial one. It can exist only in the clear light of day, when any creeping demon can be easily seen and explained away. In the dark our primitive self takes over; so it is that at our core we are all superstitious.

I am superstitious about riding my motorcycle, and while that may sound odd to some, it has served me well many times.

About 10 years ago I was still working out in Silicon Valley at one of the larger technology firms. Every morning I would ride 22 miles into work, dodging idiots in their cars, drinking coffee and talking on their cell phones as I went.

At one freeway intersection my route took me around a very tight cloverleaf onto an intersecting freeway with an extremely short merge lane. Actually that merge lane doubled as the exit lane for those wanting to leave the freeway I was merging onto. Fast coming traffic from behind, fast moving traffic to squeeze into, and an up hill slope on the over pass which created a situation where I could not see very far ahead.

This was just part of my route, and other than paying attention when I took this turn and merged, I really didn't give it much thought.

One night though, I had a dream. In the dream I had merged onto the freeway and gotten into the fast lane. This is what I usually did because there was a diamond commuter lane ahead and I could jump into that and make good time all the way into work.

In the dream I merged into the lane, looking over my left shoulder as I did so. When I looked back I saw the cars had suddenly stopped in front of me and I was about to slam into the back of a car.

I awoke with a start. Was this some kind of message from beyond? Was it a warning perhaps? So I started paying more attention and being more cautious through that section of my daily ride.

One day not long after my dream I was on my way to work and went through that section of my commute. Traffic was stopped because of an accident.

You guessed it. A guy on a bike a lot like mine had gotten into the fast lane and because he could not see very far ahead when he merged he did not see that traffic was stopped just on the other side of the upslope of the over pass. He slammed into the back of a car.

Parts of his bike were all over the road and an ambulance was there to take him away. I don't know what happened to him or how badly he was hurt, but I was thankful that it was not me as it easily could have been.

Did superstition save me? You can decide that for yourself. For me though, I believe it and so I pay attention to dreams, signs, and feelings about the road. I think that sometimes our sub-consciousness is aware of more than we are, and in these times it sends us messages. These messages sometimes come to us through dreams, and when those dreams occur it's a good idea to take notice.

Other times a vague intuition can come over me. In those times things just don't feel right. It's hard to describe that feeling, other than to say it's a feeling of a lack of being connected to my bike. My balance seems to be off the slightest bit and the bike feels awkward.

In those times I pay attention to this feeling and take it as a warning. I wake up to what is around me and force myself to be more alert than usual.

I am going to insert a bit of a tangent here. I lived in Italy for a short while back in the mid 1980's. When speaking, my Italian friends would say "MAKE attention" rather than "pay attention" due to differences in our languages. I like the term "make attention" because it sounds more like an action, something that you actually DO, rather than just something you simply pay or give away.

So in times like this I MAKE attention and I suggest that everyone work at becoming aware of your senses and small indications that things might be amiss, and make attention too.

 + Open : Getting Old

Motorcycle Safety and Aging

"You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake."
      - Bob Hope

Let me just state the obvious; getting old sucks. Some days EVERYTHING hurts; our bodies creak and groan with approaching bad weather, everything seems to have gotten heavier, and simple things seem to take far more energy than they used to.

With that said; just because you are getting up there in years of experience does not mean that you stop or reduce your riding. Still though it's important to face the facts about aging and take precautions.

According to the CDC, in 2009 there were 33 million US drivers aged 65 and older, this is a 23% increase over the number of older drivers on the road in 1999. We are the fastest growing segment of the driving population. The US Census bureau is predicting that there will be 9.6 million people 85 years or older by 2030, a 73% increase from what we see today. This growing population has alarmed many due to the belief that increased age equates to decreased mental and physical function, and so these older drivers bring greater risk to others on the road.

In 2010 nine out of every 100 accidents involved an older driver, whereas 14 out every 100 accidents involved a driver 20-24 years of age.

For all the hoopla about how dangerous older drivers are, for drivers 60 to 74 years the statistics simply do not back it up. However, between the ages of 75 and 84 the accident rate increases to be roughly that of teenage drivers, and after age 85 the accident rate increases to nearly 4 times the rate of teenage drivers.

There are no statistics available regarding the number of older motorcycle riders, but I will guess that the accident statistics are similar to those of automobile drivers. Moreover there is also no break down by TYPE of motorcycle. It is my perception that accidents are more common among those who ride sport bikes than among those who ride heavy weight touring or cruiser type motorcycles.

I also need to add that statistics can be made to dance to any tune, meaning that they can be bent to support any point of view. Statistics are an inexact science in that they show only trends of large groups of individuals, and what may be true for the group may not hold true for a particular individual. There are simply too many variables, too many factors that determine whether a particular person is safe to ride a motorcycle.

Considering all of this, what can we do to remain safe while living our life on the road?

Essentially aging brings about three areas of concern when it comes to riding a motorcycle; these are balance, strength, and reaction time.

Balance:

Over the course of a five week balance class conducted at Indiana University, participants aged 80 – 90 years saw nearly a 20% improvement in balance. These classes used a balance board to train people to use voluntary muscle control directed by the brain rather than involuntary reflex reactions.

Does this mean we all have to travel to Indiana? No. Indiana is a beautiful state and well worth a nice long ride to visit, but we don't need to go there just to improve our balance.

There is a maxim often sited in Kinesiology that states that "you get better at what you do." Muscles that are worked get stronger. Bones that are placed under gradually increasing stress become more dense and stronger. We become better at skills that we practice.

To improve your balance all that is necessary is to practice those skills and do those things that involve some level of balance control. Bicycling, hiking, yoga, martial arts, the list goes on and on. Pretty much any physical activity will promote some degree of balance.

Start slow, but increase your work every day. Focus on balance in whatever activity you choose, and work at getting better at it. A weakness will never become a strength unless you recognize it, then work on it.

Walking is a good activity to start with. It costs nothing, and yet burns calories and increases the bone density of your lower extremities. After doing that try out some of the local hiking trails, you'll enjoy the great exercise and beautiful scenery.

Strength:

Again, you get better at what you do. Working your muscles makes them stronger, and also improves your physical condition, reduces weight, stress, and makes you look and feel good.

You don't need to join a gym (although it helps); just doing sit ups, push ups, chair dips, squats, and toe raises around your home will do fine. If you are a member of a gym ask about "circuit training" which is a routine of lifting weights that also improves your cardiovascular system.

I feel compelled to add in my personal favorite work out. I've studied Martial Arts from the age of five, and I've never found a better, more complete workout anywhere. Martial Arts improves your flexibility, strength, balance, and you mental abilities. Those of us that practice the arts say that it's exercise with a purpose. It's also a heck of a lot of fun.

Reaction Time:

Reaction time is more a function of mental faculty than anything else. Considering this, I will return to the maxim, you get better at what you do. Reaction time is about having a sharp mind that is paying attention to what is going on around us.

Never stop learning. Read a book. Learn a language. Learn a musical instrument. Take a class at the local community college. Keep your brain functioning, work it like you would a muscle, and do it every day.

While Riding:

While riding it's important to recognize that we aren't 20 years old anymore (and thank God for that!). Consider that and ride accordingly.

BE that old fart that used to piss you off when you were a kid. Don't be in a hurry to get where ever you are going. Going faster will only get you there a minute or so sooner, and the risk of a ticket plus the resulting hit to your insurance rates aren't worth it.

Give yourself a little more space on the road. Don't tailgate, if the guy in front of you stamps on his breaks it could be bad for you. If you're concerned about your ability to brake if the car in front of you suddenly stops, put some distance between you and the other guy. Give people enough room to be stupid in.

If cagers want to cut you off, let them. They're bigger than you are, and so in any pissing match between you two, the cager is going to come out the winner. I know it pisses you off when some vacuous, monkey brained fool nearly runs you off the road while playing with their cell phone. I know. I get it. I've been there, done that. I've done things that won't be talked about on this site in that regard. But I'm an old fart now, and I take great pride in that. Now I get myself out of their line of travel and let it go. It's just not worth it.

A few years back there was a story that was all over the news about road rage. A biker had been cut off by a guy in a big old Buick. Words were exchanged. The biker motioned for the guy in the Buick to pull into a parking lot so they could "discuss" the situation. The biker pulled into the parking lot, and when he stopped the guy in the Buick ran him over with his car.

The biker is now paralyzed from the neck down. The guy in the Buick was an illegal alien with no drivers license or insurance, and he escaped back to Mexico.

As I said, venting anger feels good, but in the end it just isn't worth it.

The main advantage we older people have out on the road is experience. So use your experience and be smart out there.

 + Open : Lane Position

SAFETY: Guarding your lane and lane position

"Safety is something that happens between your ears, not something you hold in your hands."
    - Jeff Cooper

There are lots of beliefs out there that I find peculiar, and guarding your lane while riding a motorcycle is one of them. Let's face it, guarding your lane against a 6,000 pound SUV while riding an 800 pound motorcycle is like trying to protect Peyton Manning by yourself when faced with the entire Denver Bronco defensive line. In short, in that situation your best outcome would be to only end up with some size 15 cleats planted on your face. In real life, defending your lane against an SUV could turn out much worse.

I see the point of making yourself as visible as possible. But cage drivers are vacuous and distracted on their best days, so if they move over to take your lane I say let them have it. You can yell at them and flip them off after you're safe.

That's an easy tip to relate; other do's and don'ts regarding riding safety aren't so easy to explain. I think this is true because most people want the rules of the road to be simple and black and white, but that's rarely the case. Where you ride in the lane, or lane position, is a classic example of gray area rules. The answer to the question of "Where should I ride in the lane?" is, "It depends."

Generally speaking, the tire lines of automobile traffic are good areas of the lane to ride. This is because road debris is more common in the areas outside of those tire lines.

One of my martial art students died because he was riding in the center of the lane. He was riding a sport bike on the freeway and was riding too close to the car in front of him, and hit a 4x4 post that had fallen off a truck earlier that day. The car traffic was able to roll right over the 4x4's; my student was "dead on impact" according to what the cops said.

So a couple of lessons here, it's best to ride in the tire marks on the road, and give yourself some room between yourself and the car in front of you so you have time to react.

But sometimes the tire lines are not a good place to ride. This is the case when the tarmac has been torn up by wear and the weather, AND the traffic is light enough that you can give yourself plenty of distance in front of you. When the tarmac is falling apart, the worst of the wear will usually be in the car tire tracks, and the road is much smoother at the center of the lane. So if you are on a lightly traveled road with few cars/trucks around, then the center of the lane can be an ok place to ride.

So following the car tire lines is the best to ride with a few exceptions; but which tire line should you follow? It depends.

In the city the reasoning on where to ride is contorted and twisted based on the situation. First, you should ride where you are most visible. Avoid blind spots and ride at a lane position where people can see you in their mirrors. Second, ride in a position where you have a buffer and an escape route should some airhead facebooking fool suddenly decide to swerve into your lane without looking. A lot of the decision process regarding lane position in the city comes from ESP and anticipating stupidity. In my opinion, city riding is the most dangerous riding out there.

A lot of this country is covered with two lane roads, and on these highways it's common to encounter big rig trucks. If the big rig is going in the same direction you are, just ride so you can see him in his mirrors. On the other hand, it's very common to encounter big rigs traveling at a very high rate of speed going in the opposite direction, which is coming at you in the lane to your left. As these trucks pass you will be hit with a wall of air that will practically knock you off your bike. So if you see a truck coming at you on one of these lonely two lane roads, move to the right side of your lane and use both hands to grip your handlebars. The impact of that wall of air can surprise you.

Other lane position tips.

When you are riding on a two lane rode and nearing the crest of a hill, move to the right side of the lane. This will save you if some idiot going the other way is trying to pass someone.

On country roads in general I ride on the right side of the lane because it gives me a buffer should an oncoming car wander into my lane. As I said earlier, in these situations I don't try to guard my lane, I just let them have it.

On the freeway when passing a big rig truck, do so on the far side of the lane. That is, If you pass him on the left, then your position should be to the left side of that lane. If you pass a big rig on the right (which generally isn't the smartest thing to do) your lane position should be on the right side of that lane. The reason for this is that if you are too close to the big rig as you pass, the wind coming off the front of the truck can destabilize you.

Where you are in your lane depends entirely on where you are riding and the situation you find yourself in. It's a complex issue that must be kept in mind all the time as you ride. The best advice I ever got from my father when he was teaching me how to ride was to stay alert, anticipate stupidity, and think as you ride.

Return to top

 + Open : GEAR: Luggage

Luggage and all you need in Life

All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.
      - Mark Twain

All the fish needs is to get lost in the water.
      - Chuang Tzu

As I write this, we are about 2 months away from the end of Touring season. Here in Colorado we all still ride locally, but going into October the weather becomes unpredictable. October is a transition month during which we typically get at least one blizzard. While I've ridden in and through snow, it's really not my favorite thing, and so for me at least Touring season ends on October 1; so no coast to coast or weeks long rides after that.

"Everything you really need in life can fit nicely on the back of a motorcycle. All the other stuff you THINK you need is just crap that you lug around with you, and that stuff just bogs you down and diminishes your life." My father said those words to me more years ago than I can remember. His words speak of a minimalist view of life. It is the way of the vagabond traveler, the life of the gypsy.

We want much but actually need little. When you have all that you need you want for nothing. That is the heart of the gypsy soul.

Consider this frame of mind when packing for a trip on your motorcycle. Take what you need, and leave the rest behind. Understand the difference between a need and a want, and pack accordingly.

Remember that you don't need to bring along a mountain of clothing because there will be places along your way where you can do your laundry. These days I stay in cheap motels along the way, mostly because I'm old and enjoy sleeping in a soft bed. I've found that pretty much all motels have washers and dryers. Just that will reduce how much you need to take along.

No matter how long of a trip I am taking on my bike I usually only take along clothing enough for only about three or four days at most. Beyond boots, leathers, and other riding gear, there really isn't much that I need take. My one comfort item I do usually take along is a pair of sneakers, that way I can give my feet a break at the end of a long hot day in the saddle.

On my trip this summer I also took along a laptop computer. It is a luxury item, but it turned out to be really useful. After leaving Billings MT my bike started making a clunking noise and the note of the engine changed. The bike still ran fine, so when I got into Casper WY I gave the engine a look over.

I found that the two nuts that held my forward exhaust pipe to the head were missing. I had no spares so I looked on-line first to find the size nut I needed, then to find a place where I could buy replacements. There was a Victory dealer in town and so I went there. The parts guy said he didn't have the nuts I needed in stock, but pulled them off a bike on the showroom floor, then went out and installed them for me.

Thanks to that Victory dearer and the nice guy behind the Parts counter, I was quickly on my way again.

I've also found the laptop to be handy in the evenings for looking up maps for the day ahead, and since I don't like talking on the phone I send email to anyone who cares to know how my day went.

Do I need my laptop? No, but it is a luxury item and as long as I have room to spare in my luggage it will fit nicely next to my sneakers. I see no reason to take luxury items beyond that. Still though, adding a luxury item to your packing isn't a sin, as long as you don't get carried away.

I have saddlebags on my KM Darkhorse, and so I first fill the saddlebags with heavier items (keeping the center of gravity of the bike low) like tools, and things that I won't need quick access to during my ride (like gifts for my grand kids).

Behind my seat I bungee an old duffle bag containing my clothes and luxury items; I bought this bag a few years back on eBay; it's nothing fancy, just a bag intended for Martial Artists that happens to have good zippers and lots of pockets. This bag also has extra rings so I can bungee other things to it, such as my leather jacket when it gets hot.

You should fasten your duffle bag down as securely as possible with bungee cords using your sissy bar rails or some other fixed point on your bike. I've found that fastening a bag with two bungee cords, each going diagonally from and to the sissy bar works best.

Remember to always bring extra bungee cords. You may be surprised at how handy and versatile they can be, and in time you will become a bungee master.

For comfort on long distance rides I've found that strapping my bag down so that it's directly behind me eases stress in my arms and shoulders; leaning back against a bag in that position makes a long ride a lot easier.

Many people think that the more possessions you have, the more fulfilling your life will become. For me it's just the opposite. I aim to possess things that enlarge my life, not things that give me status or prestige. I believe that the things you keep for what they are load you down and chain you to the earth. I prefer to be free and live my life the way I pack my motorcycle.

"All you will ever need in life will fit nicely on the back of a motorcycle", thanks for teaching me that Dad.

 + Open : Long Distance

Riding Long Distance

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    - Mark Twain

Introduction

Probably most people who own a motorcycle have had dreams of the open road. Motorcycles symbolize freedom for many people, in that they represent a simpler and more elemental way of life. We imagine ourselves without the tethers of society, riding down the highway with no particular destination in mind, and somewhere at the core of our being that unrestrained freedom is compelling.

Beyond the concept of freedom I believe there is a sense of escapism that goes with striking out on your own on a motorcycle. You leave the world and all your cares behind you, but at the same time there is risk, because danger is always a part of what it means to be truly free. For the most part we live our lives in the comfort of security, bound by rules of conduct and convention. But at the back of our minds we know that we have traded our freedom and our individuality for the safety of fitting in and obeying the rules of society.

We're like a cat sitting at the window, looking out on the wide world and dreaming of freedom. As long as we stay behind that glass though, we're safe. Being secure in our lives is a good thing because we are free from danger and worry, but we have traded true freedom with all the risks it entails for the watered down freedom of security that a slave knows well.

For those that long for the open road, I offer this article. Here you will find methods that can provide you with the best of both freedoms. You can have that escape and freedom of the open road and at the same time mitigate the danger such that it is not a major worry.

Disclaimers

What follows are my methods and techniques for planning and completing a long trip riding a motorcycle. As one would expect, most people who have completed many long cross country rides have their own ways of doing things. Again what follows are my methods; use what you see here as a starting point for developing your own techniques.

I don't use a GPS device on my motorcycle. The reason for this is that I've not been able to load a map generated on Google Maps into my GPS device. Without that route, my device will pick the most direct way between point A and point B, and that's not what I want. Instead I tend to quickly leave my home area via the Interstate, and then switch to the US highway system for a more scenic ride after that. So most of the time the route I take is far from being direct.

I also tend to extensively plan my trip; frankly I do this mostly in the winter time as I stare out at the falling snow. In many ways I'm much like the cat I mentioned earlier, dreaming of the freedom that the coming riding season will bring. As I plan during these cold months I go beyond choosing which roads to take, and often plan where I will get gas, have lunch, and where I will stay each night.

Once my ride plan is complete, I use index cards for my directions because they are easier for me to use than relying on cumbersome technological GPS "conveniences". This method also allows me to easily change my route, and add or delete destinations along my way.

While there are a lot of on-line mapping websites and applications available, I use Google Maps for planning my trips. I'm not saying that Google Maps is the best, only that it's what I'm used to. Everything written here with regard to mapping a planned route is from the perspective of Google Maps.

This article is grouped into the following sections.

Preparing and Initial Considerations

Probably the most fundamental consideration to take into account is how much time do you have for your adventure? Time can be a leash keeping us firmly tethered to our obligations of job and family, so how much time you can spend away from all that equates to the question of "how long is your leash?"

Remember that almost all trips are round-trips. You have to go, and then you have to come back. If your vacation is two weeks in length, then you will go out one week and use the second week to return home. It's also important to factor in "visit time" and "recovery time" into your trip.

The example we will use for the rest of this article is for a two week vacation, with two days spent visiting at the destination and an additional two days recovery once you get back home. This leaves a total of ten riding days, with five days going out, and the other five days coming back.

Just how far you can ride in five days is directly related to how far you can ride in a single day. This is why the second consideration is your riding endurance. A long distance ride is more of a marathon than a sprint, so developing endurance in the saddle should be an important aspect of preparation. So ask yourself, how many miles are you comfortable riding day after day?

When I was younger I could chain together 800+ mile days over the course of several weeks. However now that I'm older and have more time on my hands, I much prefer to limit my days ride to about 500 miles. By keeping the number of daily miles down to a lower number I allow myself time to stop to take pictures and otherwise enjoy the trip much more. This lower day to day mileage also allows me to chain consecutive days together with little or no strain on my body or mind.

Let's suppose you are comfortable with riding 400 miles per day, so your range over a five day period is 2,000 miles. Therefore the destination you choose should be within that range.

Remember though that your route may not be direct. It's also reasonable to choose a longer route to your destination and then a shorter route home, or visa-versa. You may also want to stop at a particular site (such as Mount Rushmore for example) on the way, and this will add complication to your travel itinerary.

Another factor in planning your motorcycle adventure is cost. Surprisingly though, your travel costs may be lower than you expect as long as you don't go crazy buying things along the way. Remember that the photographs you take cost nothing, take up little space, and are probably the best memento of all.

If your motorcycle gets an average of 40 MPG (as most of ours do) then over the course of a 400 mile day you will burn through 10 gallons of fuel. At a cost of $3 a gallon (just an estimate) your daily fuel cost will only be $30.

Meals and motel costs are variables that only you can calculate.

I view food simply as fuel I need to consume in order to keep my body going, and this mindset lets me keep my food expenses down. So I'm as happy eating at Denny's as I am eating a steak at Texas Roadhouse.

I'm also just fine staying at Motel 6 or Super 8 as opposed to a Marriot or a Hilton. As long as my bike and I are safe, the bed is comfortable, and the room has a working bathroom, then I'm fine. As Tom Bodett used to say in the Motel 6 commercials, their rooms look the same as any other once the lights are out.

When I'm traveling, my meals cost about $20 and motels about $70 per day, if you are more high-brow than I am, your costs will run higher, but if you're camping your costs were be lower.

So my average daily expenses are: $30 (gas) + $20 (food) + $70 (motel) = $120 per day while on the road, and then, 10 (days on the road) * $120 (per day expenses) = $1,200. Add to this the destination expenses: $140 (two days motel) + $40 (two days food) and the total costs rise to $1,380. Of course this total cost does not include entertainment or souvenirs you incur on the way or at your destination.

So the total price is really not that bad considering that you will have fond memories of this trip for the rest of your life.

Other miscellaneous things to keep in mind are, if you plan on traveling outside the US you will need a passport, and if you are visiting National Parks or other attractions along the way it will take more time and money.

Riding Alone or in a Group

Riding in a group provides a safety net when traveling.

In my travels I have become very aware of how empty certain areas of our country are. Many of the most scenic and remote roads have little traffic and virtually no cell phone service. So if you happen to be traveling on the Loneliest Highway in America and your bike breaks down, has a flat, or you run out of gas, it's definitely nice to be riding with a buddy that can ride ahead to the next town and arrange for a tow truck.

Riding with others appeals to those who are less solitary creatures than are others. For example one of my best friends refuses to ride long distances by himself simply because he wants companionship; someone to share the journey and talk with at the end of the day.

For myself, I prefer to ride alone because I don't care for Democracy when I travel. While it is true that traveling with your friends or significant other can be an incredible bonding experience, it can also be a living hell that will destroy relationships.

The quirks of those you ride with can become annoying when you are subjected to them constantly, so pick who you choose to travel with carefully. Preferably you can find someone you know well and have ridden with for years. The people you choose to ride with should have a compatible riding style, and similar tastes in food and motels.

Regardless of whom you choose though, everyone involved will have to make compromises. With Democracy comes a lack of control over what roads you travel, where you go, and where you stop. So set your minimum desires and expectations and stick with those, but be prepared to bend on everything else.

If your plan includes riding in a group, try a few two or three day rides before leaving to be sure everyone is compatible. If there is no chaffing of personalities after rides like this, you may be fine.

Bringing along a wife or girlfriend adds further complication because it has been my experience that generally speaking, women want to take along more stuff than men do. The issue is that on a motorcycle storage is extremely limited, which can present a major problem when your passenger wants to take along more stuff than your bike can hold.

If you must travel long distance with your wife or girlfriend here are my suggestions:

  1. Have her get her own bike. That way whatever she wants to carry along goes on her bike.
  2. Get your bike set up with a trailer hitch and buy a trailer to hold everyone's stuff.
  3. Give her a single suitcase and tell her that everything she takes along has to fit in that bag.
  4. If everything else fails, have her drive behind you in a car. That way she can take along whatever she likes and buy out as many stores as she pleases along the way.

For me, traveling alone is the best long distance option of all.

Mapping out your Route

Note: Click on any of the maps shown to see the actual mapping page.

Recall that we are using the example of a 4,000 mile trip (2,000 miles each way) over the course of two weeks. The trip will include a two day stay at the destination and a two day recovery after returning home. We are riding five days in each direction with a limit of approximately 400 miles travel each day.

For the purposes of this article we will create a trip from Littleton CO to Port Angles WA. Detours along the way will be the town of Jackson WY, and we want to ride the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP.

Before we get started we need to talk a little about Google Maps. Some while back Google updated their mapping program. This turned out to be a downgrade in my view because the new version cannot hold as many destinations and it is harder to calculate actual distances along the way.

Because of these issues we will be using the "classic" version of Google Maps. If your browser is set up to automatically use the new version you can switch back to classic by clicking the question mark in the lower right portion of the web page.

Note: In classic Google Maps you can choose to avoid highways and toll roads. If you want to use this feature, click "Show options" below the destination list.

Going-to and Coming-from maps

For mapping purposes, I usually start with an overall map for each direction of the trip. That is, one map for the route from Littleton to Port Angles, and another map for the return trip home. On these maps I create destinations for where I plan to stay each night, and add waypoints for the roads I want to travel:

For the going-to map I have selected the following locations for overnight stays:

Once you have the towns or cities selected for your overnight stays, you then start checking for motels. To do this you'll be juggling four different browser tabs. The first tab holds the map you have been working on. The second tab will be a second Google Map page that you will use to search for motel locations. A third tab will be a search window to check crime rates in the cities where you will be staying. The last tab will be for a site like Trip Advisor that can be used to check motel room rates. There's a lot of back and forth that goes on between these four browser tabs.

If you've chosen to stay in a large city, it's a good idea to check the crime rate before deciding where to stay.

Once you settle on a motel, copy the address and return to your original route map and replace the city name with the motel address. Continue this process for each overnight stay. Once your route map is complete, send the map URL to yourself via email. To get the map URL click the button that looks like chain links near the top left of the page. Follow this same process for both your going-to and coming-from maps.

Now to the question of whether or not you should make reservations at the hotel you selected? The answer is that it depends on where and when you plan on being there.

If you are planning on staying at a popular tourist destination, or you have reason to believe there may be problems getting a room when you arrive, then I strongly suggest making a reservation. Otherwise, if there are lots of alternate motels, or the town where you are staying is not a popular destination, then you can probably get away with not reserving your room.

An alternate to this that will allow some flexibility while still providing some security would be to phone the motel the night before you are set to arrive and reserve a room.

For most people what you have just completed is enough. If this is so in your case then you can proceed to the process of writing your directions out on index cards that is described a little later in this article.

However if you plan on riding through remote areas of our country where gas stations become few and far between, then I suggest you take your planning further. To complete these next steps you will develop individual maps for each day of your adventure.

For many, planning to include fuel stops may seem excessive and possibly unnecessary. Perhaps for some this is true, however going through this process has saved me several times. For example the first time I rode Americas Loneliest Highway (US-50) through Nevada I did not pre-plan my fuel stops. So unknowingly I skipped a gas station because I assumed there would be another one further up ahead. Although I did not run out of gas on that trip, when I finally found a gas station I put a full 5 gallons of fuel into my 5.1 gallon tank. For those last few miles I was sweating bullets.

Last year on my ride out to Area 51 in Nevada I mapped out my fuel stops in advance. Had I not done so and assumed that the town of Rachel NV would have a gas station, I would have been stuck in the middle of absolutely nowhere and possibly abducted by aliens.

Judge for yourself whether or not you want to take this next step in preparedness.

Daily maps

At this point you can close the crime rate and Trip Advisor browser tabs. This next step will require three tabs opened simultaneously. The first is your original going-to or coming-from Google Map page. The other two tabs are both additional Google Map pages. You now will develop individual maps for each day of travel that will include fuel stops.

The first thing to do is decide what your comfort level is when it comes to fueling up. Some people are comfortable with getting gas at the 180 mile mark, while others feel better about getting gas after riding 130 miles. Remember that you will be riding through unknown territory, and for that reason you may want to be conservative about when to fill up your fuel tank. For the purpose of this exercise let's assume that you're comfortable getting gas after 150 miles of riding.

Creating route cards

As was said earlier, I don't use a GPS device on my bike, however if you use such a contraption and know how to upload your map along with all the destinations and waypoints, go ahead and do so now. On the other hand if you want to go "old school" you'll now create a set of route cards for each individual day.

Once your route cards are complete you can use a tank bag with a clear window to keep them within your field of vision as you travel.

I always keep the printed directions as backup, and take along extra index cards to use should I change my route along the way.

Getting your bike ready

When traveling, often in very remote areas, you are completely relying on the mechanical integrity of your motorcycle. If your bike breaks down while you are traveling you can be in for a less than wonderful adventure. To prevent painful situations such as this, be sure your motorcycle is in top running condition before you leave.

First consider how many miles have been put on your bike since your last service was done, and then add the total number of miles you will be riding on your trip. If the sum of these miles is greater than 5,000, you will have to plan to have your bike serviced while you are traveling. If that happens you will have to make an appointment and add time to your trip. However, you may be able to mitigate the need for a service stop on your trip by doing the service right before you leave.

I suggest you either change your oil, or at least check its level before starting out on a long motorcycle trip. Also inspect your motorcycle for signs of wear on your tires, brake pads, and final drive belt. Never risk riding on worn tires; it's better to get your tires replaced early than wait and have a flat somewhere out in the desert.

Motorcycle batteries usually last for about two years. If your battery is that old consider replacing it before leaving. At the least take your battery to your dealer, or Interstate Batteries, or Batteries Plus to get it checked.

Getting yourself ready

As was mentioned previously, long rides require endurance. Considering this, it's a good idea to train for this just as you would for any physical event by taking a few 300 – 500 mile day rides in the weeks before you leave.

Another thing to consider when getting yourself and your bike ready is to possibly add some comfort related items such as a windshield, rider back rest, and highway pegs. Additionally a tank bag is a good idea for carrying a camera and your directions / route cards. Having your camera easily accessible is nice because you can simply pull off the road to snap a few pictures and then quickly resume riding.

Packing

The first few times you pack for a long motorcycle trip can be a struggle, because motorcycles don't have much storage you must carefully select what you take. You should pack only what you will need and leave the rest behind.

What protective gear you need will depend on where you are going and when. At a minimum, I always take my leather jacket, a sweater, and my leather (or Levis) vest. I also frequently bring along my rain gear and water-proof gloves.

Regarding rain or cold weather gear, check the type of weather to expect on line before you leave. Carrying heated gear is optional based on where and what weather you might expect to be riding through. Like rain gear, heated gear doesn't take up much room, and while it may seem unnecessary on some trips, when it's needed it's REALLY needed.

For clothing, you only need to take enough for 5 to 7 days at most, no matter the length of your planned trip. This is because many motels have laundries and so you can wash your dirty clothes along the way. How much clothing you require for 5 to 7 days varies person to person based on your tolerance for your own body order. I usually take more sox and underwear than necessary because for me wearing dirty jeans and shirts is tolerable, but wearing dirty sox or underwear is just nasty.

If you plan on riding through the southwest where temperatures soar well over 100 degrees, I suggest you bring along a few light colored long sleeve shirts. While this suggestion may sound odd, keeping the sun from scorching your arms as you ride will make the excessive heat more bearable. Opinions vary on this though.

Don't forget to pack your toothbrush, toothpaste, and razor, along with any medications you need to take. For medications I usually count out how many pills I will need of each type then store them all together in a single bottle to save space. Additionally, remember to take something comfortable to sleep in, and also it's a good idea to pack a couple large plastic garbage bags to keep your dirty clothes in.

It's absolutely critical that you bring sunscreen, no matter the season.

In addition to all the necessary items, I usually take along at least a couple of luxury items.

First I like to take along my laptop computer, which I use to skype with my wife, read books from the Kindle app, and look up alternate routes if it becomes necessary. I always wrap electronics in an additional plastic bag to keep moisture away from them.

My second luxury item is usually a pair of sneakers. After a long day riding through the heat while wearing heavy motorcycle boots, donning a pair of sneakers feels darned good.

When it comes to physically placing your luggage on your motorcycle, it's important to keep the center of gravity low on your bike while at the same time not interfering with any moving parts. You can do this by placing items you don't need to get to everyday in your saddlebags. Generally speaking I use my saddlebags for gifts, heated gear, cold weather gloves, a good flashlight, and a spare set of bungee cords.

Beyond saddlebag storage, I keep my daily use items in a duffle bag that I bungee across my passenger seat. I also have a bag that will fit on my luggage rack what I use to hold my leather jacket on warm days and my rain gear. In general you want to keep your luggage low and toward the center of your bike.

Keep an eye on the balance of your motorcycle. Off center weight can alter the handling aspects of your bike.

Travel tips

Try to get a ground floor room when you check into your motel. Ideally you should be able to park your bike right in front of your room where you can keep an eye on it.

Generally speaking, the riding in other parts of the country is similar to riding the roads near home. There are a few things to keep in mind though.

Every part of the country has at least one unique road hazard that you need to watch out for. The problem with traveling is that you have no way of knowing what this hazard is beforehand. Here in Colorado the pea-gravel that accumulates after a snow storm can be a hazard, but we've all learned to watch out for it. However if you live in another part of the country you are not aware of it.

Probably the best advice I can offer is to respect the roads you ride on, and know that you are the foreigner in these environments. Unknown roads in unknown environments can surprise you, so expect the unexpected. Ride within your abilities, be courteous to the locals, maintain a positive outlook, and you should get by fine.

The best thing you can do while traveling is to enjoy yourself. If you smile and converse with the locals your world will open up and you'll have the time of your life.

"Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life."
    – Jack Kerouac