One Season In!

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Total: 1652 Miles 70.16 Hours
Total # Of Trips: 78
Average Trip: 21.18 miles 54 Minutes
Shortest Trip: 1.4 Miles 10.2 Minutes
Longest Trip: 99.7 miles 2.5 Hours

I had originally started this entry as an ongoing diary for the year but then figured Iíd skip boring you with the detail and try to summarize the progress made and the things Iíve learned in the first riding season. 1652 miles and 70 hours is obviously not a lot of miles or hours of riding by any means, but it is certainly educational.

Riding season started March 28th and is just now approaching its end in the beginning of November. Iíve discovered that I prefer riding in spring and autumn since the temps are cooler. Riding in full gear, even mesh gear, gets really hot when temps climb to the mid 70ís and above, and I donít ride any distance not geared up.

Motorcycles are not practical modes of transportation for someone who has to carry multiple large packages to job sites. They are a lot of fun to ride, even around town at low speeds but they are far from the most practical vehicle for carrying anything bigger than sayÖ. a medium sized PC bungeed to the pillion. This prevented using it on days that would have been perfect riding days but required a lot more carrying capacity. A luggage rack install is planned over the winter, which will marginally increase the carrying capacity, but every little bit helps, and if it lets me ride more, all the better.

Iíve come a long way in one season. From dropping the bike on my first ride, my fourth ride and, yes, again on the 36th ride, by which time I really should have known better. None of the drops were life threatening or damaging to anything but my ego but they still hurt. Stupid mistakes in every case. This last drop taught me that I needed to modify my braking method. I now begin the stopping process using both brakes, slow to almost a complete stop then slowly release the pressure on the front brake and complete the stop with only the rear brake. No more tipsy, unbalanced stops.

Advancing in your ability to ride requires the courage to push beyond your limits. Attempting something for the first time with the motorcycle, and possibly for several times afterwards, results in butterflies in the stomach, anxiety and discomfort. Pushing through these feelings and doing those things that challenge you are the only way to progress in your riding skills. I started out riding by taking long routes that avoided roads that I considered obstacles. Traffic signals on hills, or any hill that would possibly require a stop. Business highways with two lanes in each direction and a turning lane that may require a lane change. As each of my challenges was faced and overcome I became more relaxed on the bike. More confident that I could handle the very situations that I had previously feared and more confident that I could progress further.

Highway riding: This is my remaining major obstacle. Iíve made a couple of short trips on a non-crowded highway near home with a 65 mph speed limit just to get the feel for it. Iím still not comfortable with this and it takes me back to beginning to ride on the street. It makes me feel like Iím riding a bicycle down the middle of the road in traffic. Iím not ready to jump into real highway traffic yet with lots of cars and trucks surrounding me. The portion of highway I would have to travel to get anywhere I would want to go is one of the most congested in the area. Advancing to highway riding is in the plans for sometime next season. Until Iím ready, side streets and through town is the way for me and Iím ok with that.

Riding has become easier with each ride. Itís like learning to ride a bicycle all over again, balancing, starting, stopping, and turning all without falling over. Stops have become cleaner and starting out again has become smoother and faster. Since most of my riding is commuting on the same roads over and over I can experiment with riding style and see the results different things have on how the bike handles. A major thing I have implemented is ďkiss the mirrorĒ. Lean forward and toward the mirror in the direction you are turning the bike. Prior to this I was keeping my position more upright and letting the bike move under me (counter-weighting). This resulted in having to slow unnecessarily when negotiating curves and FORCING the bike go around the curves. With the forward and left/right body lean, the bike feels completely different. It feels like it wants to make the turns by itself, no more fighting it to make it do what I want it to do.

Target fixation: It can happen at any time. After almost 1,500 miles of riding and 75 hours of riding time I took a 68 mile round trip to visit a client. The route I took avoided all the major highways and used roads through towns that I was unfamiliar with. I missed a turn, ended up on a 5 lane road and had to turn around. Five lanes. Plenty of room to pull out of the parking lot I used to turn around in and be on my merry way. At least one would think. Not so. I target fixated on the shoulder beyond the fifth lane as I crossed the road. I turned my head to look where I wanted to go at the last minute but still ended up on the shoulder of the road. Visions of the second time I dropped the bike danced in my head. Very similar situation Ė smaller road. I was so worried about crossing the five lanes AND making sure that I could see if any traffic was approaching, that I looked forward in a way that kept any traffic approaching me in my peripheral vision. This resulted in looking straight ahead at the road shoulder instead of looking through the turn. Rookie mistake!

Riding in the rain: Twice Iíve been caught out in the rain. The first time it happened the rain itself, temperature drop, and being a little wet definitely made it harder to concentrate on riding well. I probably should have stopped and put a cold weather line under my jacket but I was about 15 minutes from home at that point and just rode through it. Now I know better, stop and put the warmer liner on.

Crosswinds: They can be unexpected and can really push the motorcycle sideways and can make for an interesting, and depending upon your definition, a fun ride.

The Handlebar Death Grip: I donít know exactly when it happened but the death grip on the handlebars seems to have eased up. After months of coaching myself to relax my grip on the handlebars I think itís finally worked its way into my head that I donít have to hold onto the handlebars like theyíre trying to get away from me. I leave my left hand very relaxed and spread out over the clutch lever with the heel of my hand resting on the handgrip which puts the clutch in easy reach in case I need to react quickly. I grip the throttle with just the pressure necessary to have good control.

Traffic: Yes, we do have to share the road with tailgating, speeding teenagers (and those that are not teenagers anymore). This was a major distraction when I started riding. It felt like everyone was going to run me over. I still watch my mirrors when stopping and while stopped but Iíve become more relaxed in traffic. Not every vehicle approaching from behind looks like a tank about to run me down any more. Some even give a wide berth when following on the road. Overall Iíve found that the majority of people seem to notice the motorcycle and are willing to share the road. That doesnít mean that Iím no longer ďSEEĒing but it does give you the ability to relax a little more and realize that while every car is a POTENTIAL hazard, every car is not actually a REAL hazard.

Keep the Shiny Side Up!

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  1. Bugguts's Avatar
    Well done! This is a great start. May those butterflies soon be riding beside you.
  2. Trials's Avatar
    "Some even give a wide berth when following on the road" :I that would be the other motorcycle riders
  3. liberpolly's Avatar
    What a great write up! Something for me to look forward to as I am finishing my 5th hundred of miles
  4. TwoSpot's Avatar
    Great write up!! I'm going on 11 months riding with only February and part of March off the road. I'm just over 5000 miles in that time. I am still terrified of the slow speed stuff... parking lots, u-turns, pulling out of parking spaces. However put me on the PA Turnpike, NJ Turnpike, Garden State Parkway and I am super comfortable. Shows how different humans are. I remember you telling me how you can do full lock turns and what not. I don't even want to attempt that!!! Great work and it has to feel even better riding your dad's Road King! Keep it up!!
  5. Ninja Rebel's Avatar
    Nicely written AL, I enjoyed it !
  6. firedad's Avatar
    It's funny, doesn't really matter which bike you're on, there's a ton of similar things when you're learning. Granted this was posted a while ago, but if you haven't yet, you'll get used to the highway and be just fine.

    One other thing. At this point... SERIOUSLY consider getting ahold of a local track day organization. I don't know where you're at, but there's likely one relatively nearby. You will learn more in 1 track day/school than the next few years. It will help with body position, braking, target fixation etc...etc...etc... Don't stress it at all about being on a cruiser. Level 1 is no problem what so ever for cruisers. And it's not just for sport bikes. You won't believe the fun you'll have.
  7. scooterwolf's Avatar
    My reply is nearly a year layer to the day. Great blog. After reading about your experience part of me wonders if you would benefit more from a 200cc plus scooter given your need for storage.

    Regarding highway riding one of the first things to do is to find yourself a bubble. This is a space between the wolf packs, or clusters of cars. Next, I follow the 2 second rule - stay two seconds behind the vehicle in front of you. If it's a large truck or bus, then stay 200 feet behind it. Any closer and you're in the 'No Zone' where the driver can 't see you.

    On the topic of turning you may benefit more from counter-steering. This eliminates the need to lean your bike, and to place the controls in your handle bars. This requires you to turn your wheel slightly opposite of where you want to go. To do this push your left hand grip forward to turn left. Push your right hand grip forward to to turn right. Push left, turn left. Push right, turn right. This is best done at higher speeds - anything above 20 - 25 mph. Perform counter-steering in combination with looking onto your turns (without fixating).

    I hope at this point you are a comfortable and confident rider. Great blog!

    - Wolf