Thursday, July 20, 2006

Motorcycle Diaries, The Beginning

Saturday, 7/15, ODO 28
Burn-in Noon to 4PM: three cycles of 200 degrees to cool.
Practice rides (2); ride to Home Depot; ride to Waxpool.
Notable: Being tail-gated by an SUV at 60 mph in a 40 mph zone.

Monday, 7/17, ODO 69
Practice ride; south on Loudoun County Parkway to shopping center; north on Loudoun County Parkway to GW campus and soccer fields beyond.
Notable: A flock of 10-20 geese crossing the road on the way to the Parkway. Density of bugs on Loudoun County Parkway at 9PM. Cleaning up the bike, helmet, and jacket, after.

Wednesday, 7/19, ODO 84
Emergency breaking practice and warm-up; south on Loudoun County Parkway to Belmont Ridge Road.
Notable: Dramatically better overall control, improved shifting, and riding with authority. First "wave" to fellow rider -- simultaneously upsetting my balance during the entry into the turn.

Thursday, 7/20, ODO 90
Trip to Safeway for B-day card; 20 psi in front tire increased to 35 psi (warm).
Notable: Warming up 7/19 made a difference -- control tonight was not as smooth / precise. Saved gas!

Friday, 7/21, ODO 109
Air in rear tire to 37 psi (warm); Wendy's for lunch, mentioned Apex to the cashier; first ride to work; ride home just before 4PM to avoid rush-hour traffic.
Notable: Second, third, and fourth waves to other riders, without upsetting balance. Riding with increased confidence: better control, smooth shifting and speed.

Saturday, 7/22, ODO 126
Rear 35 psi (cold), front 33 psi (cold). Claiborne to Lansdowne to Ashburn Village Blvd.
Notable: Home too soon. But, ready for TopCoder SRM 312 chat at 11AM.

Sunday, 7/23, ODO 171
Rear 35 psi (cold), front 31 psi (cold). Gas: 3.133 gallons (i.e., 40 mpg). Claiborne to Ashburn Rd to Loudoun County Parkway to Rt.7 to Fairfax County Parkway to 50 to Rt.28 to Waxpool.
Notable: Longest ride yet (45 miles), average speed 40 mph, top speed (with traffic) 75 mph+. Followed cars (at 4s+ distance) on Fairfax County Parkway at 65 mph, and on parts of Rt.28 at 75 mph+. Is me, or do cars just go faster when they're in proximity of motorcycles?

Monday, 7/24, ODO 186
Rear 35 psi (cold), front 31 psi (cold). Work and back.
Notable: At least for the ride to work, time seems to pass much more quickly on a motorcycle.

Tuesday, 7/25, ODO 199
Rear 34 psi (cold), front 31 psi (cold). Work and back, again.
Notable: The ride home... I was slowing, approaching the intersection watching for traffic as the light turned green. I'd learned my lesson years ago about entering intersections immediately after the green: two cars running the red light, I hit the second. So, perhaps I was more focused on the road than I the bike... I accidentally reved the engine and popped the clutch following the green. I wouldn't call it a wheelie as much as a squirlie... the front end got extra-twitchy, and I just about swerved into the adjacent lane. Fortunately, I'll never know how close I got to dropping the bike, cause getting back on the clutch and off the throttle brought the bike under control. To think... I'm still working hard to keep it under 6,000 rpm (red-line at 11,000 rpm). The break-in period has been good for the bike, and it has been good for me!

Wednesday, 7/26, ODO 226
Evening, Loudoun County Parkway.

Thursday, 7/27, ODO 242
Work. At lunch, Giant, McDonald's, home to avoid the rain.

Sunday, 7/30, ODO 279
Rear 36 psi (cold), front 33 psi (cold). Belmont Ridge to Loundoun County Parkway, to Rt.28 to 606 to Waxpool to GW to Claiborne. Gas: 3.143 gallons (i.e., 48.7 mpg).

Monday, 7/31, ODO 295
Work and back.

Tuesday, 8/1, ODO 315
Work and back.

Saturday, 8/5, ODO 366
Rear 35 psi (cold), front 32 psi (cold). Work briefly for a couple emails, then around.
Notable: A bright yellow bird (of caution?) flying directly at my head on Loudoun County Parkway as I hit 73 mph... or something like that. I ducked, he veered.
More notable: A guy leaving Home Depot with a 2x4 out his left rear window -- without a flag... protruding three or four feet from the side of the car ...into my lane as we passed.

Sunday, 8/6, ODO 394
To Best Buy to pick up a new camera, and Loudoun County Parkway.
Notable: At a four way stop, a girl in a Z4, cell phone in one hand, the other hand wrestling with the small dog on her lap as she turned left. A rough standing start onto Rt.28 with two stalls.... it's hard to get a bike moving in 4th. Passing a GSX-R1000 on Loudoun County Parkway (going opposite directions).

Monday, 8/7, ODO 407:
To work and back, in the wind and rain.
Notable: Rushing home at 4PM to avoid the storm, and instead hitting the weather at it's peak, winds gusting to 40 mph (fun on a bike), and rain for the last mile or two. Many lightening strikes. But, no hail, fortunately. After I finished cleaning and drying off the bike, the sky cleared and the sun came out. Nice. Ride to/from work was smooth, quick, and exact - even in the rain (although, less quick).

Tuesday, 8/8, ODO 425
To work and back.
Notable: 600 mile service scheduled for next week. Weather was iffy in the morning, but by 3PM was taunting me with sunny skys, low humidity, and reasonable temps, so I drove home to pick up the bike. Got my hair cut on the way home (after stopping at the barber shop, and removing my helmet ;-)). Ride to/from work was good, although shifts were a bit abrupt.

Wednesday, 8/9, ODO 438
To work and back.

Friday, 8/11, ODO 474
To work, Loudoun Motorsports for plates, home.
Notable: Beautiful weather. And, everyone is in a hurry to get home on Rt.7 on Friday afternoons. ;-)

Saturday, 8/12, ODO 521
Belmont Ridge, Loudoun County Parkway, Rt.28 South, Dulles Air & Space Museum, Rt.28 North, George Washington University, Loudoun County Parkway.
Notable: Absolutely perfect weather (high 60s, low 70s), at 25 mph mesh jacket was too cold, returned home for lether jacket - perfect! Warm even at 80 mph on Rt.28 North (following traffic). Everyone is in a hurry on Saturday mornings, too. In crouched position at 80 mph, the sound of the wind on the helmet is like a shuttle lift-off; an amazing sound, actually.

Sunday, 8/13, ODO 521
The morning weather is absolutely perfect once more... but I'm too tired to ride safely. Sleep in and have coffee with our exchange students visiting from Japan. Then, take them to Summit Point Raceway to watch Superstock and Superbike, Heavy, 750cc, and 600cc expert and novice races. One of the top Superbike lap times: 1 minute, 17 seconds. 2 miles. Average speed: 93.5 mph!

Monday, 8/14, ODO 548
Morning temps started at 72 but rapidly climbed to 84. After a day in DC with friends from Japan, out for a "quick" ride: Belmont Ridge, Loudoun County Parkway, Waxpool to Claiborne Parkway.
Notable: Small deer in the forest on Belmont Ridge at twighlight; fortunately, they stayed in the forest. Practice evasive riding. Increased poise and control - better sense of balance and comfort at 50+ mph.

Wednesday, 8/16, ODO 586
To Loudoun Motorsports for 600 mile service.
Notable: Adrenaline rush from riding on Belmont Ridge and Rt.7. Rider's High? I'm particularly surprised to see no references to the term (for motorcyclists) on the web.

Thursday, 8/17, ODO 605/618
From Loudoun Motorsports to work, and then home. And, a late-night ride after dinner - ostensibly, to pick up razors from the grocery store. Hey!? I was out.
Notable: Visibility on turns in the dark is very limited.

Tuesday, 8/21, ODO 638
A nice day - to work and back.
Notable: Nice to be able to rev beyond 6,000 RPM.

Wednesday, 8/22, ODO 677
To work and back, and to/from lunch at Pacific.

Thursday, 8/23, ODO 693
To work and back.

Tuesday, 8/28, ODO 697
Evening ride, football practice, the pet store.
Notable: A whole weekend without riding!?

Wednesday, 8/30, ODO 707
To work and back.
Notable: Riding in the rain with rush-hour traffic. The theory among rush-hour drivers in the rain must go: the closer I follow, the less chance the driver will have had to slow down when I run into him.

Thursday, 8/31, ODO 722
To work and back.
Notable: Weather was cool: 71 degrees, overcast, and breezy. But, my riding was not at all smooth, and eratic drivers were everywhere.

Monday, 9/4, ODO 762
Labor Day, to Legend's old office, McDonald's and back.
Notable: 60s, light traffic.

Friday, 9/8, ODO 787
To work, and home via 606, Rt.50 and Belmont Ridge with Kevin.
Notable: Beautiful weather, stuck on Belmont Ridge behind two cement mixers and a school bus.

Sunday, 9/10, ODO 816
Local test rides, followed by a trip to Best Buy via Loudoun County Parkway and Rt.28, then to GW soccer fields, and home.
Notable: Carrying "The Command & Conquer Collection" on my back under my riding jacket ("Cool geek?") And, upon returning home, being told by a female neighbor that I'm the "rock star of the neighborhood." LOL

Monday, 9/11, ODO 830
To work, and home.

Wednesday, 9/13, ODO 860
To work, to Unos (diet coke, only), to back to school night (sport-biker jackets get a lot of different looks at back to school night), and home in the dark.
Notable: The morning weather is chilly: 64 degrees at 50 mph is surprisingly cold -- effectively about 45 degrees. Rt.7 traffic was horrible, but the route through GW and across to the Loudoun County Parkway may actually have been quicker -- certainly, more fun. Back to school night made me want to go back to school (for the first time, ever).

Friday, 9/15, ODO 886
To work, to Unos (again, but still only diet coke), and home.
Notable: Rt.7 traffic was surprisingly light, but the route through GW was still more fun. Every now and then I'll see crazy-fast bikers blowing through there; I work to avoid being one of them.

Saturday, 9/16, ODO 1030
To Belmont Ridge Middle School, toward Tysons Corner, and then home via Reston Parkway and Rt.28 (in the rain). Second trip in the afternoon to Coleman Powersports in Woodbridge.
Notable: On the chain gang for football - and, we won 21-0. Moto Fair and Midnight Madness Sale was awesome - wheelie machine, 540 boyz stunts, dyno tests of several wild bikes, and a slew of bikes of all shapes and sizes. The Ducati 999 and Suzuki GSX-R1000 both look much more approachable now, than they did last time I visited Coleman (in early July).

Sunday, 9/17, ODO 1078
To Purcellville on Rt.7 then back on the Rt.7 Bypass.
Notable: Beautiful weather - impossible to stay in. Saw McDonald's sign on the Purcellville exit, and after turning toward Purcellville -- but missed it. Lunch later. Saw 89 mph on the way back.

Monday, 9/18, ODO 1088
To back to school-night and back.
Notable: Parking a motorcycle is a lot easier -- getting out through all the traffic was a little easier, but not as easy as it should have been; lane splitting is legal in California.

Tuesday, 9/20, ODO 1116
To work, to Bungalow Billiards via Rt.28 in rush-hour traffic, and home (in even more rush-hour traffic) via Rt.28 and the Greenway.
Notable: Fortunately, not much. ;-) Nice weather. Paid cash to get on the Greenway.

Wednesday, 9/21, ODO 1133
To work, to VW dealership to look at Eos (for the third time), and home.
Notable: $2,000 cash down and $499 / month, four year lease. Hmm... Sounds like a Ducati 999 and a Suzuki GSX-R1000, with cash left over for maintenance and tires.

Thursday, 9/22, ODO 1156
To work, to Countryside, and home.

Sunday, 9/24, ODO 1175
Notable: Clearly, winter is going to be torture; 60 degrees is about my limit in my current gear.

Monday, 9/25, ODO 1195
To work and back.
Notable: After noon, the weather is perfect - blue skies and 75 degrees. But, what the heck!? See Faster...

Wednesday, 9/27, ODO 1224
To work and back (the long way) - still used less gas! ;-)
Notable: Comfortable riding a bit faster than before - but now back in sync with the bike and the speed. Absolutely perfect weather - hated to stop riding in the morning.

Thursday, 9/28, ODO 1281
To Borders for the next issue of Fast Bikes, to work, to Loudoun Motorsports and home.
Notable: Loudoun County Parkway.


Monday, July 17, 2006

The Sixth Sense

Why is it that all children are taught that they have only "five senses"....

Doesn't a sense of gravity (i.e., acceleration) count as a sixth? ...could you live without it?

Just a thought.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Motorcycle Safety

I picked up my new Suzuki SV650S today. With 10 hours riding experience, it seemed that 0-60 in 4.0 seconds and a top speed of ~130 mph would be sufficient for the first few months or so.

My ultimate goal is the Suzuki GSX-R1000 fondly known by enthusiasts as the "gixer" after the GSX-R portion of the name... but right now, I refer to it as "death on wheels." One web site writes "In 2005 the GSX-R1000 re-wrote the rule book for liter class supersport bikes." It's an awesome bike, but I'd like to avoid "learning the hard way" on that monster.

So, after burning in the 650, I took several short practice rides around the neighborhood and local school parking lot. Who knew riding 10 miles could be so exhausting! Part of it is mental, the other part was the death-grip I had on the handlebars. ;-) Top speeds of 30 mph, and then 45 mph, for each run.

Next, I headed to Home Depot to catch up with a neighbor-friend, a fellow biker. It's a short trip on back roads, with only a few intersections (aka places to die at the hands of other drivers). I caught up with him at Home Depot, and then rode home with him... apart. He has a little more riding experience, so I didn't work too hard to keep up, and just focused on my own ride. Top speed 50-ish.

After taking another break, catching some water to replace the 1.5 lbs of sweat soaked into my jeans and shirt (93 degrees and 100% humidity today), I decided to head out a bit further. After reaching my destination and chatting for a while (and catching my breath), headed back home. Top speed 60+ a 40 mph zone.

Now, you're thinking: "jeez, it's happening again, another motorcyclist out of control, insane with the power." Well... uh, yeah. No.

Now, don't get me wrong, I do like acceleration as much as the next guy, and the power of the bike is intoxicating. Running through the gears rapidly, with each pulling the bike forward as hard as the last, is a pretty intense feeling. I drive a BMW 330i, and enjoy pushing it as well, so won't claim to be a complete innocent. But.... that's not how this story went. Here's the deal:

With an SUV to my right, and behind me, I waited at the light. Green. I accelerated quickly, but at roughly the same pace as the SUV to my right. (Remember, this is a 40 mph street.) He hit 50 mph+ and was leading me a bit. The guy behind me must also have been in a hurry, because he was right on my rear end. He didn't bump me, so I suppose he knew I was there... but over the next mile or so as we pushed 60 mph, it seemed that "following distance" wasn't something of particular importance to this guy. And, with the other SUV now barely trailing to my right, the options were limited.

As we crested the hill and came around the corner, what should we see, but a cop who had pulled someone over! I slowed to 50 mph for the cop, then stopped at the next red light. Hmmm. Karma? I looked over my shoulder at the guy, stared at him for a bit, and shook my head.

For the next stretch, I still had traffic to my right (no room to move over) but decided to hold to 50 mph rather than continuing to risk my life for this idiot. Dogs, kids, joggers, and cross-traffic abounded; all out today just to help me with my first day on the bike.

At the next light (also red) I signaled left, and pulled into the turn lane to a stop. My new friend pulled up beside me.... The light was long, so after a while, I looked over his direction. He looked back. I kept looking. He looked and motioned as if to say "what!?" I pulled up my visor as he rolled down his window.

"Dude! You're doing 60 mph with no following distance. If I go down, you're going to run me over and kill me!!"

Apparently the concept of the 40 mph speed limit for the road was also lost on this guy, because he responded lamely about how I was speeding up and slowing down. Uh. Yeah, speeding up because the light turned green, and slowing down because we were 20 mph over the speed limit and were passing a cop!! Duh!?

I pray that the exchange will sink into his head sometime later tonight, and he'll realize that not all motorcyclists are desparate to prove their manhood through maximum acceleration, and that his ability to follow closely at 60 mph in a 40 mph zone doesn't say much about him either. But, I don't hope for much.

In my roughly 40 miles of riding this afternoon, I encountered more bad driving than I'll typically encounter in a week or two in my car.

And, it's not just the drivers!! On my way out of our neighborhood, I encountered a family of five or so, stroller included, entered the street without so much as a glance as I approached at 30 mph. I was in second or third gear, with the clutch out, so the engine should have been audible (assuming my 6'3" presence in black and red, with blue-white helmet wasn't visible to them in broad daylight). But, for all intents and purposes, I was invisible to them until I approached and stopped within 10-20 feet, to let them all cross, like a family of ducks. The father, leading the group waved thanks as he reached the other side. I waited for the mom and remaining children to clear, and then accelerated past.

Any new rider will hear it over and over again... but it's amazing to experience it first hand: Motorcyclists are invisible to drivers. Just ask Ben Roethlisberger. Talk about learning the hard way!

As a Steelers fan, I'm glad to see: "Big Ben's recovery from a serious accident continues ahead of schedule. He'll also take part in a music video following his golf outing." Lets hope that the lyrics in the music video say something about riding with a helmet being a good idea after all. ;-)

Speaking of which... I was pretty shocked. On my second brief practice excursion (earlier in the day), as I cruised through our neighborhood at 25mph+ I realized that without glasses, it was time to put the visor down. I went through "Basic Rider Course" training with sunglasses and the visor up (in a parking lot, never exceeding 20 mph) so I had learned to dislike the lack of air with the visor down, the fogging, etc. But, I snapped the visor down, and continued on my way. As I turned toward the newly finished but unused service road to practice, I accelerated to 45 mph. Relatively smoothly, I might add. :-) At the T-junction at the end of the street, I signaled, and stopped to turn right. As I accelerated onto the new road, I realized that I'd forgotten that the visor was down... only the lack of wind in my eyes and the relative quiet reminded me that it was in place. Nice!

Now... not all drivers are totally oblivious or inconsiderate (I'm glad to say that I can include myself on that list, even before I decided to start riding). While riding home with my neighbor, one driver with right-of-way went out of his way at a four-way stop to let both of us proceed, even though he should have gone after my neighbor, as I pulled forward and stopped. After stopping, I actually had to wave him through the intersection to get him to take his turn. Now, folks around our area do seem to be perplexed about the concept of right-of-way at a four way stop -- but in this case, this fellow seemed to have decided that bikers riding together should all get to go through stop signs together, as though they're collectively equivalent to a single vehicle. Go figure!

So, a day (my first at speed on a motorcycle) ended without road rash or death. A good day indeed!