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+ ...in 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!

1 comment:

Larkin said...

Very nice little read. I am buying an SV-650 this weekend myself. They're all gone at all the dealerships but I found a nice 2007 in Blue. I'm going to have them throw on an exhaust, a rear fender eliminating license plate mount and the gel seat when I buy it. I am scheduled to take the MSF course in a month, but I am worried I wont be able to find an SV at the dealer then so I'm going to go ahead and snag it now.

I may ride it around in the parking lots down the service road in my neighborhood a bit after I get my permit but other than that I'm going to wait until I finish the MSF to take it out on the street.

A guy I know showed me the basics of riding on his Honda Hawk GT and that was a whole lot of fun. After a couple of hours on it I was able to get used to counter-steering and I was even able to give it near full throttle in second gear a bit when I was going straight.

I loved the torque of that V-Twin and I knew I wanted a bike with a similar configuration, relatively lightweight, low center of gravity, plenty of power at any rpm. I'm super excited about getting the SV! Now I just have to be careful and take it one step at a time. She's way too pretty to lay down, that's for sure.