Saturday, August 15, 2009

Collision Avoidance Class


Our church riding group sponsored a one-day class called Motorcycle Collision Avoidance. Four instructors rode in from Charleston South Carolina to put it on for us. Two are motorcycle cops and the other two are experienced riders. One of the cops is also a riding instructor in his department, and, on occasion, for groups all over the eastern half of the country. All go to the same church down there in Charleston.

All of the instructors ride large cruisers, and they can scrape the floorboards at their whim. They handle their nearly 900 pound bikes as though they are lightweight bicycles.

The class started out with some orientation, how to check over the motorcycle before riding, and an introduction to the exercises that were to be practiced later in the day. Some of us looked just a bit apprehensive about doing a few of them. Nervous laughter could be heard at times during the descriptions.

We went outside from the classroom, and the instructor reviewed the basics of inspection. He told us that we were free not to do any of the exercises that we didn't feel comfortable with. He told us that we might drop our bikes today, so he proceeded to drop his onto the crash bars -- as we all gasped that he would do such a thing to his fine machine, and to show us how easy it is to put upright again.

The students' bikes were varied from sporty bikes like my Ninja 650R, to cruisers, standards, and one dual sport.

The morning was spent doing low speed maneuvers. These are especially useful in parking lots, in making U-turns, and in other tight places. Duck walking the bike and making multiple-point turns is greatly reduced by learning how to turn and lean the beast at low speeds.

Principle amongst the lessons was giving the right amount of throttle, feathering the clutch, and applying the rear brake. Now dad always cautioned me about slipping the clutch in the car when I was learning to drive, but on a motorcycle, the clutch is made to withstand considerable abuse like that because it is [or should be] an often-used technique.

Feeling the friction point consistently was first. A 2 by 4 was used to gauge how well we were doing. (No, they didn't have to use the 2 by 4 on any of us directly.) If we could start out with the rear wheel just in back of the lumber, then feather the clutch enough to go over it without kicking it backward, that was about right.

Once that was mastered, the simultaneous throttle opening to just above idle RPM, the use of the rear brake, and the feathered clutch proved to be the winning combination for low speed turns. If you feel as though you are falling down, let off the brake a little, release the clutch a little, and the bike stands back up. What a difference compared with trying to regulate speed with the throttle only or with the clutch in or out completely! The throttle, just above idle, is too sensitive to regulate these low speed maneuvers.

Oh, one more thing. None of this works at all unless you are looking where you want to go. You should NOT look here:

If you look at the ground, you will end up there. Believe it or not, if you look at that traffic cone way over your shoulder, that is where the bike will go. It is like magic. Our necks were thoroughly limbered up by the end of the morning, having turned our heads like owls to look where we wanted to go.

We did figure eights, easy weaves around cones in a straight line, and slaloms around a forest of cones that looked impossibly tight.

Note the illuminated brake lights, indicating that the rear brake is being used here.

Bucky getting some one-on-one instruction.

Again, note that the brake light is on.

The instructor showing us the way to look where we want to go.

The teachers stood nearby on each of these,

gesturing and giving instruction: Look at me! Don't look down! Give it some more throttle! Good job! That's it! Go, go, go! Let me help you pick up that bike.

Yes, it did happen. Several of us dropped our bikes. Usually this was caused by looking in the wrong direction or not adding sufficient throttle to pull the bike through the tight maneuvers. Fortunately, no real harm was done to either man or beast.

Incidentally, there were three women students amongst the ten who took the class. Each of them did well. And, did you pick up on the number of students versus the number of instructors? Yep. Ten students and four instructors. Each of us had almost half of an instructor's attention for the entire day. That is pretty intensive training.

Just before noon, the instructors showed off their skills a bit, riding the same courses we had -- and more, but much faster and more aggressively. There was a lot of scraping of floorboards on the tarmac, but under complete control. Later, one of them said that when they are demonstrating a technique to the class, that it is actually somewhat difficult for them to slow it down to a speed that the student is likely to be able to run.

At noon, we rode back to the building for lunch and to cool off. The day was warm -- about eighty-eight degrees, and partly cloudy. It was just about ideal, considering that the temperature could have been in the high nineties with high humidity. Still, the air conditioning was a welcome change.

After a sumptuous lunch of hot dogs, potato salad, pasta salad, brownies, and other goodies, catered by volunteers from the motorcycle group, we asked questions of one of the instructors while the other three want out to prepare for the afternoon's festivities.

Soon it was time to go see what they had wrought. All of us eagerly rode back to the course and found the cones lined up in a row. We were to learn threshold braking next. The cones were set up so that two riders could be on the course at once and we were to get up to thirty miles per hour and use mostly the front brake, but a little rear brake, to stop as quickly as possible. This was entirely different from the morning exercises where we were using the rear brake exclusively to regulate our low speeds.

The instructors demonstrated how only a little rear brake pressure is correct. You just want to take out the slack on the rear brake when you begin braking because the pitching forward of the bike on its front forks and the consequent change in posture of the rider adds about the right amount of additional rear brake pressure.

Squeezing the front brake lever as though it were an orange was given as an example of correct technique: You apply the brake, not grab it.

We then proceeded to practice: We grabbed front brakes and skidded rear tires until we began to master the correct technique. There was plenty of rubber left on the course from our rear tires, but after about twenty tries, all of the students got the hang of it and were stopping much more rapidly than before, mostly without leaving any rubber on the road. Again, that was real progress. ...and the instructors were unfailingly patient and encouraging through it all.

Next a little nuance was added: We had to apply maximum braking, then swerve through a tight Z-path as though we had just braked to avoid hitting some road hazard, then had to maneuver around it at low speed.

Thought process: Slow down quickly using threshold technique, then switch to the throttle open/feathered clutch/rear brake method to get through the tight spot. My brain was reeling, trying to practice in my mind's eye what I would have to do. I said a prayer to give me ability beyond my own. After a try or two, I was actually able to do it. ...and it wasn't that hard. Prayer works!

But at first....

Reflections in the side cases.

We went down the course in pairs.

Next up was swerving. We had to swerve in the direction the instructor indicated. It seemed as though he always waited until the rider was impossibly close to the cones before indicating which direction to swerve. Actually, there was plenty of room, but it didn't seem like it initially. Yet again, before long, all of us were swerving right or left at the instructor's whim. He only had to dodge one time.

All right, now let's put this together, swerving right, swerving left, or threshold braking as directed by the instructor.

The clever instructor gave no indication of what he was going to do, then indicated what he wanted us to do at the last possible nanosecond. On this one, he had to dodge more than once, and the rear tire skids and less-than-threshold braking reappeared. Nevertheless, we did catch on for the most part after some practice.

An important lesson was learned here: That we must practice, practice, practice until the techniques become second nature. Old habits can come back all too easily if we don't continually review them correctly.

The last exercise of the day was curve negotiation. The instructors set up some cones in a curved pattern, and had us sweep through, apexing at about the midpoint.

Once we had a few practice runs, they introduced a hazard -- one of the instructors -- when we were in some part of the curve. If they stepped into the curve or waved their hands or yelled, we had to straighten up and stop. The key word here is straighten up and stop as quickly as possible. By apexing, that leaves room for straightening and stopping in the unleaned position. If you don't apex, you could be too close to the edge of the lane and go off if you have to slow or stop.


Motor on, girl.

Every student participated in all of the exercises. Some students were so enthusiastic that they didn't want to stop when the instructors gave them the signal. All in all, everyone in the class learned a remarkable amount in the short time allotted.

One key is that we had only been introduced to the techniques and skills. It is up to us to practice them. They recommended that we practice one or two skills every time we go out.

The instructors also cautioned us that we can easily become overconfident and ride beyond our skills. We must be on the lookout for this by recognizing when our fear level is going up, when we start to panic, and when we start to make mistakes on the road. Riding partners, too, can help us spot these things and gently remind us to take it easy, rest, or quit riding for the day.

Incidentally, the four instructors gave freely of their time and talent and expected nothing in return. They were truly Godly men, giving freely to us -- and unafraid to share what being a Christian means.

They are all members of the Carolina FaithRiders.

The next morning, before the parking lot began to fill, the skid marks are still evident.

This had been a worthwhile day of learning and fellowship.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bucky. I enjoyed meeting everyone and I am so happy that I took the course. Your blog is great. Keep up the good work and God Bless You.

David Wampole