Tuesday, July 15, 2014

New Guys

A few weekends ago, I met up with a couple of new guys.  Now, these new guys were not just new riding companions, but both of them are new to riding.  I met one of them, Chris, by following him home the previous weekend. 

That sounds a little creepy, but, in fact, I happened to be nearly home from a ride, saw him, and followed him a mile or so to his house.  I introduced myself, and offered that we could ride some time. 

We made arrangements for the next weekend, and he asked whether another friend of his, Austin, could come too. 

Well, we met up at the local Dunkin Doughnut shop.  Before you get the wrong idea based only on our meeting place, there was only one guy on a cruiser – and it was a Triumph.  Don’t y'all go stereotyping us on our food preferences, please. 

Anyway, it turns out that both of the new guys are engineers, and as you recall, so am I.  Speaking of stereotypes, I have to admit that this is one place where a stereotype might be accurate.  Here we have three engineers, all a bit introverted, so you can imagine the conversation… 

…or lack of it, to start. 



“I’m Bucky.” 

“Glad to meet you.” 

Then a pause.  You see, engineers tend to dwell on facts, not fluff.  We are models of efficiency.  We’d already gotten all the niceties out of the way, and now we were flummoxed on what to say next.  We needed some more facts. 

We finally did get the conversation cranked up, but, even so, quite a bit of it was about business, and engineering, motorcycling, and other technical topics. 

Once the appropriate number of doughnuts had been consumed, we discussed the ride route.  My engineering bent came out again, as I distributed annotated maps, and explained where we were going, the road difficulty levels, how to space ourselves, that you should look where you want to go, you should not try to keep up if you are on the edge of fear, etc. 

Here is the route we had planned: 

I don’t lead group rides very often, but I try to do a few things right when I do.  One thing is to give the basic rules of group riding, amongst them staggered lane placement, to ride your own ride, and to look where you want to go, no matter what.  

Another thing that is important for the leader to do is to start out slowly after a stop or turn so the others don’t have to go too fast to catch up.  I find that I have to keep reminding myself of this throughout the day.  Jackrabbit starter, I guess. 

After a prayer for safety and enjoyment of God's creation, we geared up and were off.

I remember when I was at the stage these guys are.  My then new friend Ryan helped me start through my learning curve on the trip he led me on to Saluda North Carolina, way back in 2009. 

I remember too, because of the sensory overload of learning to ride, I couldn’t even remember what gear I was in at first.  He verbally coached me half way through the ride when we stopped for a soda pop, gave me signals on the proper gear selection from his bike as we went, and demonstrated the correct lines though the curves that, for him, were being taken at a painfully slow pace. I didn't think so at the time.  

Note: The following account includes comments made by one of the new guys himself, in bold typeface, and prefaced by his name. 

The initial route today, leading to the north and west from the town of Pickens, SC is pretty easy, with some sweeping curves, until we hit SC-11, which is wide and almost straight.  Then we turn to the north onto SC-130 toward Whitewater Falls.  This turn is a tight right-hander that sometimes has gravel in it.  Today it doesn’t have any, but I make it a point to go a little slower than usual because of its tightness.  I watch my rear view mirrors, and the others seem to have done all right – they didn't go wide into the opposite lane. 

SC-130 has many more sweeping curves over the ten miles or so we will travel on it.  Most of them have good sight distance, so the riding is not as difficult as it could be. 

This bicyclist was stopped along the way, but not quite off the road.  We slowed down and gave him a little room as we passed.  He doesn't look like he is a hard-core rider like I saw last week -- and almost got to know too well -- on the ridiculously twisty roads I traveled then. 

There are a few places where the pavement has begun to break up, though.  One pothole in a curve catches me by surprise, and I hit the edge of it.  Chris hits it on the edge as well, and later said that it caused his front wheel to be pitched aside, and made him feel very unstable.  The edge of the pavement loomed too close, and he thought he might crash as a result.  He didn’t, though. 

That’s good. 

Chris:  One of my biggest fears while riding has been potholes (among other road condition hazards and of course, other drivers).  I’ve had friends and family members have motorcycle accidents caused by a pothole that came up too quickly.  So, upon seeing this particularly large pothole my first thought was “do I have enough time to react?”  The next thought was “No, you’re going to have to hit it.”  Unfortunately, I hit the edge, which caught the sidewall of the front tire.  With better skill, I probably could have entirely avoided the pothole without adding any unnecessary risk.  The jerking motion that it placed on the front tire was more than I had previously dealt with, so it wound up being a good learning experience. 
I am not sure why, but we arrived at the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Facility entrance (just south of Pushpin B on the map above) more quickly than I expected. 

Maybe I was paying attention to how the others were doing, so my mind was occupied with that and riding my own ride.  Maybe there is a lesson here – that I should go at a slower-than-breakneck pace [at least slower than Bucky’s breakneck pace, which is a lot slower than for most other riders] and enjoy the ride and the scenery more.  

At any rate, it was an enjoyable several miles, and I could imagine how the new guys felt, as I recall my first trip up this road.  

We turn into the Bad Creek gate and ride down the road to the overlook just above the powerplant.  The road is a little rough and has more tar snakes than any other road I have been on.  These can be quite slippery when wet or when the temperature is very high.  We don’t have either problem today, however. 

The overlook comes soon enough,...

...and we park the bikes.  I notice that the new guys are watching to see where and how I am parking.  They follow suit, and do what I do. 

I didn't realize it at first, but I think I am being a role model here too, so I’d better not teach them bad habits. After all, parking the bike in a good spot and with good technique is part of riding well.  They did fine. 

We dismount, and walk over to the view of Lower Whitewater Falls, to our left.  The light is sensational today.  The view is great.  I describe what we are looking at.  Lake Jocassee down below, the falls in the center of the frame, and, of course, the pumped storage facility powerplant location at the left end of the lake.  They eat up the details of the powerplant operation, like any engineers worth their salt would. 

The operation of the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Powerplant Facility is described in one of my earlier posts, from 2009.  (That's also when I went quite a way into the gravel Musterground Road that starts nearby.)

Hmmmm.  Discussing powerplant operation.  Now we’re talking: Technical stuff! 

Once we have glanced at the views a little more,...

...we turn to looking over the bikes.  Chris has a Suzuki SV650.  He has been riding only a month or so, and relates that in first and second gears his ride is pretty twitchy, lifting the front wheel easily.  We talk about fuel injection systems sometimes being sensitive just off idle, and how throttle hand positioning with the wrist straight might help. 

Chris:  I bought the SV650 based off recommendations from other riders and forums online.  While it was often regarded as a “good beginners bike that you won’t outgrow overnight,” I believe those regards are quite biased.  I had a difficult time learning how to ride on the SV because it is far less forgiving than the more widely-regarded beginners bikes (Ninja 250/300, Virago 250, etc).  The most difficult part was focusing on proper technique/mechanics without letting that detract from awareness.  In retrospect, learning would have been easier on an actual “beginners bike.”  

Chris’ bike had been in a spill before he bought it, so it has a few battle scars here and there, and he is figuring out where the lower cowlings are supposed to reattach.  I didn’t realize that some of the plastic was missing until he pointed it out – the naked look to it is becoming. 

He also mentions that he has noticed that the bike sounds different after he has been riding for a while.  I conjecture that this is because of the wind noise effect on hearing.  The ears become less sensitive after having been subjected to noise for a period.  I suggest earplugs as being vital to prevent this, and long-term permanent hearing loss. 

Chris:  I had noticed some riders wore earplugs and others did not.  During short rides at lower speeds (such as in my normal commute), I never noticed any hearing loss.  However, longer rides had a profound impact in my hearing after about an hour.  Earplugs seem like the perfect solution.

He asks about where I got my riding boots.  I tell him, that I find my gear wherever I can – e-bay, local friends, Amazon, CycleGear, other on-line websites, and pawnshops, to name a few.  In fact, I have been collecting gear since before I had a motorcycle.  [Closet motorcycle enthusiast, were we, Bucky?]


Well, I confess, it is true.  I have longed to do this for many years.  It just took me until most of the way through my fifth decade to get started. 

My leather riding suit was purchased many years before at a pawnshop that seemed to have collected too many such suits.  I remember making weekly payments until it was mine.  What I was going to do with it, and when, I had not the foggiest idea.  As it happens, it matches the bike I eventually purchased pretty well. 

Chris:  I purchased a decent padded riding jacket and gloves along with my first motorcycle.  I had a good Snell/DOT helmet from a previous automotive hobby.  However, I did not buy good boots and pants right away.  Jeans and sneakers are just asking for trouble - especially when there’s virtually no ankle protection.  After our trip, I started doing some research on a good set of riding pants and boots.  My attitude is “if it’s too hot for gear, it’s too hot to ride.”

Austin’s bike is a Triumph cruiser.  It is a sharp-looking bike, mostly black with a little chrome, and it is no slouch on performance.  Even though it looks as though it is equipped with carburetors, in reality, it is actually fuel injected for modern-day performance and emissions regulation compliance. 

[There you go, talking technical some more.] 

We saddle up again for the short trip to Whitewater Falls.  There, we park and walk the path to the falls overlook.  Again, the ideal lighting of the day displays the cataract beautifully. 

We linger here, and snap a few pictures, along with a small group of tourists.  We gaze at Lake Jocassee in the distance on our way back to the bikes.  

I again have Déjà vu.  I have been here to the falls many times, but my first time here was somehow special.  I remember it well. 

I shed a layer of insulation, as it is getting hot.  It is supposed to be in the mid-80s today.  The humidity is still low, however, so it is comfortable.  It is an ideal day for riding: good temperature, clean roads, not too much traffic, and extraordinarily clear views of the distant scenery. 

As we are readying ourselves to continue, I ask whether the pace so far is about right, too fast or too slow.  I make it a point to have no inflection in my voice to betray what I may be thinking.  One of the guys, his eyes getting a bit bigger, ponders about it a little, and says that he certainly doesn’t want us to go any faster. 

Chris:  I felt that our pace was safe yet still challenging.  As Bucky had stated earlier in the day, “confidence builds before skill,” and I surely didn’t want to risk harm to be convinced of that point.

OK.  Message received.  [Bucky, take it easy, today.] 

Just in case the pace really is too fast, but they’re not saying, I also tell them that if they are tightening up on the bars in the curves, to slow down a bit for the next ones. 

I describe the stopping point coming up, only a few miles from here: That nice surprise I have written about before. 

The exit from the falls parking lot onto 130 is uphill, and requires good clutch technique.  It sometimes has gravel on it, and the sight distances are not all that long.  Like our sharp turn a while ago, there isn’t any gravel today, and all three of us get it right coming out.  We are again on our way, traveling a little bit to the south now. 

We take a gentle right onto the Wigington Byway, take it easy on the downhill turns here, and in just a few minutes, we spot the surprise overlook on the left.  We have passed a few stray bicyclists along here, all with number tags pinned to them.  Must be some sort of race or organized ride. 

I pull into the overlook and use my best parking technique, but too late notice that the slope of the pavement doesn’t allow much lean onto the kickstand.  Chris’ bike won’t stand up, so he has to restart it and try again.  I suppose this is a teachable moment for him, but I should have picked a better place to park so he didn’t have to move his bike. 

Chris:  I’ll admit - I don’t get the “warm and fuzzies” with the kickstand on the SV.  To me, it doesn’t point forward enough for me to feel comfortable walking away without giving the bike a test “nudge” first.  Re-angling the bike helped ensure that it was stable on the hill.  When learning how to ride, I feel that evaluating how to park is often neglected.  I now make a point of giving my bikes a solid nudge in all direction to make sure they won’t fall over as soon as I walk away.

When Chris restarts his engine, I hear a discordant ringing sound -- like a cowbell.  I turn to see a dismayed look on Chris’ face as he looks down at his machine, wondering where this new noise is coming from.  Something has certainly come loose, big time.  Strange thing is, it continues when he switches the engine off again! 

Chris:  In my drag-racing days, I heard the lovely sound of the transmission in my race car eat several gears and snap a shaft.  Since then, you could say I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to odd mechanical sounds…

What could it be? 

The real culprit is that there is a woman with a – wait for it – cowbell, ringing the fire out of it as the bicyclists struggle up the hill.  A bicycling buddy at work says that this is fairly common, especially in Europe, to encourage the riders.  I thought it might be to let them know that there are snacks and a Porta-Potty waiting for them here.  Silly me.  They also do it for snow ski racers, I now understand. 
I need more cowbell! tee shirt

Whew.  With the sound of the cowbell, I had visions of ground-up doodads, gizmos, and thingamabobs [all engineering terms] falling onto the tarmac from the engine, and having to call for a tow. 

Aside: How in the world did they start using cowbells for this purpose?  The Internet provides the absolutely correct answer, as usual, and I will quote it for you here, from the Beginner Triathlete forum poster Sneaky Slow.

Actually, it started back in the first Ironman, back in Hawaii.  Dave Orlowski, one of the original Ironman finishers, a dairy farmer, who provided fine milk to the big cheese plant outside of Madison, was originally a Wisconsin resident.  He made the long and arduous journey to Kona to participate in this strange and wonderful race; in fact, it was his first time outside of the great state of Wisconsin.  He was awed, and in fact a little overwhelmed, the truth be told, to be so far from home, participating in such an intimidating event, the sounds, smells, and sights of the Big Island so foreign to him, a simple cow farmer from Prarie Farm, WI.

He managed to make it through the swim, but thoughts of pastures, cowchips, and cheese hats soon consumed his mind on the bike.  In the middle of the bike leg, he was struggling, feeling uncomfortable, wishing for a familiar face, a friend, something to get him through those next few long miles.  The sweat poured down his forehead... all he wished for, was a piece of cheese; something to remind him of home... comfort... alas, there was no cheese to be had in his Bento Box, as the searing heat coming off the lava fields had rendered it to mere Cheez Whiz.  And who wants Cheez Whiz at mile 60 on the bike?  Not even a Wisconsin dairy farmer.  He began entertaining thoughts of quitting...

And then he heard it.

Off in the distance, a familiar ringing.  Could it be?  The sound got louder as he pedaled on, his stroke becoming stronger, more confident with each "ring" echoing through his ears.  There was Sally Gunderson, who had made the trip, unbeknownst to our hero, all the way from Wisconsin, just to ring, ring, ring, that cowbell, and spur Dave onto the finish line.

The rest, of course, is history.  The story of Sally and her cowbell and how it rescued Dave from a certain DNF was told and retold, and now, at all levels of triathlon, the course is lined with folks just like Sally ringing, ringing, ringing, that cowbell.

Hope that helps.
Sounds like a true story, right?   Here is some more

Back to the new-guys ride now.  

That crisis, solved by luck rather than by engineering acumen, is behind us now.  Thank goodness for that.  

I note that the others' parking technique is exactly like mine: backed in, downhill at the rear, rear tire against the curb.  

Good job again. 

The two engineers, while looking at the pretty view of Lakes Jocassee, and further into the distance, Lakes Keowee and Hartwell, spot something on the furthest horizon a little to the left.  They say it is something square in shape.  I struggle to focus my tired old eyes on the object.  I go and get my map, and we figure it is the skyline of Greenville, about 38 miles as the crow flies to our east. 

It is seldom this clear up here, so this is a rare chance to view the scenery. 

I explain the next leg of the journey, which includes the very large intersection where Wigington Byway intersects SC-107.  You can’t see very far around the bend in either direction, so we have to be careful pulling out.  SC-107 is also more twisty than the other roads we have ridden today.  And it is mostly downhill, though not steeply, so the riding is more difficult than the almost-steady uphill we have had for a lot of the ride so far. 

Today I don’t describe the technique of slowing for curve entry and holding at least maintenance throttle on downhill turns, but maybe I should have so that they would feel a little more in control and comfortable along here. 

I try to set a good example of proper lines and a moderate pace, but a few times I feel that I may have entered a little hotter into some curves than I should have for them. 

They don’t have any trouble that I can spot in my mirrors, but I expect that they might be feeling a little uncomfortable through here.  There are a couple of spots with sparse gravel, too.  In a section of repeated S-curves with some on-coming traffic, it would be easy to target fixate on the wrong thing. 

We continue onto SC-28, where there are a couple of tight sections. 

They do fine, but I notice that they are falling way behind on a straight section after all the curves. 

I see what the trouble is only after I slow down to allow them to catch up.  A LEO has been on their tail.  Good reason to go slow. 

We stop for fuel, and get on our way again.  The last stop is the Oconee Nuclear Station Visitor Center.  I notice that neither guy is behind me after the left turn into the driveway.  One of them has forgotten to shift down into first gear as he stopped to allow oncoming traffic to clear.  He had trouble getting into the right gear for the turn. 

Chris:  As I approached the entrance to the nuclear station, there was no opposing traffic.  2nd gear felt like the right gear to be in.  As I got closer to the entrance, a car in the opposing lane came into view.  I kicked down into 1st (rather, thought I had), and stopped.  Once the car passed, I rolled onto the throttle and slowly released the clutch as normal.  Except, I wasn’t moving.  Unfortunately, the reactive motion of kicking into first as soon as I realized I was in neutral was enough to stall out, as I neglected to pull the clutch in before doing so.  It only took a second to start back up and move, so I’m hoping my rookie mistake wasn’t too apparent or annoying for the traffic behind me. 

I remember doing that a lot when I started.  

The nuclear plant visitor center has nice displays about power generation, including its history in the area and about generation by hydroelectric, coal, and nuclear means.  By the way, this nuclear plant has generated more power than any other in the United States. 

The engineers in us take in every detail, as you might expect. [Surprise, surprise, Bucky.]

When we have seen everything, we go back out to the bikes and say our farewells.  We will each peel off as we get closer to our homes.  It is getting to be that time, that in every good ride, we would rather it not come around. 

I had a good time today, seeing some of the many great sights we have in this area.  I hope I have helped these guys a little in their riding. 

...and I hope my mentor Ryan would agree. 


Other References:


1 comment:

rc5695 said...

Always great to see new riders, and even better to see more experienced riders pass on info / experience to help new riders. I was wrenching on a newbie's bike til 10:00 last night :)