Sunday, October 9, 2016

A Really New Guy

A couple of weeks ago, I met up with a guy who is just about as new at motorcycling as it gets.  Although John has had his bike for about two years, he has accumulated all of two hundred miles on it thus far.  So he's pretty new at it, I'd say. We went for a ride together the other day -- his longest ever -- and he agreed to write some comments about it here amongst my scribblings.

John just lives around the corner from me, so he might become a regular riding buddy some day.  I hope so.  Right now, though he is in the earliest stages of learning.  I have done a little coaching and instruction by e-mail and a little more while talking with him in person, but riding is something he has not done other than puttering around the roads of our little suburb.  He says he likes that all right, but he really needs to go somewhere that he can experience a bit of speed and some curves. I emphasize that he must always look where he wants to go, one of a paramount rules of riding on two wheels.

He has also not yet taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Basic RiderCourse.  I have encouraged him to do so, since they cover so many of the basics both in theory and in practice with the coaches watching.  I did, back in late 2007, and I benefited greatly from it.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that his bike is a Honda Rebel just like they use in some of the MSF classes.  This little 250cc beast is an ideal starting bike that is a lot of fun even for more advanced riders.  He bought the bike almost exactly two years ago, and the seller rode it to John's house, since he did not yet have a riding permit.  That sounds familiar.  I did about the same thing when I bought mine seven years before he did.  He says he was surprised that you can get a permit with no riding experience whatsoever.  It does seem odd that you can go out riding on two wheels with just that piece of paper in your pocket, and with no supervision whatsoever.

Actually, it turns out that John had ridden a little bit before buying his Rebel.  His brother owned a Yamaha Seca 750 that John rode some, but John wisely picked something smaller to learn on.  He says he was seeking adventure and wanted to learn a new skill.  Well, a motorcycle can certainly provide adventure and it sure takes skill to do it even close to right.  ...and he was looking for a sense of freedom, excitement, and exclusivity.  Not everybody rides a motorcycle, after all.  I can identify with that.  I feel the same way when I am on the bike.

Anyway, I mapped out a route of less than a hundred miles heading toward the northwest, with our destinations being near Whitewater Falls, one of my favorite places to go.  The roads that lead there have lots of sweeping curves that are good for beginners to learn on.  Here is a map of the route: 

Click here for a larger map.
The return route would be the same.

John was enthusiastic about riding, so we made arrangements to meet the next weekend.

We checked out his bike -- chain tightness and lube, engine oil, and tires.  Everything was in order except the tire pressure and chain lube.  We fixed those in short order, and he learned a little bit about maintenance items that always seem to need doing on almost any motorcycle.

Since he is new to riding, he doesn't have a lot of safety equipment, though he does have a nice full-face helmet.  Here is how he showed up: 

That would not be enough protection in my view, especially for a newbie.  I fixed him up with a suit that I've used myself in the past, though it is a little large on me 'cause I am so skinny.  He fit into it, and was much more ready for the road.  I gave him a set of earplugs, too. 

Yes, that's much better.

I think he thought it was cool, too -- he sent a picture of himself all suited up to his lady friend, who I am sure was impressed by the intimidating biker figure he cut.  Nobody would think him a beginner by the look of him.

Well, he does need to get himself a pair of riding boots.  He had a set of heavy cowboy boots instead, but they served the purpose today.

Come to think of it, there are almost no standard-style motorcycle riders around here who wear full leathers.  Many of them don't wear any protective equipment at all, or maybe a leather jacket and some chaps, and sometimes a shorty helmet.  I hope John doesn't succumb to that bad example.

I remember when I was at the stage John is
.  My then new friend Ryan helped me start through my learning curve during 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.  Ryan 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.  I thought we were screaming along at a breakneck pace!

I'll try to remember that feeling when we are out riding today.

Note: The following account includes comments made by the new guy John himself, in bold typeface

The initial route, leading to the north and west from the town of Pickens, SC on Shady Grove Road and SC-133, is pretty easy, with a few sweeping curves. 

John seems to be doing OK on them, and we continue until we hit SC-11, which is wide and almost straight. We stop at Keowee-Toxaway State Park for a few minutes to be sure John is doing all right.  

My menacing posture in that picture above makes it look like I am giving him what for.  I'm not.  Really. 

He seems to be doing well, and he says that is the case. 
I give him some feedback from my rear view mirror observations, mostly about lane placement in the curves. 

John: During the ride, I tried to focus on applying the practice of making sure to slow appropriately before a curve, looking as far as possible through the end of each curve, taking the largest radius within my lane, and leaning into the curves while maintaining velocity.  There is no doubt that the more I ride, the better I am getting at that.  As with any skill, I think the goal is to develop such proficiency that the act does not require conscious thought.

John said a mouth full in that last sentence.  That is indeed the goal.

A few miles further on, we turn to the north onto SC-130 toward Bad Creek and Whitewater Falls.  This turn is a tight right-hander that sometimes has gravel in it.  Today it doesn’t have any gravel, but I make it a point to go a little slower than usual because of its tightness.  There are several cars at the intersection, making it unnerving for John.  

I watch my rear view mirrors.  He seems to do all right, and he doesn't go wide into the opposite lane. That is a good sign.

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.  The pavement on SC-130 is mostly in good condition, and they did an extensive rebuilding of the roadbed from North Little River Road to the North Carolina state line, so that part is superb.

There were several large dump trucks that pass us in the opposite direction.  Each one buffets us quite a bit, and there is some wind, even when the trucks aren't present. 

John: Traveling on highways at a speed of 55 miles per hour is okay for me, but sometimes I feel buffeted by the wind.  That was the only instance where I had some apprehension.   Maybe a windshield on the bike would help reduce that feeling.  The suit Bucky lent me also seems to help reduce the feeling of traveling at speed -- more so than the jeans I have always used before.

I am not sure why, but we arrive at the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Facility entrance more quickly than I expect.  It has been an enjoyable several miles, and I can imagine how John feels, as I recall my first trip up this road.  I slow rather abruptly for the Bad Creek entrance, and am concerned about my follower, but he does fine and I lead the way in.

We ride down the road of a million tar snakes to the scenic overlook above the powerplant.  

On our way, a deer runs out from the trees just ahead of me on my right, and paces us on the far side of the guardrail for several hundred yards before it finds another place in the woods that suits her.  We had slowed to a crawl when we saw it: We wanted to make sure she didn't dart out in front of us or that her friends were not waiting in ambush for us somewhere.

The scenic overlook comes soon enough; we park the bikes, and take a look around.  The sky is beautiful.  The crystal blue water of Lake Jocassee and the green of the surrounding forests are treats for the eyes.  I point out Lower Whitewater Falls, and as much of the powerplant as we can see from here.  (The operation of the Bad Creek Pumped Storage Powerplant Facility is described in one of my posts from 2009.) 

John: I feel safer wearing the leather suit than I do in jeans and jacket.  I think I need to get some good riding duds. 

I tell him that the suit I am wearing came from a pawn shop probably fifteen years before I started riding.  Somehow, I knew that one day I would ride.  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!  As it happens, my suit matches the bike I eventually purchased pretty well. 

After we have drunk in the sights, we saddle up again for the short trip north to Whitewater Falls.  

We reach the falls parking lot and walk the half-mile path to the falls overlook.  Again, the ideal lighting of the day displays the cataract beautifully, though the water flow is low because of the lack of rain.  We linger here, and snap a few pictures. 

We gaze at Lake Jocassee again in the distance on our walk 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.

In the parking lot, a boy maybe four or five hears old eyes us.  We stop for a minute and explain that we are Power Rangers.  Just as he thought!  We let him ponder that for a little while, then reveal the real story: That we are riding a couple of motorcycles parked just up yonder.

When we reach the bikes, I describe the next stopping point, 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 brake and clutch technique.  For good measure, it is sloped to the side so there is an extra stretch to get your left foot down at the stop sign.  It sometimes has gravel on it, and the sight distances are not all that long for the speeding vehicles passing by.  Outside of that, it is an easy exit!  Like our sharp turn a while ago onto 130, there isn’t any gravel today, and we get it right coming out, despite the challenges.  John is doing well.  I am proud of him.

We are again on our way, traveling a little bit to the south now.  We take a gentle right onto the Wigington Byway, and in just a few minutes, we spot the surprise overlook on the left. 

It is seldom this clear up here, so this is a chance to view the distant scenery. We can see the string of lakes below us, including Jocassee, Keowee, and Hartwell.

Here is one of us gazing at the scenery: 

Hmmm. I can't remember which of us it was.  Anyway, here is the other one on his way back to his bike: 

John: Bucky, I'm wearing the red suit and you the silver one -- the one that matches your bike.  Remember now?

Oh, that's right. 

When we are riding today, I try to set a good example for John of proper lines and a moderate pace, but a few times I feel that I may have entered a curve a little hotter than I should have for his experience. When we stop, and I debrief him, though, he doesn't let on that I have taken him too fast anywhere.

He is working on proper lane positioning for the curves.  As do most of us in the early stages of riding, he shies away from the road edge in left handers, keeping a bit too near the center line.  His positioning on right handers is pretty good, near the centerline as he should be.  (Remember these are all sweepers today.)

As we continue, I think he is getting the hang of riding. 
He doesn’t have any significant trouble that I can spot in my mirrors, but I expect that he might be feeling a little uncomfortable at times, though I don't detect any panic.  That is a good thing.

There are three or four times when cars come up behind us.  After all, we are going at the speed limit or below, and lots of drivers exceed it.  There are almost no passing zones on 130, so they are following pretty closely, making John nervous.  We pull off the road a few times to let them pass and take the stress off a bit. That is a good advice for any rider.

As we near home, I think through the ride.  John was slow and cautious at the beginning, but as has gained confidence toward the end.  We are tickling the speed limit -- and a little more -- on the last leg.  I will have to council him about the fact that most riders gain confidence faster than they gain skill.  That is easy to overlook until a tight situation develops and the sensory overload turns it into panic.

Like almost any activity, the more you do something, the better you get.  The total round trip was only about 75 miles, but I believe I gained more in terms of training, skill, and experience by going on this longer trip, as opposed to taking numerous shorter trips around town.  It made me feel more comfortable and confident about traveling at higher speeds.

When we are almost back home, we catch up to these three young men on sportbikes.  At least they are wearing helmets and are patriotic.  Outside of that, I would hate to come across them if they took a tumble onto the tarmac.  

John: Certainly, the full body protective suit helps provide a greater comfort level of riding all around.  I'm glad to have it today, compared with those guys who have almost no protection.

We make it home without incident.  ...and there is another debriefing session by that menacing taskmaster: 

Here is a picture of accomplishment and victory (or, possibly, relief) as we arrive at the end of our ride today:

John's closing comments:
  • I wonder if I would feel less buffeting by the wind with a bigger motorcycle or perhaps that windscreen. 
  • I had not previously used ear plugs while riding my motorcycle; but there is no doubt that they help minimize the effect of the senses becoming dulled over time by the wind. 
  • The trip was great because we saw some beautiful sights and it was a gorgeous day. 
  • I have to say, it was also good to be out and about following another rider, so I now see the fun that can be had in riding in a group. 
We had a good time, seeing some of the many great sights God created in our corner of the world, and traveling some of the best motorcycle roads there are anywhere.  I hope I have helped John a little in his riding. We have gone a little over 76 miles today, and by my figuring, he has added almost 40% to his previous mileage on the bike. 

...and thanks again to my mentor Ryan for similarly taking me, a temperamental student, under his wing.  I am trying to pass that along, brother. 


Other References:


Green Bay Dan said...

Hey Guys,

Just bumbled across your Blog looking for GPS info.
couple things to throw out here...

either of you on ADV?

John, GEAR...Good gear is a important. I don't wear leathers but armored mesh and textiles. since your new to this and i'm a few steps, but not many past you, if you are serious about riding and motorcycling... research and invest in decent to very good gear. if people give you crap about it, just think of all the cell phone teens, bluehairs, deer and other variables beyond your control.
I can tell you from personal experience...gear will pay for itself., study, learn and ask others as much as you can.
third...time in the saddle and experience will make it easier and more enjoyable every trip.

good on Ya for helping the new guy. good to see your not of the pirate mindset.
thanks for the GPS info.

Bucky said...

@Green Bay Dan
Regarding ADVRider Forum: Yes. User name is Bucky2
Regarding gear: I always ride in full leather gear with armor, helmet, boots, gloves. No exceptions.
Have a look at the list of Labels on the left side of the blog page: Lots of info about learning to ride, gear, maintenance, etc.

Chiller tek said...

Nice post Bucky, it was interesting to read what your buddy thought of the trip. Its good to see that he gained confidence just from wearing the right gear. I am like you and always wear full leather 2 piece suit, helmet(its illegal to ride in Australia with out one), boots and gloves.

You should get your mate to read Keith Codes A Twist of the wrist. Its the beginers road riding bible.