Sunday, February 17, 2008

Seasonal warm-up, re-learning good habits

Kids, ignore the pending snow. Hunker down this weekend and read/brush up on your riding skills.

As we approach the start of a new season (at least for those of us who do not enjoy a 12-month riding season) it makes sense to refresh ourselves on the basics of good riding. There's nothing as harrowing as riding with a bad rider and it is equally comforting to ride with a group whose riding style is known to you.

I'll never forget the profound embarrassment the first time I overtook a group member in the same lane. We were heading to the beach, me the second guy in the left lane. The rider in front of me spotted a state trooper and eased off his throttle. Without the benefit of a brake or hand signal, I missed the fact that he was decelerating and blew right past him in the lane! I'm sure I scared the crap out of him and it was a mistake I would not repeat. Thank goodness we were riding in a staggered formation.

As much as I enjoy seeing a nice tight group of bikes in formation heading down a road, I hate to be crowded. It's funny to see people fight for last position in a group ride. It seems that few want to lead or have the skills for it. There are all types of articles on riding in groups available on the internet. As we approach the start of our (Northeast) riding season, it behooves us all to read this and refresh ourselves on some of the "Rules of the Road." The link above (hyper-link in blog title) will take you to the MSF Quick Tips page about Group Riding.

I have a couple of habits that I think are borne out of experience. Each year we add a few riders to our group and until I've seen you ride, I don't want to be anywhere near you. On back roads, without a breakdown lane, I don't stagger. I want, and own, the whole damn road. Don't creep up on me as I toodle down a pretty country road, enjoying the view. That's why I'm here!

At a rest stop, if we stop for gas, top off your tank. I don't want to stop 50 miles down the road for you to now get gas. Show up for a ride on time, with your gas tank full and your bladder empty. Too much coffee or OJ before a ride is not conducive to putting miles behind you. Make sure you've checked the air pressure in your tires too. Unless you are running with Nitrogen in your tires, there is a constant loss of air pressure.

When I first started riding in groups, I was told "Never run into the guy in front of you!" Good advice. Equally important too, no matter where you are in the formation, is to watch out for the rider behind you. If the lead rider (or other riders) start to pull away from you, speeding up to catch them will only strand the people behind you. Slow down a bit and let the distance increase in front of you. The riders ahead should get the message and reduce their speed, as well.

Plan for tolls, carry an EZ Pass, coins or plan to have one rider pay for all the bikes. You'll all get through the tolls together as opposed to scattering a dozen bikes across two or more lanes, improving the odds of getting punted by a car. Or, if you can't do that, pull over beyond the toll and re-form your group.

Ride with your high beam on in the daylight UNLESS you're in a group. No need to blind the folks in front of you. Have a sweeper rider maintain a position at the rear to catch stragglers. This should be an experienced rider who knows the route and can reach other riders in the event of a breakdown.

Have a plan, use good hand signals (see MSF link) and have fun. That's all for now. I'm sure once we start our season I'll see a few things that will set me off and will report on them here.

For now, don't forget to cancel those turn signals following a turn and start planning for a safe riding season.

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket

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