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

Great Rides

Hello guys and gals, it's your old friend Joe Rocket here with an update of your second favorite motorcycle blog. It's been a week since my last confession, so give me a few "R Faddahs" and Hail Marys and I'm good.

The bike show last weekend was a letdown. If you read my previous post, you know why. I'm not going to dwell on that now. Riding season is almost upon us and you can sense the excitement building. The days are getting longer which equals more sun. More sun = less snow and ice. There are actually bare patches in the driveway! It's been a long cruel winter.

So much preparation to do for the Sturgis ride. I'll discuss them in greater detail once I get the bike out and off to the shop. There are a few add-ons that will need to happen this year to provide for a more comfortable, and safer, ride.

I know recently I asked you to provide comments with your best and most necessary gear. Bear with me as I figure out how to get a comments section live so you can post your contibutions right to this blog. If you want to email me, send to Today, I want to discuss great rides.

What makes a great ride? Is it the road, the destination, the riders, the bike? I think it can be all of these things and more. I can think of rides that turned south after one day, thanks to unpredictable weather. In retrospect, I still cherish the memories of those days.

We had a ride last summer to Errol, NH to camp at the Bull Moose Lodge. We had a great night but, on the return trip, the weather headed "South" along with us. It rained so hard, we had to slow considerably. Well, all except K & D, who putted happily along on their Road King. What is the wettest you have ever been? That's how wet we got, some of us without proper rain gear, some of me too dumb to use it.

When I reflect on that day, I'm still happy that we had that experience. We were in a bad situation but not a dangerous one. We all got home a bit soggy and prune-y but, so what. A hot bath and we were good as new. We can laugh about the time we came through "The Notches" in a driving rain and survived it. And I learned from the experience.

I learned to put the rain gear on when everyone else does because your textile suit isn't as waterproof as it USED to be. I learned that my favorite female rider is pretty good on her scooter and does not need me to worry about her like an older brother. She can take care of herself.

We had a similar ride, a couple of summers back, to Quebec. The ride up was great, the start of a 4-day excursion around the higher terrain and coastal areas. We got as far as Quebec City at the end of Day 1, made camp, found a great local restaurant, quaffed a beer or two along with dinner, before heading back to our site. The day dawned for me at 4AM, when I rolled over in my tent and put my arm down in a puddle. The rain was so hard, it had flooded the sodden camp site. (Some say that water ran down the open periscope of my play tent.) Nothing could keep the water out of my tent as "a river ran through it." I huddled on my air mattress for a couple of hours before wandering out into the light and rain.

With bad weather forecast for the next three days, most of us headed home again, in torrential rain. An emergency repair needed to be effected on one of the bikes, an hour into the ride. We found shelter, made the fix and rode eventually into dry weather. That is STILL one of my favorite trips!

Other great rides include multiple trips to Nova Scotia. Either in a group or solo, both had their high points. On the first trip, it was a new experience and I enjoyed the camraderie of my mates and enjoyed many new vistas. On my second trip, I did it solo and reveled in the accomplishment, the perfect highways, the speed and the long hours I was able to put in, to keep my taut schedule.

Great rides happen when you make them. For me, a great ride entails riding new roads, visiting new places, sharing these events with good friends. Good company, in concert with good food and drink help, as does a longer than normal ride. Running to the store to get bread is not a great ride! An overnight adds to the enjoyment as this is when you can relax and spend quality time with people with whom you have something in common.

If you click on the blog title above, it will take you to a site for NH Great Rides. Check it out and give some of these a spin. If you don't live in the New England area, there are other links on that site for your state. Instead of riding in circles, try a new destination, outside your local area and you'll understand what I mean. I know we can't take off EVERY weekend to do this kind of riding but, if you sprinkle enough of these types of overnights (and longer trips) into your plan for the coming year, you'll be able to look back at the previous riding season and smile all the way through the cold or rainy winter months. Ride it while you can!

A low, slow wave,

Joe Rocket