Ride YOUR ride!

Let’s say that you are comfortably splitting lanes on the highway in slow, backed up traffic. Another motorcycle or scooter approaches from behind. What do you do?

A) Move aside so that the other bike can safely pass.

B) Keep going and ignore the bike behind you.

C) Flip off the rider behind you and continue on.

D) Speed up beyond your comfort level because you are feeling “chased” by the other rider.

These are the four things I typically encounter from other riders while splitting lanes in heavy traffic. One of them (A) is the best/kindest option, one of them (D) is the dumbest/unsafest option, (B) is usually a rider who doesn’t know what to do and isn’t very confident yet, and (C) is a lizard brain who can’t take the ego hit of someone going in front of them.

When (B) or (C) occur we can switch lanes, ride forward a ways and then slide back in where it’s safe. When lane splitting I make it a habit to check for riders coming from behind. And I recognize that it isn’t my job to police other riders if they are going quicker than I am regardless of whether I think they are being unsafe. So I pull aside and let them pass. Most of the time they thank me with a wave and I feel good about the encounter.

The other day I came up on Rider D. He wasn’t going particularly slow but my pace was just a bit quicker. Honestly, I was content to stay behind him except that he wasn’t very skilled at moving through tighter spaces. He was also on a brand new motorcycle (dealer temporary plate) so maybe he was just getting comfortable with it. Shortly after he realized I was behind him he sped way up and increased the distance between himself and me. I didn’t even want to ride that fast so I chose the pace I was happy with and let him go. Not long afterwards, a car began to switch lanes and the guy on his new bike barely avoided getting clipped. He was lucky!

I was glad when he ended up getting off at my exit and we both pulled up to the red light at the bottom of the off-ramp. I lifted my lid and told him that if that car had hit him it would have been his fault and remember to ride his own ride. He nodded affirmative, ‘nuf said. I’m really relieved that he only got spooked and not creamed. Especially on that gorgeous new machine.

Pretty please, ride your own ride. Nobody should ever feel “pushed” by another motorcyclist. You always have options. Getting hurt is not one of them.

 

“I don’t want to hit you, bro.”


Latino guy in a suped up classic mid-century American car pulls up left of me at a red light. I’m on my 150cc Kymco scooter and I’ve decidedly parked it towards the center-left of my lane (operative words MY LANE) so that I wouldn’t block any vehicles wanting to make a right at the corner.
Dude, who’s darkened window is coolly rolled down just about 1/4 way leans over his passenger seat and starts barking at me: “hey, I don’t want to hit you, bro. Why you so far in the middle? You need to pull over more.”
So immediately the gent is showing how much he cares about my safety and is informing me that somehow he might not have enough control over his vehicle while pulling up to a traffic light. I guess??
He keeps repeating the same message about ME needing to be careful and him not wanting to run me over, just changing the words up a bit here n there. I can barely get a word in but when he finally takes a breath I look at him and say “then don’t.”
More barking. I finally say “hey, you asked me a question. Do you want to hear the answer or not?”
He looks a bit surprised and even offended at the audacity of some punk on a little scooter to have any words with him at all.
The man is still gabbing as I explain my conscious positioning. Doubt he listened. Light turns green and I go.
#sizebully

4 ESSENTIALS for improved street safety

Yeah, everyone knows that “safe” is a relative term. In life, not just motorbiking. But below are some active things that you can and should do to vastly improve your safety quotient. Call it smart risk management.

 

1. Know your shit.

Know your bike; know your controls. Make sure everything is automatic so that your bandwidth can be where you need it: on the riding environment. Practice threshold braking, quick acceleration, seamless shifting up & down and slow balancing.

2. Make your presence known to other motorists.

It isn’t always necessary for cars to know you’re coming up on them. Sometimes it’s best to slip by like a ghost. But often enough signaling your presence can make cars a lot more predictable and can thus prevent things like cars changing into your lane and cutting you off.  So here are some tools at your disposal:

  • Use your throttle. Blip it to be heard! Especially when a car right in front of you starts to cut into your lane. You might not have any time to get your thumb to the horn but you are already on the throttle so give it a bunch of quick and loud whacks to get the driver to react quickly and stop their dangerous action.
  • Horn toots. Horns aren’t just for “thank you” and “fuck you!.” They should also be used for “hey, I’m comin’ up on ya.”
  • Flash your high/low beams. If you have a “passing” button on your bike start using it.
  • Movements. Wiggle, weave, create space for yourself and move side to side in your lane so that drivers can see your headlights in their rear- and side-view mirrors. 

 

3. Signal your intentions and expectations.

Be animated and use body movements -as well as your turn signals- to inform other motorists what you intend to do or what you expect of them. This will make you predictable, allow you to maintain your flow and to not disrupt the flow of others.

Everything you do on a motorcycle or scooter can be seen -even on a moonless night- unlike the driver of a car where you’re just trying to see which direction their head is turning for an indicator of what they might do. Use all four limbs, nod your head, even stick your right elbow out if you can’t take your hand off the throttle. The earlier you can advise others of your intentions and expectations the safer you will be. 

 

4. Diplomacy. 

Yes, I said it. We really don’t still need to perpetuate the notion that motorcyclists are scary irreverent rebels, do we? The point is to get drivers to wake up and get their head in the game.

Simply put: Reward good behavior; (constructively) call out bad behavior. 

If a car moves over for you show some appreciation with a wave, peace sign, thumbs-up or a nod. It takes little effort at all to do these things and encourages other vehicles to follow suit when they see/hear a bike coming. 

Conversely, if someone does something stupid and or dangerous try your best to stave off the rage and snatch the opportunity for a teaching moment. Do not default to punishing people in cars, as compelling as that may be. If a driver doubles down on being a prick you can always smack their mirror and speed away -because, frankly, there really should be penalties for being an asshole- but make that your last option, not the first. 

Here are some options:

  • Disapproving head shake 
  • Point a finger at them.
  • The old “McFly” head knock.
  • The international “wank” symbol. Nothing says “I’m very disappointed in you” more than this!
  • Thumbs down
  • Stink-eye. Sometimes one simple disapproving look is all it takes.
  • Speak directly to the driver given the opportunity. “Make sure!” might be all you need to say after they’ve pulled a stupid move. They’ll get the message.

Remember folks, a little communication goes a long way towards creating future awareness. Do it for the next motorcyclist or bicycle rider that this driver may encounter if not for yourself. And… Golden Rule moment: treat others how you would want to be treated. 

 

Doomed Rider 7/25/19

Returning home from teaching a scooter lesson today I was splitting through slow traffic on the highway when I saw a motorcycle headlight closing ground from behind (because I actually check my mirrors for such things). I signaled then pulled in and this young guy on a small cruiser went past going what I would characterize as “too fast for his own good” with his hazards flashing -which is just about the stupidest thing ever. Continue reading

Vision Zero SF

New efforts by the city to study and lower motorcyclist fatalities show some accident stats for your consideration. Based on the numbers, their principal solution is to get riders to lower their speed (or speed relative to traffic) which we certainly agree would significantly decrease accidents. Continue reading

You Suck At Lanesplitting

Now that lane splitting / lane sharing is officially on the books in CA (Seriously, don’t you want to jump for joy right now?!!) we would like to share our top 10 list of things that motorcyclists do that, frankly, make them suck at lane splitting.  

Our hope is that some or all of these points will resonate with you which will both help you to not suck (you’re welcome!) as well as to provide a handy reference which can be passed on to your fellow riders. We can then all be happier & safer and piss other motorists off a whole lot less. Yay.

Lane splitting is now legal in CA

 

  1. You make no efforts to let cars know you’re approaching. You don’t blip the throttle, you don’t use your horn, flash high beams or weave yet you expect other motorists to magically know that you’re coming up on them. It is YOUR responsibility to stay alive, not theirs. Start making others aware of your presence.

 

  1. You absolutely MUST get to the front of the traffic line even if you have to cut cars off to get there. -Um, no you mustn’t. You’re on a motorbike -in California. You pretty much already get to do whatever you want in traffic. It is definitely not necessary to be so hell-bent on getting ahead of every last vehicle like its your God-given right.  

 

  1. You “almost got hit” on nearly every commute. Yeah, you’re doing it wrong. I am going out on a limb and suggesting that perhaps your bike is moving faster than your eyes are. Try this on your next commute: drop your speed by a few miles per hour while lane splitting. I bet you a hundred bucks that your close calls AND your pucker factor drop significantly.

 

  1. You are completely oblivious that there is another motorcycle or scooter behind you who’s pilot is really hoping you’ll slide in so they can get through. You ain’t the only bike on the road, Jack.

 

  1. You are completely aware that there is another motorcycle or scooter behind you but you look back and give them the stink-eye even though it’s a whole lot easier (and nicer) for you to slide into traffic than to make the rider behind you go around. Check your ego before you start the bike.

 

  1. On the local freeway there is another motorcycle splitting two lanes over. He/she is a bit faster than you. That ego gives you that poke and instead of riding your own ride you start to “race” the other bike, leaving mostly just your comfort zone in the dust.

 

  1. You feel quite comfortable blazing through rush hour traffic on your sport bike with obnoxiously loud pipes and -being the self-righteous prick that you are- you really couldn’t give a shit how many old ladies or tech nerds you scare. Thanks for the bad rep, dooosh!

 

  1. Your cruiser is too wide to fit between cars so you make effective sonic use of all 88 cubic inches until the seas part. See above, DB.

 

  1. You never learned to balance going slow but you still want to get in between cars so you do your best Fred Flintstone impersonation, wearing out the soles of your shoes faster than your brake pads in the process. So sad. Seriously, take another class.

 

  1. You don’t bother to signal “thanks” of some sort when cars clearly move aside to let you by. No wave, no peace sign, nothing. C’mon dude, here’s a car that IS paying attention. Return the courtesy, be a good ambassador of motorcycling and stop treating cars like adversaries. Yes, we agree that car folks are generally less aware and less skilled than most riders but there’s no need to punish them aggressively or passively. Ride your ride, be nice, show your appreciation when they move over.

Helps to open your eyes…Opening mind wouldn’t hurt either.

Phone call to Monkey Moto School 2/16/16:

MMS: Good morning, Monkey Moto School, Evan speaking.

Caller: Do you guys do the motorcycle test that counts for the DMV?

MMS: We teach rider skills and safety but cannot provide a DMV bypass. After taking classes with us you can rent our scooter for the test if you want.

Caller: Oh, I don’t need no lessons. I can ride with my eyes closed.

MMS: Then why don’t you just sign up for the riding test at the DMV?

Caller (agitated): ‘Coz I failed that damn thing 3 times! The DMV test is a whole ‘nother thing.

MMS: Did you take the test with your eyes closed?

Caller: expletive expletive expletive….click, bzzzzzzzz.

Downhill corners!!

Q:  “As I ride more and more… the thing that I still avoid and fear
are steep downhills with relatively sharp turns.

In my current area, I know where these are and I can avoid them for
now but eventually, probably sooner rather than later, I’ll have to
learn how to do them confidently.

Any good techniques for getting through these the first few times safely?

Obviously, slowing down and going into a higher gear before the turn
are important.

What about trail breaking? Is it too early to start learning this? I
ask because it sounds like it would be good know in case you find
yourself in a turn with too much speed.”

 

A: Travelling downhill is like rolling on the throttle because it drives you forward faster. Like any corner you have to select the correct speed and line of travel. If you’re going too fast entering corners bad things are likely to happen so you need to figure out how to get slow enough for (but not slower than) what is necessary for a comfortable corner.

 
Your job is to constantly be scanning ahead of your position so that you can start making good calculations about what lies ahead as early as possible. Travelling too fast leads to late decision making which leads to guess work  which leads to anxious riding and ultimately lowered safety. If you are anxious about cornering, especially on downhills, you most certainly need to slow down earlier on corner entry so that your eye speed can overtake your movement speed. Once that happens you’ll choose a more functional velocity, a better line and a more optimal gear. Repetition will make your corners better and better but you’ve got to err on going too slow rather than too fast to give yourself the necessary time to sort out the mechanics until you’ve achieved muscle memory. 
 
Up-shifting would be the wrong choice assuming you were in the correct gear for the roadway before the hill. Down-shifting will provide engine resistance so that instead of pulling in the clutch and braking around downhill corners you can allow the transmission to do that work for you and you’ll be able to stay on the gas, driving through corners.
 
I absolutely would not practice trail braking around corners on live roadways until you’ve tried simply dragging the brake/s in a slow straight-away (ahem, parking lot) and then several small circles and fig. 8’s lightly dragging the brake/s to get the ratio of brake to drive correct. When you do try trail braking I suggest the front brake for corners but ONLY AFTER thoroughly understanding the concept in an extremely low risk situation (parking lot).

Supermoto!!

Always looking for fun ways to improve my riding, particularly the dirt skills, when my pal Anke told me that she and her boyfriend Mike were signed up for the California Supermoto School’s 1-day dirt class I jumped right on board. Their other three friends Jeff, Conan and Jake joined us and we had an excited group.

Leading the pack

Leading the pack.

We left Berkeley around 830am Sunday this past Sunday and got up to the Prarie City SVRA past Sacramento just before the 1030 start time. The end-of-April weather was near perfect in the morning, around 68 degrees, and it never got much hotter 80 the whole day for which we were grateful considering how much work we did on the track. Outside of a twenty minute break for lunch we were on the bikes for eight minute rounds throughout the day. The six of us were put into one group (B) and there were six others including two girls who I knew from SF who formed Group A.  Turns out I also recognized one of the instructors, a guy named Michael who worked in the service department at Scuderia West back in the early 2000’s.

Supermoto rubber

Supermoto rubber.

Most of the bikes were Honda single cylinder 150’s with a few being 100’s and one 230cc bike. They all had a standard 21 inch rim up front with dirt tires and a 17 inch rear with Supermoto rubber. Drum brakes. I shared a 150 with a girl from the A group. In terms of riding experience among our six I would say that myself and two of the other guys had the most dirt hours but all of the others had some serious street cred as they do many track days throughout the year. Anke learned to ride a motorcycle years ago back in Germany but never got her license herein CA until two years ago. When she and Mike started dating she joined in for the track days and the two of them recently participated in one of those super cool gymkhana events. In short, it was an experienced group of motorbikers. The A group was a mixed bag. One of the guys had previously done a CA Supermoto class and was back for a second helping. Some of the girls had zero to limited off-road experience but I believe all have been riding awhile. I think it’s safe to say, all twelve of us were humble and eager to learn some new stuff.

After basic ground rules were established we got our first turn on the track and proceeded somewhat gently as you would expect. We were instructed to shift up to 3rd gear and keep it there which was an interesting concept but since the track isn’t more than 75 yards long and is 40 feet wide there really is no need for shifting. Nor –as it turns out- is there much need for the the front brake OR clutch (as I will later find out).

Perhaps a handful of the dozen of us had any experience with drifting so I played with it as I knew how. When dual sporting I’ve become accustomed to dragging the rear brake while on the gas for control in steeps and cornering so when one of the instructors pulled me aside to remind me to bring my foot off the brake pedal he was interested to learn that I had been doing it on purpose. He was trying to explain the concept of gassing out of the corners and hard to the end of the straights but getting off the throttle and riding the back brake just to bust the rear wheel loose and slide the bike around corners. Shutting off the gas did not fully compute in the beginning because I am used to some maintenance throttle all the way through corners. Of course it’s a timing thing which I improved on immensely throughout the day, as did just about everyone else. And when you get it right it is truly a thing of beauty.

Early on I had some trouble with the proper application of brake pressure and fishtailed a bunch of times. I actually did lose the back end and low-side when we were doing small space 180 degree drills but that is exactly what I came to work on. Eventually –to my delight- I was able to correct although I wouldn’t say I’ve got it down to a science just yet. Especially on the right handers where you cannot have that foot simultaneously on the brake and on the ground.

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Hot pursuit!

We figured out pretty early who the fast people were and let them get to the front of the pack when we rolled onto the track. Mike was clearly the jackrabbit of our crew. He passed us all at least once every session but as the day progressed I could see myself not only passing others but that Mike was no longer lapping me. I had a great time trying to figure out how to get around people as they were all quite accustomed to being on a tarmac circuit with other riders and knew how to block passing lanes. Anke was particularly good at it. Most of those guys were rather skilled in that regard and it’s clear we were all lit up by the competitive spirit.

Ripping (sort of) around the corner

Breaking the back wheel loose on a corner.

By the day’s final round I have to admit I was stoked when Mike turned to me and said “you’re on pole, dude.” What? Cool! I mean, honestly I’m not used to being chased; always the chaser. (Most of that experience coming from foot races.) But I was down for the new experience and for the challenge of corralling my nervous energy. We got onto the oval and as standard practice began with some caution since the coaches typically water down the corner exits in between groups. Too zealous with the throttle and you’ll wash out real quick. But I was becoming more adept with my two remaining controls and getting the weighting correct so I managed to keep the bike upright in those critical spots. Even so, on the 3rd go-round as I set myself up to enter the corner from outside in I somehow lost the back end and watched everyone blow past while I tried to safely get my bike out of the way. That ain’t easy when you’re pushing uphill on a cambered track with your bike in gear and you discover that the clutch lever has broken off. Dang! Just as I was starting to get “good” my day suddenly appeared to have come to a premature ending. Over strode coach Brok Mcallister who said, “Don’t worry bud, we’ll get you going again. Hop on and I’ll push as you pop up to 2nd gear, kick it to 3rd and you’re off. You’re not going to need the clutch anyway.” And he was right. Within moments I was back to ripping around the circuit reeling in my friends and trying to get as sideways as I could on the corners. What a blast! When the checkered flag eventually signaled us in I can tell you, I very much wanted to keep playing. This is the kind of shit that truly feeds the soul.

Coaches direction

Awesome coaches, coaching.

The boys with their Aerostitch suits - hysterical

Are we DEVO?? Naw, just a bunch of dudes in Aerostitch suits.

The latest in moto fashion

The latest in motorcycle fashion.

Winner! Broken Clutch award

Winner! “Broken Clutch” award.

After class we took some photos and hung out for at least another hour with the entire group and the coaches. I am really appreciative of the coaches’ collective knowledge, their clear and patient direction and their own obvious satisfaction at observing the participants’ improvements throughout the day.

Already I’m scheming up another trip to California Supermoto School. I might just have to try the asphalt version next!

 

Ten(ish) tips to avoid having your motorcycle or scooter knocked over.

After my friend Anu posted that his motorcycle had been knocked over while parked and the driver that did it took off I thought I’d list a few tricks that might help others avoid the same infuriating fate.

parked crushed

Sadly, there is an insufficient number of motorcycle parking spaces relative to the number of registered bikes in San Francisco and that divide will grow faster than the city can or will act on the issue. Our area in particular has seen a steady increase in motorcyclists over the last decade and there’s no question more cars are on the road as well due to the swelling population brought on chiefly by our latest tech boom. While the City Hall and developers are addressing the need for more housing (there seems to be a new residential high rise going up on every block in some neighborhoods) public transportation remains …um, “sub-par” and the streets have become bottle-necked from early morning until middle of the evening throughout the week. We on two wheels (bicycles included) can take some pride from the fact that we contribute to the traffic solution thanks in large part to legalized lane splitting but still, we are forced to become ever more creative in our parking efforts.

Far too often I hear tales of motorbikes getting plowed over by cars (it’s happened to me countless times) and, disappointingly in this town full of self-professed do-gooders, the car typically bolts without leaving a note or taking responsibility. It is irritating at best and quite costly for the motorcycle owner at worst. -Oh, and last I checked that shit is illegal.

While I am certain that these suggestions can benefit motorcyclists everywhere I am specifically reaching out to Bay Area riders because the rules of the road are diverse from region to region and I’ve developed these methods primarily while commuting in and around San Francisco. It takes a good several days in every city to get a real sense of what is or is not permissible (sidewalk parking being one example) and some things just aren’t that obvious. Regardless, I hope I can save a few bike owners some cash and quite a bit of heartache with these tips.

1.  In the likely case that there is no dedicated motorcycle parking nearby park your bike at “shorty” curbs. These are curbs that are too short length-wise for cars to park in. You generally find them in between driveways of homes and businesses. Where possible please make room for other bikes to join you. Don’t be a space hog and park your Goldwing parallel to the curb, dude. Once you’re in that spot no car can park there. You just cost two other bikes a parking spot.

2.  Where no shorty curb is available, and given the choice, park at the curb ends rather than in the middle to avoid getting sandwiched between larger vehicles.

3.  Try to park in front of a four-wheeled vehicle rather than behind it. Bikes and scooters usually get knocked down when cars are backing out of spaces and they do not see the bike in the rear-view.

4.  If you must park behind a four-wheeled vehicle note that your bike might be shorter length-wise than the car is wide so the car driver won’t see your bike from their side view mirror. And taller vehicles often cannot see your bike from their rear view either. You can do two things that will reduce the likelihood that your bike will end up on its side: First, park slightly away from the curb so that your bike sticks out just a bit and is visible from the side view of the car in front. Second, leave a little note on the car saying something simple like “Careful backing out please. Moto behind you. Thanks!” The driver ought to appreciate that and take greater care in their maneuvers. Yes, I do carry a small note pad with me. They cost like .99 at Walgreens.

5.  Parking on the sidewalk will surely keep your bike from getting knocked over by a car but sidewalk parking is illegal in SF. Last year I got a sidewalk ticket and the fine was up to a jaw-dropping $110. This is likely because the parking code does not distinguish between cars which block walkways and piss off old ladies and motorbikes that really do not. That said, there is a get-around. As I understand it, if your bike is within property lines at any point along a block you cannot be ticketed (legally) as the sidewalk is only as wide as it’s shortest point on the whole block. If there is a set of stairs or overhang extending from a home you should be able to park your motorcycle against your frontage and not get a ticket. Here’s the legislation. It’s a really fun read.

6.  Additionally on sidewalk parking, although it is a ticketable offense, there are definitely some areas where that is unlikely that your bike will get tagged. I would not park my motorcycle or scooter on the sidewalk anywhere near downtown or any other busy commercial district. However, I would –and have on many occasions- park on sidewalks in quieter residential neighborhoods, side streets off of main thoroughfares and in more outlying districts. Rarely will you get a sidewalk ticket unless someone with nothing better to do complains.

7.  Park on the sides of parklets between their ends and the rubber car bumper that is set into the pavement perpendicular to the curb to keep cars from backing into them. As of this writing there is no traffic code making parking there illegal. 2013-02-22 19.01.31

8.  Not a guarantee that your bike will not get backed into but less likely that it will get knocked on its side is the old trick of parking it at an angle to the curb. 40 to 45 degrees should do it in most cases. The thought being that if a car taps your bike while backing out of a spot it will just bang the rear wheel and the driver may hear the sound or feel the contact then freeze before sending the bike over whereas if your bike is 90 degrees to the curb the whole thing gets hit square and it’ll be down in one shot. That’s the theory anyway.

9.  Ride more. Park less.

10.  Employ some fun pre-emptive measures such as an air horn that goes off on contact or dastardly metal spikes! Not really. Satisfyingly vindictive as that may be, please have the forethought to recognize that if you piss off some high strung finance dude or damage his Beemer your bike could get knocked over by his Cole Haans anyway. (Yeah, this is the same shitbag who would probably take off after his car did the same to your bike.) So maybe just stick to the other methods.

There you have it. And if you do happen to witness the act as I have a couple of times try not to take it personally. The driver does not know you, isn’t out to get you and you should not assume that they would flee the scene without leaving a note had you not been there. Just be courteous (even if you do slip in a sarcastic remark about their craptastic driving abilities), get their info. and call it a day.