It’s a slippery slope… and then the fun begins.Posted: August 21, 2009
In the MSF BRC (Basic Rider Course) they have told us about locking up the wheels by over-braking and have instructed us to immediately let go of the front brake and then reapply it, should it happen to us. Our rider coaches also told us to never, ever come off the rear brake if we should lock up the rear, but instead to ride it out as is, or risk highsiding (the rear wheel snaps back inline with the front once it suddenly regains traction and hence throws you off the bike). We’ve also been implored to try and lock them up during the hazard evasion exercise (swerve left, swerve right, or quick stop, instructor’s choice) so we could experience what it feels like in a controlled setting and at a slow speed. I tried, honestly, but I couldn’t make the little Honda 125 do it. It refused. Hell, during the actual practical test, I had to redo the quick stop exercise, because my speed was off the scale and so was my stopping distance. That was the only mark on my otherwise perfect test score. On the redo, they docked me 1 point for not being able to stop within 13 feet, it took me 14. Like I didn’t know any better and take it slooooow, I was still skirting the upper end of the calculable scale. I did awesome on my riding skills test, considering that I felt like vomiting before every single exercise, and my heart was pounding in my chest and my body was shaking the entire time, because I was so nervous. Did I mention before that I have severe performance anxiety when it comes to practical skill tests? Clipboards give me panic attacks and an audience pretty much destroys the rest of my self-confidence. Yeah, looking back on that, it was freaking incredible how I held it all together until the very end. I had forgotten all about that. One of these days I’ll have to do a write-up on the weekend I officially learned how to ride.
I hadn’t thought much of locking up wheels or sliding, for that matter, until I hit a little gravel on my Sporty while making a familiar right turn. There was construction going on, and the corner had always been free of rocks or debris before (so much for assumptions.) There was a huge pothole on the right, where the two roads meet, but that wasn’t even close to the line of travel, if you didn’t try and run off the road, that is. I went into my turn, as I usually did, but didn’t pay much attention to the road surface. As I was nearing the apex of the turn, the rear wheel slipped out on a piece of gravel and it scared the crap out of me. I could feel my rear tire making a little jerky hop and then going towards the outside of my line of travel. I’ve never experienced that before, and I was freaking out. There was a line of cars, including a cop car (OMG! Please don’t let me hit the damn sheriff’s cruiser!!! That would so not be cool…), in the opposing lane waiting for the light to change to green. I stared directly at the huge Sheriff decal and its motto in smaller print (To Protect And Serve) and I remembered that thing about target fixation and I forced myself to quickly look away and pointed my nose where I really wanted to go. I had to lean a little more, since I was already going wide due to my apparent fascination with the cop mobile. Luckily, I also remembered a little thing I read somewhere, I think it was in ‘Proficient Motorcycling’: ‘When in doubt, gas it’. I did, I grabbed a handful of the right grip, which on a Harley, isn’t as dramatic as you would think, but the grunt’s there, after a little lag. In all fairness to Kittyhog, I’m pulling this off the memory banks after 7500-some miles on my second bike, the Hayabusa. But I digress: So, I grabbed a handful of throttle, according to the ‘old adage’. It’s not really that I remembered it and then took action. I did it subconsciously. I really had no time to be intellectual about it. I gassed it and the bike straightened up and stabilized and I went on my merry, freaked out way. Only later did I realize where I had picked up this little tidbit of crash-avoidance info. I was in some sort of mini-shock for the next three miles: My heart was pounding, my breath shallow and rapid, I was thinking “OMG! OMG! OMG! I just slid sideways. Holy shit! What happened?” I had felt the rock under my tire, but that couldn’t have caused this much upset, could it? This little incident laid waste to my two-wheeled confidence for the better of two weeks. Had I not been forced to continue riding my bike to get back and forth to work (this was before hubby got his bike), it would have probably meant the end of my riding adventures. Luckily I didn’t have the luxury of wimping out. Every time I was out for a ride, I could have sworn I felt the back wanting to slide or, to a lesser degree, the front (not that I knew what that actually feels like, I experienced that later). The motorcycle was not handling as it used to. I started getting all sorts of feedback from the bike that I previously wasn’t aware of. None of which, was good or confidence inspiring. Some of it, probably imagined, I’m sure. I was definitely hypersensitive to EVERY little thing that was going on ‘down there’. The place where rubber meets the road was the stuff nightmares were made of for the duration. Nothing was different, of course, I was just feeling and hearing things I had previously ignored or deemed unworthy of my attention. That’s my theory anyway, looking back at it. What has this to do with sliding or ‘drifting’? Well, I was scared of slide outs. No, let me rephrase that: I was scared of the POSSIBILITY of slide outs. The idea of sliding makes me paranoid of riding on sand, gravel, dirt, wet lane markings… You name it. I’m not coming off the pavement. Hell NO! The yellow square-sitting-on-corner sign “Pavement Ends” instills fear in my heart and soul and I’ll tuck tail and run (after I make a u-turn, that is.) This happened pretty early in my ‘riding career’, I’d guess about 3 or 4 months in. And, as I mentioned earlier, I was still riding my 2008 Harley Davidson Sportster 1200 Low.
I eventually got ‘over it’, regained my former confidence and forgot all about the subject, until a few months and one bike later I slid my front tire, while executing some dumbassed maneuver during corner entry. I use the term here loosely. Mind you, this isn’t some knee-dragging, maximum-lean, pinch-marks-in-the-seat corner. We’re talking about a leisurely 35-mph (according to its accompanying signage) flat right-hander, not too far removed from a preceding stop sign. I couldn’t have been going more than 40, maybe 45 at the most. On most days (and most corners around here), I can easily do these at twice the suggested ‘cager speed’ with barely a thought. I don’t know what happened. Well, I know the ‘what’, I just don’t know the ‘why’. One moment I’m in the groove, the next I’m trying to hitch a ride out of Sleazeball City by doing a little recovery work mid-corner. Yeah. The chain of events is really jumbled in my memory. They were probably jumbled then, or I wouldn’t have found myself on the front binders while leaned over, on the wrong side of the road, looking everywhere but where I should have been looking. Hindsight: I was freaking lost. I had no clue where I was and was frantically searching for a reference to ‘X ← ‘You Are Here’’. I don’t know what caused my attention to be pretty much 99% diverted from the task at hand, but it was, and whatever it was, I couldn’t have been thinking I was going in too fast. I was going 40-45mph, at that speed I could have taken the ‘car line’ without breaking a sweat. I could never figure this out, and I’ve tried to analyze this to death, because I’d like to learn from my dumbassery (there’s Hijnx’s word again, in perfect application.) Needless to say, grabbing a handful of front brake made the front wheel lock up. I could feel it. My front end felt like it was dipping, almost like it was about to buckle towards the inside; it felt like the bike wanted to fall into the turn. I learned later, that there’s a term for that behavior, it’s called ‘tucking’. And that word is perfect for describing what was happening at my front end. I was also running wide now and was already over the double-yellow line. Ah shit! I finally got my silly self together, smoothly letting go of the front brake lever, increasing lean and rolling on a little throttle. I made it back to my side of the road and recovered going smoothly into the left-hander that follows shortly thereafter. Other than being extremely disappointed in myself, my only other thought after the incident was: “Oh. So that’s what it feels like to lock up the front.” Nothing to it. I can handle my business. Nowhere near the drama of the previous incident, so I must be improving.
Now that I’ve slid the rear and locked up the front: How about doing both at the same time? It’s only natural progression. ☺
It just dawned on me that I missed my 10K odometer photo. Arrrrgh, I must have rolled that when we were picking up Joe’s Connie from the local dealership. Bummer. Now what am I gonna do? I guess take one now and photoshop it? Nah… It really ticks me off tho, 10K that’s a milestone! Oh well…. I went to work with my hubby today, the bum was speeding like crazy. I had to do ummm… triple digits to catch up with him again. Traffic on I-20 around the perpetual construction zone was crazy. I saw a truck hauling a ‘Busa… I giggled… I prefer to ride mine to Point B. My practice corner is on the road right before you get to his place of employment. I ride 40 miles just to abuse the privilege. It is a marvel of civic engineering: It is smooth. It is a sweeping 90 degrees sporting a constant radius. It is flat (actually there might be an ever-so-subtle positive camber to it, but I can’t be sure of that… yet). It is clean, and visibility goes all the way around in either direction. It is on a dead end industrial park road leading nowhere important, and hence traffic is extremely light most of the time. No obstructions to either side, just flat ground sprouting lush green grass and not a ditch in sight to mar the spot. So, if you’re gonna bomb one, this would be the place to do it. Hardly any coppers there either. You’re good for about three or four roundtrip runs before some ‘hole with a cell phone calls in the ‘crotch rocket activity.’ The world was so much better before mainstream cell phones (the countless irresponsible freedoms lost to that little invention LOL.) The only drawback would be the posted speed limit of 35 and getting busted doing almost triple that would completely suck. There isn’t a more perfect corner for a n00b to practice on. It is perfect in most every way and Foxy’s favorite ‘apply theory of cornering skills in isolation’ corner. This is the stretch of asphalt heaven where I come to play with applied physics: to try out what I’ve read in various riding skill publications in all seriousness. I might just spray paint some reference markers on it one of these days. 😉 Enough corner worship. As I was saying, I was following hubby to his work. When we finally get there, we hang out, it’s 101 degrees outside, I’m in full gear, sweating my buns off and decide to wait around so Joe can buy me a drink on the way out at the 76. I’m tired of waiting now, so I decide I’ll go ahead and go to the 76. I take my favorite corner going 75. New personal record. I suppose I can’t take it any faster than that without actually dropping a knee, so all I do is slide around the tank, hang my butt out into the breeze, but keep my knee tucked in tight against the fairing. Looks like I got plenty of clearance, but can’t really tell, since my attention is focused elsewhere. I need to have Joe video me one of these days, I’d like to see what it looks like and find out whether or not my butt crack is showing. It sure felt breezy…. mmmm… when I get to the end of the road, I decide against going to the gas station and flip a u-turn and go back to abuse the corner again. By the time I get to the point where I speed up to set my entry speed I see Joe coming around it in his big truck. Hehehe…. an audience…. I take the corner, speed down the straight, turn around in the company parking lot and go back the other way. By the time I close in on the stop sign at the end of the road, I see Joe turning onto the four-lane. Wow. I *am* fast. LOL I’m all tickled with myself and am not paying attention and get ‘lost’. By the time I snap my attention back to the task at hand, I’m bearing down at the stop line going 60 (in a 35, just for the record). Holy shit! All four paws, I’m laying into the skids. I feel the front tire starting to wiggle (ah crap!) and the rear is starting to slide to the right (whoa!), I release the front brake immediately, but stay on the rear (ride it out! ride it out!)… at least I think I’m still on it. I’m still sliding, but the front isn’t wiggling anymore, but I have the distinct feeling that I’m drifting sideways just a bit. I’m definitely not going in a straight line anymore. I wonder if I’m gonna make it… I look around for traffic, and fortunately it’s light. I’m looking for an out… time to figure out whether to gas it or keep on the binders…. something I’ve read comes to mind…. speeding up precludes all other escape options. I decide to stick with the brakes. I give the front another progressive squeeze and a finally slide to a stop, half a bike-length past the stop line. Weeeeee….. that was fun. My tires are offset by maybe 15 degrees, pointing left and I’m in first gear, the bike is slightly leaned left, with my left foot on the ground. My hands are still engaged on both levers. Wow. I didn’t even realize that I actually downshifted, all proper-like. Textbook. I sit there for a moment, maybe 30 seconds, to well, regroup I guess…. I’m a freaking weirdo. I have no reason to be grinning like a fool, but yet here it is, I can feel it pressing against my cheek pads. Shouldn’t I be looking for a restroom so I can wipe and change my drawers? I look back over my shoulder to see if I laid rubber. Nope. I didn’t. I can be such a squid at times. I actually enjoyed that. And now I know why most skilled sportbike riders don’t bother with the rear brake at all, unless they’re in a parking lot. Too much of a hassle to get right for too little benefit in stopping power. I don’t use it anymore either (under normal non-slippery conditions), unless I’m practicing the slow race and in parking lots, of course. Wow! I pull out into traffic and actually catch up with hubby and turn into the gas station right behind him. I park it, and do a little happy jig right there. People look at me funny. I don’t care. I just drifted, that’s what I decided to call it, whatever IT was. I just freaking drifted. I did a panic stop, and everything that they told us in the MSF came to pass, I didn’t even think about it, my muscles just did their thing. I handled my business. I was soooooo anxious about sliding anything, front or back…. I was kind of apprehensive as to whether I could handle it or not. I do now. And it was freakin’ awesome! I drifted. Yeah. Sliding is fun. 🙂
This brings us up to speed on the background and reason of why I got so tickled during the incident described in ‘Woot! Guess what I did on the way home from work today?!?’ I have indeed conquered one of my bigger fears about riding a motorcycle. One of those things that really bugged me, even though I wasn’t consciously aware that it did, but influenced my riding regardless. It goes to show, that with education and knowing the WHYs behind the WHATs and the HOWs, and putting it all in perspective, we can improve our skill set and become better (and safer) riders in the process. Knowledge helps overcome those survival reactions (SRs) Keith Code talks about extensively in his book ‘A Twist Of The Wrist II’. And until I read that book, especially the chapter on sliding and machine requirements, these incidents didn’t come together for me. Turned fear into fun. Next up: Conquering my unreasonable fear of gravel and sand. I think I might go to dirtbike school and play off the tarmac. ☺
And yet again: I’m on my way to work, I’m getting a later start than I would like. I’m sitting at the end of my street, waiting patiently for traffic to subside, so I can turn left and be on my way. What the hell? Yeah, I know it’s evening rush hour, but THIS is ridiculous. Of course, this only happens when I’m already running behind. I watch an endless parade of sheet metal on four wheels roll by, with no relief in sight. I sit there for what seems like an eternity, but is probably more like 3-5 minutes and then my patience wears thin. I’m gonna have to make myself a hole. Holy crap! I can’t believe I just thought that. But there it is. I’m thinking it. I don’t want to be late for work, so I go for the next break in traffic. Apparently I’m a little too trigger happy with the throttle due to feeling hurried, because the next thing I know, I’m going a lot faster and leaning a lot more than anticipated and my rear wheel decides to take a little side trip to the outside. Now I’m turning even more sharply left and am pointed at the oncoming van. I’m already in the left third of my lane. Not good. I have already arrested throttle movement, but still had to fight the impulse to chop it off. So what do I do now? Oh yeah, we need to go the other way, just a tad. The middle of my lane would be good (for starters)… I roll on the gas, concentrating on staying as loose up top as possible (luckily I practice that all the time, due to the inflamed tendons of my thumbs in both wrists), point my nose where I want to go (right third of my lane, up ahead in the distance) and as the Fat Lady straightens out I push on the left grip and now my rear is sliding the other way. I give it more gas and that stabilizes the whole mess. Whoa! Did I just fishtail this puppy? Yup. Sure did. That was awesome. I could have done without all the traffic, but THAT right there was AWESOME. Sliding is fun. On my way home from work, I checked the spot where it happened, to see if I laid rubber. Nope. I didn’t. Weeeeeeeee! That was fun. I can be such a squid at times. I actually enjoyed that, too.