Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Temperature swings

Today started near 40 degrees and had climbed to the 70s by the time I rode home. Dealing with this requires a couple layers. I wore my winter suit today, and removed my sweatshirt and liner for the ride home. I also opened up a lot of vents on the jacket. My torso was fairly comfortable, but the pants aren't vented and my legs were not nearly so comfortable. I need to find a better solution for my legs for these sorts of temperature swings. I've discovered that the comfort level of the bike's seat goes down a lot when I can't cool down my legs on a hot day. Perhaps the wrong seat is the problem.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rain suit leak

Another rainy day ride this morning. My Frogg Toggs have developed a leak at one of the seams. Tonight I've put some clear silicone sealant on the spot where it was leaking - hopefully that will fix it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's like 1998 all over again...

Today I'm balancing my checkbook, and there's a lot of little receipts in there for between $11 and $14 worth of gas instead of the usual entries for around $50 or more (although there's been a few of those too; I sometimes have been using the car on nights or weekends). Most of the times I'd filled up, I had got about 200 miles on that much worth of gas, at today's prices. A lot of the notes here have been on dealing with various perils in riding; today I thought I'd make a brief mention of the payoff. I'm going to total up my mileage, the amount I spent, and how many gallons I used once the riding month is over, and post a more detailed analysis of how much gas I've been saving.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Delayed post

I would have posted yesterday, but I needed to rewire part of the wall and that left our internet out until I finished it today. So you get two commutes for the price of one. Yes, you read that correctly, two: I worked today, too. What a deal!

After reading Matt's post about tuner cars, I realized that I deal with a different type of drivers than he does. His commute takes him through a more suburban area while mine is dominated by professionals going to and from work. While he will encounter more young drivers out for a spin or running errands, I get stuck with the people annoyed by a long day at the office and annoyed that it will take them that much longer to get home.

While neither commute was what I would call eventful, I did notice that today's ride was much more relaxed and the drivers around me were more forgiving. The comparison of the days made me realize it is not that I don't normally see odd driver antics on my way home from work, it's that I see enough of them that they become expected.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Today's story: Tuner cars and driver stereotypes

I've been riding all week, just been busy too. I've got a few little stories from previous days, but today was an interesting lesson in automotive people-watching.

Stereotypes certainly have a lot of bad applications, but on the road there are times when stereotypes about car owners can help you predict something ugly will happen, or at least help you focus on the cars that are more likely to cause trouble. They're usually only helpful if there's a very large set of people with a certain mentality who are drawn to a particular sort of car or have good reasons for owning one. For example, one warning that gets passed around on motorcycle forums is to beware of tuner cars, because they typically belong to young, aggressive drivers.

Well, today I come upon a white Honda Civic Si, one of the "breadvan" 2002-2005 models. It's got a loud exhaust, custom wheels, and it's being driven a bit on the aggressive side. One thing that I really chuckled at was that the owner had replaced the Civic badges with Odyssey emblems. I keep an eye on it, but figure that anyone who'd joke about his car that way may not feel too much like he has something to prove. That wasn't a particularly well loved Civic, and he wouldn't be the first to think it looks like a minivan with the center two doors removed.

He does drive a bit aggressively, but the real trouble starts when someone in a shiny new Nissan 350Z with sparkly blue paint pulls up behind him. As it turns out, this Civic / Odyssey has attracted a tuner car driver who evidently sees it as a challenge, passes the Civic and cuts it off. I stay back a little ways in the other lane, a couple car lengths behind the Civic. I don't see a real need to drop back too far, but I want to give myself a little distance in case the Nissan driver does anything crazy (and I definitely don't want to do anything that puts me alongside him).

Suddenly a different sort of stereotypical bad driver appears, and I didn't see him coming: A red Hyundai, its front fenders clearly painted with a rattle can, whips past me, does a "thread the needle" swerve between me and the Civic, and takes off at maybe 70 in a 45 zone.

The lessons you can draw from this about car stereotypes are a bit ambiguous. After all, the Hyundai is a perfect example of another sort of stereotypical bad driver's car, a cheap car with visible body damage. The perfect sort of car to own if you were prone to wrecking cars and were trying to keep the habbit from putting you in the poorhouse.

But the real lesson is to stay aware of all the cars in your area. The one you think may be the biggest threat often isn't.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Smith System

I apparently forgot to hit the Publish Post button on Thursday.

I had my Smith System driving class today. It's very similar to the segment of the MSF class dealing with traffic avoidance and strategies. The Smith class is geared toward commercial trucks that are much heavier than a motorcycle and so the time/distance allowances are larger than in the MSF. The major difference is the driving test is not a controlled course. We had to drive the truck with our instructor sitting in the passenger seat and give a running commentary of approach times, following times, potential threats, and traffic patterns. It was all quite fun, actually.

As far as the commute goes, the traffic this afternoon tried to make up for the light traffic of the past few days. I did get a chance to watch a lot of people merge into a solid line of traffic, of which I was a part. Fortunately for me, all of the drivers saw me and none tried to share the spot I was occupying. It goes to show that two of the most important aspects to tackling commuting on a bike are as follows: see and be seen. I need to not only do all I can to insure that other drivers notice me, I need to proactively avoid the drivers around me and assume that they don't see me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

While today's ride was absolutely beautiful, I really have nothing to say about it. But, I will be taking a driving course tomorrow for work. Its one of those defensive driving type courses. I'll let everyone know how it goes and what sort of tips I get out of it, commercial truck or otherwise.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Well, I didn't chose April because it happened to contain Earth Day, but it is kind of a nice side effect since this blog is, in its own way, about conservation. Today's and yesterday's commute were fairly uneventful, although yesterday I did have to deal with a temperature swing of around 30 degrees. Had to bundle up in the morning, wear mesh in the afternoon.

So I thought I'd post a few thoughts about Earth Day and environmentalism. A lot of Earth Day stuff seems to be about boosting awareness of environmental causes. But do we really need more awareness? At this point, it's safe to say that nobody is for pollution or extinction (except when it comes to germs), and everybody is either against global warming or doesn't believe it exists. So it's easy to say, "Yeah, we get the message. Wildlife good. Pollution bad. Conservation good." And does it really take an official day to boost awareness that we ought to conserve gasoline? I get my awareness boosted every time I drive past a gas station and see their prices.

There are a few more environmental causes where I would say we need more awareness, cases where people genuinely don't realize they're doing environmental harm. How many people who keep their cats outdoors, for example, realize that their kitty is out eating native songbirds?

There are a few sorts of awareness I would like to encourage, though. One is an awareness that claims that something's environmentally friendly aren't always to be taken at face value. Sometimes they're more motivated by corporate greed (the corn-based E85 ethanol industry comes to mind) or sometimes brought about by putting the wrong principle too high (there's some cases of organic farming causing more environmental damage than using chenical fertilizers and pesticides; just because a treatment for a farm is natural doesn't mean that artificial treatments may get the job done with less environmental damage). So study issues a bit more deeply. Am I benefiting the environment by using less gas, or making things worse for the environment by driving a vehicle that is built to less stringent emissions standards? That's something you'll have to research for yourself. My main aim was to conserve gas. And it's working - I'll have to crunch the numbers later, but compared to using a car for everything, I estimate I've cut my gas consumption in half.

The other kind of awareness is an awareness of proportion. If you make a change to benefit the environment, it may be a drop in the bucket compared to what society is doing, but a good test is how big that drop looks in your own bucket. For example, if riding a bike cuts your fuel consumption by one half to one third, if everybody adopted that strategy, society could cut its gas consumption by the same level. Or another example criticized in The Skeptical Environmentalist: the recycleable toothbrush. If you throw out four toothbrushes a year, just how much is that compared to a week's worth of garbage? If it's a tiny drop in your own bucket, it's not going to make much of a difference in the world if it catches on in society as a whole.

If you're planning to take an action to conserve natural resources or help the environment, see if you can measure its influence by how much it changes your own life. Because, when you get down to it, your own life is the one you're best able to change.

5'10" and Invisible?

At the outset of today's ride, I filled the tank with 3.3 gallons at 218 miles. 66 miles per gallon, not bad for wringing out the engine on Sunday.

Anyway, I found out today that some people are willing to do pretty much anything to save a few seconds in their commute, even with very light traffic this morning. I was the first in line in a left turn lane to get onto I-85, with a few vehicles behind me. Directly behind me was a large SUV with a Xterra behind it. I watched the Xterra pull out of the turn lane and try to whip around the SUV behind me. She realized I was there as her front tire entered the turn lane right next to me and then she rolled down the window and motioned that she wanted in front of me. In my childish act of the day, I looked at her and then deliberately ignored her. The final act of, umm, interesting driving was for her to pull all the way into the middle of the intersection (on a red light) just to be sure she would get ahead of all two people in front of her.

After that bit of fun, the rest of the day was downright tame. Also, with the temperature on the return ride reaching a mere 76, I noticed my gear gets a little warm. It becomes rather uncomfortably warm when I'm not moving. The vents help a lot, but I think I will need a mesh jacket by the time the ambient temp reach the mid-80's.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A couple of "Oops" moments

So I had a great commute. Lovely weather and polite drivers made it nice and easy. Despite the "easy" part of it, I managed to make a couple of mistakes that make me kick myself. Not literally.

First, I got a little distracted at a light and forgot to roll on the throttle before easing off the clutch lever. Pop. Stall. Restart engine hopefully before the people behind me realize what's going on.

The other one was another clutch issue. Note to new riders (yes, this includes me) roll off the throttle when you up shift. When you don't (like me) you can give it a little too much gas and make the front tire a little light when you re-engage the clutch. I haven't done as badly as I did the first day I had the bike, when I lifted the wheel momentarily, but it's still unnerving when you do it.

Lastly, I will mention a bit of advice that served me well today: always do a head-check before changing lanes, the mirror can only tell you "no." When I wanted to change lanes on the way home, I checked my mirror: clear. I turned my head: Ford Explorer. I stayed where I was.

As weather continues to get nicer, I am willing to bet I'll see more and more biker out. To the riders: ride safe. To the motorists: look for the motorcycles, please.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Testing, 1, 2..

So, yesterday, I installed an in-line fuel filter on the Ninja. The stock filter is about one inch long and maybe a quarter inch in diameter. I replaced it with a lawn mower filter about two inches long and one and a half in diameter. Today, I took the bike out for a spin just to make sure I didn't mess anything up. It works perfectly, with absolutely no loss of flow. I did see a lot of other bikers out, but I saw very little gear.

Co-worker reactions

My Friday commute report has been delayed a bit because of the 2008 Megasquirt Meet. Friday I didn't get home until 11, and yes, I was back on the bike that day. Philip recently blogged about his co-workers' reactions to his riding. For some reason, my co-workers haven't been quite as worried, although I did get some good-natured teasing when I rode in on a rather stormy day. It may be that I don't have to deal with downtown Atlanta traffic, or it may be the difference in working at a shop that builds race car parts instead of selling construction supplies. Maybe different industries attract people with different feelings about risks.

Friday, April 18, 2008

An Interrupted Commute

Another day of temperature change, just not quite as drastic as yesterday.
The commute itself was a little disjointed. I had to go get my car on the way home. Which meant I dropped my bike off at my parents' house and got a ride to the mechanic. From there, my father followed me home and drove me back to my bike. We got to see a decent number of people on two wheels. The ones who looked like they had been commuting were on scooters. Fun machines, those. I just don't feel as stable on them.
I also found out one more thing today about being in a full tuck on the highway: the wind deflection is so effective that I didn't even get air through my jacket vents. Making a warm day a hot ride in my current gear.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Now, what do I do with this leftover acid?

Picked up the battery this afternoon - as I've been working a little late, I haven't been able to go to bike shops that might have one on the shelf. So I went to an O'Reilly Auto Parts and they were able to special order the battery. Well, sort of - the correct battery is a size like a 10-B2, and they were only able to get a 10-A2. But the only difference is the side the vent is on, and the "wrong" battery will drop in if you move the vent hose over. It's long enough to reach either side.

One thing I found out about motorcycle batteries: They're stored without the acid so they don't lose their charge from sitting on a warehouse shelf. So you have to pour the acid, which is in a bottle with markings like "Danger! Pellegro! There's bad stuff in here and we're not just saying that because our lawyers said we have to!" into the battery before installing it. Once that's in the battery is ready to go, more or less. They say for best results you can give it a bit of time on a trickle charger.

So I'll be back riding tomorrow. The battery company did, however, include more acid than is needed to fill the battery, and it's not something I'd want to throw in the trash can.

Finally Back in the Saddle.

Its almost like withdrawal having to drive the past few days. With a change of almost 40 degrees today I got a chance to practice layering. Unfortunately, I also got a chance to practice stashing my extra clothes in my desk at work, as I didn't remember to bring any luggage to pack it home in. I only saw one other bike out this morning, but there were enough out this afternoon to not bother counting.

The new thing for the day was I had to put my foot down on I-85 because traffic was stopped at the point I get on. I think the minor traffic jam was due to a motorcyclist running out of gas and having to move over. He was getting back on his bike and started it moving right before I was about to pull over and see if he needed any help. I think he ran dry because there was a guy walking back onto the interstate with a can of gas.

I also found out management's opinion of my riding to work. My boss has called me a "dead man walking" since I started riding to work. But, lately he's backed off on that one a bit. I ran into his boss this afternoon and he told me that he used to ride a lot, but would never come downtown. Then, a little later, I ran into one of the company's owners and when he commented on the nice weather I responded by telling him that's one of the best reasons to ride. After a little pause he said, "Yeah, I kind of worry when I think about you on that thing. Stay safe." It reminded me why I ride with all the gear on, even in rising temperatures: my safety is important to a lot of people (especially my family and, gasp, myself) and taking care of that is just the responsible thing to do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I haven't been so good about riding this week

For a variety of reasons, I have not ridden to work so far this week.
Monday, I overslept a little and I'd rather not be trying to ride when I'm in a hurry.
Tuesday, I had a meeting and needed to drive.
Today, I just needed to drop the car off at the shop.
A good list of excuses if I do say so myself.

So, I've been thinking a little more about how to select a bike. Selecting a bike seems to follow a two basic rules each time, only the criteria used as guidelines change as you as a biker develop.

First, and most importantly, the motorcycle's capabilities need to be a match to your own. That's why I have a bike that performs predictably and smoothly. If I had a R1 or CBR1000RR or anything of the like, it would respond to inputs I don't have the skills yet to control or even know that I'm giving it.

Second, you should also ask yourself what function you want out of your motorcycle. Do you want to cruise the highway? The city streets and commute? The twisting hills and canyons? Do you want the ride to go on when the pavement ends? Ask yourself these questions and the answers will guide what style of bike you will look for.

I thought of this because I've been thinking about why I like my bike, and what I don't like about it. I think after a few more miles and a few more uses of my Ninja, I will have a better idea of what I want out a primary bike and will have developed the skills necessary to open a wider range of motorcycles to choose from.

Mechanical DNF

Today the bike wouldn't start. I checked the battery and was getting about 3.5 volts; looks like I need a new one and will have to add another day to this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Don't let me catch you riding dirty

Philip recently posted about when he caught a whiff of a driver smoking drugs earlier. Today it was my turn. On the way home today, a car in the oncoming lane left behind a distinct smell that somebody - everybody - in the car was definitely stoned. Like with Philip's story, nothing came of this today, but that is an extra road hazard.

I've heard several motorcycle riders comment that riding a motorcycle makes them better car drivers. One reason is that you always have to practice your defensive driving skills on a motorcycle, because you're more vulnerable and less visible. But possibly another one is that with no radio, no windshield frame, and no ventilation system to distract you from what's going on out there, riding a motorcycle can make you more aware of the dangers on the road. If you're sitting in a car breathing through a filtered ventilation system, Cheech and Chong could be in the car next to you sending their money up in smoke and you might not notice. On a bike, such things are less likely to escape your nose.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cold today!

Today was surprisingly cold for April, below 40 degrees out when I headed out. They're talking about it freezing Tuesday night. There wasn't much I could do besides bundle up and ride on. Other than that, it was a pretty uneventful and safe commute.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Maintenance - tires and oil change

I did a bit of maintenance on the GS500F today. Motorcycles take a bit more maintenance than cars. They've got oil changes like cars, but chain driven bikes like mine also need the chain lubricated every 600 miles (which isn't a huge deal but it is messy), and they go through tires very often. It's rare for sportbike tires to last 10,000 miles, at least not on the back - front tires wear a bit slower. The reason is that motorcycle tires are sticky like R-compound DOT race tires, and trade lifetime for grip. Losing traction on a bike is a lot worse than in a car.

One tip I've often heard and got to experience for the first time today is that a bike will behave differently with new tires on it. My tire was pretty squared off as I don't have enough curves in my commute. The new tire makes the bike want to turn more - that's the best way I have to describe it. It also takes a while for the mold release compound and other stuff to rub off the tire.

One other thing - it seems that a lot of parts stores don't know what oil filter to sell you for a Suzuki GS500F. Mountain Adventures sold me a spin-on filter, and they're a Suzuki dealer. I had only changed the oil in it once before, and forgot that it takes catridge type filters. So when I went to ValueCycle to have the new rear tire put on, I bought a filter from them. They first grabbed a spin-on filter too. I explained this was the wrong filter and another worker there found the correct one.

Still, these two did somewhat better than Cycle Gear. I once tried to buy an oil filter from them, and they asked if I had the chain driven or shaft driven version of the GS500F. I wonder what would have happened if I'd tried to order a replacement drive shaft for the bike from them.

Friday, April 11, 2008

When smart traffic lights know just enough to be dangerous

Today's commute was a pretty uneventful one. That's usually a good thing. The only scare was a Jeep driver who signaled he was turning into my lane when I was maybe two feet behind his bumper. But I saw him and slowed, and he saw me and didn't turn, so that it wasn't even much of a close call.

There was one point where I narrowly avoided being caught by the traffic light at the south end of Lenora Church Road, so I thought I'd put in a few notes about "smart" traffic lights that know just enough to be dangerous. This is a traffic light that uses a sensor in the pavement to know when to change, and won't change unless it detects a car there. At all. They're often found when you're on a T intersection or a lightly traveled street crossing a heavier one. These have a magnetic sensor that looks like two long rectangles cut into the pavement and sealed in with tar.

The trouble is, like I said, they won't change unless they detect a car. Or a truck or something else big. They usually can't detect motorcycles. I've heard of various ways you can supposedly get their magnetic sensors to detect a bike, from putting your sidestand down on the sensor lines, hitting the starter, etc. I once was stuck at the Lenora Church Road light for ten minutes, with none of these helping.

If you're in a car and you come across a motorcyclist stuck at one of these lights, do the rider a favor: Don't stop your car two car lengths behind the bike to give the rider space. Edge up a little until your tires are over the back of the sensor's rectangle so the sensor can detect something.

For riders, if you find a light like this, there aren't many ways to deal with it if you find you may be the first in line at a red light. I slipped through behind the last car just before it turned red. If you do get stuck, you've got only two options: Run the red light or make a left turn.

An observation

I didn't ride today, but I do want to point out something I've observed here in the city. It seems like there is only a marginally higher than 50% chance that I will see some one using their turn signals properly. That is all.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Infamous Left Turners

This afternoon I got my first look at the infamous left-turner. I was on a two lane road that narrows back down to one lane and. As I was looking to merge, a white duelly truck turned left across both lanes and slowed almost to a stop, with two lanes of traffic coming at him. I'm fine and there was enough room for me to slow down without an emergency stop. I still don't understand why you would turn and stop in the road, with or without oncoming vehicles.
Other than that little blip, today was good. I saw a lot of other bikes out on the roads, even another little Ninja. I also got a chance to think about a couple of things. First, one of the most challenging aspects of riding (after learning how to turn at low speeds, brake effectively, get a feel for counter-steering, ok so low on the list) is selecting the correct gear for the situation. Fortunately, my bike is good for helping a rider get a feel for that and also to forgive any noob mistakes I can make. I'm getting a better feel for when to shift down to keep up the right amount of power for a situation, but when I forget or make the wrong decision it has the ability to pull steadily and predictably from 3000 rpm to 13500 rpm. This in and of itself is a good reason to keep in mind one needs to match the bike to one's level of expertise and no higher.

Today's ride: trying out a Respiro Bandit mask

Dropped off the water heater at the dump this morning and dropped off the truck at work, so I'm back on the bike now. It's impossible to miss all the pollen in the air these days. It's all over the roads, on the bike, and I've got pretty bad allergies to it. So I tried a Respiro Bandit mask that I ordered from Aerostich.

It hasn't turned out too well. There's a couple things I don't like about it. Probably my biggest complaint is that it doesn't make my allergies go away, although it may be helping. It's hard to tell. I suspect it would help more if it fit better. The mask uses a knot at the back to tie it around my face. That might work well with a half-helmet, but my full face helmet pushes it down and the knot digs into my neck when I turn my head. Not the right tool for the job, though it might be useful for other things that don't involve wearing a full helmet.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A lesson in luggage

This was to have been Monday's lesson, but the water heater drama kept me from posting it then. I've got a few bits of advice about luggage, learned the hard way.

First, if you're riding in the rain, it doesn't make sense to put the cover over the bike when you get home - it will keep the moisture inside, so let the bike dry out. But it is a good idea to empty your saddlebags if they're not sealed hard luggage. This Monday the gloves in my saddlebags were soaking wet. Those rain covers are not completely effective, and I should have known that.

Second, some comments on carrying a laptop on a motorcycle. On Monday, I realized I'd need to work from home on Tuesday. My saddlebags don't really have enough room to close the zipper when you put a laptop in them. I made it home without incident, but I was worried that I'd have stuff blow out of the bag. It didn't, but if it had been raining I wouldn't have much choice. And don't even think about putting a laptop in a magnetic tank bag. (Jerry, I didn't learn that lesson the hard way, especially not with your laptop. That's one I already knew about. I know my boss reads this occasionally.)

So today I packed up the laptop in one of the safest ways to carry it on a motorcycle if you don't have giant-sized saddlebags: I put it in a messanger bag. This is kind of like a padded briefcase with a shoulder strap and a second strap that goes around your torso. It's big enough to carry a laptop. Another good option is, of course, a backpack.

How does a water heater affect a commute?

Wondering where I've been? I've had to spend my spare time taking care of a bit of drama caused by the water heater. It died on Monday, so Monday night I was out arranging for a contractor to install a new one. Tuesday I worked from home while I was waiting for the contractor to show up. He showed up at 3:00 and refused to install the heater because something in his contract said not to work with the type of plumbing in the house. He also refused to give any information on where I could find a plumber who would. I had him leave the water heater there and I installed it myself.

So today I had an old water heater to haul off. I rode my bike to work, but decided the best course of action would be to drive a work truck home and use it to haul off the old water heater. So I'm assigning myself an extra day of riding to make up for the day with the truck.

Why Smell is a Good Thing

I don't mean as in personal smell, but the sense of smell. One of the things we were taught in the Basic Rider Course is to use all of your senses to alert yourself to danger. This morning, yes, before 6 AM, I distinctly smelled the aroma of one of the slightly more common illicit substances being smoked in one of the cars ahead of me. While there were no ill effects on the actual commute, it was a good sign to be even more alert than usual when watching the cars today.
Why someone would be so inconsiderate as to drive while under the influence I don't know. I just hope they snap out of it before they have a bad wake up call.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Today's lesson

My lesson for the day is: check your tire pressure regularly. I check the electronics and oil fairly regularly, but I kept putting off the tire check until yesterday evening. Here is another place knowing your bike is handy. The steering felt a little sluggish and squishy on the ride yesterday, so I determined to check the first thing that came to mind. Sure enough, the front tire was way down on pressure, and fully inflating it made a world of difference for this morning. There was also a bumper lying in the middle of my lane this morning, so steering was quite useful today.
Second lesson today, crouching into a full tuck behind my fairing on the highway means I can drop 500 rpm and maintain the same speed. Something to keep in mind for gas mileage.

Monday, April 7, 2008

One Reason to Ride

Its similar to driving with the windows down, but so much more involved in what's around you. I thought about this while riding through wisteria strewn lanes on the way home, the smells of the purple flower and honey and wild onion filling the helmet. The down side of that was the guy in front of me burning more oil than gas.
So, that's my revelation of the day. I love riding in spring. I'm sure I'll like summer and fall too, but winter just is unpleasant.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Yes, I rode when there was a tornado watch in effect...

Although, when you get down to it, cars aren't much safer in a tornado than a motorcycle. Your best defense against those if you're faced with one while out on the road is to jump into the nearest ditch if there isn't a solid building to take shelter in.

Normally I would have stayed home with a very high chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, but for this month I'm pressing on anyway. They didn't declare the tornado watch until I was at work. However, I didn't actually encounter any high winds on the road. The storm hit before I left work. Four hours later, it still hasn't completely blown over.

The morning started out cold and foggy. Misty mornings can be good for folk song and blues lyrics, but they're not so great for riding a motorcycle. The roads are as slick as if it's raining, sometimes slicker because the various slimy things that rise to the surface in the rain don't get washed away. And you get tiny droplets on your visor that are harder to shake off than big raindrops. I found myself pondering whether it's worse to ride in a cold, foggy morning or in a thunderstorm.

Well, this afternoon I got to make a comparison. It was one of the worst storms I've ridden through at times. For a short ride, I'd rather take the thunderstorm than the mist as visiblity is, believe it or not, better, and the right gear can keep you dry. But on a long ride, my gloves and boots started to soak through. Alpinestar Drystar gloves proved that they are not, as the name implies, rain gloves. They will keep water out for maybe 15 to 20 minutes, but they don't shed water, they absorb it. About halfway through the ride I found I could wring some of the water out just by balling my hands into fists. I need some truly waterproof gloves. The Frogg Toggs held up just fine, though.

One other rain riding tip: Tuck your gloves into the sleeves of your rainsuit. If you go the other way around and tuck the sleeves into your gloves' cuffs, you'll get a lot wetter. It seems more rain trickles down the sleeves and into the gloves than blows back up the sleeves at speed.

Glad I didn't ride

The intermittent but torrential downpours outside and on the drive home made me glad I didn't ride. Even if I had a rain suit, I think that I would have wanted to pull over and wait it out. Waiting it out wouldn't have been feasible as, according to the radar, it would have been about another 4 hours before it all past. The other option in a rain storm, taking cover, also would have been difficult for me, since I take back roads through residential neighborhoods.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Colder today...

As Philip noted, today was one of those surprising days where the temperature fell as the day went on instead of following its usual pattern of climbing. I'd rather unwisely worn my mesh jacket. It has a liner, but the liner's not perfect, leaving my wrists and neck rather cold. I carry a cheap fleece pullover in my saddlebags in case of surprise cold. That let me get home without freezing. Usually my next line of defense if that's not enough is to put on my rainsuit, which also keeps out the wind. Occasionally I've had to do even more to warm up, which usually means ducking into the nearest fast food restaurant or coffee shop and drinking something hot. I didn't have to resort to that one today. One particularly chilly morning, about a year and a half ago, I had to walk into a discount store and buy a cheap T-shirt, which I then wrapped around my neck like a scarf.

I promised I'd write about the Alaska Leather pad, and here it is. About a month ago, I had a customer call me at work asking for some advice on a Microsquirt for a Rotax thumper. When I got his address, I recognized the company name and mentioned that I'd been looking to get something to make the saddle on my bike more comfortable. He ended up sending me a Sheepskin Buttpad, their bluntly named seat cover. (In case you're wondering what size fits a Suzuki GS500F, it's a Pillion 4. For the driver's seat.)

The sheepskin doesn't sound like it would do that much: It's just a piece of sheepskin with about 1" of wool on it, dyed black, and attached to the bike with a strap. It makes a pretty surprising improvement for what it is, though - after an hour in the saddle, I no longer have to fight off the urge to ride the bike from the passenger seat or standing up. The seat isn't as comfortable as, say, the seat in my Corvette, but it's a real improvement and aftermarket seats for a GS500F are hard to find. It also seems to feel a bit cooler than the stock seat because air circulates through the wool.

There are a couple downsides to it. I wouldn't recommend leaving it on in a downpour - not because it would be damaged by it, but because it would feel sodden. And it's nowhere near as grippy as the stock rubber upholstery. So it wouldn't be the best thing to bring to a track day. It's good for a low buck improvement to the saddle, though.

"Reserve" tank

I broke 3000 miles on the bike today. I've been riding for almost 2000 miles. That is all.
Well, not really... I still need to write up the ride. I know it's boring to say that it was uneventful, but boring is very good when talking about motorcycle commuting. I suppose it wasn't actually uneventful, just safe and ordinary. The weather took a down turn over the course of the day, dropping the temperature 10 degrees by the time I was headed home from when I left this morning.
One bit of advice for people learning to ride, learn to find the petcock while moving and be able to switch the fuel tank to the "reserve" without having to hunt for it. I was merging with traffic on the way home, when I felt the bike shudder a little under me. Since I have run myself out of gas on it several times, I know what it feels like when the carbs are sucking on air. If I hadn't practiced flipping the valve under the tank, I would have been "that guy" holding up traffic as I restarted my bike.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Day 2

Today was a rather uneventful commute, if something of a full day. I stayed a bit late at work to wrench on my Dodge Dart, and then went running when I got home. I was going to post a bit about the sheepskin the people at Alaska Leather sent me (I'd helped a guy there out with a Microsquirt) but that will have to wait.

Despite the weather man...

today's commute was beautiful. With the day starting out overcast, it quickly turned sunny and warm.
On the way in, I was somewhat annoyed by the full dump truck in the middle lane and the drivers on either side matching its speed. I found out the hard way a few months ago not to be anywhere behind dump trucks when one hit a bump on GA-400 and dusted me with red clay. It was a rather unpleasant experience when clay blew into my helmet and then my eyes. In order to avoid that, I resigned myself to fall way back and watch the bed for any debris. Then someone else dumped styrofooam beads on the highway. While I wasn't worried about hitting those, I found out another neat little fact: styrofoam beads sting when they hit you at 65 mph.
On the way home, not only did a box truck start to back up at me (he stopped with about 8" to spare,) I got the chance to observe some bad habits. First, I was behind a lady reading a magazine while she drove. Second, I was behind another lady who, upon starting moving (and only from a dead stop and not from rolling stops,) she would take both the hands off the wheel and patted and parted her hair. She did it each and every time. I just found that a little odd.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rain or shine

Now it's my turn to start my month of commuting. As luck would have it, today had a light rain in the morning followed by some pretty decent weather in the afternoon. I had a couple good-natured questions about my sanity when I arrived at the office on a dripping wet bike.

However, riding in rain isn't quite as crazy as it sounds. You just need the right equipment and the right caution. Your gloves and boots should be waterproof. My boots do pretty well (they're actually construction boots instead of "official" riding boots, the only part of my riding gear that didn't come from a motorcycle gear shop). The rain gloves I have (Alpinestar Drystars) keep my hands dry but their outside doesn't shed moisture too well, so there's some room for improvement there. Getting a soaked outside can mean cold hands even if they are dry.

There's a variety of rain suits meant to keep a rider dry. I wear Frogg Toggs over my riding suit. They're kind of all purpose rain gear; I think they were originally designed for fishing. They seem papery but work pretty well. There's really only two difficulties with them: they billow instead of fitting tightly (which can be a bit annoying at 60 mph), and you must keep them away from hot exhaust pipes. I picked a set in bright orange; you can't have too much visibility when it's raining and foggy. Loud jackets save lives.

I'll post some comments about techniques later, probably on the next rainy commuting day.

I recorded the GS500's odometer reading at the start of the commutel it was 8,246.3 miles.