Monday, May 10, 2010

Ride & Fly Weekend

My motorcycle class was awesome. My teacher Roger and his helper Jesse were very good. Cool friendly guys who both helped me immensely. I learned a lot and I had a great time. I also did well in testing, scoring 100% on the written exam, and 90% on the riding section. The ten points I lost were a result of entering the corner too fast. Specifically, not braking enough to allow smooth application of the throttle into and through the corner. Consequently I had to slow down, something they were watching for, as it showed my improper entry speed. Maintaining the throttle helps stabilize the motorcycle's suspension when cornering, which is important because case studies show that running off the road, usually in a curve, accounts for about 37% of total motorcycle fatalities. I don't think I'll be one of them, but it's a greater incentive to ride well than the injury to my ego over not being perfect right out of the gate.

That was really my only error in an otherwise flawless and beautiful weekend. Saturday and Sunday were perfect days, weather included, and I got a flight in after class both days. Conditions were rowdy and thermic yesterday, with the air frequently moving at 550 f.p.m (just over 9 feet a second). That's nothing compared to the 2000 f.p.m lift that other pilots have experienced, but it felt fast to me for my experience and skill level, which I don't want to exceed too much because then it starts getting freaky. At the top of the lift was a turbulent layer that I wasn't able to punch through, but my friend did and made it to 5800 feet. After my not-fully-controlled launch and getting knocked around by fast, sharp-edged thermals, I was content to soar at lower altitudes simply gaining more experience and time in the harness. I won't say it was a poor decision to fly, but I do think I was a bit tired from riding, not selective enough in choosing my launch cycle, and not fully prepared for the conditions in the air. Of course I can't really know them until I'm in them, but Spring air is typically dynamic, so I should have been more in that mindset before launching. Anyway, lesson learned. On the opposite end of the flight, I once again could have turned in sooner on the base leg of my final approach, but it was difficult to tell how strong the wind really was in the LZ, nor did I have a radio to ask anybody (another mistake). Despite that, I didn't get caught in the local sinkhole above the swamp and swooped into the LZ as if I've done this 120 times already, safe and on my feet without incident.

That was enough sun, wind, road and sky for one weekend. I'm going back to work tonight to rest. Ha. In between the tasks that make me money so I can fly and ride, I'm sure I'll be thinking about the next cool thing I want to do. At the moment I'm looking at an additional rider course that would give me another 4.5 hours riding practice before hitting the road.

In other thoughts, I have observed that most traffic on the road is cars, and most of the cars have only one passenger in them, including mine. That's a lot of empty space and weight moving around that doesn't need to be. It doesn't take a four-seat car to move one person. How much money and fuel could America/ns save by riding motorcycles instead? I haven't crunched the numbers, but common sense says that 60 mpg vs. 30 mpg multiplied by millions of drivers would prevent a lot of waste, or save a lot of resources, however you want to look at it. It takes less energy (in every form) to produce and move two wheels than four. I no longer see the point of driving a car where a motorcycle will do. Unless I'm hauling something, moving other people in addition to myself, or need additional protection from the elements, why would I pay money to transport empty space back and forth to work? This could be part of a big "lean down" in our thinking. How many of us have cars to haul stuff we don't actually need? Get rid of that stuff, and we get rid of the need to haul it. Rather than building more roads for cars, we could free up existing road space (including parking lots) by replacing our cars with motorcycles. More people could get on the freeway, spending less time stuck in bumper to bumper traffic jams. Although I'm an advocate of car-pooling and mass transit, I also think people's lives are too individualistic to make either fully effective. It only works when we're all going to the same place at the same time, which usually we're not.

For those who want to pull the "danger" card, okay, yes. Because motorcycles are smaller, less visible, and less protected, they are more vulnerable than cars. But I see thousands upon thousands of cars on the road every day, and the vast majority of them are moving along just fine without incident. Crashes and breakdowns are the exceptions. It stands to reason that if millions of people are generally safe car drivers, they will be generally safe motorcycle riders. We could save a whole of everything by making the switch, and the beauty of it is that no one's "individualism" (we Americans love that) would be compromised. Everyone could still go where they want to go when they want to go, but with more fun, a greater sense of freedom, a more visceral experience of travel, on less money and with less waste.

Riding motorcycles probably isn't for everyone, but it's easy to learn and worth trying for the experience of something new. It's already made me a better driver, increasing my awareness by having learned to see the road and its hazards in a new way. I really enjoyed the instruction, the teachers, the riding, and the other cool people I met. They had good attitudes and we laughed a lot. Most memorable quotes of the weekend were "Thou Shalt Chill" and "Balls Against The Tank," the former in response to my initially over-zealous emergency braking technique, and the latter a reminder to move my ass forward off the passenger's seat (!)

Kawasaki KLX 250, my first ride :)