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Musings of an Old Road Captain

Group Riding

On 40+ Motorcycle Club rides, we ride staggered while on wide, flat, straight roads. This not only presents a nice looking group of motorcycles, but is also a safety feature. The leader will be front left with all riders staggered alternating right and left behind them. There should be about a 1 second interval between you and the alternately staggered rider ahead of you, making a 2 second interval between you and the rider directly in front of you. If you are uncomfortable riding on either side (left near oncoming traffic or right, near the curb), please let someone know so you can change positions. Other riders, please compensate to fill in the gaps. The leader should have a designated, experienced sweep rider in the rear who knows where the group is going as well as the designated route. The open space to your side is for you to go into when conditions dictate. This includes large vehicles coming the other direction, obstacles in the road and bicycles, amongst others.

When riding as a group, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE RIDER BEHIND YOU! If that rider goes down, stops or otherwise disappears from view, it is your job to safely slow down and/or stop until you can figure out what happened to them. This includes stopping and turning around and backtracking until you find them. Eventually that signal will work its way up to the leader who can then safely stop the entire group. As the leader, it's difficult or impossible to keep track of all riders in the group, though they should do whatever they can to keep the group together on rides.

Please see our Related Links Page for a good Group Riding Information page.

I'll discuss how to use hand signals to help with this in a later ramble.

Plains Riding

Here in Fort Collins, we live on the Plains (theoretically the correct name is Steppe). This gives us the opportunity to ride for miles and miles on essentially flat, straight roads. While this may be good practice for novice riders, it's not always the most fun for those more experienced riders. Just because the roads are flat and straight, however, doesn't mean that they don't present their own problems and hazards that riders of all skill levels should be aware of. So here are some items to keep in mind when traversing the eastern 1/3 of Colorado.

Long straight and flat can sometimes mean boring. It's often hard to keep your mind on the fact that you are riding a motorcycle. This is a serious task, so don't let your mind drift...keep concentrating on the task at hand...riding.

Wind! Yes, folks, the wind does blow in Colorado (maybe not as bad as in Wyoming). If you've never driven down a flat, straight road leaning 15 degrees to port or starbord, then you've never driven in Colorado or Wyoming. Sudden bursts of wind are also possible. In addition the sudden dissapearance of wind can be just as dangerous. This can occur if you pass a semi-tractor trailer going in the opposite direction. You'll be leaning left into the wind and pass a truck and suddenly the wind is gone. It feels like you're being sucked into the side of the truck. Now is the time for moving over to the right side of your lane if you're not there already. If you're leaning to the right into the wind you won't notice this since the truck isn't suddenly blocking you from the wind.

In conjunction with the wind is the tumbleweed. Tumpleweed normally won't hurt you and is generally fragile, but it can get caught up in wheels, exhaust and chains. If attacked by these voracious vegatables, don't try to swerve out of the way. Just back off the throttle, run it over then stop at your first chance and check for damage or pieces caught where they shouldn't be.

Out on the Steppe, we have this little critter some call a Prairie Dog (biologically speaking it's a Black Tailed Steppe Squirrel). These little animals will often sit along side the road, just waiting for a motorcycle to pass before they suddenly decide they need to be on the other side. Sometimes I think they do it on purpose, kind of like a game of chicken. If hit head on, they normally don't present a problem to normal sized bike tires, but if you're swerving and hit one at speed, they can cause a bike to go down. Therefore, don't swerve at speed to avoid one and if you hit it, stop to check your motorcycle for damage. Anyway the Turkey Vultures (actually Red-headed Condors) will appreciate it. They gotta eat too.

There are some things, however that you may not want to run over. If you've never experienced the joy of watching a Pronghorn race along side of you, you're in for a treat. Just be aware that the Pronghorn is trying to get ahead of you to cross the road in front of you! The Pronghorns (not an Antelope) are the fastest land animal in North America and though relatively small by deer standards are not something you want to physically encounter with a motorcycle. Slow down, let them win and enjoy their beauty.

Cows on the other hand won't move quickly out of your way. Pay them special attention. They will destroy a motorcycle if hit and won't do much for the rider either. Besides it'll piss off the rancher. In addition they leave flat slippery presents behind them as they cross the roads.

Truck and Automobile drivers present a special hazard out on the plains. They aren't used to much traffic! They often aren't looking for a small target such as a motorcycle, and often don't stop at intersections even if they have a sign! (Not all intersections are signed on the plains!) If you see a vehicle approaching up ahead at 90 degrees (look for dust clouds), it's time to start thinking about what you are going to do if they don't stop. Can you slow down enough or stop if they don't? Swerving on these country roads may take you off road immediately as they often don't have a shoulder. Also watch for farm equipment making sudden and unexpected turns. Drive defensively! They aren't!

So there you have some of the things to be aware of when riding the Steppe (also known locally as the plains or prairie). Be careful, but remember that this area can often be ridden when the mountains are still snowed in.


Mountain Riding

Living here along the front range gives us the opportunity to head east where the roads are flat and straight or west up into the mountains where those words don't exist. Everybody talks about riding the twisties, but not many have mastered it. I don't pretend to be one who has mastered the art of the curves, but have ridden enough to know many of the techniques that work and how to ride comfortably within my abilities. And, that's the key to safe riding in the mountains….RIDE WITHIN YOUR ABILITIES!! Don't let anyone push you into riding faster than you are comfortable with. Just tell them that you'll meet them at a place up the road and they can ride at their speed and you can ride safely at yours.

So what are some of these tips and techniques? Well you heard the first one already…ride at a pace your are comfortable with and the heck with anyone else. If your riding partner keeps pushing you beyond your abilities, find a new riding partner. Speed and comfort will come with practice and you'll eventually be able to ride with all but the dare devils.

Next is what I call long eyesight. You need to learn to keep your eyes on the road, not immediately in front of the bike, but farther ahead. Look where you want to go and not where you are. This long range seeing will develop over time and get better and better the more you use it. This ties into the next item…leaning.

The proper way to turn a motorcycle moving at speed is not by turning the handlebars!! There are some riders that still try and turn the front wheel in the direction they want to go. (It does work for trikes, but not two-wheelers.) There are some riders that think you steer with the hips! For you experienced riders, I know this sounds strange, but many beginning riders try to do this. It is taught and rightfully so that to make a left hand turn on a moving motorcycle to "Look left, Push left, Go left" and to make a right hand turn to "Look right, Push right, Go right". Here's a brief explanation of what this means. For a left hand turn, you look ahead (remember the long eyesight) to where you want the motorcycle to go (a left hand turn), push GENTLY on the left handlebars and the motorcycle will lean over to the left hand side and turn left. THIS DOES NOT WORK AT PARKING LOT SPEEDS!! What you are doing is going into a controlled fall to the left. The outward centripetal force on the motorcycle keeps the bike from falling over and the traction of the tires keep the bike on course. If you don't believe this is actually what is happening, watch a dirt track motorcycle race sometime. As riders go counter-clockwise around a racecourse, they are constantly pointing their front wheels to the outside of the track (right), yet the bike and rider go left. It's very obvious on a dirt track where there is a lot of slippage, but on the road it's very subtle. Don't push hard, just gently. If you feel like you won't make a turn and might run off the outside of a turn, push a little harder. The bike will probably handle a lot more turn and lean and traction than you are comfortable with. If you need to push harder to prevent going off the road, then you are going too fast for your abilities or road conditions. The exact same holds true for a right hand turn and this one needs especially to be mastered as you don't want to go head long into oncoming traffic!

Mountain roads require attention. Besides the never-ending beauty of the mountains, one needs to be aware of road conditions unique to the twisites. Spring brings melting snow, melting and freezing ice and the tons of sand the road crews use to help our four-wheeled brethren travel. So be aware of sand on the roads! This is most prominent in the spring before rain gets a chance to wash the sand away. It will always stay in the center of the driving lane longer than in the path of car wheels. Where unpaved side roads connect, gravel and sand are normally brought in by the open tread tire designs used by most SUVs and trucks. In addition, on the inside of many curves, cars and trucks often run the inside tire off the pavement kicking up gravel and loose material onto the pavement. This also happen near and around "Scenic Turnouts". Also be aware of center line rumble strips that are often used to keep cage drivers awake and on their own side of the road. Be aware that many drivers cut corners in both directions, kicking up the gravel mentioned above on the inside of right hand turns and crossing into the lane of oncoming traffic on left hand turns..

Lastly, be aware of large animals. We have many types of deer and free range cattle (watch out for those cattle guards) that frequently cross these mountain roads.

When riding mountain roads by yourself or single file (as should be) with a group, feel free to use the entire lane. Setting up one turn after another by going from left side to right side of your driving lane is actually the proper and smoother way to ride in the mountains. You will be able to see better and turn smoother and faster by using the entire lane. But be aware of the sand mentioned above.

Mountain roads are a blast to ride and can be ridden safely at speed once you've mastered the techniques and heeded the warnings I've listed above. So go out and practice, starting slow (even for you experienced riders getting out for the first few times in the spring) and soon you'll be loving the twisties. To quote from one of my favorite movies "Shooter"...."slow is smooth, smooth is fast".

Group Hand Signals

This month, lets talk a little about group hand signals. Hand signals can be useful whether riding with 2 or with a large group. I normally use some of them when riding alone, just so drivers in cars that aren't paying attention will notice that I'm turning or slowing down and not rear end me. We should all know and use the left turn, right turn signal and slow/stop signal regularly for fellow riders and for other drivers. Others you may not be familiar with that I'll mention this month are the following. Single File; 2 lines staggered; blinker left on.

To indicate to the group that we need to ride single file, the leader puts up thier left hand with one finger pointing up (and no, it's not the middle finger). Often that signal includes the wagging of that finger from side to side indicating you can use the entire lane as you see fit (such as mountain road riding). Please understand that single file can also be used to avoid obstacles such as bicycles or construction, so be aware of where you are and what is going on around you. To bring the group back into staggered formation, the leader will signal with 2 fingers, either in a V or with index and pinky fingers, Texas Longhorn style.

Another signal that many don't know is the one for indicating to fellow riders that their high beam is on. It's not too bad during the day and we all sure know we can use the extra light at night, but it can be blinding to oncoming drivers. So to indicate to the rider behind you that their high beam headlight is on is to tap the top of your helmet with your left hand. Now we don't want you to be rubbing your belly with the other hand at the same time. We use our left hand because we need that right hand on the throttle and brake...right!

Lastly for this month is the singal from another rider that you've left your turn signal on. Don't get embarrased, as we all do it occasionally. The other rider may come up along side of you or be in front or behind you and will open and close their entire hand multiple times. Check your instruments and turn off your turn signal if you are the culprit.

More Hand Signals

Let's continue with the last of a few hand signals for group riding. These will be for pit stops and for obstacles in the road.

If a member of the group needs to stop, hand signals are easier and safet than trying to talk to another rider while riding, unless you are equipped with communicators. It's really quite simple. If one needs gas, you point to your gas tank. If you need to stop for food or drink, simply point to your mouth or make signs like your taking a drink.

For indicating an obstacle in the road, such as gravel, a pot hole or road kill, point with the foot on the side of your motorcycle that the obstacle will be encountered. You can also point with your left hand, down for the left side or over your head for the right side. Please be aware that all hand signals are done with your left hand. Do not use your right hand to point as it needs to be on the throttle and brake.. Please remember that with all these hand signals, it's often easier, if you only riding with 2 people, to catch up and pass the leader and then signal than it is to try and catch their attention from behind. Hand signals coming from behnid for pit stops are another reason to keep track of the rider behind you. Also remember that if you really need to stop, it's more important to stop and tak care of the problem, than to franticlally try and get the attention of other riders and risk a crash.

Summer Riding

It's time to start thinking of your Summer Tours, so let's start discussing some of our 40+ Motorcycle Club members' ideas for what you should be taking along for the ride. You all know best what personal items, clothing and camping gear you may need, so these items are just some exstras for you and your bike. Ideas collected from Club members range from just a credit card and cell phone to the preverbial kitchen sink. Try to make items multi-use.

Here are just a few items you may not have thought of, but that some members swear by;

    Water: drinking and washing up. Really, lots of riders forget water!

    First Aid Kit: For you and others; include latex gloves and CPR breather (Make sure your riding buddy knows CPR!) (Lastest CPR is hands only !)

    Baby wipes or antibacterial based wipes for cleaning/freshening up. Your jeans work great...for a while.

    Toilet paper: Normal use and as kleenex. Tell me you haven't found a rest room empty of TP or no toilet at all!

    Copy of your drivers license, registration & insurance rolled or folded in a water-proof container somewhere on your bike.

    Repair kit: wire, tape, nuts & bolts, wire ties, rags, hand mix epoxy; rope; bungee cords; spare headlight and break light bulbs; (ask to see my kit some time!)

    Tool kit: Is your bike's kit any good? Have you really tried it or is it useless and all rusty?

    Misc: Flashlight and batteries; good knife; Map and compass; GPS; trash bags, ziplock bags(carry out that TP); your and/or your riding partner's spare key; whistle(what would happen if you crashed off the road and just out of sight?); Pledge wipes for the windshield; brush-ups; your 40+ business or courtesy cards.

Sturgis (Originally written for a June Newsletter)

It's that time of year to be thinking about Sturgis. As usual, thanks to W&Ps efforts in January, the Club will be camping at our great Campground in Spearfish, SD. If you've never camped there with the Club, we have 3 sites reserved into which we cram up to 30 tents, a couple dining flys and a campfire. Yes, it's crowded, but we're all friends, right! Riding in and around Sturgis during Bike Week can get very crowded, so make sure to stay alert. There is normally someone with a trailer up there so be sure to get their number in case you break down. Oh, and this is Wiff's week off, so make sure your bike is in good condition before hand! (Besides, he may be in Alaska!) Most rides during the week are spontanious and not generally organized. In other words, you are on your own, but usually you can hook up with Club members heading in all directions. Be especially careful if you choose to ride the more popular and scenic roads such as The Needles Highway or Spearfish Canyon as those routes get extremely crowded with bikers of all levels of skill and intoxication. It can be 100+ degrees and/or it can snow, so always take and carry appropriate clothing. Oh, and be mindfull of the WIND!

There are probably groups going up to Sturgis at various times. Some will leave Friday after work, some Saturday morning, some Sunday morning and some throughout the week. If you wish to ride up with someone, get on the phone and start calling Club members that ride like you do. It makes the ride up more enjoyable. There are a couple "New" ways up to Sturgis that avoid parts or all of I-25 and parts of US85. These routes take longer, so be prepared for an 8-10 hour trip if you go these "New" ways. The standard route is about 350 miles and takes 6-7 hours if you only stop for gas and one meal. Ther are gas stops about every 100 miles on the "normal" way, so make sure you fill up at every chance. On one of the "new" ways, gas is a little more scarce, but is available in Laramie, Wheatland, Manville, and Newcastle. Either way, mind your gas tank.

Make sure you take cash for the Campground as they do not take plastic or checks !

What's in Your Wallet?

To start off, let me explain that I don't pretend to be an expert on any of these matters and that I'm only putting out this information, as Wiff would say for "sumthin to think about".

Many riders think that they're complete if they're carrying a cell phone and credit card. That minimalist concept has a lot going for it, but it's not for me. I have saddle bags, a rear T-bag and a tank bag that normally are on the bike all the time, and yes they're generally full. I know this makes it hard if I want to load up with camping gear, but them's the breaks. I've got a rear seat bag to carry the camping stuff as well as more room in the saddle bags and T-bag.

I think about what I might need on a ride and have packed accordingly. So here is what I think goes, somewhat in order of importance.

    Rain gear….this is Colorado after all. Normally carried in my T-bag sissy bar pack. This includes jacket, pants and gloves.

    Trauma Kit…carried in the tank bag. This consists of a battle dressing, "quick clot" and tourniquet in case I go down and need to attend to myself. My general first-aid kit is carried in a saddle bag as I'm not in as much of a hurry to treat others as myself (selfish I know!).

    Signal Kit…in case I go off the road ( I know at the speeds I ride, there's little chance of that!). This kit contains a whistle, strobe light and flash light.

    Fire starting kit…in case I need to keep warm when I go off the road. Here there are matches, tinder, a lighter and a long lasting candle.

    Misc. survival items…in case I need to spend the night. These items include a garbage bag, space blanket, compass, and hank of paracord.

The above items, except as noted with the rain gear is carried in my tank bag so they're extremely quick to get at, even if the bike is laying on its side down in some ditch.

My Tank bag has a lot of other goodies also.

Cell phone; regular glasses; paper and pen (both waterproof); microfiber cloth; bandana; large folding knife; sunscreen; insect repellent; wet wipes; Kleenex; binoculars; camera; shoulder strap; extra ear plugs; preloaded toothbrush; candy; butt powder; fork/spoon combo

My saddle bags normally carry the following: Ball cap; do-rag; neck gaiter; warm gloves; maps (other than the one I'm using which is in a map case on my tank bag); tool roll (in addition to the one from the bike); first –aid kit; windshield cleaner; rags; tire patch kit; tire pump; various straps; small parts kit; extra oil filter; spark plugs; collapsible funnels; towel; headlamp; safety vest; sunscreen; insect repellent; TP; vasoline

In addition to the rain gear, my T-bag has a rain cover for itself (a sleeping bag stuff sack).

My T-bag also has 2 flashlights; extra batteries; emergency flasher; lens cleaner; insect repellent; hand cleaner; sunscreen

My Tool Roll has a multi-head screwdriver; large adjustable wrench; small adjustable wrench; T-wrench; spark plug socket; bicycle tool with allen wrenches.

My Small parts kit has silicon tape; wire ties; hose clamps; candle; shrink tubing; duct tape; paracord; A tin of wires, nuts, bolts & screws, a couple extra fuses;

I don't carry extra oil as that is available most everywhere and I'll use most anything temporarily to get me to home. The oil filter, however, is exposed and unique!

In the event I go down or off the road, I can signal for help, stop major bleeding, provided I'm conscious, and spend the night if I have to. I don't take "wilderness" survival equipment as I assume I'm near a road and can hopefully stop a car if needed. I can also assist other bikers in need with a variety of "stuff".

I'd like to carry extra gas, but haven't found a safe way as of yet, other than a 1 liter Sig fuel bottle wrapped in foam pieces from a sleeping pad. That'll only get me 10 extra miles. I carry water on my handlebars.

So there you have it…all loaded down and nowhere to go. Sure none of you want to go riding some Sunday after breakfast?

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