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Gremlin's Tall Stories

IAM May Monthly Ride (27/05/2012)

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Setting the alarm for 0800 didn’t exactly work, eventually realising I’d lost half an hour already and I better hurry up! Had breakfast, got geared up, chucked odds and ends into the panniers and off to Westgate. I left home at 0915, one stop for some gas and I got to Riderskills HQ around 0950.

Everyone was already there, including Sharry, who was now curious about IAM, after speaking to me. Hehe, always fun bringing in fresh victims. A quick catch up some of the guys, and meeting new faces. Blackbird’s mate Andy was there, and being a BMW owner he was curious about how it was setup, so we swapped the inevitable stories all BMW owners seem to have.

Philip split us into groups, with observers, members and trainees evenly spread. I had a cruiser rider going through training, Blackbird, a new member and one of the Riderskills staff as observer. We headed out on SH16, cruiser rider in the lead and me at position 3. We were initially split up by traffic but caught up through Kumeu. We continued north, turning onto some side roads (I think we took a wrong turn somewhere) and ended up on the end of Old North Rd, then Peak Rd.

Nearing the end of Peak Rd the Riderskills staff went in front and started point out things to observe… so I reckoned I clearly wasn’t doing a good enough job. Reaching Kaukapakapa the cruiser rider missed the turn onto Kahikatea Flat Rd so the observer chased him down while we waited. We had a brief break in Waitoki to debrief and to swap positions so I would lead. The one overtake we’d had (of a truck towing a trailer) resulted in some discussion about good overtaking, and good observation, noticing that while it would be safe to overtake, there was no space in front of the vehicle to go into.

The cruiser had been leading at a…. err… conservative pace which was about 80kph in practise (or a little bit over). He did admit that he was in no rush, so happy with his pace. The observer had noticed a Ducati catch up to us, clearly frustrated at our limited pace on straights, but each time we hit corners he disappeared, then caught up again on straights… While stopped a guy in a car had warned us of a mufti cop just around the corner, so moving away I was sure we stayed at the limit throughout town. I have to admit however, the radar saw him, but never eyeballed him, so he must have been fitting in remarkably well.

Since I was leading I got to set the pace, so back to 100kph we went. The member and I split away from the cruiser (in position 3) and Blackbird and the observer, but waited at the end of the road by Caltex Dairy Flat, before heading south on SH17, or old SH1. We had decided to do Coatesville Riverhead Highway back to Westgate, and while the weather was cloudy there was no rain, the temperature was high teens and the road in excellent condition.

Consequently, we dropped the cruiser again, but the speed limit along the road is now 80kph, so I managed to pretty much maintain that through to Riverhead. From there, it got a little messy. I pulled over after a roundabout to wait for the others, then they arrived, I pulled out, but the member behind me had pulled over further ahead… so a bit of confusion all round over whether we were pulling over, or not, eventually I felt I was leading and should take the lead again. Definitely not a good look, as it frustrated the cars and made ourselves a danger… still, life is about learning.

Back to Riderskills HQ and we were first back. The observer took Blackbird and the other member for some further training I think, as all members (if they wish) continue on to become observers. The cruiser fellow and I chatted until the other groups started returning.

The feedback for my riding was on the whole, good, but I needed to take up the cornering position sooner, make my mirror checking more obvious and ride along straights more to the right of the lane than the centre, which may not be something I entirely agree with.

I can see that it gives you better sight angles for hazards and objects on the left side of the road and you’re not riding in the crap in the centre of the lane, but it does put you closer to the oncoming traffic, which I’m not entirely certain is a good idea given the average skill level of the muppets on four wheels. Yes, you can give up your position (as it’s termed) for traffic, but then it seems kind of pointless to me to be basically swerving around on a dead straight road? The crap on road argument is somewhat negated, as the wheel tracks are, on average, more heavily worn, meaning they have less traction available.

With the feedback given, I headed off. A mentor will be assigned shortly, to work with me, through to the point they feel I am ready to take the full test. I txted GiJoe to let him know I needed to swing by his house, as I’d left my bungee cargo net at his place from the previous day of working on the bike. I headed south to his place, found the net, then felt I wasn’t in the mood for the motorway home, so took the back roads.

It turned into a very contemplative ride, thinking about the feedback. Was it right? Was it wrong? Did I want to ride that close to cars? I’d mentioned that part of the reason for riding in the centre of the lane was giving equal space either side for any issue that might arise. Side winds push you around, and especially with panniers on, I’m almost a metre wide. Riding in the right wheel track with a gust of wind would likely see me on the centre line, part of the bike in the oncoming. Regardless of anyone’s background or expertise, the oncoming lane to me is a no go area, unless overtaking, no matter what people say.

This certainly isn’t their intention or message, feeling that should say, a cross wind strike, then you counter. If there are oncoming vehicles, then give up your position (or for anything else). Number one is safety, which is naturally a good idea. I guess this approach strikes me as slightly inefficient. Endurance riding combines all the normal riding skills along with efficiency, to minimise use of energy balanced with making good progress. A position that requires constant adjustment is perhaps not the best choice then? Does that extra metre or so (max), make all that difference when you’re on a straight?

At the same time however, I’m very aware that this is how bad skills and habits creep into your riding. Am I being reasonable, or simply trying to argue that I’m right, and not embracing better ideas? Without trying to be stubborn, I’m still struggling with positioning on a straight. I can see their point of view that it looks undecided, neither here nor there, but I’ve chosen the position as the best after thousands of kilometres and experiences.

As I say, this was by far my most contemplative ride I’ve had for a long time. At the same time I was juggling the demands of the roads, going through the back of Takanini and Clevedon to the Pohutukawa Coast and then north through Maraetai and Whitford. It was actually the perfect choice and exactly what I was after, a nice mix of corners and straights, reasonably quick and flowing, and roads I probably haven’t done in months. I focussed on getting into position earlier, staying more to the centre of the road (and not particularly liking it) but also paying attention to the sides of the roads for hazards.

It was then that I had a second cause for further contemplation. I remembered a previous blog from Blackbird, commenting that as he went through the IAM process and trying to improve his riding, he was trying to improve everything at once, which caused his riding to turn into a right mess as other elements fell to pieces. This was starting to happen to me, while spending more time on those areas needing improvement, I wasn’t watching my mirrors as often or checking my speed.

In the end, the contemplation was turned into action, focussing on the riding 100%, information, position, speed, gear, acceleration. IPSGA, or one of the fundamental riding approaches to IAM. I passed a Harley pottering out for a cruise as I hit the Pohotukawa Coast, passed it and some cars and had a good trip through the tight corners of the coastline.

Nodded to a couple of bikers in Maraetai and headed home, arriving at 1500 with just over 200km on the clock for the day. A short day distance wise, but all the concentration and thinking made it feel like a much longer day. I think I can certainly expect many more days of high impact riding, short distance but demanding on brain and body. Blackbird often mentioned the constant watch of an observer as being tough.

Next weekend is the KB Gathering, so I’ll continue to concentrate and work on my positioning. This is certainly an interesting challenge.

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  1. gijoe1313's Avatar
    Sounds like you are going to become an instructor one day yourself! Very reflective thought processing about the way you ride (which gets me to think about the way I ride ... er, at the moment, not much! )