Saturday, August 26, 2006

Saturday Morning Ride

With a free weekend, there were many things that needed to be done. I decided they could be done in the heat of the day. I could get a morning ride in, first.

With plenty of time, I took a bit more time getting ready than normal. I had a CD from a motorcycle gathering at Gaithersburg's Firehouse last Wednesday. Several folks in the BMWBMW club decided to gather to hear a new member, Chiba's, band. I decided to put the CD into the bike's one-CD player. While I was looking through my tank bag for the lube for my faceshield, so that I could more easily change between the clear and the tinted shields, a few things fell out. Underneath them, I ran across the radar detector. The things that fell out found a home in a side bag. The radar detector I decided to hook up. I have been reading about riding faster, if I was paying attention to some of the techniques I might not notice my speed and an alert could save a ticket.

The book I've been reading is Smooth Riding the Pridmore Way. I must admit that I not only like riding motorcycles, but reading books about them, their riders, and books like this one that help me to ride better. For the last year I've been attending Maryland Motorcycle Safety Program classes, working on becoming an instructor. Shortly after graduating from the Instructor Prep school, last year, several newly minted of my fellow probationary instructors had bad crashes. I'm still puzzled as to why. Then I went off a corner, myself, and was surprised to miss on a pretty normal curve. We speculated as to whether there might have been a common thread between our accidents, without many conclusions. One of my theories, was that we had spent so much time talking about consequences of riding mistakes that we programmed ourselves to make some. After this morning's ride, I have another idea.

It seems to me that there are many things that we teach for a beginners class that make sense for beginners and the machines that we are using on the range. It might be that by so much focus upon the basics we were "unlearning" other more advanced skills for cornering and accident avoidance. It could be that riding at more legal speeds creates liabilities for more experienced riders, and that the natural tendency to be moving a bit faster than traffic keeps us out of blind spots, and keeps our suspensions alive and ready for avoidance maneuvers. I'm not concluding that this is true, but I did gain a lot from applying some of the skills that this book talked about, and I'm going to sign up for the Total Control course at Frederick Community College that is based on another of Pridmore's books.

The skill I had just read about was the increased use of the font brake. Reg describes how, when brakes are applied, weight shifts forward. This lightens the load on the rear tire making it more prone to skids (which have a special danger of causing dangerous high-side crashes if one lets off the rear brake in such a skid), but the front tire receives the additional weight and becomes less likely to skid and an even more effective stopping tool. The book went on to describe ways of getting onto the front brakes more quickly and a method for being better prepared in traffic that is appropriate only for newer bikes with power assisted disc brakes. Even though my BMW has ABS, and linked brakes so that both brakes are applied whenever I apply either, I decided to test his ideas out, and did so. Yesterday, after work, I went to the training range and tried a few stops focusing on the use of the front brake, then the transition off of it and onto the throttle for corners of an oval course. I was impressed. I threw in a corning skill he talked about and felt my confidence in corning move up a notch.

There is an old motorcyclist's adage about riding 40 miles before breakfast. Hungry and thinking about that first cup of coffee, I first rode up Sligo Creek. Sligo Creek is a two-lane 35-mph route with speed bumps that gets closed on Sundays for joggers and strollers. It is shady, windy, and pleasant--a good place to get use to being on two wheels at the beginning of a ride, or to wind down at the end. Most importantly, it is low-contention. I took it all the way to Forrest Glen, then Forrest Glen a few blocks west to Georgia avenue and got on the Beltway from the North, avoiding the terrible traffic of Georgia, below the Beltway. Frequently, I do the reverse, returning home. The early Saturday traffic was very light.

I practiced something else from the book--higher RPM's. I tried keeping my tach between 4,000 and 6,000 RPM. Usually I keep it between 3,000 and 4,500. Third gear, at 4,000 was 50 or 55 indicated MPH on my speedometer. Fourth and 4 was 75-mph, indicated. The GPS has told me that my speedometer overstates things by about 10%. So, at an indicated 75 I'm going 68, and not always keeping up with traffic. The difference with the higher RPM is that the bike can more quickly change speeds to go faster or to slow down than it can when running at lower RPM's. Reg says that RPM's are your friend.

Still thinking about that fist cup of coffee, I passed the Sam Eig exit. My favorite Starbucks would be open but my Harley Davison riding friends wouldn't be there for two more hours. It was not yet 40 miles from home. I thought about the ride North and decided upon breakfast at the Double-T Diner, near Frederick. It would be worth the wait.

It was: Great portions, good service, a paper to read at the counter, and plenty of diner coffee. I'm not picky about coffee, recognizing different kinds of coffee are a different experience and go with different kinds of food. Starbucks would not go with what I was eating as well. The meal came with a choice of muffins and other pastries. I ordered a big blueberry muffin with the meal, but had already seen their apple turnovers and ordered one of those to have, first. The waitress wrapped the muffin and put it in a nice, white paper bag for me to enjoy later.

Looking at the GPS log, this evening, I see that the Diner was exactly 40.1 miles from my home. After breakfast, I rode an 80-mile loop, then another 40 back home. The ride would come to 142 miles. Not bad for a morning ride.

My plan was to ride West and pickup a route I had planned for the previous weekend when the BMWBMW club gathered in Thurmont for a breakfast ride. One of the people in the club talked about riding up from Gaithersburg "via Gambrill Park and Fishing Creek Rd." I had checked the map and decided that looked like an interesting route. However, I did not take it for that event since I was meeting three other riders, one who would be making his first non-student ride, and fishing creek road looked a bit too rugged for a first-ride.

The route was already in the GPS, from the week before. I dialed it in and the GPS did a good job of getting me onto I-70 West. I really liked the interchange from 355 to I-70. Nice S-turns. The lower gear, higher RPM's and shifting my body weight into the turn with my chin over the inside wrist was getting me through curves much more smoothly... and quicker!

Traffic was bunching up. The transition from acceleration to braking, and leaning on the front brake worked. Being able to shave a hundred or two mili-seconds off my reaction time meant less panic when somebody ahead did something stupid, like veering left out of an exit-only lane and making the car ahead slam on his brakes. Despite some new assertiveness, I was pleased to find that the following distance was not only adequate, but even more so because I was braking more quickly, and better. Yes, I paid attention behind me and had an escape route, too.

I got off at the exit to Old 40. The GPS told me to make a quick left onto Clifton Road. Neat, I had been on old 40, but had entirely missed the quick left turn, here. It looked like it would be a neat road, and it was.

There were interesting names on the intersecting roads: Snow Drive, then Old Swimming Pool Rd. Boy they looked inviting. The GPS was acting up, however, trying to find a way to get me back on the route, and it had picked a starting point further South. So, it took me to Jefferson Blvd, then south for a turn around using Skyline Drive for a loop. I realized what it was doing soon enough, but was thanking the providence of a goofy GPS routing for introducing me to an interesting neighborhood. Before long it brought me back to Old Swimming Pool Road, and I got to enjoy that road, as I had hoped, riding North to Ridge Road.

Ridge Road was another treat. I just love roads that take me over a freeway without the annoyance of entrance and exit traffic. As I passed over I-70, I saw the West-bound lanes were a parking lot. Maybe the jerk who cut in front of us, earlier, had not been so lucky later?

Ridge Road took me to new highway 40 where a quick left and a right put me onto Shookstown Rd which took me to Gambrill Park Road. I think that if you wanted to do this more easily, you would have just stayed on old 40 until it got to Ridge Road, but I see that Gambril connects with new 40 coming West out of Frederick, and one might do that just as well, and maybe pay a visit to the Honda dealer, if you were thinking about buying a generator.

...Okay, they sell motorcycles, too.

Gambril Park was new to me, and I took some time to explore it. There were some great looking hiking trails. I actually stopped in a parking area and waited five minutes to check my oil again. Another turn took me up to a number of picnic areas, a nature center, and a cabin called the Tea Room with big picture windows looking out over the view. It looked like a great place for a group gathering.

Continuing North, as planned, I jogged right on Hamburg Road to Fishing Creek Road. Indeed it was a pretty tough bit of dirt, gravel, and rock, for my cruiser. I thought about my tires and was glad the rubber had been recently renewed. I would not want to be on the road, on a bike such as mine, in the rain. One side road led to an immediate water crossing, and I could tell there were places where, if it were raining, run-off would have created a couple across Fishing Creek Road. Previous run-off had left bare stone and clear signs. It looked like it could be a slippery proposition when wet.

Riding North, soon, I connected to Gambrill Park Road again. Gambril Park Road had turned East at that point so I actually doubled back toward the way I had come on it by riding west to Tower Road. This looked familiar. Sure enough Tower Road soon took me to Mink Farm Rd, a segment of dirt that we did find the previous weekend, on the ride to the Creamery after our breakfasts.

The rest of the trip went as planned and was a reverse-repeat of last Sunday's ride. Catoctin Hollow Road took me to 77 and 77 took me East to Thurmont, where I gassed up before heading South for home. Riding the reverse direction, however, I spotted a lake that hills had hidden from view the previous week. I took a moment to scout it out--another camping possibility.

Now, I do an injustice to just breeze past this part of the ride because the Catoctin Mountains and vicinity are amazingly scenic. Lots of green, a bit of fall color starting, and late blooming flowers in places. The farms seem kind of laid back, and you have to envy those who have relatives living in these parts who they can visit for a weekend's sanctuary from the cares of the world. I found myself a bit amazed at the varrying hues and textures. Somehow those colors in the Crayon box never worked as well for me as they seemed to work all by themselves in nature.

Riding South, the traffic picked up. I felt I was enjoying some new-found agility on my bike. It felt nice to be able to more quickly power past a situation then quickly slow back down, maintaining a safety cushion between me and slower vehicles, ahead. I-270 South at the Highway 80 interchange got very dicey for a moment. GPS says that I slowed from 65 to 45 as a car forcibly merged, pushing itself into the right lane and drivers ahead stood on their brakes while others swerved.

By 11:30 I was back in Gaithersburg at the motorcycle safety range. I watched one of the instructors telling the new students to keep their eyes up while negotiating a weave through cones: something else to remind myself about.

By the time I got to Starbucks, the Harley Davidson crowd was gone--perhaps to Old Town Alexandria's Starbucks, or perhaps to the Crystal City Restaurant? I headed home, looking forward to a shower and a nap. It was approaching 90. My basement apartment would be very cool--a good place for a nap before running errands.

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