Motorcycling in Atlanta
Not many pictures with this post.
Winter is upon us, just as I’m getting better at the biking. It’s not too hard to keep warm in mid-30’s (1-2) degree weather when you’re commuting. (45-50 Mph max). If I keep my trunk warm – wind shell in my outer jacket and a layer inside seems to be enough – then I’m pretty comfortable. Although I do need slightly warmer gloves. As long as you don’t have a “death grip” on the handlebars your hands will stay warm – though your fingertips may get a tad cool. The chill begins to penetrate at the high end of those speeds so real highway riding would require more layers.
SMIDSY (sorry mate I didn’t see you) accidents seem to be the biggest hazard so far. Atlanta drivers tend to slip into tiny gaps in stopped traffic so that they can turn into the other direction. You can’t see them because the other cars are blocking your view and they aren’t looking for you. This drives me up the wall when I’m driving a car, but that would be only a fender-bender.
The roads themselves aren’t too bad. There are a few places with perennial steel plates – which are a real headache, but the drivers seem to be aware that you might need to swerve around them.
Stop and go volume delays are a royal pain. It’s not too hard to creep along, but unlike an automagic transmission, I have to use the clutch. I even managed an steepish uphill creep which is not bad. I like, scratch that, love being out in the air, but there are limits. Half an hour to go 300 metres is a bit much.
My little CBR250 looks too much like a scooter, so I have idiots trying to pass it because they seem to think I can only go 25. Usually I let them by because it isn’t exactly smart to get into an argument with 2 or more tons of steel cage. There is no point in pushing the speed to 50 just to slam into a stopped car in front of you, is there? Best to leave the game of chicken to the bird-brains. The one defensive thing I do all the time is to look quite far ahead on the road. I do that when driving and probably more when riding simply because I get a much better view.
One of my wife’s students caught a picture of me on Piedmont street on my way home. Outside of practice, practice, practice and ATGATT (All the Gear All the Time) a few thoughts on what I’ve learned in the last few weeks.
- Lane position. A motorcycle has the right to be on the road. Use it. It actually increases your visibility if you weave a bit. In queues I’ll tend to be on the right where I can get out of trouble if the car behind me gets too close. (I’ll also stop further back than I would with my
cage car. ) On the other hand I’ll stop in the left side of my lane when that’s where I can see what is happening. It’s also important to give yourself the room to turn. Turning right from the far right of the lane results in crappy turns.
- The “cagers” don’t see you. (This youtube video, while horribly edited, is right on the spot). You will appear “out of nowhere” – get over it. It’s not malice. Defensive driving is a must – but you knew that already. It does mean I’ll give the car in front of me more distance than most. I’ve learned to hate tailgaters – even more than I do with a car. If I’m driving at 35 mph, it’s not because I’m slow, it’s the ************** speed limit and/or the speed the car in front of me is going.
- Timing and rhythm are important. Think smooth. When it works, you can pop through the gears and be moving at the speed limit in no time. Leaning your bike with countersteering and acceleration is not just the right way to turn, it’s really fun. No “chicken strips” on my bike.
- It is exercise. This is the one real surprise to me. Riding is physically demanding. You’re holding on to your bike with your legs, shifting weight in turns, lifting one’s bum when there are unavoidable bumps, and putting your feet down when stopping. (Though I can balance for a few seconds.) I don’t know how much of this is stopping in traffic and my “sport bike” and how much is innate to the genre.
- Hearing protection. My helmet (especially when I’m going fast enough to put the visor down) muffles sound until about 45 mph. Above that speed the wind noise gets a tad loud. Use ear-plugs if you’re planning to be that fast for more than a few minutes.
- Middle-aged and old white men will want to drag race you at stop lights. Ignore them. You’re already way cooler than they ever will be.
A week with a motorcycle (almost)
I recently joined the fellowship of motorcyclists. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. So I finally did it. The featured image shows me in about half of my safety gear – that jacket is armoured. For what it’s worth I’m a strong believer in ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time). People worry a bit about the hazards, with good reason, but the serious accident rate in a bike is about the same as driving a 1970’s or 1980’s car. Still, I’m a highly defensive driver, and not just with my bike.
It looks a little shaky parked in my garage. I’d just finished my first ride on the roads (after training and getting my license) and was shaky myself. The clutch was different from the nighthawks on which I trained and the engine needs to be given enough
gas petrol. I don’t get shaky like that now. Well, not quite, now I’m excited.
I picked out a used Honda CBR250R with ABS. It looks sportier than it is, but it moves. It’s an elegant, light, and reasonably modern bike. ABS is critical – while I’ve managed to not need it – accident rates and severity with ABS equipped bikes are much lower than with traditional brakes. (The study was done in Europe where all new bikes have ABS.)
I try to practice at least a half hour a day. Maneuvering – turns and swerves – is easy. It’s, if anything, more stable than a regular bicycle. I’ve practiced emergency stops, starting on uphills, and holding a constant speed. I’m slowly getting competent and able to ride in real traffic.
Some of the milestones:
- Uphill starts, mostly mastered. Smooth starts on really steep hills will still take some work.
- Turning on hills, left, right, from downhill and from uphill. In good shape.
- Threading tight spaces when a parked car and a moving car take up almost the entire road. (Bikes do not have a reverse gear.)
- Night driving. Not bad – there’s more visibility than with a car.
- Negotiating a gas station and filling the tank.
- Negotiating heavy Atlanta traffic and stop lights.
I’ve had the bike up to about 40 mph (a little fast for the 35 mph roads) and the sensation of speed has so far been exceedingly fun. Even a 250CC bike can accelerate when you push it. I’m having to watch speeds when I drive a car. It just seems so slow.