Friday, February 8, 2013

Snow Driving Tips with Nemo Approaching..

With in 8 or more inches of snow headed out way with Nemo and us not having much snow for a few winters, lets go through some tips.  First no matter what you drive, drive slow and easy. 4 wheel drive doesn't help you stop,...leave more distance and slow down. I see more SUV's  off the road than cars. Once a car is moving it typically handles better than a top heavy SUV. Once an SUV gets moving on the snow, its still big and heavy.

Dress for the weather.  If you get stuck you don't want to be in a short sleeve shirt and sandals. If you get stuck, build up a rocking motion, back and forth. Don't spin the wheels very much - you will burn out your transmission and dig yourself in deeper.   Forward, reverse, forward easily until you build up enough momentum to keep going. In a 4wd - learn how to go into 4wheel lock and low range if you have it (many trucks may require you to be not moving and/or in neutral - check the manual BEFORE you need it). My best piece of advice, no matter what you drive, is throw a shovel and towels in the car - shovel any high spots under the car, snow under the car holding the car up off the wheels is the biggest reason for getting stuck). Shovel the snow around the wheels -- make enough room to let you build up a forward and back rocking motion (the towels? mostly for you being wet and sweaty by this point and needing someplace to throw a wet dirty shovel).

Its always a good idea to keep moving. Getting a car moving from a stop is the single hardest thing to do in the snow.  If you can let the car creep along at 2 MPH, its much easier than starting from a stop.  Try to stop facing flat or downhill, not facing uphill.  Of course while going uphill getting started is your problem, going downhill, stopping can be like ice skating.

Plan your stop early around cars and especially when coming up to stoplights - you dont want to slide into an intersection and oncoming cars. In fact, when your light turns green, make sure you look both ways - just because the light is Red for oncoming cars, doesn't mean they all can stop in the snow.

Make sure you have at least 3/4 to a full tank of gas, decent tires (I guess its too late now if you don't, right?), that the air pressure is normal (or a little low) NOT HIGH (low pressure helps build traction - high pressure makes the tires harder). BTW, the gas in your tank helps in two ways - most cars have more weight over the front tires than the rear - at 7lbs a gallon the 150lbs in the rear helps the rear tires do more work. Throwing a couple of 50lb sandbags in your hatch or trunk doesn't hurt either, but don't overdue it as some point you'll just make the car/truck lower and increase the chance of getting caught up in high snow.
If you get on ice - try to get off the brakes, move 6 inches or a foot and a half to your left or right, and try the brakes again - the surface could be rougher or have more snow on it. If that doesn't work - try it again, even moving back where you were it could be different as you move on. Typically, the best place in near the shoulder - while people may have turned the center into ice, the sides could have more snow which is easier to stop in than snow.
With 8-12 inches or more, I wouldn't even consider going out in a RWD (Rear Wheel Drive) car - yes I know your BMW may have traction this and that.  That helps to keep the tires from spinning - but it doesnt change the laws of physics.  No matter how many electric nannies you have, in most cars roughly 55% of the weight is on the front wheels, 45% on the rear. With RWD and snow, it is very difficult to push 100% of car with 45% of the weight on the two wheels doing the pushing on slippery surfaces.
Just to show that my methods work, two or three years years ago when we got pounded, I threw a shovel in my fwd car and went out to get my exs friend in a 4wd Toyota Sequoia. I was able to get her out of 20+ inches of snow by shoveling out around the wheels and instead of her drivng and just spinning the wheels, rocking the truck to get enough movement to get the truck moving and keeping it moving out of the big snow it was stuck in.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Google Latitude

(Note - since writing this Google has cancelled Latitude)

Quick Blog today - as the season begins, I'm thinking how I'm gonna get all of my friends together. I work too hard during the week to chat everyone up. I have some that I send an email, some on Facebook, some on HDForums, some on BON, and I never really get to everyone, because while we may be going to the same place, likely we're coming form different starting points, with different people, throughout the day. Often, on Tuesday after a great day out, I learn that 15 of my buddies were in New Hope, or at OCC too.

I know Bikers aren't the best to accept technology, but we're getting there. Many have embraced CB's. More recently, its a flood - cell phones, GPS's and fuel injection all make the ride better. There's even a lot of stuff working quietly inside the bike like new battery technology.

Google makes a great tool called Latitude. You can use this on virtually any phone. GPS enabled phones will allow you to know where someone is within a few feet. Without GPS, the system uses telephone tower connections to tell where you are. This is actually a very good compromise because if you're inside, or on a bus or train, the system still knows roughly where you are.

Before you go "but anyone will know where I am". I've been using it for a year. I tell it exactly who can know where I am. If you're banking on-line, or using a GPS, heck if you even have a computer online, a good hacker can already tell if you're home using or not, so this isn't really any more of a risk of your privacy than starting up your GPS or laptop.

Now picture this, we drop kickstands at 11:30 in Flemington and realize that 3 of your best buds are in New Hope. Instead of missing them, you text them and make a plan to ride up and grab lunch, and ride for the rest of the day together.

You can setup the tool to send you a text when you and a friend are close to each other. You can rumble into Frenchtown and a few minutes later, you can get a text that says "Steve S is within 5 miles". Latitude even learns that you and a friend may work together and not tell you if you're close by every Monday thru Friday morning.

Go to, put in your cell phone and follow the instructions. BTW, the application Latitude runs over is Google Maps. This is by far the best application to help find a phone number, or a pub near where you're going for lunch.
You simply type "Pub" and it shows you all the bars, closest to where the maps is centered first, with a rating by users from zero to five stars. It give you the phone number, and you can dial right from Google Maps. I don't even have the number of places I call regularly in my phone like the quicklube down the block, its so easy to type "Quick Lube, Jackson NJ" into Google Maps.

My brothers and some friends have been using it for 9 months or more and it's great. Now if I can just get the rest of my riding buds on!!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

2010 Riding Season

I'm excited for the 2010 riding season. I am looking forward to getting out. While in years past, I've ridden on Christmas Day and New Years day, this year, there wasn't a single day when my schedule and the weather and the roads would let me out. That makes me more anxious to get out and blast out a couple hundred miles. I got three words. Watch your ass.

Here in Jersey we typically have very good roads. But we haven't had a winter like this in some time. As the snow begins to clear, I've been watching the roadbeds realizing that a winter like this can be terrible on new and old roads. Potholes are caused by cars and trucks hitting the pavement over and over, causing cracks. Water then gets into the cracks and freezes. The cracks are often treated during the summer to save the roads. When we have a winter like this, the damage can be more than any normal maintenance can handle. Water gets below the pavement and the water freezes under the pavement. Ice takes up more space than water. If you don't believe me, go put a closed bottle of Poland Spring in the freezer and come back in two or three days. As the water freezes, it expands, which cracks the pavement, causing loose pavement, or potholes.

We've had at least three good snows this year leading to water and freezing multiple times. It seems that with DMV here in NJ putting down a couple of inches to top new roads, the water is settling just below the new top and we're getting 1 1/2 to 2 inch potholes. These are pretty bad in a car, but cars have an extra tire, or three. On the cycle, we don't. There are many intersections that are just more pothole than pavement.

One of the problems we have is that this type of pothole, because the cracks start first in the car tracks, are precisely in our stagger lanes. I think for the first couple of months of the year, we may have to be conscious of giving more room front and back to allow folks to avoid potholes when ridding staggered.

This will be particularly bad on the blacktop roads we have all over the back roads of NJ, exactly the lightly traveled roads we like to ride. The concrete used in many other parts of the country, or for first building the roads, does not crack anywhere near as easy.

How do you ride through a pothole? First option is to go around it. Leave yourself enough room from the person staggering with you to allow you to move around a pothole. And if you're riding alone, leave enough room after the car in front of you to see one come out under the car and avoid it. I find a good way to practice this is to see if you can avoid every manhole cover that the car in front of you rides over. If you can't avoid the manholes, you're not leaving yourself enough space.

What if the road is covered? Well, then you are going to need to slow down - but get off the brakes, off the gas and be going as straight as possible when you hit the pothole. Grip the bars tight enough to make sure that the pothole doesn't knock you off your line - but use your elbows as a spring to let the bike hit the pothole and you stay in control.

Another problem we have is that when snow gets pushed onto roads and shoulders and
parking lots, dirt and pebbles get moved with it. With so much snow, there has been little place to put it so the plows have left snow and dirt and rocks right where we're going to be riding in a month. When the snow melts the crap stays.

Three or four days ago, I came down a tree lined road and actually seemed to have a low hanging branch clip my cars mirror. It didn't do any damage, but it made me realize that it was going to be worse for motorcyclists. There are down trees down all over - from the snow snapping off limbs. The conditions are weaking branches, and the water and the snow on those branches are causing them to snap in half or snap off completely. When I'm on my bike I don't want to clip a tree with my shoulder, and I certainly don't want to be riding over them when they are in the road. If you come across branches in the road, take a firm grip of the handlebars, leaving just enough movement to let them move a bit with what they hit the obstacle, come off the gas to stabilize the motorcycle and keep the back wheel from spinning or kicking up the tree. There are some that recommend giving some power when the front wheel hits a big obstacle to shift weight to the back wheel, but I think that if the bike will make it over the obstacle, and its something like a tree that can shoot up and move, possibly in front of someone you are riding with or kickup into you or your back wheel/chain/belt, I would try to hit the tree with the bike stable, with you going straight, and off the throttle and off the brake.

If you've ever worked a plow, you realize its hard to know where the street ends and where grass or dirt starts. We put up poles in parking lots to try to stop the plows from destroying concrete flower beds, and to save the plows and the trucks from getting a big jolt from running the plow into a fire hydrant hidden by the snow. But we can't put these poles all up and down the countries side roads. As a result, plows, and the drive wheels of plows and other cars and trucks, have been turning up the sides of country roads all winter. Everywhere you turn, they've put dirt and sand and rocks onto the roadway.

It's going to be treacherous out there - ride safe-er.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

New Pro's..

I've ridden since as long as I can remember - Honda's and Kow's as a kid. And been big enough to give a grizzly a decent fight for almost as long. So goin from the sabbatical that many of us take to have a family and kids to riding a big Harley eight years ago was pretty easy for me.

This year, I learned that it doesn't come as easy for some. I took a course to learn what I was doing, and to get my license. My friend JG, who learned with me took the course as well. My brother Aron got run through the course exercises by me, and then took the course with my friend Chris.

There are a lot of factors that need to be taken into account when you judge how fast you move up from learning to a big bike. JG bought his uncles Heritage Softail and did fine - he's a natural and 6'1 and 260. Even when the Heritage gave him a hard time, and the Screamin Eagle Ultra's that followed got tough to handle, his combination of experience, natural ability, training and the ability to muscle it got him through.

Brother Aron learned to ride for the first time ever on his Dyna. I rode it home for him. More than a few people pick up a bike from Lombardi Harley Davidson, on Staten Island in New York City and have a hard time learning to ride AND negotiate New York City traffic all at the same time. They tell stories about VRods that have gone out with an inexperienced rider aboard and come back a couple hours later on a flatbed. Aron listened, he took to it well, he's 6'3" and 220 and between strength, ability and the class, got through a couple of learning years and now is an excellent rider, and still on the same trusty Dyna. Maybe one of the important things is that he never really made a move without listening to what I had to say, or one of our other experienced friends. For example, I told him that the class was not optional, it was required, particularly if he were not gonna get on a pretty big bike right from the start.

This year however, I've learned that I think that someone always need to have an experience rider to ask, and listen to, before makin big moves.

Let's take Ed. Ed's a big guy, about 45 and he saw all of us riding and went up and bought a Road King. There's about 20 of us now - everyone typically has a good combination of skill, experience or a "Rabbi". This was Ed's first bike. Ever. No class. No listening to better bikers. So far, I've been out with Ed twice. He yells at me and JG for riding too fast when we're riding on a nice country road 5 or 7 mph over the limit. It's so bad that mini-vans get between us. At a SI HOG meeting, he put the bike down during a 5 MPH altercation with a bus. He's full of excuses. The bike has a shake at 50-55 mph. He thinks SI HOG and all the rest of us ride too fast. I rode the bike - it's fine. This guy, new to riding should never have learned to ride on a 700+lb bike. He had size - but doesn't have the natural ability to get on a big bike - he needed to learn skills on something easier to handle, and build up his confidence as well. Of course, he should take the motorcycle course. Two probably. He needs to listen to people rather than once he made it to the corner, think he had it all covered. I believe he's gonna get hurt. Hopefully, it won't be bad and he'll get better and learn. By the way, he passed his NY State license test which will show you how useless the tests are at judging real ability!

Similarly, my friend, lets call her Claire, I got great respect for. She is over 60 and has ridden bitch for years. She's great - when she rode on back with me, you never even knew she was there, except for the arm around you somewhere. She decided, with some push from friends, that she was going to learn to ride. She bought a Rebel, took the course, and she's been out doing some pretty serious mileage for someone just starting. She's doin great. So we were talking about a new bike. She's not the most mechanically or bike inclined. For example, she likes the way the Victory's feel but thought that 100 CI would be too much power - she was going to buy a Victory and pay someone to put a smaller motor in.

The problem is, Claire made it to the corner on her Rebel and now thinks "I'm a Pro." Anyone who's been riding for some time knows she has joined the great fraternity of people who ride, but is just beginning to really learn. She's much better than she was when she started so she thinks she has it mastered. No more need to speak to anyone else - she rides, now. But there is a tremendous amount of learning that goes on in the first four or five years of riding, that can only be accomplished by putting miles under your belt. I recommended she look at Dyna's or go to a custom guy (she's got a few bucks) and buy a bobber, like a Sucker Punch
Sally. She decided she was going to surprise us all and went to the local custom builder I recommended on her own, and told him how well she's doing. I've spoken to him since and it's not his issue - she told him she could hand the Custom Fat Boy he sold her. Why not she reasoned, she can put her feed down on the floor. Now god bless, I hope she can handle it, but I think the first time this 62 year old, 130lb grandma has to walk this 650 lb bike (post post edit - my bro is correct a FB is at least 700lbs) across an intersection or a parking lot at 4 mph, or has to stop quickly, or has to muscle it around someone, she is going to put the bike down. If she has to stop quickly, I'm nervous she's gonna lock up the rear on this heavy bike and high side it. I don't think there is any way she is going to walk this bike backwards up any kind of hill to park it.

Riding is a combination of a few things. You gotta have a bit of cohones to ride. You can't be afraid, which I think is Ed's big problem. You need to have some natural ability. My mom could never learn to drive a stick and a motorcycle would be a no sell. And you might not ever know who'll get it and who won't. I think the best example of this is that my middle brother bought a Honda cruiser, a 650lb Road King clone, about the same time Ed got his Road King. He also didn't get training, but he had way more natural ability and has been cracking many of the real good learn to ride books. While Ed is still struggling, and dropping the bike next to NYC Transit Authority Buses, my brother Jeff is riding two up with his wife, his daughter and his son and in my eyes doing quite well. He seems to always have control of the bike and can keep up with a pack quite well.

You need to get training, and be willing to learn. And you have to account for your size. A big person, that has some motorcycle in their blood can handle learning on a bigger bike because if you stop suddenly and put your foot down on gravel, or a slippery white line, you can grab the bike if its leaned over a bit, even if its starting on its way down. And you can stay in control of the bike through an emergency better.

I realize that the trend is for folks to want to ride big fancy bikes. But I think that people need to pay attention to friends with experience, what's the saying, "You Don't Know What You Don't Know". And as a rule of thumb, I think if you can't back the bike you are riding up a medium sized hill, the bike is too big for you. If you're riding an Ultra and can't get it to budge without the motor rockin - you should be riding a Dyna with bags on it. If you're riding a Deluxe and can't get it to move well forward or backward, then you should be riding a bobber or a FatBob. Just because big fancy bikes are out there and you fancy them doesn't mean that you should. The down side is not 'oops, did I scratch that', it could be serious injury. The same way if a small person can't see out to find all the sides of a Ford Expedition, maybe a Explorer is a better choice - just because Harley makes a Fat Boy and an Ultra Classic doesn't mean it's the safe bike for everyone to ride or to ride. Or to ride right now, with your present level of experience..

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Droid Devices..

I know this is a bit off the topic of Motors and Cycles, but I can't help myself. I stopped in PC Richard to play with some Droid devices.

First, its not really the operating system that matters, its how easy it and its devices are to use. The iPhone and the BlackBerry work because they do the little things that let you do many things, and move around
easily on a small device. For example, when you're searching for a name on a BBerry, you can natually erase one charater at a time, but if you hit the return button, if first clears all the text and lets you put in another search, and if you hit it again, you exit the contact search screen. On a Windows mobile device, you pretty much erase characters or exit the screen - there is no intuitive way to simply start a new search.

I thought the Motorola Droid would be perfect. I want something with the ease of use of the Blackberry with a bigger screen, a la iPhone, but with a separate keyboard my fat fingers could use. The ability to use a touchscreen for quick tasks, or pull out a full keyboard naturally, and have a bigger screen than a Bberry, with Google functionality made it seem like it wood be a winner. Well, in reality, I got another Chrome - a product with a lot of buildup, but which didn't really improve on the products before it (Firefox for Chrome, Blackberry/iPhone for Droid):
  1. The keyboard is terrible. If you are a normal sized guy with reasonable sized hands, the keyboard looks like it has separate keys, but it doesn't. Essentially, it's just like a touchscreen keyboard, one where fat fingers hit all the wrong keys almost 50% of the time, except it has a rubbery feel rather than having you touch a hard screen.
  2. The touchpad on the side does not let you use the touchpad and keyboard naturally like the bberry.
  3. With my inability to even type my or my brothers email correctely in 2 minutes because of fat fingers on little keys, I barely got to try the email, but essentially, there doesn't seem to be a consistent way to move from To: to Subject: to Text: fields.
  4. I like the home menu hard buttons.
They didn't have a Goodle Droid device, but I tried the Verizon and I have the same issues I have with the iPhone - great for pics and moving thru menus. Terrible to type on the keyboard, never get the right letter 2x in a row, and it's got a big screen, but I lose half of it, or more, for a keyboard.

Don't even get me started on why the iPhone with a not replaceable battery is fine for the "leisure" user, but simply does not work for an executive. A single battery will run out sometime during your 4:30 conference call, leaving you without a phone at dinner/drinks/dancing). After 8-10 months of use, every single phone battery I've EVER used has suffered memory effect. I get a new battery every 6-8 months for every single phone that's used as a real, very day working phone. Not 20 minutes a day with some texting, - 150 to 200 minutes of calls or more every day.

I don't care what the operating system is (as long as it's not the terrible to move around Windows Mobile), just give me the Motorola Droid or similar form factor, with separate keys, like on the Blackberry 8820 or 8830 and I'm set. Big screen, big keys, smallish device.

I've got to give Blackberry credit - except for the mistake in trying to get into touch screen with the Storm, they're sticking with the form factor best for business users even if some other form factors are getting media attention.

The net of it is, I still haven't run into the form factor that would drive me from the Blackberry, which is both easy to use, and deals with every function well. The Droid doesn't drive new features, in fact, it won't let me have both my corporate and personal email on the same device (doesn't do corporate mail well, most use BBerry Enterprise server) and the form factor isn't compelling (big screen good, keyboard not). It's a personal device alternative to the iPhone if it drives you to a better carrier (Verizon) and/or if you are not an Apple person.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Riding in Traffic when Two Lanes are Reduced to One

Now that the snow is falling, if I can't ride, I'm going to spend some time writing about riding. I'm always looking to improve how I'm riding. Both my own personal skills, and as a group. I'm big on stagger. I think we all have a few friends that we don't have no problem riding side by side with a reasonably slow speeds, good riders who hold a line. Even in very slow turns I'm so comfortable with their skills. But in any turn of reasonable speed or more or busy area, stagger is it.
My brother has some friends who say there is no point to stagger. One recently ran into the other going around a turn and one has a broken arm. Enough said.

Recently I went out with the group I first started to ride with, affectionately known as the DD Bikers. We did this to make us sound tough. The DD really stands for Dunkin Donuts. Because of course, we meet at Dunkin Donuts on Route 9. We went out recently, and had some new guys with us. And I learned some things.

Twice over the trip we ran into traffic because of two lanes coming down to one. The first time, the cars were on the left, and we were merging from the right in Figure 1. We were moving slowly – say 10-15 mph. I was the 3rd bike on the right.

As we started to get to the Merge, I moved closer to the bikes in front of me, trying to give the people behind me more room to move in. The guy riding next to me, a guy I hadn't rode with before, first did something very smart – he moved to the left to kind of secure our space between in the cars. This rider is the green bike in Figure 2.

This would allow the four of us to get in, but likely would mean that the two or three bikes behind us (the blue bikes) would get separated - there would be a car between us. Then the guy in on the 4th bike slowed his pace. Brilliant! This allowed the bikes behind us to move up and stay with us. See Figure 3.

I've ridden for years, and cars typically do not respect us. I know this isn't news. I was reading American Iron this morning and Chris Maida talks in his column on how a driver rode up next to him on his left - and he was in the left lane. If I see bikers riding, if they are moving at a speed similar to me, and
I'm in my cage, I tend to pull up behind them. I am trying to protect them from guys riding too close or hitting them. They're fellow bikers and you never know. I hope the favor is paid forward for me, my friends, my brothers, or any other biker.

This is a tremendous riding technique for keeping a group, even a reasonably large sized group riding together. The fact that I as the 3rd rider behind the leader and closed up on the leading bikes helped – it gave the group behind me more room to fit in but it would only let one or two more bikes in . What the fourth rider did ensured that a reasonable sized group would stay together and kept the car behind from unintentionally clipping one of us if we merged late to stay together. It was safer in my opinion, because if the group is separated, there can be a number of issues. For example, an inexperienced rider could be leading the second group. Or any rider leading the second group could lose sight of the first riders. Or worst, if someone passes the car between us, or is spending much time trying to watch the group ahead, they could be hurt if they are not paying attention.

Of course, the group had to re-stagger themselves, and the fourth rider became the last rider. If we ran into the same situation again, of course, we'd get a bit more rearranged.

Later the same day, we were approaching a bridge, bikes on the left and cars on the right essentially stopped. I was the third rider again, but this time I was closest to the cars on our right and I was going to slip to the right and copy my very smart friends move earlier. I'm a relatively quick rider and we have a few slower riders to the back. My moving out and moving to the back means I will enjoy my day a little less, perhaps having to ride a little slower, but I decided I would pull out and move to the back to keep us together and safe.

Because we were stopped and on a bridge and essentially had a very wide lane, the last rider in our group was able to move up to the front of the group, move into the cars and stop – and allow us all room to move into traffic between two cars as the cars in front of our last biker pulled forward. I think he probably saw what “biker 4” did earlier, but if he didn't, it was two very independent but similar strokes of good riding in the same day. The benefit of his move of course is that he is riding last because he seems to like to – and would be last again when we got down to one lane. Of course, in this situation we didn't have to re-stagger and re-order.

Group riding is difficult. Its not like it's possible to train everyone - groups likely change every time you go out. To me meeting new people is a big part of the experience. We get some simple rules on group ridign – stagger, stay so much behind, etc. I don't believe we can execute complex multi-bike safe riding techniques, orchestrated like a ballet since the same group rarely rides together twice. But this is something that simply requires one of the bikers, riding within range of the lead group (or the last biker if he has room to come around) to help the bike stay together and help everyone be safer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Undercover Police Interceptors

Don't you think they'd remove the "Police Interceptor" plaque from the back of undercover/unmarked Police Interceptors?