Saturday, 23 February 2013

Insurance Follies

It was a sad week in Saskatchewan for motorcyclists. I'm having a hard time even thinking of something witty and up-lifting to write about this weekend after hearing the news.

Our government insurance agency decided that the motorcyclists should pay more - insanely more than any other vehicle owners in the province -  for their coverage taking effect on August 31, 2013. 

I present the following links for your perusal if you want to read more of the official news:

Rate Increase Proposal Facts

National News Release

Proposed Rates Numbers

Newspaper Post

People I have spoken to say:

--it's going through no matter what protesting goes on
--it will go through but they will adjust their numbers down a little, as they have seen this happen before with other "risky" vehicles
--the fault usually (99%) lies with the driver of the car that hit the motorcycle
--how is anyone supposed to sell their bike now, no one is buying
--why are riders with safe driving records being penalized
--why doesn't the insurance company give you a discount for taking the safety course
--why is this course not mandatory before you receive your learner's license

There are two public meetings planned for April in Regina and Saskatoon and they will be standing room only I'm sure, and I think it is safe to say, there will be a police presence as some people are very, very angry about this. 

I am just unhappy about it and figuring out my options:

--I'll be going from the $530 I paid last year in May 2012 to the $1,225 I will have to pay next May 2014, and that's with my safe driver discount. 

--I will have to shorten my riding season or perhaps even sell the bike, it's just too expensive for the money I don't make. 

--I'll have to get a second job for the extra expense which means less time for family.

My husband has decided he will not get a bigger bike now, the increase is too steep for our budget. There go any plans for long-distance rides...

To me it is not a "luxury" item, it is a planned expense to have some fun in my free time instead of spending money on eating out, or going to the theatre, or having vacations in the winters or having new cars or having lots of new clothes or buying a bigger house or buying a bigger television. We chose to spend our money on bikes and have changed our budget accordingly, but this increase is ridiculous.

I'm trying to find a silver-lining in this news, perhaps with a few weeks of thinking about it, I will find something...

Saturday, 16 February 2013

First Time on My Own Bike

It was May 8, two years ago, and the day had finally arrived to swing a leg over my new-to-me bike and take it out for a spin. 

I suited up nervously and went outside to pull the cover off my Suzuki, marveling at my decision which had brought me to this point. It was too exciting and I had to take a deep breath before I rolled it down the driveway. I inserted the key into the ignition and it began with a rumble that flooded my ears and heart with joy. (Does that sound corny? Yes, but no other way to describe it.)

I had asked my husband to follow me in his truck around the neighbourhood that day in case I had any trouble. The bike weighs 450 pounds and I wasn't sure if I could pick it up by myself. 

Started out by doing a very wide u-turn on our cul-de-sac at the end of the street, and then stopped to do a right turn out to the neighbourhood. Well...let me just say that within 30 seconds, the first thought in my head was "I feel just like I did on my Kawasaki when I was 18".

So the afternoon went by with me figuring out how the controls work and getting used to the feel of the bike. 

The first couple of times of starting out after a stop, I was in danger of the Suzuki leaving me sitting on the road still in the riding position. It had so much more power in a tiny twist of the wrist than the Kawasaki KZ 200.

It was interesting learning to stop the bike and sliding forward each time. I had to figure out how to turn off the turn signals without hitting the horn button and without taking my eyes off the road. I had to watch for running, barking dogs. I had to figure out how to stop slowly in gravel so as not to fish-tail too much with my non-knobby tires (hiking boots to the rescue that time).

At one point during the trip, I had stopped at a stop sign and looked over to see three young guys working on a shiny black Harley. Dressed in the standard black tank shirts and muscles bristling, they all stopped working to stand up and see what kind of bike was rumbling at the intersection. I nodded to them and received one back and proceeded on my way. Went by them a few more times, eliciting a stop work action each time.

By the end of the afternoon, I was tired and satisfied that I had done enough learning for the day. My hands were sore...but I had had a great time and knew I was not going to give this up any time soon.

My husband pulled up behind me in the driveway, got out and closed the door. He walked over to me and I said, "Well, did I look like I knew what I was doing?" He looked at the Suzuki and said "Yeah, you looked like you were having fun...maybe I should try that."

He had not ridden since he was a teen either. He had bought a trail bike with a buddy back in the day and rode a bit without telling his parents. When he told them that he wanted to ride on the street, they had forbidden it and there was no more discussion about it.  

So along comes me to shake up his life and his parents' views on a few things in the ensuing years, and here we are that day - standing in our own driveway with me having my inaugural ride under my belt, and him with that look on his face as he stares at the bike. 

I cannot even begin to describe the look on his face the day I came home and told him I had bought a motorcycle. I had asked him that day if he was interested in taking the safety course with me and buying a bike and doing something completely different with our lives. That day, he had decided no, he could not for various reasons. 

So I went ahead anyway with my own plans to ride as I could not wait any longer. I was not getting any younger and the kids could look after themselves, and my job was causing me way more stress than a person should have to put up with. If I didn't do this for myself...well, I think you have all hit a wall in your own life in this regard...

Needless to say, within a month of my inaugural ride on my Suzuki, my husband had taken the motorcycle safety course too. He told me that he had been scraping his pegs on the fancy little tight "S" curve and had no problem with the u-turn - I called him a show-off! And just before he was to do his road test on the course, a 16 year old had flipped her bike up in the air and landed on her head. The ambulance was called and she spent the night at the hospital, but we heard later that the next day she was in buying a new helmet. They work! It shook him up a little, but he passed his test with a little more reserve as to what he was getting into.

The day after his course was finished, he came home from work, and told me that he had bought a motorcycle and you should have seen the look on my face! Within two weeks of that purchase, I saw where my son had picked up his natural riding ability and I knew it wasn't from me. He bought a Kawasaki 250 Ninja.

Yep, my husband is totally hooked and addicted and can ride circles around me - which really only took a few weeks. He rides it to work, rides it to buy me flowers and rides it to buy things at the store. Our daughter has noticed a distinct lightening of mood since her dad got himself this machine. 

His work friends - who ride also - keep asking him "When are you going to get yourself a real bike?" He's thinking of getting a bigger one but is having way too much fun on this more maneuverable size. The right deal will come along when it's meant to.

So, that is my tale of the beginnings. 

Heading out to this today, the forecast is for more snow tomorrow and it's -11 C (12 F).

There is a car under there - really! 

Have a great day!






Sunday, 10 February 2013

Motorcycle Training Course - Day Three

Every day while we were doing the cone hopping thing on the range, we would see Boeing 737s just lifting off the runway which ended right next to the training range. It made it a little harder to concentrate as I like to watch planes too.  

I remember when my dad had taken us to the Abbotsford Airshow (about 1977 or 1978) to see the SR-71 Blackbird. The organizers of the show put the pilots' voices on the loudspeaker so we all could hear them talking to the tower. The jet started out from Nevada and the pilots said, "Put the coffee pot on and we'll be there in 20 minutes!" And it was, and what an awesome sight, like something out of Star Wars.

(Google Photo)

Now we've never had anything like that fly out of the airport here but I have seen these flying over many times.
(Google Photo)
The pilots who go on to fly the C-130 Hercules and CF-18s and Auroras for Canada's Air Force all start at Moose Jaw down the road from us. Plenty of times they use my city as a visual reference to practice their precision formats for air shows across North America. They are known as the Canadian Snowbirds.

Okay, back to the three started as day two with the sore muscle thing, and the same -3 C temp. I also had a few new bruises to show for my efforts. It warmed up to 5 C as the day went on, so that by the end of the day, I had actually unzipped my jacket a little and stopped shivering!

This day the instructors set up a pseudo traffic scenario using painted lines as lanes and intersections. Here was a chance to stop, use your turn signals and rear brake to let someone know you were going to slow down before they piled into the back of you. Because I'm sure you all know by now that motorcycles have three brakes: Your front brake, your rear brake and the engine brake. Here's where I was reminded to tap my rear brake a few times every time I intended to stop

By the way, I have been practicing this for the last seven winters with my little car too, it's just so icy in places that if people aren't given enough notice to start slowing, they can't stop in time. A practice I picked up when I downsized from my Ford Crown Victoria. People can't miss that car, they were huge!

There were some tense moments watching people get the hang of making their way around the lanes. It was terrific practice before we headed out to do the real thing.

Then we had to do the U-TURN! Tighter than the "S" curve, I tried and tried and tried, but chickened out each time halfway through, always riding straight off the range into the grassed bumpy rutted area. It was a good chance to see that my balance riding off-road has not gone away, but that was not the point of the exercise. I had a few different instructors try to help me - they were so nice - but each one ended the same way. Off to the toolies I'd go. 

Maybe it was because I'd gotten brave and chosen the Suzuki 400 that morning which was bigger and more powerful than the trusty little Yamaha 200, but whatever it was, it just wasn't going to happen. In fact, on one of the re-entries back onto the paved range from the toolies -there was a bit of in incline - I didn't give the Suzuki quite enough power to get out of the dirt and stalled the engine, and then guess what? First guesses don't count! Yes, I dropped another bike! 

No damage whatsoever except to my pride. The  policeman who was taking the course too rode over on one of those Honda CBR 125 and offered to trade as he had seen what happened. I thanked him but told him I wasn't comfortable on those and he rode off. Well, he was literally back within two minutes with another trusty little Yamaha 200 and offered me that. I took up his offer and we traded. Before he zoomed off, he made sure I was alright. What a nice man, and I'm sure that's the quality his superiors saw in him to grant him his badge: resourceful and caring.  

About 3:00 pm that day, the instructors had half of us sit it out in the middle of the range to make more room. Most of us had gotten pretty good (some downright cocky)and there were some near misses with a small area to ride in. So there was a rotation of sorts to go through the obstacle course again - but with less riders you could go faster as your confidence soared. 

The lady with the new baby had been watching my son ride and turned to me to say, "Your son has no experience with riding? It must be so gratifying to see him achieve this!" I believe she felt that one day she would like to be standing there watching her son do the same. It was nice to hear as it was a leap of faith letting him try this.

The last part of the day was doing the "road test". As they walked us all around to show us what they were testing for, I was pleasantly surprised to not see a u-turn test. If that had been part of it, I would not have passed. I had decided earlier that day that that was something I would work at on my own bike in a parking lot after the course. Since then, I have done some figure eight work trying to get tighter and tighter but it is still a struggle.

The first test consisted of starting out from a little box, sharp turn right on a curve, gathering a certain speed and then stopping with your front tire in a little painted box. 

The second test was what I call the "be ready" test to swerve left, right or stop again, only you had to go faster. At this point, the instructor asked us not to run over him because he had had an accident the previous summer, and could not get out the way fast enough with a bungled leg! Those guys had nerves of steel to stand there in front of rookie riders!

The third test was to ride as fast as you can and then an emergency stop on a curve so that your tire was over a certain line and they could see the front forks go down. 

At the end of the day, the head instructor handed me my little certificate and pin and told me to spend some more time in parking lots before heading out onto the big roads. I assured him I had already planned that and thanked him for his lessons. 

Going through this experience restored my sense of fun and adventure. I will go forth with caution and practice. Already in two riding seasons since, I've noticed a change. 

Until I get back on my Suzuki in May, there's always some fun to be had drifting around corners in all the snow we have with my car. Now, there's a u-turn I can do!

Have a good one... 



Friday, 8 February 2013

Motorcycle Training Course - Day Two

I am having a hard time getting moving on this next piece of my training story - I feel today the exact same way I felt after day one training - sore all over. I was painting yesterday. Took five hours of kneeling, sitting and stretching to cover up all of that yucky dark, dark brown trim that was all the rage in the 70s when our house was built. If you've painted a room lately, you'll know what I mean. I don't mind painting though, it's therapeutic in a way - your mind can drift away to think about things while your body carries on with a mundane task.

Back to training day two - it started with a too early alarm jolting me awake and then my muscles let me know that they were not happy with the previous day's activities. Holy cow! Every single one of my muscles hurt. A cup of coffee and breakfast and we were off to the training range again. There wasn't much conversation in the car on the way there, so I know my son felt the same way.

The temp was -3 C (27 F) and when we arrived at the range, the motorcycles were all warming up in anticipation of the day. I laughed out loud when I saw everyone else climb out of their assorted vehicles because they were all moving slowly and awkwardly too. 

We had a half hour instruction in the trailer and then got sent out to practice for an hour. This went on all day - in for a bit, out for twice a long. Wouldn't have been so bad if the trailer had been heated so you could warm up, but that's not how it went. 

Day two consisted of learning to change gears up and down, making big sweeping arcs around cones and practicing your stopping. Changing gears came back instantly. Riding around little cones was much more challenging... 

I got told more than a few times to get my feet quickly back on the pegs when I started off each time. There was a tendency to keep them hovering on each side of the bike until I knew for certain I was moving fast enough I wouldn't need them quickly. I'm thinking that's leftover from off-roading when we were in gravel or sand, but it exasperated one instructor every time he caught me at it. By the end of the course, it was no longer a problem. We were told that by leaving your feet close to the ground, you may get your foot caught and twisted if something happened. Get them on the pegs quick and tuck them in.

Then we were asked to take the bikes around a fancy little tight "S" curve.  Well, after three hours of trying all morning I was about ready to throw in the towel. I could not keep my front wheel on that little bit of white painted line.

The instructors had set up various stations so that we weren't all doing the same thing at the same time. There was an obstacle course - first get it into third gear as fast as possible and be ready to swerve either left or right or stop suddenly. Then carry on with the wide sweeping curves, then stop and wait for your turn at the dreaded "S" curve. Followed by cone hopping and then another quick emergency stop to make the front forks depress. If the front of the bike didn't go down, you weren't going fast enough or trying hard enough we got told.

We had lunch and watched a few videos of deer leaping across highways just missing motorcycles. Then some more lectures from the head instructor who mentioned we all looked beat. 

He showed us what happens to your helmet when it is dropped just from desk height - a loud crack - said to replace it if this happens or it's five years old. 

He said not to ride when you are tired, on medication, have been drinking or are distracted by a problem. I noticed that one of the young women had left by that point, she'd had enough. If she had come along with someone else, they could have given her some support that she didn't have to master it all that day!

Right, it was time to get back on the bike and conquer that "S" curve. I tried again for a bit and pulled off to the side for five minutes away from the group. This was the point in that whole weekend that stands out so clearly for me. I could not get that stupid thing, I was just about exhausted trying.

I sat there with the engine running contemplating my options...I looked across the range at everyone else.  Some riders had gotten so good at the curve that their pegs were scraping the pavement with those legendary head turns. They were so graceful, it was almost like magic watching them. Others like me were just missing it. I really did think about riding the bike back to the compound and get in my car and wait for my son to finish for the day. As I've learned since, 90% of motorcycling is mental, the rest physical. If you don't focus, you won't succeed. I could see that my son had picked up the "S" very easily, he was a natural and was having fun. I decided then to try once more - what kind of example was I setting for him if I just quit because it got too hard? 

So I took a deep breath, gunned the engine and lined up again for my turn at the curve. As I approached it, I turned my head to anticipate each next curve and arrived on the other side having done it! The instructors were jumping for me...I had finally done it and then proceeded to do it 20 more times, first in first gear and then in second gear! I even tried it once or twice in 3rd gear but I was catching up to the person in front of me too quick and had to slow downThe sun came out just at that minute, I kid you not. 

My son lined up behind me for the next one and gave me a double honk as only the meep-meep horns of bikes can give. Why do they have such wimpy horns??

For the rest of the day, it was nothing but fun and when I did actually climb back into my car at the end of the day, I felt exhilarated!

The day was not totally without its mishaps however. While I was waiting to go on one of the "S" curve maneuvers, I had one foot down, the other on the shifter, the wind came whistling along and pushed me to the left. Down I went! I picked myself up, picked the bike up and noticed the clutch lever was broken. The instructor was not happy with me and we had to walk the whole range back to the compound to get another bike. He told me that a new lever would cost $400. He was quite upset, but I think he had spent the afternoon picking bikes up because the wind knocked everyone over that day, and they were probably worrying about all the repairing that was going to go on that evening. I felt bad and offered to pay for a new one but was told not to worry about it.

So I picked another bike of the same breed and started out again. This one's clutch lever was different than the last one and I ended up doing a wheelie. That freaked one of the instructors who was getting set to catch me, but I found the balance and put it down safely. I thought he might come over later and say something but he didn't. I was surprised and then elated - I had done my first ever wheelie without meaning to. 

Back home for the night to get more rest for the last day - Day Three.