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New Years Resolution time. I’ve got five:

1. Get more training. I’ve always noticed how Al, Ernie, and some of the other more experienced guys I ride with go around curves much more smoothly than I do. They rarely need to brake or downshift and seem a lot better at picking their lines and ripping through them. In 2011, when I started riding with Art and his group, I became even more aware of my limitations. I’m going to do something about it in 2012. First, I plan to take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Experienced Rider Course when they start back up in the Spring. Second, I’m going to take a class at Keith Code’s Superbike School. They offer it in South Jersey, not far from where I live, it’s reasonably priced, and includes use of a BMW S1000RR. Not bad!

 

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Last Friday J.D. Power and Associates released the findings of its 2011 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study. The study provides some fascinating insight into bikers, their spending patterns, their satisfaction with their rides, and the improving quality of motorcycles in general:

1. Satisfaction with the sales experience has improved. J.D. Power measures owner satisfaction in six major categories: product, build quality, cost of ownership, sales, service, and warranty. Of these, the sales experience has improved the most. Very encouraging. Especially since anti-dealer sentiment runs high on most motorcycle online forums. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, the dealerships in my area are quite good and I always enjoy visiting them. Good to see that my biker brethren share this sentiment, even if the peeps on the forums are often vocally anti-dealer. According to Brent Gruber, who manages the study for J.D. Power and Associates, the motorcycle industry’s satisfaction rating is very good in comparison to other industries.

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Two Sundays ago, for the first time, someone in my riding group went down. I didn’t see the crash happen. I came around a bend and saw one of my fellow riders in a drainage ditch on the side of the road, getting out from under his Ninja. Two other bikes were parked and their riders running toward the downed rider. The leader of the pack hadn’t yet realized that he lost the group and would arrive a few moments later after making a U-turn. I was in the rear of the pack and I parked and scrambled as well.

The guy was OK. The bike was OK too – just a whole lotta mud and a small barely-noticeable scratch on the fairing. He rode away from the crash with everything physically and mechanically in tact – very fortunate. And even though I didn’t see things go down, there was a lot to learn from the situation:

It’s OK to be last in the pack. This particular group of riders are big-time risk takers. They have a “spirited” riding style and push the limits. But I enjoy the fellowship with them, and I always learn something. Kind of like when I ski with better skiers or golf with a scratch golfer. Art, the guy who leads the pack is in his 50’s but he’s the single most aggressive guy I ride with.  He works for a performance bike shop and rides a jacked up 240 horsepower Triumph Rocket III Silverback. I can’t keep up. And I don’t try. I let them do their thing, and Art waits for me at the intersections.

Art's Rocket III Silverback.

If I were in the middle of the pack on this ride, trying to keep up, and the guy who crashed was in front of me, who knows what could have happened? Maybe I would have been startled and lost control myself. If I was in front of him, maybe I would have been the one to hit the patch of dirt that brought him down. But none of those things happened because I was content to ride along in the group at my own pace, and not pressure myself to keep up with a far superior group of riders.

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Ever since I could remember, I wanted to ride a motorcycle. As a kid, whenever I saw myself as an adult in my minds eye, it was on a motorcycle.I can remember in third grade, looking out the window daydreaming while a guy rode past my school on a Honda CB 750 and thinking, “That’ll be me. When I grow up, that’ll be me.”  But it was a long-lost childhood dream, drowned in a sea of credit card bills from Nordstrom, or Macys, or wherever my now-ex-wife wanted to shop and a litany of disappoving glances whenever I paused in a parking lot to look at some other guy’s bike.

I had a minibike as a kid, a little scrambler with a Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine, and a Puch moped in high school when mopeds were all the rage, but as a grown up, I never took the action of learning to ride, getting an M-class license, buying a bike. There were always reasons: I didn’t have the money for a bike, my wife wouldn’t support the decision, I didn’t have the time, etc. etc.

But in early 2008 none of those things were true. Now 43 years old and fresh off a divorce, I could call my own shots. If I wanted to ride, there was nobody telling me not to. If I wanted to go into debt to buy a bike, that was my business. And suddenly, I had free time to do the things I wanted to do.

The writer on his first day of motorcycle ownership, with his brand new 2008 Triumph America.

A motorcycle-riding friend explained the process of getting a license, and encouraged me to sign up for a class from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Within a few months, in May 2008 on Memorial Day weekend, I got my first bike, a 2008 Triumph America. Pacific Blue and New England White. 865 cc’s (which seemed like a lot at the time.) A couple of tasteful upgrades like saddlebags, a windscreen, a sissy bar and a passenger backrest. Riding that bike made me feel like a million bucks, and every time I threw my leg across the thing, I felt like I was about 7 feet tall. I felt like…a man. Read the rest of this entry »