Monday, July 13, 2009

Share the road and be safe

By Rocky Marks
Last week, I was involved with a press conference that was held by PennDOT District 11 and the Pittsburgh Police, and hosted by Hot Metal Harley-Davidson. The goal of the meeting was to remind motorists and motorcyclists to share the road and watch out for each other.
This press conference was put together after a horrible start to July with the number of motorcycle related injuries and fatalities. Over the past five years, motorcycle fatalities represented 20% of traffic fatalities in District 11, which includes Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence Counties.
In 2008, more than 200 people lost their lives in motorcycle crashes and more than 3,500 were injured in Pennsylvania. In PennDOT District 11, 24 people lost their lives and another 340 were injured in motorcycle crashes during the same time peiord. Many of these fatalities and injures could be avoided by following these safety tips for both motorcyclists as well as motorists.=

Safety Tips for Motorcyclists
Riders can improve their safety on the road by following some simple safety tips:
• Wear a U.S. DOT-approved helmet, face or eye protection and protective clothing.
• Know your motorcycle and conduct a pre-ride check.
• Be seen. Wear reflective clothing and put reflective tape on your protective riding gear and motorcycle.
• Use common sense by riding sober, obeying all speed limits and allowing enough time to react to dangerous situations.
• Practice safe riding techniques and know how to handle your motorcycle in adverse road and weather conditions.
• Consider attending free training via PennDOT´s Motorcycle Safety Program
Safety Tips for Motorists Sharing the Road with Motorcycles
• Look out for motorcyclists – be aware that motorcycles are small and may be difficult to see.
• Allow more following distance – leave at least four seconds when following a motorcycle.
• Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
• Respect a motorcycle as a full-size vehicle with the same rights and privileges as any vehicle on the roadway. Allow a motorcyclist a full lane width as the motorcyclist needs the room to maneuver safely in all types of road conditions.
Crashes are most likely to occur in high-risk situations such as:
• Another vehicle turning left in front of a motorcyclist.
• Motorcyclists hidden in a vehicle’s blind spot: Drivers should always make a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or leaving a lane of traffic and at intersections. (a quick turn of the head isn’t a bad idea, either.)
• Hazardous road conditions such as potholes, gravel, wet or slippery surfaces that usually pose minor annoyances to automobile drivers are in fact major hazards for motorcyclists.
• Weather conditions: Braking and handling abilities may be impared by changing weather conditions.
• Strong winds: A strong gust of wind can move a motorcyclist across an entire lane if not prepared for it.
• Large vehicles can block a new motorcycle from a driver’s view and a motorcycle can suddenly appear out of nowhere.
The same rules apply for drivers that fall in both categories. Slow down. Look twice. Pay attention to the road and put away anything that will distract you from operating your vehicle.
Obviously there are many more situations that I didn’t cover in this article. There are just as many rules that I haven’t covered, but the basic thing that we can do as motorists and motorcyclist is to be aware of each other and share the road.
The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio show: “On the Road with Rocky” which airs Saturdays at 7AM on WEAE 1250 AM

Pick A Lane, Any Lane

By Rocky Marks
Last week I received a phone call at the shop from a gentleman by the name of Fred Miller. He is an avid fan of the Pittsburgh Rides section of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. He read one of my previous articles and felt that he had to call me and share one of his stories from the road.
He was riding behind a motorcyclist not too long ago that seemed to wonder all over the road. The fact that the motorcyclist didn’t pick a lane concerned him and he thought that it would make for an interesting topic.
As I talked with Fred, I learned that he has had some significant motorcycle training. He’s been through the Pennsylvania Safety Program and he even hired an independent coach to follow behind him and coach him one-on-one through a two-way headset as he was riding!
As motorcyclists, when we go for our motorcycle permits, we are taught that the right–hand lane is divided into 3 mini-lanes. There is the inside (closest to the double yellow lines), there is the outside (closest to the white line) and then there is middle of the road.
A majority of motorcyclists pick either the inside or outside lane and typically stick with it. This is their comfort zone. Then there are motorcyclists who don’t have a comfort zone and they straddle the entire right lane and find themselves in potholes one minute, in rumble strips the next, while crossing over the greasy center of the right-hand lane.
You’re probably saying to yourself that the motorcyclist that stays in either the outside lane or the inside lane the entire time even through corners is the one who’s doing it correctly. You would be wrong in that assumption. The motorcyclist that wonders from one side of the right lane to the other isn’t doing it correctly, either… but they are on the right track.
When you are traveling down a straight stretch of highway or down a straight residential road, then it is good to pick a lane and stick with it. This allows other riders or drivers to better read you and anticipate your moves so that they can safely pass you.
When you live in Western Pennsylvania you have to deal with hills, tight corners, blind intersections and exit ramps that don’t exactly curve in a consistent circle. This requires you to use a larger piece of the travel lane.
This leads to many questions:
• When turning, do you follow more or less in the center of the lane? Do you follow one of the car wheel tracks or do you follow a different motorcycle cornering the line?
• Approaching a sharp turn, do you roll off the throttle, or do you also use the breaks?
• When you need to brake approaching a corner, do you use both brakes, just the rear brake, or only the front brake?
Even though the best practice is picking a travel lane and staying with it, we need to take a look at cornering and explore using the other travel lanes on our side of the road.
Different riding schools have different ways to describe the correct cornering techniques. Having a slogan helps you remember the details. One of the most concise descriptions is the slogan “Slow, Look, Lean, and Roll.” according to David L. Hough’s book “Proficient Motorcycling”
Approaching a curve you want to SLOW down. It’s smart to decelerate the bike while you’re vertical rather than in a lean. Breaking into the turn with both the front and rear brakes pushes your motorcycle down and allows for more traction. You’ll also want to hold on to both breaks just incase you discover that the turn is tighter than you expected or if a hazard comes into view halfway around the corner.
Next you want to LOOK and keep your eyes level while selecting a cornering line. When selecting a cornering line, you should not choose the double right line to the left or the solid white line to the right. Try and figure out where the road goes. If the corner takes you left, get close to the solid line to your right. This will give you the maximum viewing for this type of corner. Likewise, if your road takes you to the right, stay close to the double yellow line WITHOUT going over into the oncoming lane. Again this will help you see more of the road ahead of you. Remember “outside-inside-outside.”
When you have the bike slowed down and positioned for the best view and your nose pointed to where you want to go, it’s time to LEAN the bike over and ROLL on the throttle. The most accurate way to lean any two-wheeler is by pressure on the handgrips. Push on the right grip to lean right. Hold enough pressure on the grip to get the bike leaned over and pointed where you’re looking, then ease up on the pressure to stabilize the lean.
When you have leaned your bike over to your desired angle, you’ll need to ease on the throttle. Not only will it help your speed control, but it will affect your traction, stability, ground clearance, suspension and steering. Rolling on the throttle isn’t just for the race track it’s for the laws of physics. Rolling on the throttle helps balance weight between front and rear tires, sets suspension in the middle of its travel and maximizes lean-over clearance. The throttle also controls which way the bike wants to go.
That being said, it’s best to pick a lane and stick with it, but in order to accomplish everything that is required for smart cornering, you need to use more of your side of the road and stray out of your comfort zone.
The writer is Operations Manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson located in West Mifflin and Host of the radio show: “On the Road with Rocky” which airs Saturdays at 7AM on WEAE 1250 AM

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Q&A (Karyn wobly bike & Re Tread)

By Rocky Marks

This past week, I received a question via Facebook from an old high school friend who now lives in Allentown.

Hey Rocky!
I need some advice...I just got my motorcycle license a few months ago. I love being a passenger but now I'm nervous as the driver and I know that's not a good thing. I have a Harley Sporster and it probably wasn't the best choice for a first bike but I got a good deal and it is in great shape with really low mileage....and it’s a Harley!!!!

So I guess I just need some wise words from an expert!! ;-) its a heavy bike and I think that's one of the things that makes me nervous but I don't want to dump it!!

Can you help an old friend out?



Congratulations and welcome to the saddle. You should be LESS nervous because you’re in TOTAL control. A Harley-Davidson Sportster really isn’t a bad bike to get started out on. Some people make the mistake of starting out on a bike that is too small, get frustrated within a year, and when they go to upgrade, they lose equity in their trade. If you are a fan of a specific brand, and if the motorcycle fits you, then go for it.

You’ll learn something new about yourself and the bike with each trip out of the garage. I’m constantly experimenting on my bike.

I wouldn’t worry about dropping it. It happens to the best of us! It’s nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, last month I dropped my bike twice. It’s a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra. It has so many extras like saddlebags, the faring, and the windshield that could get damaged with one slip up in the driveway.

Fortunately, when I dripped my bike, it didn’t cause any damage. One of the great things about the Ultra is that it comes with guards especially made for that. Not only does it protect key components to the bike, but it also prevents your leg from getting pinned beneath your bike when it falls over.

If you don’t have one already, my suggestion would be to get an engine guard for your bike. They aren’t that expensive, and it will more than pay for it self should you drop the bike.

Once you get your engine guard, you may want to take your bike into a flat spot in your yard and gently lay it down… and pick it back up. Practice it a few times. It’s easier than you think. Lift with your legs and use as much leverage as possible.

Once you pick your bike up, you’ll get the feeling that it’s not as heavy as you originally though it was. You’ll also establish a feeling of control (there is that word again)—in your mind, that you can handle the bike whether it’s upright or laying on its side.

Picking up a 300 lb may sound tough, but motorcycles today are very well balanced. Don’t think of it as picking the total weight of your motorcycle off the ground. You’re simply just shifting it to a neutral position to where you can put the kickstand down and assess the situation.

Remember when you first started riding your bicycle how wobbly you were until you pedaled faster? The same rule applies. Dropping a motorcycle due to weight happens due to an unexpected shift in balance at very slow speeds, so the good news is if you do drop it, the risk of injury or damage to the motorcycle will be minimal.

I hope this helps, and enjoy that drivers seat!

This next question came via e-mail from Dave in Crafton.

Dear Rocky,

On my way home from work last week I was following a very large dump truck when I heard a loud bang. The next thing I knew a piece of rubber came flying at me and I had no choice but to throttle up and go over it because of how fast we were going. I spoke to the driver who asked me if I was okay and he told me that it was a re-tread that blew off the tire.

It seems like I see these pieces of rubber all over the highways. Why are truckers still allowed to use re-treads if they break so much.



Thank you for your e-mail. That happened to me once before and I can’t even begin to describe the sound that a blown tractor-trailer tire makes. I hope that you didn’t get hurt.

I think we need to put your concern about the number of these blow-outs into perspective and ease your mind.
The reason we see so much debris on the road is because tractor-trailers have 18 wheels. Our vehicles only have 4 wheels. Every tractor trailer has the same number of wheels that you would find on 4.5 automobiles.

Trucking companies can save up to 60% by choosing re-treaded tires which keep down on the costs of transportation which eventually trickles down to the consumer level. Because the companies can keep transportation costs down, the products we purchase at the store will be less expensive.

Not only is it a cost savings benefit to the operators, but it’s good for the environment. Every re-treaded tire is one less tire that ends up in a landfill somewhere. More than 80% of the airplanes flying today use re-treaded tires. Re-treads are common in school busses, fire trucks, and even every cab in New York City uses a re-tread.

The biggest factor in determining whether or not a re-tread is safe depends on the maintenance of the tire. Re-Treads will continue to be safe so long as the tires are inflated properly the trucks are not overloaded, and if the tire is replaced at the first sign of wear.

As long as the operators of the vehicles stay on top of their maintenance schedule, we’ll see less rubber on the roads, fewer tires in land fills, and safer driving conditions for everyone.

Rocky Marks is operations manager at Hot Metal Harley-Davidson in West Mifflin and host of the radio show "On the Road With Rocky," which airs Saturdays at 7 a.m. on WEAE-AM (1250).