Tuesday, February 15

Frenchy Forgot to Mention Something

Mostly in this blog, I write about bike items. However, on occasion I mention Jaguars. I used to show them. Actually I also used to race them in Autocross. The Jaguar Club version of SCCA Solo 1 racing. In it, you run the car as fast as you can through a parking lot course marked by cones. It sharpens your driving skills and improves your understanding of what your vehicle will do at its limit. That understanding helps in normal driving as well. It's why my eldest daughter ran her first autocross while on her learner's permit. One basic technique is outlined in The Red Car:

"...Frenchy went into the corners...along an invisible line that slanted diagonally across the corner from outside edge to outside edge... The little car went so close to the inside...at the corner's point that...Hap could feel that a butterfly's weight of extra pressure...would break the car loose... But Fenchy never once gave it that extra butterfly's weight..."

Steve A, Cutting to the Inside of a Corner in Vancouver
Drive Smoother to Drive Faster
I don't drive my car that way on city streets, at least not obviously, but if you look at car wheel tracks on any road, you will observe that they move from side to side within a lane depending on curb and turn situations as well as the lane width. However, a bike is a lot narrower than a car, and I typically utilize more of the road when cornering than would be decent for my motoring companions. Coming to a right turn, I'll usually be riding roughly at the right side of the left wheel track in a position (the line of sweetness) where any following motorist will certainly not to have to watch extra carefully to notice my presence (SIN or no). As I near the corner, I will use the full lane available to me and move right within the lane as I approach the apex of the turn; finishing up in the new direction in about the same lane position on the new road. In effect, while I don't cut real close to the curb (after all, one doesn't want to ride through a debris field), I am doing exactly what Frenchy was doing on a closed course, albeit in a less dramatic fashion. Usually, this is perfectly safe and allows a fast turn while only yielding control of the lane at the sharpest point in the corner. A point at which I am invariably traveling faster than any following motorist.

Frenchy forgot one thing. He forgot to mention that cars and bikes have different turning characteristics because of the difference in width and wheelbase, and even cars turn differently when the road is slick than when it is dry. Usually, this doesn't matter, but we've accumulated a lot of loose road rubble due to the recent freezes and this has accumulated where motorist wheel tracks don't sweep it away the same way as usual. Like at the inside point of corners. This morning, making a turn I make every day at about 20mph, my apex was about a foot closer to the curb than normal (I've been leaving more room than usual in case I hit a patch of gravel) when my rear tire crossed gravel and swung out suddenly as if there was one too many butterflies applying pressure to the tire. No, I didn't fall, but I simply don't like my bike to do something unexpected while I'm on it on a public road. Maybe it's an "engineer thing." It was a reminder that the natural turning paths of bikes and cars are even more different than are the turning paths of skiers versus snowboarders. Frenchy was driving a sport car amongst other sport cars. His turn strategy would have been far different had he been driving an RV - or a bike. It was a good reminder. Bikes ARE different.

That Patch of Gravel Was Certainly Inconvenient for a Cyclist
Turning Smoother to Ride Faster


Khal said...


I cut my teeth on motorcycles for most of a decade before I started riding bicycles. My motorcycles typically had a lot of scar tissue on their footpeg mounts from pushing the lean limits on fast curves. Some folks have told me that's why I can descend pretty well on my bicycles. All about picking a line and knowing how to keep those little bitty tire contact patches planted and not freaking out in a hard lean. Actually, I love it. Part of the reason I love living in the mountains is descending like a banshee. I guess they will put that on my headstone.

One thing I've noticed is that compared to about thirty years ago, there seems to be less oil in the center of the lanes. I think cars are cleaner and tighter (and fewer Triumph and BSA motorbikes with vertical engine case halves dripping oil). We used to always watch where we rode our motorcycles because of the heavy oil patches, esp. around intersections, from drooling cars and trucks.

Steve A said...

I looked at the gravel in the turn today again. The debris field is changing from day to day, with a clean strip approximating a L&R wheel track. On the bike, you don't want to cross from the left wheel track to the right one while IN the turn.

Speaking of motorcyles, I'd be very interested in seeing a future Khal post on what he learned from riding motorcycles that he has applied to his bike riding. I think others would benefit as well. My knowledge of motorcycling safety and approaches is mostly limited to "Proficient Motorcycling" but even that has been educational.

Khal said...

I'll think about this after a couple more cups of Joe, but a few instant answers about what I think I learned:

1. Constant situational awareness (scanning traffic, the road, thinking ahead, analyzing others). Like bicycles, motorcycles tolerate fewer operator errors without injuring or killing the operator or damaging the bike. Speeds are faster, so less time to recover.

Eliminate the dumb mistakes. Watching for road hazards, for example, or watching what other people are doing coming into an intersection. My old man was nearly killed when a sedan turned left in front of him as he looked down to put his fuel petcock to "reserve" while entering an intersection. Huge error that almost cost him his life (cost him a knee).

2. Instant turns. You turn a motorcycle by turning the handlebars in the direction opposite you want to go. So transferring that was easy.

3. Intuitively picking a line in a curve.

4. ABC Quick Check. Been doing that since I once lost a fork top bolt in a fast curve. I had changed fork oil during an overhaul and not torqued the bolt enough. No crash that time, but a face shield covered with fork oil and a need to change underwear, so to speak.

5. You don't hide on a motorcycle and you are seen as a little bit different, so you need to be civil in your behavior, both on and off the bike. Seeing someone in a black leather jacket and realizing they are not really a different species sometimes surprises people.

I once went into a New Jersey bank to cash an out of state check. The lady refused my NYS driver's license and was rude. I then showed her my Navy ROTC card (picture on front, military stuff all over it) and suddenly she softened and I got my cash. I was just a college kid on a motorcycle, not a goblin.

Some things are quite different. You are keeping up with traffic rather than being at a constant speed differential with most of it, so there is less negotiating. Also on a motorcycle, there is not a penalty for more personal protective gear. I usually wore heavy denims or leathers and a full coverage, Snell approved helmet (typically something like a Bell Star). So wearing helmets never phased me on bicycles.

I don't think that added PPE ever gave me a false sense of security, its just that it didn't impose a heat or weight penalty. On a bicycle, you are typically unprotected in terms of encounters with Mr. Pavement due to heat and weight limits on PPE. My first wife, on the other hand, once slid down the road from an initial speed close to 100 mph when my friend lost control of his new Gold Wing in a gravelly curve and dropped the bike (she wanted to ride on the Gold Wing, etc...). She went off the back and got off with some bruises, but no road rash due to the heavy denim jeans and leather coat and boots and full coverage Bell. He went off the front and shattered an arm. Kinetic energy goes as speed squared. Motorcycle crashes, or fast bike crashes, can be catastrophic. Do the math.

Ok, enough babble. More coffee.

Khal said...

Interesting read here on Smeed's Law and Motorcycling Fatalities.


"...We’ve looked at the various pieces of the motorcycle safety puzzle and found that they all—without exception—have failed to bring the death toll down but as more riders practice them the death and injury toll goes up...."

Post a Comment

No Need for Non-Robot proof here!