By Camron Bussard
Ride around the freeways in Southern California--or anywhere for that matter--long enough and you'll see just about anything. I've seen dogs, cats, cows and ladders. At least one large shovel, bicycles and a king-sized mattress. Oh, yeah and one time the road was covered with thousands of white sports socks. It looked like a New England snowfall. But a couple of weeks ago on a rainy Sunday, I was not prepared to see a beautiful cherry rocking chair sitting perfectly in the middle of traffic lanes. It was upright and unbroken as if placed there by some warped interior designer or performance artist.
The story of how I managed to avoid that piece of furniture-turned-road-hazard began a couple hours earlier when I decided that rather than ride in the rain, I would watch motorcycle race on Speedvision. At the race, a pouring rain began just before the green flag, forcing riders to second-guess their race setup but also their riding styles. Once underway most of the racers wobbled around the course like first-time riders, but the guys up front were as smooth as melted chocolate.
Those riders were looking ahead and planning ahead, riding with confidence and tremendous control. The top three finishers looked like champions while the rest looked like survivors. I thought if they can race in the rain, then I could do my weekly Sunday ride. I continued to think about that display of smooth controlled riding as I rolled out my own motorcycle for a late-afternoon excursion.
While letting the engine warm up, I was determined to be as smooth on the freeway as the best riders on that rain-soaked racetrack. I called up "smooth" on my mental search engine and reviewed a couple of key things from my own experience and from various riding schools I had attended over the years: Roll-off the throttle rather than snapping it shut; Ease onto the brakes rather than just grabbing a handful of front brake for example. And perhaps most important; Keep your eyes up and look ahead.
As I headed south on the still-wet freeway, I noticed just ahead that cars were jerking to the right, quickly swerving into other lanes, then jerking back. I knew there was trouble, but I still could not see what it might be. Checking for cars in my mirrors, and glancing to the right, I switched lanes while the cars I had been following continued on. Sure enough, the cars I had been behind in the other lane, suddenly swerved into my lane just ahead of me. Fortunately, I was ready for them and had left plenty of room.
And there, sitting pretty as you please in the number three lane was the rocking chair. As beautiful as it was dangerous. The car drivers failed to anticipate and react calmly to the situation because they were not looking ahead. I don't know if they were too busy using their cell phones or drinking their lattes, but they had only an instant to react when the car ahead of them swerved and revealed the chair.
I had been thinking about being a smooth rider and that had reminded me how important it is to be scanning the road ahead and anticipating what might be there. That's what I was doing that day and it left my options open. I was able to avoid a potentially disastrous situation with control and a safety margin.
That day reinforced the importance of a number of basic motorcycle skills, most important of which is to look ahead and scan the road in front of you. You never know what you'll see.
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