Sunday, May 15, 2011

Editorial: Basic driver to driver signals

Last night, after leaving my office, I came up behind a driver who was driving without lights on. I flipped my lights off and then on again, signaling that they had their lights off.

No response.

We made a left turn and got on to Rock Creek Parkway. I signaled again and still, no response.

We continue on Rock Creek Parkway and I pull around the driver without her lights on, getting in front of her and stopping at the next stop light, where I get out of my car and yell to her to turn her lights on. The result is her fumbling for her lights, turning them on, but flipping her brights on as well.

The driver looked pretty young, early 20s, and had a friend in the passenger seat. It is amazing that neither person in the vehicle noticed that their lights were not on. Even more amazing is that neither person seemed to understand the signal for "Your lights are off." Is this stuff still covered in driver education classes anymore?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Maybe I'll come down...maybe I won't...

This video was sent to me from a friend. It seems that some people just don't know when not to pick a fight, especially when the police are involved. It does, however, make for an absolutely hilarious situation.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Road Trip: 200 miles in Southern California with a GSX-R 750

The Gixxers extremely functional dash
On New Year's Eve and New Years Day, I had the pleasure of riding all over LA county on a 2008 Suzuki GSX-R 750. Being in Southern California meant that the weather was pleasant, if a tad on the cool side, and sunny. The bike, came courtesy of Dan at Racy Rentals, one of the last remaining places in the LA area where a visiting rider can rent a sporting motorcycle to enjoy the fantastic mountain and coastal passes that are scattered all throughout Southern California. Located on the north side of LA, close to Hollywood, Racy Rentals has a great selection of sport bikes available for rent, including a beautiful white Ducati 848.

I opted for the mid-size GSX-R because I had read that is struck a good balance between the willing chassis dynamics of a 600cc and the power of a full-on liter bike. And since I would have limited time, I wanted to ride a bike that I could get comfortable with quickly, still enjoy the power and handling of, but maintain a somewhat more relaxed pace, allowing me to enjoy the ride through some of the areas best roads for motorcyclists.

GSX-R 750 with my brother's S2000 in the background
After picking up the sleek jet-black Gixxer, my brother, driving his S2000, and I hopped on the freeway to blast out to Glendora Mountain Road. GMR, located in the mountains just north of the city of Glendora, was an old haunt of mine, having been one of my favorite driving roads when I still lived close enough to visit it regularly. A twisting, winding, mountain path that provides tons of switchbacks, sweeping corners, on and off camber corners, and nearly 35 miles of unadulterated fun, it is easily one of the most challenging but most entertaining roads to hit on a good handling bike. Plus, it's somewhat isolated location makes it one of the lesser known and thus lesser traveled roads, leaving the asphalt to stay silky smooth allowing one to comfortably explore the limits of the vehicle that they have brought.

The view from GMR
The Gixxer, feeling nimble and capable, tackled the corners with aplomb despite the regular appearance of hazardous gravel, rocks, and dust on many of the corners. As we climbed up into the mountains, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees and the chill started to counteract the warm California sun. Taking a break at the point where GMR meets Glendora Ridge Road, which leads to Mt. Baldy village, I came across another rider who had stopped to meditate over the amazing scenery. It was quite the pristine moment standing at the top of the ridge looking over the side, breathing in the chilly mountain air.

Hopping back on the bike, I proceeded down the back side of the mountain and took San Gabriel Canyon road, putting on a fair amount more speed, and cruising back down to Glendora where I stopped to defrost before riding into the setting sun to head home for the night before it got too cold for my mesh jacket.

View down the road on the PV Peninsula
The next day, I woke up early and headed out to the Palos Verdes Peninsula where I took the beautifully scenic Palos Verdes Drive East, passing several fellow riders on the way up. Stopping just past Marymount College to enjoy the view, I proceeded down a series of switchbacks to Palos Verdes Drive South and picked up the pace a bit after passing the slightly dangerous Portuguese Bend area with its unpredictable dips.

Relishing my last moments with the bike, I cruised back up to LA to meet Dan and return the bike, having enjoyed a fantastic 24 hours of riding. The Gixxer was surprisingly easy to ride over 100 miles in a single day and I reckon that I could have easily done another 100 or more. Sure it was not the most comfortable for long rides and I applaud those riders who regularly sport-tour on these supersport bikes, but to enjoy it for a day, it was the most fun I have had since I drove the Corvette through Santa Barbara wine country.

Thanks again to Dan at Racy Rentals. Looking forward to doing that again the next time I am in LA.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In the wake of the worst commute, should we be doing more to train our motorists?

On Wednesday, January 29th, many of us were trapped in what had to be one of the worst traffic situations we have had in a while here in the DC. Hundreds of cars were left abandoned and people were trapped on their commutes for more than 12 hours as a heavy, wet snow fell on the DC metro area, preceded by a rain that managed to clear away all semblance of pre-treatment on the roads.

During my 2.5 hour drive to cover about 4.5 miles in DC, I saw motorists getting stuck in snow that was clearly too tall for their vehicle's ground clearance. I saw impatient motorists driving their cars around stranded motorists only to get stranded themselves, creating further gridlock. I saw many motorists struggling to get up grades of any size, many attempting to claw their way up, only to get stuck or slide back down when they were forced to brake for another vehicle in front.

For an area like DC, where there is snow during the winters, it seems that many drivers are ill-prepared for the rigors of driving when the flakes begin to fall from the sky. As someone who has a RWD car with a LSD and fitted with summer only performance tires (I know, it's dumb, but we've managed okay so far), and despite growing up in CA (where I never even saw snow, much less had to drive in it), I had a stressful time, but managed to nurse my car home that day. I can attribute my good fortune to an understanding of the physics of driving, a mechanically well sorted car, and the advanced driver training I have received over the years learning to drive high-performance cars. Being able to safely control a car even when the tail threatens to kick out at any throttle application played a big part in getting me home that night.

So all this leads me to wonder, should we be doing more to prepare our drivers for those freak occurrences when all the planning in the world goes awry? Should we be offering more advanced training to all drivers and requiring that all drivers pass a more vigorous driving requirement in order to avoid the chaos that seems to take place whenever precipitation falls from the sky?

A case for lane-splitting

Watching this video from the Bay Area Riders Forum really highlights the need for riders to continually watch their mirrors when stopping in traffic and the need to off-set yourself from the vehicle in front. Additionally, it highlights why the concept of lane-splitting could be a real safety benefit to riders. In MD and VA, lane-splitting is absolutely against the law and you will get a ticket. In DC, there is no specific statute that addresses the behavior and it is up to the discretion of a police officer to decide whether to cite you or not. In fact, CA is the only state that currently explicitly allows lane-splitting (within certain limitations) at all and attempts to institute lane-splitting in other states have been shot down time and time again.

After watching the video, what are your thoughts for or against allowing lane-splitting in DC, MD, and VA? How do you think other drivers will react to the site of motorcycles cruising by them to pull to the front at stoplights?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Washington Auto Show Sneak Preview

I had the opportunity to attend the sneak preview of the Washington Auto Show. While this is one of the smaller shows in the country and is not usually a big debut arena for the major automakers, it is also one of the few opportunities for automakers to make an impression on the legislators and show them the direction that manufacturers are taking, especially with greening of the automobile.

Check out this gallery for a sneak peek at some of the cars that are being featured at the 2011 Washington Auto Show.

Corvette ZR-1 on display at the Washington Auto Show