Thursday, August 20, 2009

Scooter Commuting

I have not written of it much, but whenever the weather's been good enough (and it hasn't looked to be a workday of 12 or more hours), I've ridden my motor scooter to work.

This week, the prediction called for rain Monday and Tuesday and was in a hurry anyway, so I drove. Sunshine both days. So, naturally, when Wednesday was gonna be "mostly sunny, no significant rainfall," I should have been suspicious.

But I wasn't. The commute in was nice, too, warm and a bit sticky when stopped but comfy as can be in motion.

The storm hit right as my shift ended; I'd snuck my scooter into the company garage earlier, when a little shower had blown through, so I sat and watched the storm blow through. Twenty-plus minutes later, the sun came out. Traffic was moving right along and off I went. H'm, a lot of standing water, better be careful....

Careful I was but about a mile up the road, as I coasted to a stop and applied the brakes, as close to 0 mph as you can get and still have a little momentum, I felt the back of the scooter lose traction and it started to fall. Got off the brakes, back to vertical -- overcorrected as I came to a stop, realized I wasn't gonna recover* and with both feet on the pavement, managed to ease the scooter down, then tripped over the handlebar and sat down abruptly in a nice patch of very oily water. The engine roared as it went horizontal and I fumbled the kill switch to OFF.

Not a wreck per se, though drivers each side of me reacted as if it had been. A nice young man to my left got out of his car, asked if I was okay and helped me right the bike and a lady to the right offered to call 911. I was okay, my bike looked okay on quick inspection and it started up well enough, so when the light changed, I went up about a block top an open parking space for a slightly closer check.

I was a little shaky and the look-over was quick but it all seemed okay and I proceeded on home, even more slowly than before. Felt another ice-like patch two stoplights on but by then I had picked up a bit more of a clue: the abrupt, heavy rain had left the (slightly depressed) tire-track areas full of water, I had moved away from them and had instead tried to stop in the oilier center of the lane. Cle-ver.

Usually, if you get a good rain, the slick bits are washed off in less than a half hour. "Usually" is not "always."

With 10" tires, the contact area for each one is about the size an old fifty-cent piece, if that. Since I've only got a few years riding experience, I try to avoid riding on wet pavement; I've been caught out in the rain before but never on heavily-traveled streets.

Yesterday's lesson: even when you think you're being careful, you can sabotage your efforts. The only thing that prevented a worse outcome was my modicum of caution in slowing way down as I approached the intersection.

There's no teacher like experience.
* The "little motorscooter" weighs 260 pounds, I weigh far less. I can not catch it once it has gone past the tipping point.


Turk Turon said...

I'm glad you're OK. It sounds like you handled the spill well.

When I had a motorcycle I would try very hard to stay in line with the left tires of the car in front of me. The pavement there was usually less slippery. Also, if I could see the driver's face in his rearview mirror, I knew he could see me. And I could watch his car for advance warning of bumps in the road.

The conventional wisdom used to be that a heavy rain did, indeed, wash the oil off the road, but a light rain only brought the oil to the pavement surface.

Joanna said...

Yeesh. Thank God you're okay! We do not need a "Who's got the most road rash" prize at the blogmeets.

red said...

Sorry to hear about the spill, glad you're ok!

I have yet to deal with rain slicked streets on two wheels, sounds like you handled it well.

The Old Man said...

BTDT - but my bike was a tad bigger. Tom McCahill taught me the perils of oily early rain slick spots, but I've been schooled the hard way too.

sam said...

Happy to here you are none the worse for wear.

Be careful, and take care of those pretty knees.

perlhaqr said...

Glad to hear you're ok.

If the water on the road still has a heavy oily sheen, there definitely wasn't enough rain to really wash it away.

Out here in the desert southwest, we have big problems with that, because it rains so infrequently that the roads never get really washed. But when it sprinkles a bit, boy, you'd better watch out.

WV: "wooppl" -- Folks who've had a get-off. They become WooPPL. Woops!

Rev. Paul said...

You know what they say: good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.

I'd say you've had the experience, so good judgment is now yours!

Jeffro said...

What Turk Turon said. Plus, the right lane is where most potholes and crummy repairs are. When the pavement is rutted out, you've gotta thread your way through.

og said...

Ditto on glad you're OK.

Bruce B. said...

Glad you're ok and BTDT twice with an old Honda 750 and still have the scars to show it.

Tango Juliet said...

Once our brave new world has been established, there will be less clunker induced oil on the roads and the weather will moderate when cap and trade obliterates climate change.

Glad you're OK.

Ride Fast said...

Had to happen eventually, thank goodness your OK.

You did the right thing in just letting it go after a certain point.

Merlin8047 said...

A little too late to be commenting, but gee, Roberta, if you'd only asked me!

Scooters have lousy geometry and worse weight distribution for stability on any surfaces, and onslick ones they are downright lethal. I speak with 45 years and half a million miles' experience. I had a Vespa, back in 1964, and it tried to kill me three or four times before I finally bought a proper motorbike with 18" wheels and decent weight distribution.

Honest, I mean this sincerely, dump that scooter before it does you real harm. You don't need a monster of a motorcycle. An old 125cc to 200cc Honda will do just fine.

Roberta X said...

Okay -- you call up my Mom and explain it to her. She's terrified at the idea of me on a real motorcycle.

This spill was the worst I've had other than my inexperienced-squid wreck and there were a number of factors involved. I wasn't even wearing the right sunglasses: the ones I had on were polarized, a very very very bad choice. Between that, not waiting long enough after the rain (or just askin' Tam to come get me) and then putting myself in the wrong part of the lane, the weight distribution and braking geometry of my Chetak was the least of my strategic mistakes: I should not have got myself into the position in the first place. The only thing that prevented a worse outcome was a single tactic, slowing plenty before I applied the brakes.