Harley Iron 883: Motorcycling Joie de Vivre – Part One

It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable on my Harley Iron 883.  It was six weeks ago that I rode the Sportster for the first time and three weeks ago that I rode it on my first lengthy 100-mile trip.  That’s a short period of time for both, but to me it feels like ages ago because I’ve gain a lot of skill and confidence on the bike since then.  Don’t read that as “complacent.”  I’m still as vigilant and ATGATT as I was when I started, but I’m doing it with a hell of a lot more joie de vivre.  Should a Harley owner say phases like “joie de vivre?”  Meh, I don’t care.  Freedom and motorcycles are intensely connected and  freedom means to me is enjoying my ride they way I see fit, regardless what direction the Harley prevailing winds are blowing. Especially if it’s a headwind.

Road Rager - Photo from my Harley Iron 883
I’m getting pretty comfortable on my Harley Iron 883. Even when there is a road raging jerk getting out of his car to flail expletives at cars honking at him because he’s blocking traffic.

These six weeks have been amazing.  I’m having a blast discovering what I am capable on the bike.  Swerving tactics to avoid being hit by merging drivers is one skill that I shouldn’t enjoy doing so much, but I know that white SUV driver did not see me in his blind spot while we were  in the otter loop going around the Wisconsin State Capitol.  I had to swerve into the bike lane to avoid being hit.  That’s a maneuver I would not be able to do in a car.

I also like the quick acceleration on a motorcycle.  There is a right turn on my commute into work that goes up a hill while angled far to the right.  It’s basically 45-degree right turn up a steep hill.  That’s challenging for a beginning motorcyclist.  Adding to the difficult maneuver, the turn usually is right after starting off from a red light during busy morning commuting traffic.   My first few times executing this turn, I think use what I learned.  I just searched and executed.  I was so focused on search, by looking and worried about the cars behind me, that I completely forgot about evaluating my turn.  This resulted in me taking this steep angled and high-hilled turn too wide.  My counter-weighting (AKA, lean angle) was poor, I was pulling on the throttle too late, and, while my speed was fast enough, I wasn’t using my counter-steering skills that I’ve been successfully executing the last few weeks. I needed a better plan for this challenging angled-hill-turn.

Even riding at night is fun on my Harley Iron 883.
Even riding at night is fun on my Harley Iron 883.

Okay, back to my MSF course training.  Ah, yes, S.E.E., Search-Evaluate-Execute.  I was only really fully executing.  Before taking on this hill, I recently watched a few you-tube video where motorcyclists were rear-ended by distracted motorists.  So, like a restless little kid at bedtime that had been told that there is a monster under their bed, I was so focused on not being rear-ended.  Mind-you, I still used S.E.E. while I rode, but this high-angled-hill turn was a big distraction from what I needed to do to be safe.  Centrifugal force was pushing me wide into the other lane on the turn, while it not a high-traffic road, it could be a dangerous situation if I did evaluate and execute this better.  Here’s what I did.

I knew I was coming into the turn too hot.  Pushing myself into the opposite lane on the turn is a good clue that that’s the case.  I was worried about the cars behind me after the red light, so I thought getting out of the way quickly was the best plan. It only led to rushed evaluation of my turn.  Sure, I could have counterweighted by leaning to my right more, and I may take this turn that way sometime in the future, but with only four or five weeks of skill on two wheels, There is a better, and safer way.  I’m usually stopped by the red light proceeding this turn, so what I do now is accelerate fast enough to get ahead of any vehicles behind me.  A quick glance in my mirror tells me that I’ve got a pretty good cushion, even if I don’t aggressive taps on on my brakes alerts tailgaters that I’m slowing WAY down. If they need to come to a near stop while I safely turn, tough cookies.  Next I make sure I’m in the center of the road before I turn.

Practicing emergency stopping, slow  maneuvering, and swerving at an emtpy mall parking lot near my house has help imensley with my confidence while riding in real world situations. Especially when danger has come up.
Practicing emergency stopping, slow maneuvering, and swerving at an emtpy mall parking lot near my house has help imensley with my confidence while riding in real world situations. Especially when danger has come up.

This give me enough of a road to execute the steep angle.  I then look up the hill to where I’m going.  This is key. I then start my turn with a good lean angle, I feel the angle rather than watch it, because I’m still looking up the hill to where I’m going. Feeling good about where the bike is heading I pull on the throttle, If I shifted down to first, I put her in second to get up the hill, but only after I’ve put the bike upright. Once at the top, I shift into third and continue on down the road.

The first time I took this turn after I planned ahead, I successfully executed the turn without merging into the opposite lane.  Good thing too because for the first time going up this hill there was a driver coming down the hill going what seemed to be 10 MPH over a safe speed for that hill.

I’m digging my increased comfort level and how I’m concentrated so heavily on safety while I ride. Some may think my focus on safety may take the fun out of motorcycling.  I feel it’s all part of the motorcycling joie de vivre.


In part Two of Motorcycling Joie de Vivre, I’ll write about how much fun it is to be able to communicate with other motorists on the road with hand signals.