Don’t Fly Faster Than Your Guardian
By David & Dori Dirig; CA-1F
How many people have heard or used this saying? I have seen angel pins on many vests and have heard it said quite frequently. I am of the opinion, however, that we should help ourselves and save our ‘angel’s’ intervention for things beyond our control. It’s tough in a non-religious organization to tell just how far I can this analogy of “helping those who help themselves…..”
Let’s keep it simple. Don’t fly faster than you can stop! I had this lesson emphatically driven home to me last weekend. Riding through the mountains of San Diego County on one of my favorite roads (Banner Grade east of Julian), I discovered just how important stopping capacity could be. Rounding a blind hairpin turn at a <ahem> fairly good rate of speed, I came upon a long line of stopped traffic due to road construction. The transition from peg dragging to maximum braking prompted me to write this article. No harm was done; I stopped with room to spare, and my heart rate soon returned to normal. That I was riding within my limits is one of the reasons that I survived. I was riding aggressively to be sure on a road that I knew well and ride often. However, I was riding no faster than my ability to stop.
Braking capacity is more than a matter of applying the brakes in a proper manner and sequence. It is also a matter of reaction time and sight distance. In the example depicted above, I was canyon carving using a delayed-apex approach. This technique allowed me greater sight distance around the curves and the time needed to react, straighten the bike from a severe lean angle, and apply both brakes. Delaying the apex of the curve also gave me an escape route around the stopped traffic had I not been able to stop. If I had not taken a delayed-apex approach, I would have most likely have collided with or slid under the DOT truck stopped in the blind curve
Which brings up another issue in braking capacity, reaction time. How many times have we heard the phrase, “When I looked up, the traffic was stopped,” or “I didn’t have time to do anything.” Following distance translates directly into reaction time and braking capacity. Whether in rural areas or urban, back roads or congested interstates, allowing enough following distance can give you the reaction time to make the difference. Beyond a ‘standard’ approach to following distance, changes in available traction also affect braking capacity. My return trip over the mountain to San Diego three days later emphasized this point as well. I rode the same route in a cold driving rain; the first significant rain that San Diego County had seen in over 6 months. There was so much crud and oil coming up out of the pavement that the water standing on the road was turned to foam! What do you think this did for traction and stopping distance? What could I do to address this issue?
First off, I could have NOT ridden and waited for the rain to stop. Given the fact that it was supposed to rain for the next 2 days, this was not an option. I did, however, wait for it to rain long enough to ideally wash the worst of the crud off the roads. Experts have written in other publications that the first 15 minutes of a rainstorm are the worst in terms of a slick emulsion coming up out of the road surface and reducing traction. I assume that the worst was passed by the time I was riding these roads in a driving rain, but there was still enough foam to make me nervous.
Nervousness and fear have very important functions. It kept my right wrist out of the throttle and made me increase my following distance. As the rain got worse and visibility dropped, I increased my following distance even more. One important point that often gets missed in discussions of following distance is to keep an eye on the following distance of those behind you. I call this ‘inverse following distance.’ It does little good to give yourself room to stop if the guy behind creams you! At times, I had to flash my brake lights to get the guy behind me to pay attention and back off. In the end however, I made it over the mountain no worse for wear, but man was I cold and soaked.
After a break for warmer and dryer clothes and a phone call home to tell Dori where I was (since I was on her bike), I proceeded home without event. Some will say that the angels were watching out for me in the mountains, and I certainly will not argue with them. Let’s all try to do everything we can however to reduce those angels’ workload. Ride no faster than your ability to stop.
Ride Safe and COAST (Concentrate On A Safe Trip)