Okay, here's the deal. Tires don't give you traction. Only the surface you are riding on has that traction. Tires only grip that traction, whatever traction is there. Whatever Mother Nature gives us for traction, our tires and our own skill have to work with it. Tires are not the savior for traction problems. Some tires are made to grip some traction surfaces better than others, but no tire grips all kinds of traction well. It really is our own skill in using traction correctly that will keep us out of tight spots.
You've learned that sometimes we have less the traction than others. We can sort of measure it. A completely dry, clean, and smooth surface has the BEST traction (yes, it does - think Drag Strip - completely dry AND clean - nothing between the tire and the ground - that's the key). We know rain is more of a barrier between the tire and ground, and gives less traction. Snow, even less, unless it's slightly compacted and we actually grip it and not the ground. Ice has even less. Black ice - that's the big goose egg for traction! And then there's the scooter's biggest nemesis - sand. . .
Traction is needed for every change in scooter "dynamic." If a scooter is moving and the brakes are applied, the tires must grip whatever traction there is to slow down the scoot. If you want to speed up, you need traction. And we need traction to turn. Three things use traction – accelerating, braking, and turning. Now we have to learn how to use the traction we have, even if there isn't much of it.
What happens when we put on our brakes too hard? We start to skid, right? (Unless we have ABS, which only the top-end motorcycles have - another subject for later.) We've used up all of the traction available to us. And if there is less traction (from snow, ice, etc.), we find that we skid more easily, right? Once you start skidding, the wheels are no longer turning, and since the wheels aren't turning, the brakes are worthless. How many of us have, when in a car, in a skid, just tried pressing harder on the brakes hoping it will somehow stop us? Or have locked the wheels up and then are unable to steer? So how do we get grip back? We do what we have to do to get the wheels to roll again, and it's completely counter-intuitive: let off the brakes just enough to let your tires to start rolling again, and maintain that maximum pressure spot. But don't "pump" your brakes - it's not efficient and makes the scoot dynamically upset - that's another topic, later.
Also, think of what happens when you brake AND turn. Let's pretend you have, theoretically, 100 units of traction. You need to use that traction for both turning and braking. So, again theoretically, you'd use 50 units to turn, and 50 to brake (or 60 - 40, or 30 - 70. . . ). For most situations, our scoots can handle that. But what if the traction is reduced due to rain to, say, 60 units of traction? Now you'd have to use 30 units for braking, and 30 units for turning. You can see that you are closer to loosing grip doing this. Imagine if it's ice, say, 10 units of traction. Just using those 10 for only braking and not exceeding that traction limitation is tough as it is! So prudence tells us that, especially if traction is less than optimal, we need to be extremely careful using our traction for more than one thing at a time. In fact, because we are habitual creatures, it is best if we develop a habit of never using our traction for more than one thing at a time (because, let's face it, when we get into a panic situation, like skidding, we tend to do what we do out of habit, and we don't have time to think about what we should be doing). If you ride with me, you will almost never see my brake lights on when I'm turning, and my speed is constant as I turn as well (no acceleration, either). This is just to help me so when I do get into a tight spot I only depend on my habit of using my traction for one thing at a time.
A note about sand. Sand is dangerous - when sand gets between your tires and the road, it's like ice. We don't notice sand so much when in a car because sand is usually congregated into a spot that only two wheels pick up, like on tight turns of a road. In a car, two wheels get sand, but two more are usually on cleaner ground and the car won't slide. Not the case with scooters. Be extra wary on your scooter around sand! Go slowly, and avoid braking AND turning or accelerating AND turning through it.
Just briefly, most of us have general purpose tires for our scooters, mainly because scooters really aren't good for anything extreme, regardless of traction. Most scooter tires have treads that are designed to handle dry, slightly dirty, or wet roads. The tread helps channel water out of the way (to help you have a connection to the ground), and have a surface shape good for gripping dry or slightly dirty ground. They usually don't have the gnarly knobs that are good for digging past things like snow or gravel. But our tires do most jobs of gripping fairly well, when in reasonable conditions. If you have less tread for channeling water out of the way, you'll find you have less grip. So take good care of your tires and get them changed when you see the "wear bars." Traction is tough already to deal with. Give yourself an edge with halfway decent tires.
Now go out there and practice using your traction correctly - doing only one thing at a time with it (accelerating, turning, or braking), and maybe play around a bit to find your traction limitations .
Next entry - we'll talk about your vision. . . .
Hand signals not only keep us safe, we tend to end up at the same place together as planned, with few or no incident. It’s good to learn a few things about hand signals.
The Ride Leader will be responsible for the group’s execution on the ride, and thus starts any signals. But like any game of “telephone,” it is up to the rest of the group to “pass the signal back” by mimicking the Leader. The Ride Leader will be watching to see if the rear scooters are making the signal, and if he gets no confirmation, may do the signal again until he/she is satisfied everyone knows what’s going on. Here are some common ones you’ll see:
Single file: Ride Leader holds up 1 finger on top of his helmet. “pass it on down – single file, folks!”
Double file (staggered): Ride Leader holds up 2 fingers on top of helmet.
Stop: LEFT hand down swiveled from upper arm, 90 degrees, palm to back, or point.
Turning right: LEFT hand UP swiveled from upper arm, 90 degrees, palm to front, or point.
Turning left: Left hand and arm straight out from body to the left. Palm to front, or point.
(Yes, we signal all turns and stops. Remember, scooters are LITTLE! Unless you got a big-ass scoot, many cars and fellow riders may not see your tiny-but-cute turn signals. Your hands do a much better job!)
Speed up! – LEFT hand, palm up, starts out low, moves upward. Likewise, then. . .
Slow down! – LEFT hand, palm down, starts out high, moves downward. Good for when someone sees the cop before everyone else does. . .
“Your turn signal is still on!” (handy for those of us who don’t have some clicking noise to go with our turn signals and simply forget to turn them off) – Left hand out, clenching and unclenching your fist. Sometimes this is done in the direction of the “offending” scooter. . . . but always check yours, so you don’t feel like a dumbass.
Hazard in road! - If you come across a pothole, or a tree branch, etc., which might be a problem for the folks behind you, take your foot and make a kicking motion towards the offending object. That can be to either the right side or left side. Sometimes people point with their hands, but that often confuses people that it may be a turn coming up. Just be aware.
The following are best done with small group rides (3 or fewer riders):
“You lead” – be careful with this. The scooter in front of you is asking you to take over being in front. It’s basically trading places. It will cause either a major shift of all the scoots behind you, or, if you and your lane partner are “communicating” fast enough, you also shift lane positions upon trading places. Neither are great options. This really should be reserved for very small groups of 3 or less. Signal is: LEFT hand, downward arm, making a sweeping motion forward.
Gotta take a comfort break! - Move up to the next scooter and make a grabbing motion towards your bladder. He/she will move up to the next scooter in line and do the same. The signal is carried forward to the Ride Leader, who will find a rest stop for everyone!
Need Gas! - Move up to next scoot and this time point to your gauges. This signal is good for ANY scooter malfunction/need, as it means we have to stop to get something cared for.
Need Food/Water – Move up to next scoot, make a fist with thumb pointed up, move thumb up to mouth like getting a drink.
Scooterists are very good at communicating with just their hands! This is just a little of what you can expect when riding with a group. And you’ll find it’s more fun than you can imagine!
Next entry: It’s all about traction: what it is, what it isn’t, how to use it.
Here’s the good news – we ride our scooters! While others sit back and appreciate the look of their scooters, work on them with their bare hands, make them into monuments of ingenious upgrades and add-ons, we use our scooters for their God-given gift of moving us around with pleasure! Our lot is much better, we think. But it does require us to use other skills besides using our hands to make scooters fun!
We ride as a group – cuz, hey, nothing looks cooler than a bunch of us nerds going down the street. We turn heads, everywhere we go! But let’s get from Point A to Point B successfully – it doesn’t look cool when one of us does something during our group ride that causes the rest of us to look like dweebs (do people still use that word?).
So here are some BASIC rules to follow, when you go on a group ride with us.
For the uninitiated, don’t worry about getting lost, or not keeping up, or which route will be travelled. In most group ride situations, someone is assigned to be the Ride Lead for the group, and someone to be the “Sweep” (who makes sure he/she is the last one to arrive, and will make sure those at the end get to their destination safely). Routes are specifically chosen to accommodate all scoots in the ride. This is especially true of every LSG group ride. All you have to do is hang out in the middle and be a good “middle rider.”
Scooters are little, and so are hard for people in cars to see. That is why we ride in staggered lines. We’re bigger that way! A staggered line is such that two scoots can fit across one lane, but are “staggered,” so no scoot is directly beside another. Scoots in staggered position are typically .5 to 1 second apart. This means, if you are on the right side of the lane, you’ll have a scooter to your left about a half second away. Following another scooter on the same side of the lane, however, really should be a full second away. But let’s face it. When going slowly, it’s probably okay to leave less space. Just leave more space the faster you go. And always, regardless of speed, leave yourself an “out” – always look for where you can go in case the scooters in front of you or beside you do something that might cause you to crash.
If someone is not paying attention and is weaving back and forth across the lane, not staying true to his/her position, all the scoots behind must re-adjust to maintain the staggered positioning. Which is why, if you are, say, the third scooter in a group ride, and you’re moving back and forth across the lane mindlessly, you’re gonna cause the folks behind you to get upset. Any extra movement for the whole group to make adds more opportunity for stupid things to happen. So don’t be “that person.” Pay attention and stay in position.
When stopping, pull along side your lane “partner.” He/she is probably pretty cool to talk to! When going, whomever of you was in front again takes the front. If turning onto a cross road, keep the same position.
Are there times we ride single file? Yes! This is up to the Ride Leader to determine if necessary. He/she will give the signal to get into single file if needed (see the next blog “Hand Signals”). Winding, narrow roads are such a time. Roads where visibility may be compromised is another. Rides requiring multiple turns in short order should be in single file. Drastic hills up or down as well. Remember to leave plenty of room between you and the scooter in front!
Next blog: Hand signals. We are amazingly adept at communicating with our hands, so we’ll use them.
Debbie Swanson, our Safety Officer, will provide safety tips and links from time to time. Debbie has been riding for over 10 years and was also an instructor for Master Drive for 12 years. She is a card carrying member of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation...so listen up and stay safe!