1,000 Miles on the Rebel 500

March 24, 2018   rebel500

Sometime mid-commute Friday afternoon I turned over 1,000 miles on the Rebel 500. It's been a pretty fun 1,000 miles, a few hundred of which have gone to weekend backroad rides out to the Mt. Hood area or down to Estacada; the rest to my daily commute.

The Rebel arrived a little ahead of plan. I took the motorcycle safety course in late September then bought a Genuine Hooligan 170i the following week. I planned to ride the Hooligan until spring, then upgrade to some sort of cruiser that could handle highway travel once I'd gotten comfortable on a motorbike. Since we had a mild winter I moved the plan up a little and got the Rebel in mid-February instead. I had to suffer through one icy/snowy week, but I've been able to ride it every other day since.

What to say so far? In a lot of ways, it feels like an analog to the Hooligan: Both are at the deep end of the shallow end of their respective pools in terms of power and weight. The Hooligan is more powerful than the 150cc scooters it most resembles, and it uses that power to haul around a heavier frame and suspension. The Rebel feels closer in size to a 250 or 300, with a bigger engine tuned to remain accessible to beginning riders, like me.

Anyhow, I've put almost 3,000 miles on the Rebel and Hooligan since last September. Those miles have taught me a few things, and shaped my opinion in a few other ways.

First, people misjudge motorcycles and scooters, when they see them at all. People pull out in front of me all the time in a way they do not when I'm driving a car. I've read that a motorcycle coming straight on looks like it's moving slower than it is. People certainly drive like that's true. If I see a car getting ready to pull out of a parking spot, or stopped at a cross street, I cover the clutch, tap the foot brake to put cars behind me on notice, and do a little engine braking. I usually have to slow down or brake in those situations, because a lot of drivers decide to go for it. Same behavior when I'm approaching someone who might want to make a left turn in front of me. It's one of the most common causes of motorcycle accidents.

Second, people are generally not aware of motorcycles and scooters, and I've learned that having more power at my disposal really is a good thing. Sometimes a driver will come up on me in an adjacent lane and then settle in with me in their blind spot. If I can't figure out how to fade back, I speed up to get back in their field of view. Twice now I've seen cars swing into my lane as I'm getting out in front of them or moving over to a safe lane, and twice I've had to brake and fade back fast because I figured out they were coming for my lane. Worse, the horn didn't stop them. I saw them tense and scan around, and then decide in that half-second to just keep on going for it. Riding in traffic is a constant game of figuring out where the exits are from any of the potential situations I can see unfolding.

Third, I've come to despise people who use their phones while driving. Coupled with low awareness of motorcycles and poor judgment about them, that extra inattentiveness is really frightening. I actively work to escape people if I see people with a phone in their hand, treating proximity to them as a "when, not if" situation. I treat Washington plates or a visible map application on a mounted phone as a threat, too: Riding down 99E behind a driver during morning rush hour, especially one still in a center lane, head darting back and forth between their map app and the road, means there's a good chance of a panicked and aggressive play for a bridge lane.

Those three things add up to "make a bubble around you, maintain the bubble." The mere act of being on the road on two wheels means you're already in the hole in terms of personal safety.

Fourth, stuff that'd suck in a car could be fatal or deeply injurious on a bike. One foggy morning I was blinded by an oncoming car's headlights and I didn't spot the curb of a built-up pedestrian crossing island until I was nearly on it. A hard twist of the hips let me swerve around it, but it was close. With a car, skipping a wheel off of it would have been bad and possibly harmful to the tire. On my bike, I would have gone down.

I experience a little sense of displacement when I self-scan about this stuff. It hasn't been my MO over the past few decades to seek things like this out. But it's also satisfying to get out there and deal with it. Spotting an inattentive driver and handling them feels sort of like I felt the times I'd have minor parachute malfunctions. The training would take over, I'd fix the problem, and I'd run off the drop zone just fine. The price of that sense of satisfaction is constant vigilance.

But I love my commute. When I rode a bicycle to work there was never enough going on to demand my focus, and that led to some unproductive thinking time. I get less of that on a motorcycle: I can't get wrapped up in imaginary arguments, or overthinking a problem, or dwelling on a harm or grievance. I have to pay attention to exactly what I'm doing. Moments like appreciating the immensity and beauty of Mt. Hood as it comes into view around a bend are hard won, and briefly experienced before getting right back on task.

When I get into work after a ride, I feel more collected. At home, I've set up a little station in the garage and it's a good feeling to shrug out of my armor and put away my gear at the end of the day: I'm home.

Things is © 2015 Mike Hall.