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The Kat (Long Read)
Adventures in Engineering: The Kat
Well, I suppose as I have all the courses done for upgrading, I can share my “Best job I ever had,” to quote the movie Fury. I have only a few pictures so this will be type heavy.
Quick background on myself. I’m a Marine Engineer, acquired my license in 2013. Currently I hold around 20 Canadian marine licenses, certificates and endorsements recognised by the IMO (so I can not only sail on vessels anywhere in Canada or North America, but anywhere in the world if I want). As of now, I hold all certification to apply for a Senior Watchkeeping Licence. This includes advanced certificates in Passenger, Oil Tanker, and LNG Vessels.
The most relatable reference is Scotty from Star Trek. He is stereotypically based on Chief Marine Engineers of vessels in the 60’s (even down to many of them being Scotsman), many of his problems on the show are based on malfunctions engineers have encountered on vessels.
Everything you’re about to read is from my recollection. It is not 2nd hand, exaggerated or embellished for the sake of storytelling.
The company, and all names have been changed or withheld for the sake of liability.
60 Days on The Kat
The Summer of 2014 I spent up in the Arctic onboard a vessel (which was an interesting contract in its own right). The contract was roughly 70 days and I departed in mid-October. I was called a few weeks later by the company to serve on a vessel I’ll refer to as “The Kat”. While I wasn’t too happy not having more time off, I accepted as I needed money to pay off school.
The Kat was built in the early 60’s. A tradition bulk carrier about 400’ft long and with 8000 tonnes of displacement. It had a 5 cylinder 2-Stroke Slow Speed Diesel with about 3800shp and was engine room control (with the old Titanic like telegraph system). 3 naturally aspirated diesel Generators with about 300bhp a pop, and they were actual generators as The Kat was completely DC electric off a 480V main switchboard (as opposed to every commercial ship past 1970 that is Alternator and 3-phase AC).
The Kat electrical switchboard. Yeah, real Frankenstein shit...
I joined The Kat early November, as she was passing through Montreal on the way to a port near St. John’s Newfoundland. It raised my eyebrows when they told me this, it’s not typical to take something over 50 years old out of the St. Lawrence River Seaway and the Great Lakes. Apparently, there was some grandfathering bullshit scheming that had taken place.
I think the 2nd day I was woken up 2h before my watch to clean the sewage treatment unit. To be fair it wasn’t the worst. I got bundled up in disposable coveralls, wore a respirator and googles, popped the lid off and let it have it with a fire hose. Apparently, it was some new engineer ritual they had; I was more pissed that I didn’t get all my sleep than the actual work.
As we left the river is started to get rough, typical late fall storm for the North East. The new oiler on the 3rd Engineers watch before me on the 4-8 couldn’t hack it. He spent his time hugging the garbage can the entire 4h. 12h later we were in the thick of it, my watch handover with the 3rd was and I quote “If she lists over really hard, grab the life jackets over there and head topside. Don’t bother with the bilge pumps trying to save the ship.”
We eventually reached the port to discharge cargo without sinking. I learned the wonders of the DC electrics and incandescent lights. They told me to remove the fuses for the lines I was working on, naturally I tried to cheat and didn’t. I tried to remove a shattered bulb underneath the scavenge box (engine intake manifold). It shorted which resulted in a big bright flash and then all the section lights were out. Now I’d have to find and replace the fuse I’d blown.
About a week after joining, I came down on watch to find the 3rd Engineer replacing a head on one of the generator engines. There was a hairline crack internally from the valve seat. He told me that the guy I had relieved had been the 3rd engineer and the Chief had kicked him and his oiler off after 2 weeks because they had left rags in the Generator engine oil sump after completing an oil change. Notice how rags is plural, yeah that confused me too. Why the negligence? I’ll never know. He also mentioned that he was getting off soon and doing all the maintenance as to make it easier for me as I would be bumped up to 3rd.
The 3rd left a week later at the Welland Canal while we steamed to Ohio and load. I spent 6h dealing with the telegraph and at the controls of the main engine as we went through the locks. The 2nd Engineer and I would be doing 12h days to help the new 4th Andy get familiarized with The Kat. Andy graduated the same school as myself, but 2 years ahead. We’re the same age, and today he’s my best friend. Andy also tried to short cut The Kats electricals one day trying to replace a halogen on deck. He thought he had the right fuse but didn’t meter the light for power. Threw in the new halogen with the plastic wrapper which lit up and caught fire, then attempting to put it out almost caught his rag on fire.
The next few weeks didn’t have too many calamities. We got extremely behind with the discharge and loading at ports though with their equipment failures. Something like 17 days behind. At some point the oilers with the 2nd and Andy cleaned the scavenge space (inlet manifold) of the main engine without me. The problems began after we left Wisconsin mid-December for another trip to St. Johns.
The Descent into Chaos
On Lake Erie the bridge lost Autopilot for the steering. So, we rigged up a bunch of industrial portable fans to blow on the motor and receivers. If they lost it again, it usually meant a circuit fuse for one of the fans had gone or a goof had turned it off.
One of the worst things about being on the vessels at this time is the Christmas rumours. It’s almost always started by a deckhand or mate about how the vessel might cancel a trip be tied up before Christmas. Typically, the Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway begin to freeze up at the end of December stopping the sailing season for the Lakes. Talk like this drive people nuts because it changes every day and they’re always wrong. On top of this, shit was about to get REAL.
Christmas on The Kat
We had to receive diesel fuel due to low level with our subsequent delays. It was so low the Chief was forced to take it in the Welland Canal as we passed through back to load cargo at Montreal for St. John’s. While maneuvering at the lock to get alongside the Capt. backed into the lock wall HARD. We took the fuel and went on our merry way. In Canada we don’t really do fuel quality checks. We sort of expect that the fuel is good… Not this time.
We do a fuel transfer for about an hour a day, it’s done through a centrifugal fuel purifier from a very large storage tank where we receive the fuel to a smaller day tank which supplies the boiler and generators. It was after the transfer the next day the problems hit. First was the boiler; flame out, would not re-fire around 6pm. Plugged fuel filters at the burner about 1/2 way through maintenance schedule. With the filters replace it fired… For an hour. It did this all night. I changed boiler filters 4 or 5 times. We had a diesel bucket to try and wash out the sediment accumulation from the pleats as we didn’t have an infinite supply of new filters.
Naturally the 2nd Engineer suspected we got shit fuel, so he began draining the receiving diesel fuel tank. He had something like 27 5gal buckets of straight water, so 500L of water when I came down. The real problem was the sediment though, it was our real nemesis at the moment. The centrifugal fuel purifier from the 60’s was useless and couldn’t deal with it. It was basically down to the local equipment filters. When we exited Lake Ontario into the Seaway a few days later I believe the boiler filters were being changed daily (usual was every 2mo) and my generators would last 100h running (or 4 days) or they fuel starved (I almost blacked out the boat when I forgot it was time and the lights started to dim). The chief ordered something like 120 fuel filter cartridges from NAPA Auto Parts.
My oiler got off in Montreal just before Christmas as we waited until the 27th to emergency load. He was from the Philippines and spoke almost no English. He was replaced by a guy from Senegal… He spoke NO English; zero, zip. In fact, the only one in the engine room staff that spoke French was the Chief. There I was, a 25yo punk on a dying 50yo ship teaching the oiler his job via Charades. And it got worse, MUCH worse.
We then lost the boiler feed water pumps (what fills the boiler with water). Apparently, the boiler upgrades had run both pumps through a single contactor (essentially a large relay) for the water level control and turning them both on, and having them start and run at the same time smoked it. The temporary solution was to draw 240V from the sewage unit with a power cable and the oilers would have to watch the water level and manually start and stop one of the feed pumps. I still remember bringing Andy down and we both laughed at the ridiculousness of some jank draped power cable to power a pump. Shutting down the boiler is not an option as we burned heavy fuel oil (basically just above tar) underway and need the fuel system hot or else the fuel solidifies in the tanks.
We left again for St. Johns and would arrive there just before the New Year, still dealing with fuel contamination and the boiler pump problem. We were lucky that it was still relatively warm as we travelled down the river. We hit another storm off the cape that was even worse than the first one. There were a couple times the chair and I went sliding a good 15ft across the deck (and then back another 20ft usually) from the console.
I noticed that one of my generator engines was losing oil pressure after about an hour of running. I did the rudimentary viscosity test and it was better than the others but still opted to see if I could bring it above alarm with fresh oil and new oil filters. The oiler and I found some more rags in the sump, the mix of rage and disgust when I told the Chief this was notable. Neither the rags nor the oil was the problem, nor was the oil pump as we replaced it the next day. Even with the rockers and covers off I could not find any abnormal oil seepage from the top end head galleries for the rockers or mid covers for cam bushings. The engine was just really, really worn.
I did some work on the main air compressor but screwed up on the copper head seal, so we were down a compressor for a little bit while I sorted out a “used but good” seal. The previous 3rd had told me not to touch it, but I was a young idiot.
New Year partying would have the cook get plastered in downtown St. John’s and call the Capt. at 2am because he didn’t know how to get back to the ship. That didn’t go over too well as you might imagine. An electrician came and looked at what had happened to the boiler contactor and fixed it for us so that went back to automatic water level control. We would leave a few days later, back into the shit weather. I remember we tried to make anchor during my watch and having to re-fire and find another shelter because we were dragging.
Old Man Winter Wakes Up
Heading back to Quebec though would have temperatures snap and plunge well below freezing at the start of the year. I woke up to the sound of Andy outside my cabin on deck. The deck officer’s crapper pipe from the 2nd deck (which for some reason ran outside the superstructure) had frozen at -9C /16F and he was trying to heat the pipe with the tiger torch to no avail.
The 2nd warned me going from the salty gulf into the fresh water river that we might lose the cooling on the generators due to ice slush accumulation in the sea chest filters blocking flow. I would have about 5min to swap the cooling system from the normal seawater flow to a loop from the aft peak water ballast tank. 14h later it did come into alarm. I managed to get the suction from the aft peak tank but I had traced the wrong valves for the discharge to loop it, so it went overboard instead of re-circulation. The water ran out of the aft peak right as the 2nd engineer relieved me at midnight. He sorted it out but that was 100% my bad, I really thought I had it lined up right.
Winter is where the deck crew becomes envious us with the warmer engine room, a curse in the summer but a blessing in the winter. It got even colder and The Kat had basically no accommodation heat. It did, it just wasn’t at all effective. I was sleeping in a winter hoodie (with the hood up and tied) 3 pairs of socks and all the clothing I had on top of my blankets. Getting changed was a brisk 10s affair. I believe it was now about -15C/5F and there was ice traveling down the St. Lawrence as we were trying to make Montreal. We we’re lucky in that the fuel sediment issues were now mostly resolved.
Andy closed the engine room air inlets one day at 2am because the cold night winter air was freezing the pressure line from the boiler to the pressure sensor and causing false alarms. While this solved the boiler issue it caused the fire detection system to go off due to all the exhaust leaks in the engine room and the alarm rang for the whole ship.
Freeze! Stop Right There!
I would wake up one morning to both the 2nd Engineer and Andy downstairs when I started my watch. We were having main engine cooling issues this time, which seems counter intuitive when the outside temperature is getting near 0F. We were still underway so I took the console for engine control and asked them what they were up to. They wanted to switch flow to the other strainer and pop open the current sea strainer and check for ice and blockage, despite the sea water pump pressure being good. I figured it wasn’t the problem but clearly there was no flow. Strainer was clear so the block was down the line. Next suspect was the sea water overboard valve or water discharge port had iced up as we continued into fresher water up river. They went at it with the tiger torch and sledge hammers. The chief came down at this point. At I think we had to shut down and anchor in the river as the oil temperature climbed.
Time got really weird at this point at the end of the first week of January. We gave up the 4h watches and I think I was downstairs for 16h straight. Andy and the 2nd Engineer were putting in similar times. The Chief was down for hours too. Only the oilers were doing their 4h watches. The ice had built up around us so with myself at the controls and the chief beside we tried to dislodge but we still had little to no main engine sea water cooling flow. The bridge would ring down full ahead, I would match. 25% rack, start air ahead for 5-6s, the big engine would catch, jump straight to 50% rack, and then slowly wheel up to 70% redline as the turbo would need time to spool and we wouldn’t “roll coal” too much, the blowers could handle 50% hence the jump. The RPM would stay low as the vessel could not power out and the oil temperature would rapidly climb over the course of just a few minutes. It would take us about an hour for the oil temperature come down and to try again. We tried 3 times during the day with no success in breaking through.
We called for tug assist at this point to keep us on station and I stayed down during the night as the other 2 had been up longer than me. I remember noticing the tug around 10pm. It had a vibration and noise that I could hear and feel through the hull. I don’t remember the hour when I was relieved, sometime in the early am.
I would wake up and come down to the vessel still stuck. We were still a good 4h sail away from Quebec City, let alone Montreal. The Chief came down shortly. Round 2… I’m not sure what they did (if anything the temperature outside may have slightly warmed) but the main seawater cooling flow had been restored. The Chief and the Capt. talked for a bit on the phone and we gave it another try. Exact same as before alternating between ahead and astern spins but not having to wait for oil temperature. Still no breakthrough. The chief gets another phone call and heads upstairs.
The Cost of Freedom is Always High
I’ll go back a few years to what one of our instructors said to us “One day, each one of you will have to run an engine to destruction to get out a situation”. The Kat had a tired engine, it already had a minor cylinder liner crack was leaking cylinder oil into the cooling water. The oilers would have to skim a little bit of oil off the top of the coolant tank each day. Redline (like an actually drawn red line) was 70% rack. The chief came down the stairs some 10min later.
Chief: “I talked to the Superintendent. We have to get out of the ice at all costs”
Me: “We’re going over 70% rack?” I asked that knowing it could be rhetorical.
As such, he didn’t verbalise yes. His look was enough for me to know.
There’s that scene in Star Trek where they have to eject and light off the dilithium core to escape a black hole… While not as dramatic as that external combustion, we would in essence be doing an engine sacrifice to escape.
I remember sitting there in those minutes waiting for the telegraph to move from engine standby to full ahead. Knowing that the Chief and I with near certainty were about to condemn the ship to scrap. It’s a hard feeling to explain; sitting at the front of huge lumps of iron that achieved the size of an urban two-story single unit town home, knowing that with a few movements of my arms and hands I would begin the injection of its death sentence.
Engine Room Telegraph of The Kat
The telegraph bell tolls and the needle swings to full ahead. I look over at the chief, he nods. Full Ahead. Match Telegraph in Acknowledge. 25% rack, start air ahead for 5-6s, the engine catches, jump straight to 50% rack, and then slowly wheel up to 70% redline. We’re still not making any advance. I look again at the chief. Non-verbally; Your rack chief, your honours. He nods again and begins to wheel up past the redline. At 85% the aft of ship where we are started to bounce up and down. He stopped at 95% and over the course of maybe 20s we began to see the RPM climb which meant the vessel was starting to make headway. Another 20s and he wheels back down to 70%. We begin the few hours journey to Quebec City. We found that while the main engine cooling was now okay, the main engine charge air cooler now had a seawater flow issue. I was trying to balance the inlet temperature by pulling back a bit and this annoyed the Capt. I was relieved about 1.5h from docking in Quebec City.
I woke up the next day with a huge amount of relief. The last day on the boat. Get the paperwork signed, eat something, and be off on the jet in the afternoon back home that night. The 2nd was carrying on tasks for winter layup and asked Andy and I to do some. I did them but really didn’t see much point other than busy work considering the vessel was finished. One of the cooks found me and said there was “a huge steam leak in the crew mess bathroom”. Really the hot water line for the sink had cracked so it was simply a matter of turning off the water valve inside the impromptu sauna. Andy told me that instead of a skim there was about 4” of oil sitting on top of the cooling water when he went down in the morning. We had definitely destroyed the liner. With this being the last engine of the type in the world and no spares: le fin.
Around 1:30pm Andy and I left The Kat and took a cab to the Airport. We had a couple hours to kill. I had some 30 app updates to power through on the free WiFi and we had a couple rightly deserved beers for the last few weeks of tribulation. Like tired soldiers we now reminisced at the whole surrealist nature of the various and very serious situations. “Hey, remember when I showed you that janky cord from the sewage unit to the feed water pump the 2nd rigged up?” We started to laugh. “Yeah but dude, your oiler didn’t speak a word of English! Like how did that even work?” “Oh BTW, the 2nd Mate always told me that the lifeboat engine was good so we never started it weekly. Probably a good thing nothing bad happened…” We both broke out in hysterical laughter at a small table in Quebec City Jean Lesage International Airport.
That was indeed the last of The Kat. It was sold and scrapped within 2 years. The salvage company that bought it found my resume online (geee, wonder why I left…) and expressed a cheerful interest if I would be willing to sail it across the Atlantic. I declined politely but my head went something like “They’re going to sail it? Lord help them, that thing should be towed”. I told Andy and he thought we should do it, until I reminded him of all the shit you just read. A month or so passed and Andy actually knew someone that took the contract and they sent him some tidbits and a video. Underway, one of the main air compressors grenade-ed and the generator engine that had low oil pressure had seized. They were unable to run the bilge system oily water separator (with us, only the 2nd knew the tricks). The video Andy got and sent to me was the flywheel of the great engine churning up and slinging the water-oil emulsion accumulating on the tank top (floor) of the engine room as they were unable to separate the oil and pump clean water overboard. I believe I made a good call to skip that one.
That Oppo is the story of 60 days on “The Kat”.
I saw some cool things this evening.
This really sweet JL Wrangler Willys.
And this really sweet dog!
Yes, @CarsOfFortLangley and I had a few brews and many laughs. Targa was better behaved than me. Super excited to see more of this rig, especially in the wild and post ‘rona.
Life is an adventure and while there’s gullies there’s also peaks.
Joining the Motorcycle Cult [Long Read]
Picture from our own @Chariotoflove
Joining the Motorcycle Cult
I had originally started writing this in November of last year then mothballed it. Seeing as we have a few Oppos either enrolled for classes or considering starting riding I’ve dusted it off and gathered some photos. I’ll see how this is received; the document stands over 7000 words currently which is well past an acceptable long read.
I’m not head honcho of riding, but I hope this provides some comprehensive stuff. We have some serious riders here on Oppo. I have no doubt that collectively we have enough knowledge between us to slap the moto content you find on the various car blogs. Anything you want to know, one of us will have the answer.
Every rider has a story. Each of those stories are individually bespoke with a common goal of motorized travel on 2-wheels. If you’ve ever wonder what makes one of us psychopaths tick, here is my story…
Motorcycling by all available statistics is dangerous. Everyone knows a rider who’s gone down, received injured, or ultimately passed away. By every account this makes as much sense as skydiving out of a plane now that wind tunnels exist. How much of a risk is it? Does it justify the reward? Well, I hope you’ll read through this of my personal journey from complete disinterest to riding as my primary means of transportation.
The Lead Up to 2017
I have a very distinct memory around my early teen years of my mother enquiring “You’ll never get a motorcycle, right?” “No”, I replied. I had a vested interest in cars and not a single member of my family on both sides had ever owned a motorcycle. A few years later I’m at my buddy’s place, his father is a rider and vested in following MotoGP. I remember seeing 2 models of Ducati 996’s on the mantle. “Those Ducati’s are such beautiful bikes…” I remarked. My friend turned to me “You know bikes?” he enquired with a slightly incredulous tone. “Well, no, not really. I know those are Ducati’s though”.
When it was finally time to start driving a few of my friends also opted to get motorcycle licenses. Knowing how much I was into cars there was more than a few teenage remarks along the lines of “You should get a bike”, I resisted. One lazy afternoon I hanging with my buddy when he received a phone call. “Shit, that was Warren. Jay crashed his bike. He’s just got bumps and bruises but the bike is down an embankment. I’m going to get my dad and we’ll head down there in the pickup”. 30 Minutes later we come across the scene. Just after the exit of a tight right hander somehow the Kawasaki had ended up hoping the curb to the right like it hadn’t stopped turning and crashed through the brush missing some smaller trees. Jay was okay physically, but mentally he was shattered. I would join Jay in some of the repairs to the Ninja 250r which he would shortly sell. He hasn’t ridden since.
My thoughts never really drift too far for the better part of a decade. However during that time the very essence of performance driving began to change. As the world exited the 00’s, cars were becoming more automated and expensive. Flappy Paddle Ferrari Tech began trickling down. Inefficient slush boxes changed into clutched fast changing wonder transmissions and began overtaking manuals. Stick was no longer required to drive many of the fastest road cars.
Sometime in early 2017 I began having thoughts about the auto industry in its direction towards the future. Rumors would swirl about how vehicle X, Y or Z would not offer a manual. With Vancouver’s prime money laundry haven, seeing brand new supercars was not this ultra-rare event anymore like it was when I was a kid. Beverly Hills North had its fair share of University Students with cars in the 6 figures. My feelings stewed; I entertained an option. What was entertained then became consideration. What was considered was a trial of two-wheels. Some of my co-workers rode, they could help.
On a graveyard shift some 5h into work on a slow day I sat down to the big smart screen in the control room. My Co-Worked had fired up an older race of MotoGP. I don’t remember the details but it was early 10’s if I had to guess. I’m a fan of racing but this was something else. I remember watching the race leader tires fall off and seeing 2nd place chomp tenths each lap from being a few seconds down. It was mesmerising, watching 2 men desperately pushing their machines, like how a lion chases down a gazelle. It looked dangerous, it looked fun.
Learning to Ride
The whole licensing saga began again despite having a decade of driving experience. A random spring day in 2017 I wandered down to the licensing center paid $15 and completed the multiple guess test for the learner motorcycle license. I then took a look at my awful work schedule and took a chance that they wouldn’t extend a stint. I chose the school with less instructional days  and was flexible on their road rides. The issue I would have is that I would be working the night of the first class from 10pm-5:30am and then the course would run from 8am to 3pm. Guess I’ll just nap in the car after work and soldier on.
The course will tell you if you need to bring your own gear or if it will be provided. The course I took provided; helmet, jacket, high vis vest and gloves to the students. Students were required to show up in normal jeans and shoes.
The pnw street menace in training
Credit: Lee Michael
If the course provides you the basic riding gear then I recommend buying your gear and motorcycle AFTER you complete the course. Why?
• The course should go over gear types and proper gear fitment. Proper gear fitment matters! Example: Having loose helmet won’t protect you well in a crash and too small a helmet will crush your head and give you a headache. Helmets will be tight (especially new) but they shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Loose fitting gear will wear you out in the wind and may have the impact padding twist out of place on a fall. I highly recommend local gear shops instead of ordering gear online. Local gear shops will assist you in fitment so you shouldn’t walk out with the wrong size. Don’t just toss on the gear for a couple minutes, ask them if you can walk around the store, if they have bikes check them out and even sit on some. Take a good 30min to make sure everything is to your liking, some day you may ride for hours. Keep in mind that more shop policy is that you can’t return gear after you take a ride (especially online).
• Some courses may give you a coupon for a shop to buy gear and you can also ask other riders/instructors (or join local groups) and find what shops give good deals. Most motorcycle gear shops are willing to give a good discount on a head to toe package, significantly better than what online has. The only deals that online have is for NOS stock they need to get rid of.
• Figure out what bike you want. This is the time to try a bunch of different bikes if you’re on the fence. You may not even get to ride your first bike until you’ve forked over cash (or at least have it with you). You will be able to figure out your skill level and comfort. Maybe you're fine to start on a 90bhp 450lb 650cc... I was, and I wouldn't have known had I not gotten on the 400cc Ducati Scrambler Sixty2 they had on the road ride.
• Crash their bike, not yours. You paid for the course, right? Learn riding mistakes on their bikes before you get yours.
Should you have to provide your own gear I’ll have a more comprehensive write up in a bit.
You won’t need earplugs for the parking lot drills but may consider them if you hit the road. Bring pen, pencil, notebook, lunch/snack and a water bottle. Anything weather dependent like sunscreen for sun or a warmer base layer if it’s raining or cold.
My class was 1/2 comprised with younger commercial pilots. There was also an amateur comedian and the others such as myself. The classroom portion would run until lunch. Very generic here is a motorcycle, here’s why it dangerous, this is how to be safer, here's what to check before you ride. The school had various beat-up Hondas of different styles to bash around the parking lot: Rebels [cruiser], Groms [standard], CBR125s [“sport”], CRF250s [off-road]. I would stick with the Grom for the 3 days. The first noticeable thing is that even these small motorcycles are much heavier than a typical bicycle at a couple hundred pounds. Heavier to push around, heavier to catch when they begin tipping over.
The modern motorcycle is relatively simple control layout: Go and stop things are the right appendages. Transmission, kickstand, lights and horn are on the left appendages:
The brakes are on our right (right hand lever for front brake, right foot pedal for rear brake)
Right pedal for rear brake
The right grip is the throttle.
The right-hand switches are typically the engine starter button and the engine kill switch
Right Hand Controls: Killswitch, Starter Button and Throttle Grip
The transmission controls are on our left appendages (left hand lever for clutch, left foot for shifter gear lever). Street bikes use a tap down for downshift and raise up for upshift (race/track bikes are reversed). The motorcycle sequential transmission is usually setup 1-N-2-3-4-5-6. To find neutral you just tap all the way down to 1st gear and then half raise the shifter (finding neutral can be easy or difficult depending on the bike). Neutral also comes lit up as a Green N on the gauge cluster.
Kickstand is on the left below the gear shift lever. Some are easier than others to find swing down (I don’t even have to look at mine).
Left Foot Gear Shift Lever and Kickstand
The left-hand switches are typically the horn, high beam/low beam and turn signals (unless it’s a Harley, they have turn signal button on both hand switch sides). Most motorcycles do not have self-cancelling turn signals. After you turn, you have to cancel them (usually just pushing in the signal stalk).
Left Hand Controls: Horn, High/Low Beam, Turn Signals, Hazard Lights
Those are the basics. Modern bikes can have a lot more buttons and switches; hazard lights (shown), flash to pass, cruise control, bike setup interface (ABS, TC, Anti-Wheelie, Anti-Stoppie, Engine Modes, Riding Modes, Suspension Modes), radio controls. Quick-shifter (shift without clutch lever underway both up and downshifts). Many are going keyless like cars with fobs.
First practice session would be pushing and being pushed and practicing pulling in the clutch lever and stopping with the engine dead. Next would be finding the friction point a few times. Both of these are to stop the odd occurrence of the newbie whisky throttle and frozen with fear.
Why you take a course:
Then it was really as simple as riding around the parking lot, getting used to the controls and building muscle memory like how much throttle and how to let out the clutch smoothly. Emergency braking drills, balance drills, turning drills, braking in turn drills, shifting followed. Then some practice for the parking lot test which if passed would bump me up from learning rider to the new rider portion of the licensing and removes the ride with supervision restriction.
The course was informative and fun to go through. I won the slowest drag race and also got scolded for riding the Grom too fast during a drill. There was lots of time to practice and I passed without any issue.
Tips for new riders in the course:
The thing is to HAVE FUN, the rest below is just stuff to think about.
Be SMOOTH. Smooth with the throttle, smooth and slow with the clutch lever, smooth with the handle bars to make the turn, and smooth with applying the brakes. If you’re stalling a bunch; take a breath, calm down, get the rpm up, and go slower with the clutch lever.
Avoid using the front brake while turning sharply at low speeds (this is how the vast majority of new riders drop a bike). If you need to stop while turning; straighten the front wheel then use the front brake. After a month of road riding you should get comfortable using the rear brake which is preferable to use in low-speed maneuvering.
Keep your head up and look where you want to ride. Don’t look at your feet, the gauges, the hand controls, the cones or the other riders while underway. The farther you look ahead the better your mind processes to keep your balance at slow speed, you will eventually develop a 1000-yard stare. Going to make a U-Turn? You’re going to look behind you and turn through your look.
Reserve power: Most motorcycles have a wet clutch system so they can take more clutch slipping abuse than a car, learn the friction zone and use it. When attempting to ride very slow keep the rpm up 2-3k rpm when you have the clutch pulled in (it’s your reserve power). Doing this allows you to ride very slow and not risk stalling the bike and potentially dropping it. When the bike starts to lean you just need to gently blip the clutch and it stands right back up.
Double tap down. Haven’t used your left foot by driving auto for a while? You will now! When you come to a stop you must make a habit of downshifting into 1st gear and confirming. Doing an emergency stop at speed will fluster you by having to work all your hands and feet in different movements and pressures. However, you need to be ready to jet when you stop in case someone is unable to behind you shortly. I double tap down even when I know I’m in 1st gear, it’s muscle memory when I pull in the clutch at low speed.
Left Foot Landing: Street riding we start and stop on our left foot, try to adopt this in the lot. Before setting off in gear you should have your foot in a comfortable but slightly ahead position. The first few times you move under power you will try to walk out, that’s normal when beginning. After a short while it will feel natural to walk through and bring up to the foot peg on roll out in one motion, you don’t need to push off with your foot: you have a motor and the bike will stand up with little speed. When you get to stop uphill it’s best to use your right foot on the rear brake as you can set off buttery with no roll back. It’s easier to use the throttle without dickering with the front brake doing some weird reverse rev match thing to start off. I personally stop using the rear brake so I never land on my right foot. If I’m safe at a long traffic light I’ll kick up to neutral by just shifting right and then back to left, when the light changes, I shift right to kick down then back to left and set off. Same with the kickstand.
Don’t forget your kickstand… I’ve seen even seasoned riders drop their bikes when just parked. Also, if you forget the kickstand when you’re about to take off most newer bikes have a stand sensor that kills the engine when you go into gear. It will make you will look like a scrub. The first thing I do after mounting is to get the kickstand up (my brain then is always conditioned to know than when I’m on, the stand is up and so I don’t ever forget to put it down either). Hop on and off the bike only when it’s supported on a stand.
Use the key to turn off the motorcycle instead of the kill switch. Using the kill switch is pretty cool until you forget the key and have a dead battery because the lights stay on, then you’re a dork. I see students leave the lights on every class and get scolded.
Don’t put the schools helmets on the motorcycle. The school should have tables to rest your helmet when you're not wearing or carrying it. Helmets are one time drop, you hear it go crack; it's done. When you buy your own for a few hundred (or thousand) dollars you're free to risk dropping it however you please. I do put mine on the right mirror/bar end, it's the only place on the bike I risk when it's on the side stand outside of locking it to the bike.
Motorcycles feel better with speed due to the gyroscopic effect and the weight. If you’re having issues doing something like a slalom you may be going a little too slow.
Avoid locking up the front wheel if the bike doesn’t have ABS, most times you’ll low side it at speed doing this in an emergency stab (they give you so much room to stop in the stopping drill you don’t need to push the limit), remember: be smooth.
If you lock the back wheel in the lot keep it locked until stopped. Usually your speed is low enough that you won’t get tossed into a high side in the lot if you let up. If your new and at street speeds when you let up backing it in, this can happen.
Steering: Most of your parking lot drills will have you slow so that you turn the bars in the direction of the turn. However around 15-20mph/25-30kph and above you corner the bike by turning the bars the opposite direction and counter steering making the bike lean. Seems weird? Don’t worry your brain will sort this out subconsciously.
The BC parking lot tests consists of 4 parts:
Things you may not know:
• New riders are used to the front brake as habit from riding a bicycle. The rear brake pedal feels unnatural to use.
• Brand new riders tend to drop bikes at low speeds [under 5mph], and many times it’s because they excessively grab the front brake while turning coming to a stop, using the rear brake is more stable for very low speed turns. The next likely would be stalling the bike by riding slow and not having reserve power. It can also sometimes be a smaller rider if they’re on a heavy bike with a taller seat height. Unable to have both feet on the ground means they might be unable to catch the bike shifting to a side.
• We are initially very perceptive to the bike leaning and it feels unnatural. Rather small lean angles feel like the bike is about to hit the deck to a new rider.
• Riders are all different in their braking preferences and application between front and rear brakes in normal circumstances. Front brake has significantly more stopping power than the rear brake.
• Riders have a dominant turn. I personally feel better making right turns, I feel much more comfortable hanging off in them too. MotoGP rider Marc Marquez is dominant on left turns.
• “Look where you want to go”. Rather simple but it’s true. There are many crashes where the rider gets spooked into tunnel vision and put themselves into the roadside, curb, car etc. when they could have swerved or turned. Whenever you see a motorcyclist in a turn their head is always yawed compared to the bike.
• If you ever see a helmet on the ground distanced from the bikes back tire (roughly 10ft) it’s the international rider in distress sign. This means someone needs help; usually the bike has a flat, is broken, or out of fuel. However, it could also be medical (say a riding pair and one rider crashes). If I see a rider parked in a weird spot I’ll usually flash a thumbs up to see if they’re okay.
• Like Porsche and Jeep owners we (well most of us) wave at each other with our left hand in passing because we’re a cult. Typically it's in the peace/2 sign. While usually more of a greeting we also use it to signal clear road ahead. Tapping the helmet in passing means that there is an issue ahead (usually for police or speed traps, but it could be anything that you deem the other rider needs to slow down and increase vigilance), police ahead can also be the lasso/rotating hand motion. Debris on road is a foot stabbing in direction. Within lane position change is a single foot kick in direction of move. There's many others too.
Thank you for reading!
If you would like to read more, comment and let me know.
Latest posts made by Exage03040
RE: I don't like change. I don't like other people working on my stuff.
I'm that crazy pedantic asshole that uses a torque wrench to the factory specs on the drain plug and oil filters. I also do all the fluid changes on the car and moto anyways.
RE: What’s for dinner Oppo?
I made chili, then had a migraine and went to bed as I was finishing it, and since I'm back up and don't completely feel like vomiting I'm reheating it in the microwave.
Ouch, definitely what I'd make if my head was hurting though. Such a solid easy food to get cooking.
RE: What’s for dinner Oppo?
@exage03040 What's in the calzone? Looks good.
I made pork schnitzel, fried potatoes and cucumber salad.
Ohhh that looks like solid eats!
It's actually the rest of the Hawaiian stuff from yesterday. I guess technically it's a big pizza pocket instead but that doesn't work as well with Xpolosion.
RE: What’s for dinner Oppo?
@exage03040 do you use a bit of egg to seal the edges?
We had cabbage rolls and an apple salad. Now I’m going to do some lapping for this months simracing challenge....which is a bit of a grind, this one.
Nice! I'll have some fruit for dessert I guess.
I haven't tried that, give it a whirl. I'm dubious if it'll hold with that too though.