Archive for April, 2008

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Can a Ninja 250 Handle Freeway Speeds?

Friday, April 25th, 2008

abr0247 answers this common question:

This performance is consistent with what I’m seeing on my Ninjette.

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Riding with the Patriot Guard

Friday, April 18th, 2008

pgr logo

People talk about grass roots organizations. I’ve never heard of an organization that rose more from the grass roots than the Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) .

When casualties started coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq there were some ‘protesters’ who started invading military funerals, performing highly offensive animal acts intended to disrupt the services.   I have no idea what would motivate people to behave in such an evil manner.  I can’t see into the black hearts of these ‘protesters’, but in the end their motivation doesn’t matter, it is their actions that count.

Whatever the true motivations of the ‘protesters’, people all over the country were appalled. A group of motorcycle riders in Kansas decided that enough was enough. I suspect many of these riders were Viet Nam era vets who remembered the shameful way many of them were treated when they came home.

Rather than waiting for ‘they’ to ‘do something’, these riders took it upon themselves to act. They started attending military funerals, forming a line of individuals holding American flags, blocking the view of the ‘protesters’. These individuals did not confront the ‘protesters’, they just turned their backs to them, acting as a buffer for the friends and family of the fallen military member. Thus was born the Patriot Guard Riders. The PRG idea took root and soon there were PGR groups all over the country, supporting military families not only at funerals but at many other events.

On March 31 Sgt. Dayne D. Dhanoolal, of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division was killed by an explosive device in Iraq.

That’s how I found myself on my little Ninja 250 motorcycle pulling into the parking lot of a McDonald’s in Round Rock, Texas (near Austin) last Friday morning. It was my turn to show that one Texan cared about a fallen solider he would never meet.

The mission would be to ride with a group of Austin area PGR members to Killeen, about 55 miles north. There we would join other PGR groups from around Texas at the ‘staging area’ and proceed first to the Church where the funeral service was to be held, and then to the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery.

I’d received from the Austin area PGR mailing list a detailed email from the Ride Captain explaining where and when to meet for this mission. I noticed immediately that note said ‘KSU (kickstands up) 0925. Not 9:15, not 9:30, but 0925. They used military style time and implied a precision of +/- five minutes. I liked that.

When I was in the Air Force I was never a very ‘military’ military officer, if you know what I mean. But I was a navigator, precision planning was and is important to me. Even 14 years after retiring I sometimes get a little frustrated with my civilian friends and colleagues in the software business when things don’t happen at the advertised time. In the world of small software companies, anyway, a 9:30 meeting or event means that at 9:30 we start thinking about getting ready to have the event. It’s often closer to 9:45 or even 10 before anything productive happens at the ‘9:30′ event. There would never be anything in the small software world scheduled at 9:25.

So the 0925 scheduled KSU time was interesting to me.

I pulled into the parking lot a little before 9. There were several motorcycles there already. I have to admit that I wasn’t thinking high and lofty thoughts about duty, honor, and country at that moment. I was wondering how would I be received? Would I embarrass myself in some way on my bike? Could Baby Ninja keep up?

The PGR says they don’t care about what you drive or ride, but was that really true? The motorcycles I was seeing were all large cruisers, mostly Harley Davidsons and a couple of Gold Wings.  I was on a tiny Ninja 250 sport bike wearing not leather, but a Joe Rocket textile jacket. I was dressed more as a ‘Power Ranger’ rather than a ‘Pirate’. I was curious as to what kind of reception I might receive.

I had not had my helmet off for thirty seconds before I began to receive a warm and friendly welcome. The other riders made it a point to shake hands and introduce themselves. Many of the riders were older guys like me. They really didn’t care about my choice of motorcycle. I started to relax and feel at home. Not all PGR members are veterans, but if my experience is any guide they run their events with military precision.

I told the Ride Captain that this was my first mission, and asked him to tell me if I got out of line in some way. I told I thought my bike could hang in just fine as long as he kept in sight of the speed limit. He said he was sure I’d do fine and gave me a small PGR mission pin. He told me to take a position near the front of the group for the ride to Killeen. This surprised me, I though new guys were supposed to stay at the rear, but he was the Captain.

Just as they said in the email the Captain started to brief us on the mission at 0915. He covered the route, the staggered formation he wanted to ride. He wanted us fairly tight so we’d be less likely to be separated. He introduced the ‘tail gunner’ who would be the last rider in the group. At 0925 I put up my kickstand with the other dozen or so riders. I did have one little scare just as we pulled out, when I came closer to another rider than I’d like and I squeezed the front brake in a slight turn. That’s a good way to drop a bike, but thankfully Baby Ninja didn’t let me (literally) down.

The 55 mile run to Killeen was an interesting experience. The first half was on IH35, and we were doing the 70mph speed limit. Baby Ninja had no problem keeping up. At most all I had to do was drop to fifth gear a few times to give more than enough throttle authority to hold my position.

It’s hard to describe, but as we rode along I found myself becoming centered just the in the moment. Holding position, maintaining situation awareness, operating the machine became my world. I suppose the ride took about an hour, but it seemed to last only minutes. It was an interesting mental experience.

Before I knew we pulled in to a parking lot full of motorcycles, the staging area. I think there were close to a hundred riders. There was one other sport bike, a scooter, and the rest were cruisers or Gold Wings. People were milling around, checking out each other’s bikes, and visiting. After a few minutes we had another briefing, covering the details of the mission. The ride Captain stressed the importance of correct flag etiquette, going in to detail about how the handle the flags and how to behave while we had them.

We would first proceed a few blocks to the church where the service would be held. After the service we would escort the funeral party to the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery for the graveside ceremonies. At both location we would be issued flags on long metal poles and would form flag lines.

I wound up holding a flag, standing at attention near the entrance to the church. I think we stood there for about 45 minutes. PGR members were walking up and down the line offering water and offering to give us a break if we needed one. There was profound silence except for the sound of 80 waving flags.

I found it strange to be in a military style formation again, but also satisfying. My contribution was tiny, but at least I was doing something to show that the community and in particular the Dhanoolal family that someone cared, that Sgt Dhanoolal would not be forgotten.

We were relived from the first flag line, and asked to quietly form our bikes into an escort formation. We all stood at attention by our motorcycles as the funeral party left the church. We had law enforcement escort for the ride to the cemetery. I was again near the front of the formation. We wound up riding line abreast, which surprised me. I don’t recall this being briefed.

At the cemetery a PGR advance party had already set up a number of flags. We formed a semicircular flag line around the funeral party. The senior military officer, a brigadier general, went down our line shaking hands with each PGR member. I guess we were standing for about another 45 minutes, it’s hard for me to say, I was in some kind of meditation state for much of it. We stayed, standing at attention, until the family left.

On the way home I reflected that it had been a long time since I’d stood in a formation. I also reflected on how nice it would be to have highway pegs on my Ninja as my knees were pretty stiff.

I attended another service a few days latter. I plan to ride as many PGR missions as I can. I think these missions are very important on many levels.