Oct 31, 2016
"You'll never stop people from being drunks or from playing with electronic toys while they drive and nobody's ever gonna teach me how to ride or make me wear a helmet."
Actually, I know the solution to all three of those problems and so does NHTSA and DOT and all of the car manufacturers. How do you stop people from getting drunk, satisfying their cell phone addiction, playing with their makeup or shaving on the way to work, or keep them from crashing their motorcycles? Those are the wrong questions. The right questions are how do you get the first group out from behind the wheel and how do you get motorcycles off of the public's roads? Simple. You make cars that are smarter than the average driver.
That's not a particularly high bar to leap, if you think about it just a little bit. The average American driver imagines himself to be a NASCAR racer, drafting the car in front of him with less than a fraction of a second of safe margin at speeds that are best described as "terminal." From the vantage point of a motorcycle seat, where I get to see all sorts of clueless drivers, distracted to the point of unconsciousness behaviors, physics-disabled punks suffering from "the fast lane is mine" video game reality distortions, and motorcyclists and scooter pilots who have almost enough skill to get out of their own driveways uninjured but not nearly enough talent or intelligence to ride competently and safely. With typical reflexes, reacting to a hazard takes at least a second and, more likely, a couple of seconds before you've even decided what to do about a disaster unfolding in front of you at 70mph. At 70mph, you're traveling 108 feet/second. If you're tailgating at 50 feet when a wheel comes off of a truck in front of you or a blowout puts the car you were "drafting" into a spin, you are solidly entangled before you even think about applying the brakes. On a motorcycle, you're in the air wishing you'd worn a helmet before you can even touch the brake (probably the wrong one used poorly, if you do manage to slam on the brakes and toss your bike into a sliding "stop"). On average, there isn't enough driving talent on our highways to overwhelm the capabilities of a 1980's Z80 processor and a MS/DOS controlled text-based program. Mostly, the folks we're trusting our lives with on the freeways and country roads are unfit to pilot bicycles, if they could load their lard asses onto a bicycle seat without bursting the tires. With all of those facts in hand and with the motivation of "societal cost of crashes" estimated at $230 BILLION, there is more than enough incentive from all directions to do something about the solvable problems of the Big Three. The fact that the solution is likely to do some serious damage to the other 44% of highway deaths is just icing on the cake.
In TheKneeslider.com, Paul Crowe wrote an article titled "Riding Motorcycles Among the Robots - You're Going to Need A Transponder." He pipedreams, "The thought of blasting through that digital parade on your human controlled and non transponder equipped Electra Glide may no longer be an option." If only that were likely. Like most of the motorcycle industry, he avoids the question, "Why would highway planners make any accommodations for a vehicle that contributes less than 0.001% to commuter traffic but 15% of fatalities?" Do you seriously believe that Harley Davidson and Polaris have that kind of economic clout? Harley Davidson's whole product line amounted to $5.9B in 2013 sales. Polaris grossed about $4B in 2013 for all of their products combined and sold about $1B in Polaris and Indian motorcycles. Out of a $17 TRILLION GNP, that is pretty insignificant and if you include our 15% of the nation's "societal cost of crashes" that $5B is pretty overwhelmed by the $34B motorcycles crashes cost the country. Remind me, again, why should the 99% of society who don't ride motorcycles on a regular basis, or ever, care about our "right to the highway?"
If you don't think motorcycling's awful public image, our overrepresentation in highway injury statistics, or our low tech tendencies are a long term problem, you are not paying attention. The freight train of Change is blasting down history's tracks at revolutionary speeds. We are about to go from travelling by poorly manually piloted vehicles to a managed transportation system that makes decisions on a macro level, reducing traffic congestion, optimizing resource use, providing dramatic improvements in travel safety and efficiency, and transforms society as dramatically as giving up the horse-and-buggy did about 100 years ago. The only way motorcycles are going to get to play in this new sandbox is if we provide some value to transportation. Otherwise, the industry and population of users will resemble the tiny demographic that has clung to horses and horse sports since those animals were shuffled off of public streets. The trouble with being part of the solution to one of society's big problems is that you get swept up in a whole lot of things that are a lot bigger than you (or your industry). In manufacturing a rule of thumb is "the best way to idiot-proof a system is get the idiots out of the system." We are pretty tightly aligned with many of the idiots on the highway and we're going to get swept up with the drunks and distracted drivers when our transportation system evolves. The only way I see to avoid that is for motorcycling to move away from being part of an obvious solution to highway deaths.
Oct 20, 2016
PS: Yeah, I know I've linked this article before, but good things often require repeating.
Oct 17, 2016
All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day
On top of our all of our negative image problems, motorcyclists are often hoarders. Yeah, I know, it's a "collection." In my experience, there are two polar-opposite examples of collectors who own (and sometimes ride) dozens of motorcycles. The most obvious is the rich collector/archivist. Over my six decades, I have bumped into a couple of types who collect expensive motorcycles. One of those was the type who owns a sterile showroom that is neatly lined with perfectly restored bits of artwork, polished and oil-free to keep the hardwood floor spotless. At the more sane end of this type is a friend who buys incredibly expensive motorcycles in mediocre-to-good shape, restores them to better-than-factory finish, hangs on to them hoping the bikes' prices will go stratospheric, and tries to sell them for a medium fortune. Once he has the cash from the last bike in the bank, he starts all over again. He always has a dozen bikes in the supply chain, but everything is for sale at any time. This is the speculator variation on the rich guy collector. Maybe he should be called a "wannabe rich guy?" When the economy tanks, this guy will be among the "get rich on real estate' goofballs who lived large until the sky fell and, now, will be forced to get rid of his overpriced crap for what it is worth; nearly nothing. So far, he's avoided that disaster pretty deftly, though.
That about wraps up the interesting portion of the personalities of rich guy motorcycle collectors. Like most rich people, they're mostly boring.
However, the more common and most interesting (as in "weird") collections I have seen are garages and sheds full of marginally-fixable motorcycles in various states of disrepair and disassembly. Most of these guys are of the "all of this stuff is junk but if I sold it I'd just have more money but no junk" hoarder variety. Instead of carving paths through the old newspapers and cereal boxes, these packrats stuff their garages and barns full of half-reassembled semi-vintage crap, scavenged parts that will "someday" end up reinstalled on the vintage crap, more parts that can't even be identified, and boxes and piles of old motorcycle magazines and service manuals.
If you foolishly express an interest in some motorcycle in the hoard, you will end up risking your life using rock-climbing techniques to scale the heaps of junk to get a dim glimpse of a small bit of one of those bikes buried under a moldering tarp in some far corner of Squirrel Hell. It's best to act as ignorant and neutral as possible and get the hell out while you can still walk. If the hoarder is a Minnesotan, he'll be convinced he has millions dollars "invested" in his vintage crap and he's just waiting for Leno or the "What's in the Barn" guys to show up and make him rich. The Minnesota hoard-mating call is "If I can't get my price, I'd rather keep it." We've been here before (see A Seller's Market, MMM Winter 2005). The seller is serious. He won't sell for anything resembling a reasonable, realistic price. This is exactly the kind of guy who thinks a beat-up 1972 Kawasaki Z900 is worth a few thousand. You are not going to get a good deal from this dude, but you could waste hours listening to his crazed economic theories. You will also need a tetanus shot after you get back from exploring his "collection."
I have to admit, most of the collector thing eludes me. I am a big fan of "when in doubt, throw it out" (or sell it if it's still worth money). A garage is a place to store tools and other stuff and, most importantly, a place to keep your car and motorcycles out of the sun and bad weather. When the garage is stuffed with junk motorcycles, you can't get to the tools and you can't park the cage indoors. In my neighborhood, that means the cage's gas tank will be siphoned-off and, most likely, I'll have to buy a new car stereo and a window or two every summer. (Not really, but I could live in that kind of neighborhood. After all, that is my socio-economic bracket even if my neighborhood is a decent place.) Plus, I have always aspired to be able to move all of my stuff in one mid-sized U-Haul and my dream life would be living in a 30' camper traveling from one state or national park campground to the next, always a month ahead of cold weather.
I can't help but suspect some motorcycle collections are another bit of evidence that some guys can't commit to anything. Outside of racing, you seriously can't find one or two motorcycles that do everything you want to do on two wheels? Not that you're trying to do anything with that pile of rotted seats, hoses, and tires and the stacks of half-disassembled motors. It's just a hoard and the purpose of a hoard is . . . something non-motorcycle-related.
Oct 10, 2016
(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.)
I was exploring some of the dirt roads between St. Paul and Taylors Falls on a Saturday morning this past fall, when I had the occasion to come to a couple of emergency stops. The first time was after a short series of 15mph turns on a paved farm road, I was barely out of one of the turns when a large deer wandered into the road and stopped to observe my on-coming motorcycle. He was in the middle of my lane and, since a truck was coming the other direction, the only evasive maneuver available to me was a quick stop. I've read several reviews of my WR250X that implied that the brakes are "weak" or "mushy." I beg to differ. Maybe for a racer's tastes those descriptions are apt, but for my weekend warrior playbike purposes the WR stops just fine.
And it did.
A few years back, I managed to execute a similar maneuver at night on a mostly-empty highway on my 650 V-Strom. For the most part, that incident had a happy ending, too, other than getting me gore-coated when an opposite-direction pickup splattered the deer all over his truck, emptying the contents of the deer's bowels all over me in the process.
One of the best things about being a motorcycle instructor is that I have to demonstrate quick stops a few times every week and think about braking technique often enough to be able to explain and do it half-well. Too bad there wasn't anyone around to see this demo. I squared the bike up and laid into the brakes right up to the front wheel's limit of traction. I might have slid the back tire a little bit, but not much. The deer wandered off of the road, after getting his day's entertainment out of my emergency, the truck roared past without making any sort of adjustment, and I got the hell out of there and went back to playing around on the back roads.
A few miles further from that encounter-of-the-hoofed-kind, this time on a gravel farm road, I crested a hill and discovered a freakin' herd of deer parading across the road; big ones, middle sized ones, and at least a half-dozen little bitty Hell spawn Bambis. This time, I was moving a bit faster and hauling the bike down to stop took a bit more concentration. The road was slightly damp, covered with loose gravel and small rocks, and provided reasonable traction. No harm no foul or fawn.
After the four-hoofed crowd meandered from the road and I got back on the trail, I thought about how my two four-hoof experiences could have ended and how a police investigator might have evaluated the "evidence." When I read police reports of crashes, one of the bits of "evidence" they seem to use is the skid distance left by crashed vehicles. Supposedly, this is some sort of indication of how fast the vehicle was traveling. Using that useless data point, if I had hit the deer the cops would have claimed I "made no effort to stop." No skid marks, no braking? Seriously? I thought about this for a while after the last stop. On wet gravel just over a hill and no sliding and the bike came to a quick stop a good distance before any of the hoofed rats or me were in danger. So, no evidence left for the highway forensic "experts" to interpret and that would tell them what about my riding ability, attempt to avoid the collision, or anything else?
A while back, there was a news report about an off-duty cop who ran into a kid in a residential neighborhood after "laying the bike down" in an attempt to avoid the collision. I see that kind of language in local police crash reports, too. We talk about this silly stuff in motorcycle safety classes all the time. Anyone who believes that sliding on polished metal provides a better coefficient of friction than rubber probably shouldn't be playing with motorcycles. The only time I have ever seen a sideways motorcycle stop more effectively than one still operated rubber-side-down has been in soft, deep sand or sloppy mud. Often, that tactic results in a spectacular flying machine stomping the crap out of the helpless rider. Stopping or slowing quickly in either one of those situations usually involves flying over the bars and some unpleasant impact activities, followed by a completely out-of-control motorcycle doing whatever physics and luck dictate. Pavement requires some kind of sticky material for traction. Conveniently, tires are made of sticky materials. Bodywork, chrome and painted bits are considerably less sticky.
"Lay 'er down" logic ranks up there with the "Loud Pipes Save Lives" insanity. The argument defies logic, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Riders know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Good braking achieves maximum traction without sliding. When you're sliding, you're not stopping. It takes practice and the best time to do that is when you aren't trying to keep from getting killed on the highway. Even better, take a safety course and have someone analyze and help you improve your technique. It is, after all, a life-saving skill and one that we all have to work at so we have it when we need it.
Oct 9, 2016
Oct 6, 2016
If you get distracted by the pirate parades, gangbangers, crash data, squids terrorizing neighborhoods and freeways, and the usual biker culprits who make motorcyclists look like a pack of useless, irritating noise makers, it’s pretty easy to start thinking about hanging up the Aerostich and helmet and looking into a nice used convertible. Last year was insanely stressful, including a foot injury and a overly complicated move from the Cities to Red Wing, and I ended up doing almost nothing on my motorcycle for the year outside of MMSC classes. I commuted to school during the fall and spring semesters at Southeast Tech in Red Wing, explored a little of my new neighborhood, but I didn’t take a single 200+ mile trip anywhere for all of 2015.
This year started differently with the daily commuting thing booting up in late February and a trip to Colorado hot springs with an old friend in July. I still sort of felt played out. I am 68, so being played out is expected, but this felt a lot like the moment when I’ve decided that there is nothing left to learn from a job or a place and it’s time to move on. Obviously, I have plenty to learn about being a motorcyclist, but my motivation to keep at it is a little shaky.
This time of the year is when I most appreciate owning a motorcycle. After following a farm tour last weekend and futzing with some political stuff early in the week, I needed a head-clearing. So, I piled on the gear and pointed the WR250 toward Welch, where my wife and I had been earlier in the week. Just west of the Highway 61 Treasure Island casino exit is a good place to start on an off-pavement Red Wing road trip: Welch Shortcut Road. The tangle of spots you’ll see at the top left of the map above barely touches on all of the scenic and mildly technical dirt roads that spin off of the Welch Shortcut. A direct route from my house to Welch would be about 13 miles of pavement. My route turned that easy trip into nearly 50 miles.
From there, I took County 7 Blvd to Vasa. Weirdly, after living less than 20 miles from this little village for two years, I’ve never been here. So, I explored it for a few minutes and found someone’s dream factory, studio, workshop, or home for sale. If I were 20 years younger, I’d buy that place just for the vent turbines and the smokestack.
Then I headed west toward Hay Creek. At 320th Street, I was back on gravel followed by a nice section of “minimum maintenance road.” I did not expect this part of the trip to be so scenic, but once I got past Hay Creek I was on another fairly technical minimum maintenance road with no other traffic, perfect weather, and my all time favorite motorcycle between my legs.
Because I was having too much fun, what should have been 30 miles to Wabasha turned into a lot more. The plan was to head for J&J BBQ in Nelson, WI, stuff down a rack of ribs and beat myself up a little north of Stockholm. Sadly, J&J was closed, as it has been every time I’ve tried to hit that place this fall. I’m starting to think the place iis closed indefinately but the sign said the place is now “also closed on Wednesday” along with Monday and Tuesday. I’m just lucky, I guess.
During the farm tour, we discovered a “rustic road” just off of WIAA with several water crossings, a “closed” section, and a decent variety of road surfaces and materials including deep sand, rocks, gravel, and lots of ruts. The first water crossing was slick, shallow, and fairly wide. The second caught me by overconfident surprise when I hit it at about 20 mph in 3rd and got drenched when the deepest spot turned out to be about 2 1/2 feet deep. It didn’t stop me, but it really slowed me down, so that I needed to shift to 1st to plow my way out of the stream. That doused my enthusiasm for speed for the next stream crossing, but it didn’t last. I hit the last one at 20 with my weight back and off of the seat and got a satisfying spray without getting much wetter than I was. This is a one-way traffic road and visibility isn’t that great. It wouldn’t take much overconfidence to discover a car or truck coming in the opposite direction with no options other than to drive off of the road into a swamp. If I were younger and dumber, there were lots of places on that road to catch air, but I didn’t.
Nothing will make you feel older than remembering how brainless you used to be and how much you miss being that innocent/stupid/reckless/brave. As much as I would have liked to hammer this road and take every blind corner sideways and on the throttle, I couldn’t work it up. Remember, my wife was driving our Nissan Frontier up this road just two days ago. It gets travelled, just not much.
Because it was so much fun, I went up and down this road twice before hooking up with the main farm-to-market road and heading back to WI35. From there, home. In all, I managed to put 140 miles on for the afternoon and absolutely remembered why I own motorcycles. Of course, the next day I was down with a cold or flu and could barely move out of my massage chair for the occasional bathroom dash.
Oct 5, 2016
Andy has been a friend since I moved to Minnesota and started writing for MMM. Andy's gear has been protecting my body for a whole lot longer.
I can't explain why, but this is my favorite picture of me in my
Darien suit circa 2007. It was taken with my old beater Canon
camera by a Montana ranger who told me the story of this
Oct 3, 2016
All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. DayA couple of years ago, there was a young person who took the Basic Rider Course and debated every safety point in the course: helmets and other protective gear, speed, skill development, and traffic management and awareness. Everything we had to say was pointless “safety geek crap.” One morning, I read about that person's death on the highway; unprotected by any reasonable gear, tailgating, capped off by an inability to avoid an obstacle. I recognized the picture in the paper.
In April, on the road home from New Mexico, I got another reminder of how precarious life on a motorcycle can be; from the relative safety of our motorhome. Before we left our last campsite of the winter, after five months on the road, I did my usual equipment inspection, knocked off the items on the RV’s shutdown checklist, and we headed north toward Des Moines on I35. We stopped in Des Moines for fuel and breakfast and I checked the tires for heat (my lazy man’s tire pressure inspection) at the filling station and took a pressure measurement after breakfast. Less than 2 miles north of Des Moines, the RV started swerving and I heard the unmistakable sound of tire failure. Looking out the rear view mirror, I saw what looked like a fully inflated tire rolling down the center of the freeway behind us. I figured the bike trailer had fried a bearing and tossed a wheel. 250 miles from home, after an 8,500 mile winter. Great, we’re going to be spending a day waiting for AAA to find a repair shop willing to accept their highly “discounted service rates.”
When I got the RV semi-safely parked on the shoulder of the freeway and calmed my wife down, I discovered it wasn’t the trailer tire but the right rear RV tire that had failed. In 50 years of driving everything from heavily loaded band vans and buses to service vans and pickups to the usual assortment of family cars, I’ve never seen a tire failure like this one: the tread completely separated from the sidewalls. It just shucked itself off of the wheel and went on its merry way through heavy northbound freeway traffic. Luckily, it didn't hit anyone and no one hit it while it was in motion.
The part that spit off wasn’t heavy, maybe 20 pounds at most, but it was whole and would have made an incredibly difficult-to-absorb object for a motorcycle. Fortunately, it happened on a blustery late March Monday morning, so the usual crowd of Sunday “motorcyclists” were back in their cages and nobody else managed to get tangled up in the tire, either. I found a hole in the traffic and went to pull the shell of the tire from the middle of the road, when a semi clipped it and tossed it against the center island’s guard cables. A few feet higher and the tire would have ended up causing a freak-out in the southbound lane.
What if you had been on a motorcycle following an RV travelling at 60mph on a 70mph freeway? You’re impatient because you’re a typical occasional biker, so you follow closely because you think that will hurry the RV driver along. I, the RV driver, can’t see you at all so you are in no way part of my driving calculations. At 60mph, you are travelling 88 feet per second or, if you are impatient and running up behind me at 70mph you are zipping along at 102 feet per second. Let’s pretend you are a skilled rider, just not a smart skilled rider (a stretch, I know). You’re humping my RV and trailer at about 75 feet, it takes you a second to recognize the object flying your direction and you hit it at full speed. Whatever happens next is completely out of your control.
If we repaint that scenario with you possessing a bit of common sense or good fortune, we'll assume you are 150 feet behind the trailer when the tire comes flying over the wheel well. You still use up that second figuring out what’s about to happen and you nail the brakes, wrapping the tire up between your front wheel and your bike’s frame. Again, whatever happens next is completely out of your control.
On the rare chance that you paid some attention in your last safety class, maybe you’re actually calculating your following distance based on your speed. You gave yourself the recommended four seconds, or 360 to 400 feet, of safe margin and after blowing that first second of reaction time, you have two to three seconds to decide what to do and to get it done. You resist the panic reaction to nail the brakes, make your best guess where the tire is going to go, and swerve to avoid it. Honestly, you could still be in trouble, but once you swerve away from the tire’s path you can still scrub off a lot of speed in the couple of seconds left before the tire arrives at your point of intersection. That could be the difference between getting killed or maimed and just needing to change your underwear.
So, the next time you get all carried away with yourself and feel uppity about your right to speed down the highway unimpeded, you might want to think about where that kind of attitude would put you in the scenario I just described. I know I’ll be thinking about it every time I’m anywhere near an RV or truck. There is a reason those vehicles need high-capacity, high pressure tires and that reason is why you see the carcasses of tires from those vehicles littered all over the highway. The MSF's four seconds of "immediate path" margin is cutting it pretty close when you have a sudden decision to make.