Oct 30, 2018

More Autonomous Problems to Solve

m.i.tsmartcarchoicescolo01"Should a self-driving car kill the baby or the grandma? Depends on where you’re from" poses a pretty funny question for the ethics department of autonomous car companies in this Technology Review article. Of course, if you are a half-decent motorcyclist there is at least one more option in their example picture; go off road and avoid them both. And what the hell is a baby doing crawling across a road in the first place. Maybe the best solution is to target that kid’s parents. They clearly should not be reproducing.

scenario1_0Another scenario from the article has the driver deciding whether to kill five jaywalkers or one. I say use the logic Fat Freddy’s cat’s cockroach general adversary used: “We got millions more where they came from.” It’s not like the world has a shortage of people or jaywalkers. If you want to march across the street against the light,e44e6fab0ed86e1eebe59fbb55e672e1 into traffic with a quartet of nitwits, I think you should enjoy the consequences.

Sarcasim, cynicism, and grumpy old man-ism aside, the above scenario is going to become far more common. We’re already living in a time when large numbers of nitwits walk into traffic concentrating on their cell phones, assuming the world is going to look out for them. Autonomous cars are going to bring a level of false security and confidence to that breed of non-sustainable human that will make the above scenario seem ordinary.

Likewise, when that ethics-challenged autonomous vehicle comes upon a parade of pirates or bicyclists(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmTHk3sxSUA), go for the middle. nitwit paradeTake on the bigger issue—too many stupid people in the gene pool—and do the world a favor. Yeah, I know. It has been a long frustrating day and I need a whiskey to top it off and mellow me out.

Oct 26, 2018

Who says motorcyclists can't look funny?

Alvaro Bautista (front) and a pack of MotoGP riders on mini-electric bikes at some kind of weird event during the Japanese Grand Prix in Motegi, Japan. Who says motorcyclists can't look funny?

Oct 24, 2018

Biker Reality verses Reality Reality

Some of the words used in this PSA might indicate where the real cause of the crash highligted here came from. In the case of this crash, the car didn't even contact the bike before she went down. Proving that "every panic reaction you will ever have will be wrong." Both the bike and the car were moving to the same lane, parallel to each other, and the car was in no way, as Ms.Katte stated, coming from "out of nowhere." Neither vehicle owned the lane beside the truck and both were equally responsible for anticipating the move of the other.

In the PSA, Katte stated that she was “checking her mirrors, putting my head on a swivel, looking for the vehicles around me” and she missed the vehicle right beside her. Riders need a bigger "swivel" on their heads in that situation. In freeway situations, mirrors are worthless on 99% of the motorcycles we ride. Mine, for example, barely show me what is directly behind me and tell me nothing about a vehicle right beside me. I’ve ridden a CTX1300 and beside the fact that it is far more motorcycle (power, weight, and maneuverablity) than someone with beginner skills can manage, the damn things vibrate so much that the mirrors might as well be blacked out. They are worse than useless.

One point of the PSA was to encourage motorcycle gear use; especially helmets. She was lucky, smart or both to have been wearing a real helmet; even if it was a cheap Chinese brand. A typical Harley rider’s toilet bowl would have been useless in that crash. Her “$35 leather jacket” probably didn’t do much other than save her some skin. Actual armor isn’t cheap, but it works. I know, being the idiot I am I’ve “tested” my Aerostich armor way too many times; fortunately, always off-pavement. 

What the F&*%$?

1_The Ghost Rider

Meet the Badass, Costumed Motorbike Taxi Drivers of Nairobi

Oct 22, 2018

Save Me from Myself

I'm always entertained by the fact that so few of the "bikers" in these PSAs don't even make the minimum attempt to protect themselves. The idea that is the 99.999…%’s responsibility to look out for the 0.00001% is pretty hilarious. Good luck with that pipedream.

Oct 15, 2018

What's Wrong with Motorcycle Safety Training

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

I had a rare opportunity to talk with one of the big thinkers in national motorcycle training over the 2013 VBR3 weekend; David Hough. David has written about safe motorcycle riding tactics and skills for almost 25 years, both through his book collection (Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well, Street Strategies: A Survival Guide for Motorcyclists, More Proficient Motorcycling: Mastering the Ride, and The Good Rider) and his many magazine articles with the AMA's American Motorcyclist, Cycle World, Sound Rider, and Motorcycle Consumer News. He has also stepped out as a vocal critic of US motorcycle safety training in a series of articles almost a decade ago in Motorcycle Consumer News aggressively titled "The Fuss About Rider Training" and "Trouble in Rider Training." Oddly, he and I have been concerned about many of the same things: motorcycling's out-of-control fatality and injury rate, the lack of practical application for motorcycles, and the state of motorcycle safety training and licensing that contributes to our mortality and morbidity statistics. 
 
I've harped on the counter productivity of the AMA more than a few times, but David has an insider's view of that disorganization that is even more gloomy. Unlike me, David has a profound respect for Rod Dingman, the AMA chairman, and repeatedly called him "a brilliant man." From my distant outsider's view, I would have never guessed other than during that brief instance when Mr. Dingman was asked what issues most threaten motorcycling and he replied, "Noise, noise, and noise." Typically, the AMA promptly backed off of that moment of sanity and returned to the safer territory of representing the interests of motorcycle aftermarket vendors rather than motorcycle riders. Before that quick retreat, I almost joined the AMA for the first time since my racing years (30 years ago) when membership was required to be on the track. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has a similar problem because the heart of the organization is barely more than a lobbying tool of the motorcycle manufacturers disguised as a motorcycle training business. With that as a core purpose, motorcycle safety takes a back seat in the long, long bus full of constituents that both organizations try to serve. 
 
One of the places Mr. Hough and I totally agree is that motorcycling is dangerous business. So dangerous that in the late 1970's, Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki began to diversify their business models so that, when liability problems from motorcycling's terrible mortality records overran the profits derived, they could simply quit the business and go elsewhere. Honda and Suzuki build cars. Kawasaki and Yamaha build everything else. Motorcycles are just one division of a huge manufacturing business that will not be allowed to drag down the whole. Only the lame (economically and flexibility-wise) but politically-connected Harley-Davidson constituency has protected the rest of the industry from obsolescence . . .  for a while. Our time appears to be coming, though.

David's perspective on our share of highway mortality is considerably different than the already-awful numbers with which we're familiar. His take comes from the independent Motorcycle Safety Training Institute where the data is more directly related to what we care about; driver mortality, since motorcycles are primarily a single-passenger vehicle. That data says we are 20% of the driver vehicle deaths, nation-wide. The other place David and I agreed was that "registered vehicles" is useless information. While it may be a source of pride to industry promoters that motorcycles are 3% of registered vehicles, anyone who sets up a video camera on most any freeway, highway, or residential street will discover we are rarely 0.01% of total traffic. (Optimistic motorcycle promoters might claim we're as much as 1% of total traffic, but no reasonable observation over time would substantiate that.) With those numbers in mind, it becomes obvious that motorcycles are substantially more dangerous than any other vehicle on the road; several hundred, or thousand, times more dangerous. 
 
That last bit is at the core of what's wrong with motorcycle safety training. The first thing that needs to be admitted and recognized is that your mother was right, motorcycles can kill you. That old motorcyclist saying that "there are motorcyclists who have crashed and those who haven't crashed yet" is absolutely true and if you aren't bright enough to recognize that, you aren't aware enough to ride a motorcycle. This should be the thing we talk about most in the early stages of motorcycle training classes. The 1960's "Mechanized Death" videos ought to be revived and revitalized with even gorier crash pictures and up-to-date statistics. Students should be forced to look at the carnage and mayhem from motorcycle crashes and be made well aware that they are entering into an activity that can be lethal, crippling, or mindlessly saddening when we are responsible for the injury or death of a loved one who trusted us with their life on a motorcycle.

Contrary to the industry's advertisements, riding a motorcycle is not a gleefully liberating activity: motorcycling is a life-threatening, dangerous, high-risk activity that requires all of our concentration, ability, and constant practice just to minimize the risk to "really, really dangerous." Beyond  and because of all that, the casual motorcycle "bike-curious" should be discouraged. Anyone not actively and irreconcilably drawn to motorcycling because of the many great things about taking your life in your own hands and tempting fate on a balanced pair of wheels is pretending that motorcycles are a "lifestyle" and has no business on a bike of any sort; powered or otherwise.

In fact, anyone who hasn't already put a few thousand miles on a bicycle isn't interested enough in this kind of machinery to be a motorcyclist. If you are going to take your life in your own hands, you ought to at least care a little bit about staying alive. If you don't, buy a gun and take yourself out in America's Favorite Method. Don't make our dismal statistics even worse because your daddy didn't appreciate you or your mother liked your sister better. I am dead serious about this. Riding a motorcycle is a commitment in time and money that requires concentration, study, practice, and the kind of attitude you might expect from skydivers or rock climbers. We can lightly remind beginning riders that motorcycling is a "skill of your mind and eyes," but that's just a fraction of the reality.

It is also a physical skill of the sort that you need to practice until muscle memory overcomes natural reactions. You won't get that kind of result from an occasional weekend ride. Muscle memory requires practice. Martial arts experts say it requires 3,000-5,000 repetitions to ingrain a exercise.1 For example, just practicing the single skill of emergency stopping could take you twenty or thirty hours of continuous practice. If you want to get to 25-30mph for your practice run, you'll need at least a 100 foot range for that attempt. Add 50 feet for the return loop and you have a 250 foot total practice loop. Five-thousand attempts later and you have traveled about 240 miles. If we assume you are stopping and returning to your start point quickly, you're still going to have a hard time managing a 10mph average. That would be 24 hours of continuous practice for a single skill.  Do you have that kind of dedication to becoming a good rider? If not, you are probably the wrong person to take on motorcycling.

1 Motor Learning and Performance,  by Dr. Richard Schmidt and Dr. Craig A. Wrisberg and Performance and Motor Control And Learning by Dr. Richard Schmidt and Dr. Timothy D. Lee







Oct 8, 2018

Can You Hear Me Out There?

When I taught the MSF program for MMSC, I’d get several questions per class along the lines of “what kind of first bike should I buy?” As you might know from following this blog, I have some strong opinions about that. (“No, you’re kidding?”) Most of the time when I’m giving this sort of advice, I feel like the deaf bluegrass banjo player whacking on a microphone saying, “Can anyone out there hear this thing?” (All bluegrass banjo players are deaf, I know.) It’s almost like teaching when the midterm or final exams get graded and you wonder if you were even in the room when those nitwits came to class. 

Mostly, I’d recommend something small, lightweight, that handles well and my ”students” would act like I’d insulted their intelligence, skill, or something and move on to the other instructor for more “manly advice.” As a habit, I recommend a bike around 250cc and one that weighs close to 300 pounds for daily riding. I’ve said this before in “A Good Beginner’s Bike” and I’ll say it again. And again.

2006_Honda_Nighthawk_250There have been a couple of times, though, when I almost felt like I existed. The first time was in the first couple of years I taught the BRC. Two near-retirement-age physicians took the class, asked the question, and when I suggested they consider the Honda Nighthawk 250’s they were riding in the class. The Honda air-cooled twin is a tough, reliable, lightweight motorcycle that can more than do the job for the kind of around town riding they expected to be doing. A few years later, I was having lunch with a friend in Stillwater when the two doctors came over to our table, reintroduced themselves, and thanked me for the advice. Then, they told me about the trip they’d just returned from to Alaska and British Columbia on their 250s. It was a great story and I wish I remembed it well enough to accurately repeat it here, but I don’t.

Larry's BikeThe second time my advice didn’t die in a vacuum was when my brother asked for the same advice. I had been training on the Suzuki TU250X for a few years at the time and had the opportunity to “test” it on the police driving course at Dakota Technical College earlier that summer. The bike did everything a motorcycle needs to do, plus was fun to ride, gets great fuel economy, has a low seat height, and looks like a 1950’s British bike. Larry bought one and is driving it into the ground in Arizona as I write this. His one complaint was that it didn’t do all that well off-pavement, so I suggested a change in tires. As you can see in the picture above, he took that advice, too. He’s had it for a couple of years and 20,000 miles or so and will probably keep it until he rides it to death.

Likewise, I’m down to one motorcycle and taking my own advice it’s my Yamaha WR250X. Since I sold my V-Strom, I haven’t been riding much but I wasn’t riding much before I sold it. This fall or winter, I plan to rig up a relay so that I can run some electrical crap off of the WR’s battery without draining it when I forget to turn things off. I admit it, I’m addicted to my GPS, heated vest, heated gloves, and charging my computer while I ride on long trips. We’ll see if taking my own advice puts me back on the road and trail.

Oct 1, 2018

Why I Love Dawson City

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

dawson_cityI've written about this a couple of times, but on a vacation trip with my wife through Oregon during the winter of 2013 it struck me again how strong the good feelings I have about Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada have been for the last 8 years. Of course, what reminded me of that was the wonderful experience my wife and I had on the Oregon coast. Everywhere we went, everywhere we stopped, everyone we met on that trip was so friendly, so accommodating, so naturally nice that we were talking about moving to Oregon by the time we crossed the boarder into California. That doesn't happen much, since we've been pretty damn happy with Minnesota for the last 19 years.  
 
My benchmark for "nice" is not, however, Minnesota Nice. As friendly as many Minnesotans are, there isn't a consistent attitude that defines Minnesota residents. Especially on the freeway, Minnesotans are pretty much on par, niceness-wise, with most of the country north of the parallel that more-or-less defines the westward extension of the Mason-Dixon Line. My personal benchmark for nice was established when I rolled into Dawson City, Yukon in 2007 at 2AM in mid-June with a separated shoulder, three broken ribs, and a busted hand. I'd been riding almost non-stop for 22 hours and I was completely out of patience with life, humanity, western civilization, my riding partner, my motorcycle (from which dangled miscellaneous parts from a crash on the Dempster Highway), myself, and Planet Earth. 
 
dawson_city_2Three hundred miles earlier, I'd misjudged the power of a 70mph side-wind, deep gravel, and my own riding ability and ended up going backwards at 50mph (for a few fractions of a second) and landing on my butt. After taking inventory and deciding that I had no more business going on to Inuvik than I have putting on a suit and working for Bernie Madoff or Mitt Romney or Bank of America or Doctor Phil, I turned around and headed for a Dawson City hotel and a hot bath. I'd suffered all of those injuries before and I knew exactly how the crash, shock, busted bones, seized body sequence works and I knew where I needed to be when the last part happens. 
 
I rolled into Dawson in a foul mood. The shock was completely worn off and I hurt everywhere. Drunks were decorating the streets of Dawson at 2AM, getting ready for their epic summer solstice party or the Commissioner's Tea and Klondike Ball or whatever event it is that these party animals use to excuse staying awake for a solid week while the sun is out 24 hours a day. Some guy spotted my GPS as I was dismounting in agony and asked, "What's your max speed?" I had no idea what he was talking about and didn't have much patience with what seemed an irrelevant question and replied, "How the hell would I know?" He laughed and wandered off.  
 
Michael, the guy I'd been riding with to this point on the trip, and who had wanted to go on to Inuvik but couldn't convince himself that I was going to make it back to Dawson on my own, stayed outside to talk to the partiers. I plowed through the crowd to get to the hotel desk. The desk guy tried to tell me a bunch of stuff about the rooms available, but I kept saying "I need a room with a bathtub." After arguing about some hotel details that I wasn't interested in, he finally gave in and handed me the key to the only room in the hotel with a bathtub. Turned out the room had  a single bed and was right over the bar, where a band would be playing all night. I did not care, but Michael would be a little concerned. When I turned to go back to the bike to get my luggage, I discovered all of my stuff was by my feet at the desk. The drunks had noticed that I'd left my keys in the bike, so they pulled all of my stuff off for me and deposited it where I could find it when I quit being an asshole. The next morning, I'd discover they had put the bike up on the center stand and pushed some of the broken pieces back into place and piled the loose stuff on my seat. From the restaurant window I could see there was a lot of loose/broken stuff.  Our hotel served the best, most reasonably priced breakfast I can remember ever enjoying; and I've enjoyed a lot of great breakfasts in my six decades. 
 
Comfortably numbed by drugs and good food, I hobbled over to Dawson Home Hardware to shop for Gorilla Glue, duct tape, and JB Weld and from there to the General Store fdawson_city_3or a man-sized bucket of napoxen sodium, a couple rolls of ACE elastic bandages for my shoulder and ribs, and an assortment of pain-relieving/distracting sore-muscle ointments. When I got back, a couple of guys had rolled my bike away from the Hotel to a parking lot where they said, "It'll be easier to work on it here." I started to disassemble the fairing and spread the busted pieces on the ground, more-or-less in the vicinity of how they'd need to be reassembled. Mike gave me a hand, especially where my hand wasn't working well. Eventually, I was bandaged and drugged and the bike was reassembled with it's new polyurethane foam crust highlighting the cracks. Duct tape reinforced my busted GIVI cases where missing pieces weren't available for reassembly. 
 
I was, mostly, ready to go back to the hot bath and warm bed, but Mike talked me into heading for the Top of the World boarder crossing, the most northern international border crossing and one the most remote, least travelled but maintained boarders between the United States and Canada. Since 2014, that bit of adventure has been "fixed" and the US side is paved all the way to Chicken, AK and beyond. In 2007, both the Canadian and US sides of the "highway" were unpaved and the ride up from Canada and down into Alaska was wet, slick, unpredictable, and hazardous enough that we passed a fair number of bikes that had missed the road and ended up in the creeks, ditches, and worse. In fact, there was a wreaked Harley on a trailer at the boarder crossing whose owner had been rescued and flown to Anchorage a few hours before we arrived. I was in no condition to help anyone and stopping was a fairly complicated and painful process, so I didn't even slow down once after I negotiated the boarder crossing sans-passport: a whole different and strange story. 
 
When the ache of my separated shoulder began ease up a little, my busted ribs and cracked hand poked their warning notices through the fog of pain. When those two reminders backed off a little, or I got used to them, I regretted leaving Dawson City every morning and evening for the next week. Camping was out of the question, thanks to my complete inability to find a comfortable sleeping position on my thin insulated air mattress. So, for the next 3,000 miles I missed my Dawson City oasis. A few months after that great trip ended, I read a little about Dawson City and discovered I'd missed a lot: the Jack London Museum, the Goldbottom Mine tour, the Dawson City Museum, walking trails and tours, the Paddlewheel Graveyard, and at least a week of sightseeing stuff that I'm sorry I was too doped up and dazed to notice. We even missed White Stripes performing in the city's Winter Solstice party. So, I gotta go back. This time, the Dempster Highway will not be in my travel plans.