Aug 29, 2016

#124 Safe Motorcycling?

cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

safe adjective
  • not able or likely to be hurt or harmed in any way : not in danger
  • not able or likely to be lost, taken away, or given away
  • not involving or likely to involve danger, harm, or loss
dan·ger·ous adjective
  • involving possible injury, harm, or death : characterized by danger
  • able or likely to cause injury, pain, harm, etc.
The phrase "safe motorcycling" gets tossed around a lot in motorcycle books and training. Which of the two definitions above best describes motorcycling?
Be honest.
I think we all know the answer. With that answer in mind, what is going on in motorcycle safety training when we use the words "safe motorcycling?" Why even pretend there is such a thing when experienced riders believe there are only two kinds2 of motorcyclists? It's obvious  why the MSF/MIC does it. It never pays, in the short term, to scare off customers with reality. For the future of motorcycling--and for the scarce few of us who care about that--this is a suicidal approach. Our mortality-and-morbidity-per-mile statistics are the grossest evidence possible that motorcycling is as risky an activity as rock climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving or deep free-diving, X-games-everything, or being in a combat zone("Top safety chiefs across the military have identified motorcycles as the No. 1 safety concern off the battlefield." NPR Report, U.S. Military Combats Rising Motorcycle Fatalities, 2009)
The average age of motorcyclists is steadily climbing, which means a large generation of our population is not following in the Boomer's footsteps. That is apparent in all sorts of ways.  In 2011, the average age of US motorcyclists was 43 (the average age of Harley riders was 58 for that same year) compared to 1980's 23-year-old, 1998's 33-year-old, and 2003's 40-year-old averages. It's fair to speculate that the ordinary motorcycling participant will be very near 60 by 2020 and that might spell the end of motorcycling as a popular activity in the US. I have to wonder if at least some of this avoidance is because of the disconnect between reality and the attempted marketing of "motorcycle safety?" If we accept the fact that motorcycling is "dangerous" by any reasonable definition, training and licensing change dramatically. If we pick two obviously dangerous activities, scuba diving and skydiving, and compare their training requirements to motorcycle safety training, I think we'll see what kind if change is required.
For example, to qualify for solo skydiving a student spends a day in a classroom followed by 25 assisted jumps which qualifies you to test and apply for a USPA "A" License. To obtain a PADI Open Water scuba diving certification (a certification required to buy compressed air from a dive shop), a beginning diver spends a day or two in class (or 12-15 hours taking the on-line class) followed by five sessions in confined water and four open water diving sessions. The US's MSF BRC (Basic Rider Course) consists of five hours of classroom, including a written test, plus ten hours of range time, including the state motorcycle licensing test at the end of the second day. Any way you look at it, the time, skill, and financial commitment required to become a licensed motorcyclist isn't close to reasonable considering the risk or complication of the skills learned. Having been a PADI Dive Master, I can say with experience that scuba diving isn't even close to as complicated and hazardous an activity as riding a motorcycle on public streets.
Like skydiving and scuba, there is nothing natural about learning to ride a motorcycle. All of our built-in natural reactions and motor skills are next-to-useless. Learning to ride a motorcycle with any expectation of reasonable safety is a long, involved, strenuous process and a day-and-a-half of "training" is grossly insufficient. Even worse, motorcycling doesn't have the checks in place to prevent the untrained from smearing themselves all over the highway. If you don't have a scuba certification, you can't buy compressed air at a dive shop. If you don't have a USPA license, you can't get a ride on a plane to take a solo jump. All you have to do to get on a motorcycle is to buy or borrow one. Until this changes, motorcycling is on a collision course with public opinion and with the rest of our public image in the dumpster, that can't be good for the industry or our access to public roads.
1 Both definitions from the Merriam-Webster's On-Line Dictionary
2 "There are two types of motorcyclists - those who have had an accident and those who will."

Aug 15, 2016

#130 Sliding to A Stop

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

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. That incident taught me not to admire the luck and skill of an emergency braking maneuver for more than it takes to pick a safe path around the deer and get the hell out of there.

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 backroads.

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, physics, mechanical engineering, experience, reality, and statistical evidence. Motorcyclists know that dropping the bike is an out-of-control panic maneuver, usually due to inappropriate rear brake use. Bikers never get good enough to know the difference. If you don't know which kind of rider you are, you are not a motorcyclist.

Aug 13, 2016

The "Test?"

Not only is this the test that so many motorcyclists take the BRC to avoid failing, but this is a pretty typical "rider" who can pass this embarrassingly simple collection of skills and become a licensed motorcyclist.

Aug 10, 2016

Gangbanger Holiday

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday, was River City Days in Red Wing. More than usual, we had packs of loud, incompetent, badged and tatted pirates parading through town creating smog, noise, irritation, and entertainment. We made it to the downtown affair a couple of times and had an opportunity to view how motorcycles are seen by the general public in a fairly diverse crowd. It’s pretty much all negative.


If you think South Park was exaggerating, you’re delusional, clueless, and or an asshole. There are no other alternatives.

The experience got me to thinking about where years of negative stereotypes are taking the future of motorcycling. Combined with a 3,000 mile trip to the Rockies and back earlier this summer where I saw so few motorcycles doing anything other than being asshole gangbangers or asshole squids, this summer really put a point on the spear I’ve been anticipating for years. Other than a few Midwestern manufacturing jobs, who would it inconvenience if motorcycles were banned from public roads? Since motorcyclists are already classified as “terrorists” and gangsters by the FBI (and I mean all of us with a class “M” license, not just the actual gangbangers), the majority of the public considers motorcycles to be a menace (and not just in the US), and insurance companies and most motorcyclists consider their motorcycle to be purely a “recreational vehicle,” it’s pretty obvious that we’re treading on unsound territory here.

In the past (the mid-80’s), the motorcycle manufacturers have at least considered ending motorcycle imports to the US and other 1st world countries due to liability costs. If insurance companies (especially health insurance) were able to properly price their products regarding insurer risk, most of us wouldn’t be able to ride because we couldn’t afford health or life insurance. If the public could do simple math, the estimated $2/mile cost of motorcycle crashes (mostly paid by the general public, since only half of motorcyclists involved in crashes have health insurance) would drive more than a little legislative action. Economically, the only rational move any society has is to start moving toward getting motorcycles off of the public’s roads.

Again, I ask “Who would that inconvenience?” Well under 1% of the public are being supported and tolerated by the 99%. If that sounds familiar, consider how much rage there is toward that other 1% group. Lucky for us and the other 1%, at least half of the country is so stupid that they will vote for a 1%’er to save themselves from sanity and they will pretend that motorcycles are some sort of “freedom” worth protecting. But they may not be stupid forever.

Aug 8, 2016

Finally, Something I Agree With

"As Americans, and due to many of the reasons identified here (but mostly the idiots), we've become incredibly biased against motorcycles. When we hear that word, we see squids attacking a Range Rover on the West Side Highway or pathetic old men vibrating their way down the highway in assless leather chaps. We don't see sensible personal transportation, an honest good time or someone saving all of us time on our commutes by taking active measures to bust congestion. And none of that creates a viable future for motorcycling in this country."

When You Know the End Is Near


BEHIND BARZ is a FAH-REE, full color, glossy magazine. It is distributed in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. We also have subscribers in other parts of the country and all over the world! We showcase all types of motorcycles, domestic and import. We focus on local riders from a local rider's point of view - not from the outside looking in . . . BB was created as a service for the biker. We are not going to give you a one picture and a paragraph kind of deal. BEHIND BARZ is here for the biker, period! We might not have been the first magazine in the Carolinas and surounding areas but we set the standards that no other can emulate or imitate!

“All types,” particularly if they are loud, slow, heavy, and incompetently designed. If you are looking for lots of “biker face,” here’s the main source.

Aug 7, 2016

When You Know You Are Living with Marching Morons

Business Insider’s recent article about autopiloted cars, “Autopilot in cars is going to be a very tough sell,” proves that we’re well on our way to a society that is more emotional than rational and more stupid than sentient. The hysteria around one Tesla auto-piloted car crash seems particularly stupid from a motorcyclist’s perspective.

The half-witted article claims that the crash story and an included bit about Tesla’s auto-pilot saving one of the electric car manufacturer’s customer’s life, “provide at least a measure of anecdotal support for Tesla’s claims that its own data show autopilot—imperfect as it is—is already significantly safer than the average human driver.

“That’s going to be a tough sell, though, to the public and regulators alike. Brown’s death ignited a backlash that had been brewing since Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced autopilot in a heavily hyped, Steve Jobs–like launch event in October 2014. ”

A significant portion of the public is moronic enough to imagine that Donny Trump is bright enough to assume the office of President of the United States without doing what he does best; bankrupting the entire nation. Caring about what those people think is not among the qualities that any half-intelligent society would consider. It’s obvious from a few moments of highway driving that 90% of the current driving public would be better replaced with a 1980’s MS-DOS computer system.

Aug 5, 2016

No Motorcycle Content, but Damn!

Electric Hack Saw - Handmade - $5 (Red Wing, MN)


 1 2 3

Handmade electric Hacksaw. Works like a charm and great for heavy-duty jobs.
Great engineering and craftsmanship.

Aug 3, 2016

Measuring Facts

“One of motorcycling’s few saving graces is the disconnect between how dangerous the activity is and how safe the practicioners feel. I’m not well-travelled, so I tend to believe this is an American (USA, not Canada or Mexico.) trait. It could be just a human thing, though. Generally, it’s safe to say that don’t get humans. One of the ways that people make those disconnects is by putting “belief” over facts. When confronted with the data that demonstrates riding (per mile travelled) in rural and small town areas is more dangerous than urban travel, especially freeway travel, riders will simply argue(?), “I don’t believe that.” While they are pretending to be skeptical, they are simply being foolish when the data doesn’t support their delusions.

I ran head-on into that argument a few days ago with my neighbor, a generally reasonably intelligent and creative guy who mostly hangs out with idiots because he works for an agricultural construction company. In a spectacular demonstration of the old saying, “lay down with dogs, wake up with fleas,” my neighbor was off on a rant about how nervous Donny Trump made him, but that he couldn’t vote for Clinton because “She’s gonna take away my guns.”

I suggested that I’d heard that bullshit argument for the last 40 years of national elections and Presidents JFK, Johnson, Carter, and Obama have not only not taken away anywhere near “all his guns” but Bush I was the one President to actually make a shot at anything resembling gun control, which Reagan supported. His response was, “I don’t believe that. Look at what Obama did to the price of ammo, right after his election.”

As much as I respect my neighbor’s intelligence, he isn’t a reader and doesn’t do much research on anything but construction projects. Like most people, he isn’t likely to be killed by curiousity. I suggested a couple of websites, The Truth about Guns "Why Is Ammunition So Expensive?" and an article I’d read in the Motley Fool’s investment blog, “The NRA Reveals Who's to Blame for Ammo Shortage: You.” The main reason ammo is in short supply and expensive is that gun nuts are buying and hoarding the supply. It’s actually one of the rare times that supply-and-demand is applicable. I ended with, “Even the NRA’s website conforms that.”

His response was a laugh and, “I still don’t believe that.” He followed with an argument that satistics “don’t prove anything” and that anyone can lie with numbers.

And so it goes.

We went back to talking about safe topics, but I went away wondering how many people quickly justify their prejudice, irrational economic decisions, and generally nutty behavior with “I don’t believe that.” I bet a lot.

MMM recently published one of my less-temperate rants, Safe Motorcycling? One of my points in that essay was, “Our mortality-and-morbidity-per-mile statistics are the grossest evidence possible that motorcycling is as risky an activity as rock climbing, hang gliding, scuba diving or deep free-diving, X-games-everything, or being in a combat zone (‘Top safety chiefs across the military have identified motorcycles as the No. 1 safety concern off the battlefield.’ NPR Report, U.S. Military Combats Rising Motorcycle Fatalities, 2009).” In case you’ve convinced youself that I’m the only one who thinks motorcycles are dangerous, a few years back AOL News published ”The 7 Deadly Hobbies: Pastimes Your Insurer Hates.” Motorcycling, for no rational reason, was #6 with overwhelmingly the most deaths over hang gliding, civilian pilot, mountain climbing, sky diving, recreational boating, and scuba diving. The military still ranks motorcycles and the #1 non-war-related cause of death for US service people. The only thing that seems to affect motorcycle mortality and morbidity numbers in a positive way is the decline in motorcycle popularity. Now that the Boomer mid-life-crisis rush is over, motorcycle sales in the US continue to be stagnant. Suzuki got rid of or lost about 20% of its dealers post-Great Recession and Hardly is still struggling to find non-bluehair customers. I would imagine the same goes for Polaris and the rest of the Japanese manufacturers.

Of course, there are motorcycle dealers and riders who will say, “I don’t believe that.” They’ll argue that anyone can make up sales and miles-ridden statistics and that the motorcycle world and future is rich and rosy. Denying the risk, the economics, and the other factors that are making motorcycles and motorcycling a vanishing activity probably won’t be a great defense for the industry.