Nov 29, 2018

Change Is Constant and Accelerating

Whacky Donnie is having a temper tantrum about GM’s decision to close a half-dozen plants and layoff 14,000 GM assembly, admin, and engineering employees, but GM is just trying to stay in the game. And the game is changing faster than practically anyone anticipated. A Star Tribune article, "Trump's threats won't change valid reasons for GM's decision to revamp" reads “GM needs to invest in its future, and that means focusing on electric and self-driving vehicles. Both are coming to a driveway near you — quicker than you think.”

Everytime there is some kind of change or crisis, someone stupid has to babble “nobody saw this coming.” The only way you can ever make that claim is to not know what “nobody” means and to be so unread you are practically illiterate. I saw it coming years ago, along with electric-vehicle conversion, and I’m not unhappy about being right.

Nov 19, 2018

Real World Training

All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. Day

real_world_trainingWhen I invited him to hang out at last year’s ZARS customer appreciation event at the Dakota County Technical School's driver training range, a friend replied, “I think I need a class on how to go slower and stay out of the way more effectively. That's my thing; ride on empty roads. You won't find me in any ‘single vehicle accidents.'” That’s not an uncommon theory on safe riding. However, statistics in Minnesota don’t support that philosophy of accident prevention. Motorcyclists, on average, get killed in the least intuitive ways and places. I'm unclear on how "going slower" can be a tactic for "staying out of the way," but it doesn't seem to be working for the people who are generating motorcycle mortality and morbidity statistics. Of course, if you're riding on "empty roads" and crash, the only possible statistic you are going to contribute to will be "single vehicle" crashes. 

Of course, a lot of the state’s stats can be interpreted a lot of ways, for instance the chart at right. In 2013, Minnesota had 60 motorcycle fatalities (about half of the state’s worst year, 1980). Along with the 2013 fatalities, the state’s motorcyclists suffered 166 severe injuries, 533 moderate injuries, and 398 minor injuries. As a side note, 14% of Minnesota’s motorcycle fatalities were wearing helmets and 4.7 of every 100 reported crashes resulted in a fatality as opposed to 0.5% of all reported crashes resulting in fatalities. 55% of Minnesota’s fatal crashes were “single vehicle crashes” and 20% of the fatalities weren’t even real motorcyclists, since they did not possess the minimum motorcycle rider credential: a legal license. 
real_world_training_2The chart that is most applicable to this discussion, however, is this one (at left).  The overwhelming majority of fatalities happened where the population of a city or township was “under 1,000.” The big cities accounted for damn few fatalities, crashes, or injuries, in fact. So much for being terrified of the big, bad freeway. The state used to track and report the sort of roadway that crashes occurred on, but the 2013 report didn’t seem to contain that information. Like city populations, the relationship between getting killed and being on a low traffic road was direct. For a variety of reasons (see the chart below), most of what gets motorcyclists killed is counter-intuitive. The hope that being on a lonely road out in the country or cruising through small towns is a crash preventative is wrong-headed. It just doesn’t work that way. It's possible that the reason for crash over-representation on these roads is because so many uncertain and unskilled riders choose to ride in these places for "practice."  
So, with that in mind, what kind of training do motorcyclists need to stay alive and intact? Contrary to popular paranoia, training programs like the Zalusky Advanced Riding School, Keith Code’s Superbike School, Lee Park's Total Control Advanced Riding Clinic, and the rest of the long list of excellent riding schools are not all about going fast, sliding a knee or elbow, or putting your life and bike at risk. When you watch one of these courses from the sidelines, it probably looks like that is exactly what’s going on. The riders are going faster than your average street racer and doing it with a lot more style (present company excluded), but all of these schools encourage students to ride at roughly 70% of their capabilities where the maximum educational value is derived. Not all of us are smart enough to resist the urge to compete.  Still, we’re all adults and if peer pressure is enough to make us do stupid stuff on a closed course, it will do the same on public roads where the hazards are dramatically greater. 
real_world_training_3When I attended the ZARS program in September, I did not one time receive any encouragement to “go faster” from any of my ZARS coaches. When I did something well, I was complemented, but not once did Joe, Brent, Debby, Karen, or Jessica say anything about how I might increase my speed. In fact, Brent consistently gave me exercises I could use at lower speeds to work on control, precision, and getting smoother in my cornering transitions. All of my coaches were way faster than me, but making me fast was never one of my goals and, therefore, it wasn’t one of theirs. For the last several years, "smoother" has been the thing I've been concentrating on and if faster ever results from that it will be a happy accident. If you look at the “contributing factors” in the chart at right, I hope you’ll see a whole lot of situations where better general handling skills would have saved a few dozen lives. In fact, some of the "contributing factors" attributed to the motorcyclists are downright embarrassing. 
I would be willing to bet my own money that if a group of older riders on large, slow, poorly handling motorcycles signed up for a ZARS class and were intelligent enough to accept their limitations and work hard at being good students that group would learn more in one afternoon with Jessica's great group of coaches than they have in a lifetime of riding. I have seen Goldwings and Harley Super Glides whip through this course as fast as most sportbike riders can travel, proving that technique is everything. There are damn few riders who are able to push their motorcycle anywhere near it’s maximum capabilities. I’ve seen that demonstrated at DCTC, too. The real point in obtaining advance training is to stay out of charts like those in this article. 
real_world_training_4If what you want to learn how to do is “go slower and stay out of the way more effectively,” learning how to manipulate the space between the lines in curves is a huge part of that skill. We work on all of that, some, in the MSF “Seasoned Rider” course, but the difference between low speed exercises on a parking lot and road speed exercises on a closed course is massive. I’m not putting the MSF course down. fat_man_scubaOne of the regular ZARS riders reminded me that there is a whole different set of skills exercised in the MSF course and said he tries to do one of the experienced rider courses every year or two. I need to do a closed course corning seminar, like the ZARS program, every year for the same reason. You probably do, too. Real world motorcycle training involves speed, exposure to risk, and pushing your skills near the limits. The best place to do all of that is on a closed course under the direction of a skilled instructor, not on public roads--rural or urban.

Nov 12, 2018

Paradigm Shifts

Mini_0508Two years ago, my grandson got a job, moved into his own place, and bought a Rad Power e-bike for commuting to work; a daily 14 miles round trip. Tough kid. When he started this adventure, he bought the Rad Power Radrover; a fat tire full sized bike that is about as robust looking and riding as a small dirt bike. Two years in and a few dozen crashes on the ice and snow, he turned the Radrover over to me to repair and replaced it with the Radmini.

We spent the day hanging out with our grandson and just before we left the Cities for home, I took a test ride on his new e-bike. I am hooked. Everything about riding this not-even-a-little-bit-small-feeling electric bicycle was like the things I love the most about motorcycles. The fat tires are incredibly stable, resilient, and sticky even on a 28oF day with a little ice and snow on the ground. The power is instant, quiet, and predictable; although e-bikes are almost universally limited to 20mph getting there was as fast as it needed to be to get me moving in rush hour residential street traffic.

RadMini_FoldedWhen I lived in the Cities and commuted from Little Canada to downtown St. Paul (for 13 years) I probably would have rarely, if ever, rode a motorcycle or car to work if I’d owned a bicycle like this. I had a 5.5 mile one-way commute via freeway and a mile or so added to that by city streets and the Radmini has a 20 mile range at 20mph over the toughest terrain at 20mph. If you pedal or have a fair amount of relative flat and wind-free territory to travel over, that range approaches 40 miles. There were a few moments when I made it up to 30mph on the city street routes, either on the bike or in the cage, but the 20mph limit would have been more than offset by traveling on the rarely-used bicycle trail routes that were available to me. Downtown parking would have never been an issue and I could have taking my employer’s parking allowance and used that money somewhere else. Anywhere else.

RadMini_Black_AngleThe disc brakes are terrific, although the damn levers are bicycle-traditionally on the wrong side. The electronic controls are ergonomically laid-out and easy to see and use. The bike isn’t light, at about 64 pounds, and is almost exactly the same total length as my WR250X (67”) The “standover height is 28”, the max I can cope with without getting gelded on a quick getoff. The riding position is very dirtbike-like; comfortable, upright, relaxed, and well-balanced. The performance is just amazing. 0-20mph is about as quick as the tires can handle and you have to be slightly forward on the bars to keep from popping a wheelie on a full-throttle take-off. That surprised me, more than once. The frame geometry is excellent, at least as far as I could tell in a 2-3 mile test ride. U-turns are easily executed inside a single lane and high speed (remember, that means 20mph) handling is solid, predictable, and very stable feeling (probably thanks to the long wheelbase).

As far as security is concerned, I could have rolled the bike into my office, folded it up and stuffed it under my cube’s desk, charging the battery while I worked (5 hours from depleted to fully charged), and never once worried about theft or vandalism like I had to with both the cage and the motorcycle in the parking garage where both occurred fairly regularly.

Cost of operation is fairly well documented (with some noticeable miscalculations) on Rad Power’s website blog in the article EBike vs. Car: by the Numbers. I disagree with the exponential rise in cost the author applied to car maintenance expenses, but the bottom line is still going to be close to the same. I regularly encourage my grandson’s bike replacement expenses by showing him the spreadsheet I keep on my pickup; which is freakin’ terrifying and/’or depressing. I did a similar comparison with my cage vs. motorcycle costs a few years back, the numbers were a little surprising but nothing like EBike vs. cages; at least a factor of 10. You can get a bike, ride it, fix it, and beat it up for less than the cost of a year’s car insurance. The times are changing fast.

Nov 8, 2018

Marketing 101

This is how you promote an off-road recreational vehicle. I have NEVER seen a motorcycle ad that was 1/2 this inspiring or creative.

Nov 5, 2018

What Will You Do Then?

All Rights Reserved © 2016 Thomas W. Day

The ultimate consumer electronics trade show, coincidentally called the Consumer Electronics Show, held early this past January is the place where all of the folks making cool toys show what they're up to with this year's products and products they hope to be bringing to market in the not-so-distant future. Ford, VW, GM, and Toyota all had a lot to talk about and what they talked about was how much smarter cars are going to be in coming years. Our favorite "unprecedented connectivity" will be coupled with driver-assist safety measures with an end goal of fully autonomous vehicles. They all talked about the "death of the internal combustion engine" with recent significant improvements in solar cells, fuel cells and electric vehicle charge loads, drive time, and improved charging cycles. Considering the fact that these speakers were corporate industry leaders, the number of times they used the words ""disruption" and "revolution" was a little unsettling. There is a lot of money available for investment in this technology, since 2015 was the most profitable year in American car manufacturing history. On top of that, new competitor brands in transportation like Tesla, Google, and Apple are driving changes outside of the usual culprits and their vested interests. Along with working towards the end of urban traffic problems, these new technologies could are expected to dramatically reduce private vehicle ownership. Motorcycle manufacturers have to be worried about one of the less marketed effects of smarter vehicles: an anticipated 90% reduction in automotive accidents and casualties.  
Let's face it, given motorcycling's conservative tendencies there isn't much chance that any of this good stuff will find its way into motorcycles. We can't even agree to wear minimal protective gear and fight every effort to improve motorcycling's dismal safety record as if we were a bunch of 2-year-olds being asked to drain a big spoonful of nasty tasting medicine. Simple mathematics should illustrate what's going to happen if the car guys pull off their revolution. Motorcyclists are around 15% of traffic fatalities in a typical year. About half of those deaths are the result of single-vehicle crashes. If that's true, it's pretty obvious that a significant number of the multiple vehicle crashes are the fault of motorcyclists to a large enough extent that nothing the car manufacturers can do will save us from ourselves. Let's say, for the sake of being hopeful, that really smart cars drops motorcycle deaths by 25% (Personally, I suspect this is ridiculously optimistic.). That means that the percentage of motorcycle contributions to traffic deaths will be more along the 50-60% territory. 
You would have to be seriously delusional to imagine that it is reasonable for a vehicle (and riders and passengers) that contributes less than 0.01% to the total miles travelled (and most of those miles are purely recreational and unnecessary) but causes 50% of total highway deaths. Somewhere between our currently insanely high injury and fatality rates and that future 50% mark, society is going to take a serious look at motorcycles. When that happens all of the big bad biker stares, gangbanger threats, and whimpering about "freedom" and "tradition" are going to have no effect whatsoever. Roads and doors are going to start closing on motorcycles and our favorite means of transportation will become just another not-legal-on-public-roads recreational vehicle.  
Humans, and Americans in particular, are not known for foresight or preventative action. We tend to react to events as they happen, even when they were predicted and could have been prevented with just a little work. In this case, there are actually some financially significant vested interests involved. Between Polaris and Harley Davidson and a few smaller manufacturers, there are a few billion dollars in revenue at stake. Add the Japanese Big Four and the rest of the importers and you'd think the Motorcycle Industry Council might have its let's-pretend-we're-safety-training organization, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, and the industry's official mouthpiece, the AMA, begin to move motorcyclists toward anything that will reduce our crash contributions. Modern executives are so grossly overpaid that they have no real motivation to preserve the health of the company's they mismanage or the industries they "serve," but stockholders might be a little concerned. I, for example, wouldn't put a nickel of my investment portfolio into any aspect of the motorcycle industry. Since it's TARP-assisted post-Great Recession recovery, Harley Davidson's stock has taken a clobbering, as of this writing: from a $72.68 high in May of 2014 to today's (Feb 2016) $40 price. More than a few financial authors suspect that HD's future is shaky, at best. Polaris is in much better shape, but their bottom line isn't particularly dependent on motorcycle sales. The same goes for Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki. If motorcycles disappear from the industrialized world's highways, none of those companies will be seriously inconvenienced.  
Commuting by motorcycle, on the other hand, will be history. I think that's a bad thing, but if I'm the only one who thinks that, I suspect that means it doesn't matter. What do you think?