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What happens after a crash?


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8 Ways to Avoid Deadly Blind Spots

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Lane position is one of the top strategies a motorcycle rider must utilize to avoid the most common multiple vehicle crashes. Here is a common scenario that illustrates the need to be hyper-aware of blind spots.

Scenario

You and your wife gather your things and pack your bike for a ride to visit family. As expected traffic is heavy, but people are calmly rolling along at about 25 mph. You position yourself in the left portion of your lane to see past a truck in front of you, leaving ample following distance in case the truck stopped quickly.

Suddenly, an SUV just ahead and to your left moves right, into your lane. You have little time to react, but it’s too late. Your front tire makes contact with the right rear bumper and you are both thrown to the pavement.

As innocuous as the situation seemed, you still needed to be aware of the risks around you. The driver who crossed into your lane did so because she thought the lane was clear. She claimed to have looked in her side mirror and even glanced over her shoulder before turning, but saw nothing.

Yes, the driver is responsible for making sure the lane was clear, but you were riding in her blind spot. Not smart.

Here are some ways to help drivers see you easier:

  • Avoid lingering in blind spots. Drive through blind spots when possible (and safe) by traveling a bit faster than surrounding traffic. Filter or lane-split if you can (and if legal).
  • Ride in the driver’s peripheral vision, slightly ahead of the passenger or driver side door.
  • If that’s not possible, then drop back so the driver can see you in their mirrors and to place your bike out of harm’s way if the driver changed lanes suddenly.
  • Never “hide” behind other vehicles where it is nearly impossible for drivers to see you.
  • Position yourself at least 2 seconds behind vehicles you are following. More when following large vehicles.
  • Develop a sixth sense about your environment so you can respond before things unfold. Ask “what’s wrong with this picture”?
  • Predict what actions drivers are likely to make. Look for arm and head movements that can indicate an imminent lane change or turn.
  • Pay close attention to unexplained slowing, drifting or erratic behavior. I call this “vehicle body language”.

Environmental awareness and proper lane positioning are two of the most important strategies for being seen.

Anything to add?



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Review: Helite GP Track Airbag Vest

Riding a motorcycle on a racetrack at speeds exceeding 100mph is exciting and immensely satisfying. But, it can also threaten your well-being if things go wrong. Even the best racers and track day riders make mistakes or get caught up in unfortunate situations beyond their control.

That’s where personal protection comes in and riding at expert-level speeds, you need the best protection you can get. Enter the Helite GP Air Track Vest.

The GP Track Vest can be worn on the street, but the GP version is more robust and is designed to withstand the higher speed crash scenarios. For street riders, Helite makes the Helite Turtle Vest. You can read a review of the Turtle here.

photo: otmpix.com

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Helite is an affiliate partner and supporter. However, I bought this vest with my own money.

Air Vest Technology

photo: Helite

Race leathers and armor have come a long way since I was racing in the mid-eighties when back protectors, knee and shoulder armor and chest protection didn’t exist. Instead, double layers of leather with some foam padding was the norm. Eventually, plastic back protectors and more substantial armor became available.

Nowadays, armor is required for track riding. But, even the best quality leather suits and armor have their limitations; it’s tough to cover the entire body with armor and still be free to move and have the comfort to sustain a race pace.

To help solve that problem, Dainese and AlpineStars (and now others) developed airbag suits that use GPS and IMU sensor deployment systems. But these suits are expensive and need to be recharged after one or two deployments that require shipping to the manufacturer, rendering the suit out of commission for up to a few weeks.

These manufacturers are now offering vest versions of their airbag suits and I’m hoping they will come up with a less cumbersome and pricey way to recharge the suits and vests.

While the all-in-one race suits are an attractive option, I like the versatility of the vest option. But, it’s not perfect.

photo: Helite

 Helite GP Track Air Pros

Here are the reasons why I prefer the Helite:

  • Low Tech – Unlike the A-Stars and Dainese units, the Helite has a mechanical system with an elastic-nylon tether that connects the bike to a CO2 cartridge mounted in the front of the vest. The vest deploys when the rider falls off the bike, which then pulls a steel ball from the housing that holds the CO2 cartridge. And Bang!
  • Deflates Quickly – It takes a couple of minutes for the vest to lose its air once the vest deploys. This allows you to safely ride back to the paddock without restricted movement.
  • Easy and Cheap Recharge-Recharging the vest means simply replacing the $25.00 cartridge. Replacement takes 5 minutes. I keep a few spares on hand.
  • photo: Helite

     

    Fits Over any Suit or Jacket -The correct size allows you to put the vest over an existing street jacket or race suit. The cutout in the upper back fits around a race suit speed hump. The GP vest’s accordion side panels allow a snug fit.

  • Sturdy Armor – The GP Track Air Vest has rigid armor that surrounds the torso, eliminating the need for an additional back or chest protector.
  • Heavy Leather – The GP vest is made from 1.2mm cowhide with accordion expansion panels under the arms.
  • No Movement Restriction – I cannot tell that I have the vest on with no restrictions in movement. The only restriction comes when getting off the bike.
  • Neck, Back and Chest Protection – The vest inflates to cushion your torso from impact. And because it will also support my head from hyper movement, it negates the need for the Leatt STX-rr neck brace I used to wear.

Helite GP Track Air Cons

  • Hard to Put On (until you learn how) – When I first owned the GP vest, I had a devil of a time putting it on over my leathers without help. But, someone then showed me how. (See below)
  • Another piece of gear – It’s a pain having to put on all the gear necessary for protection, and the vest is one more piece. That’s the price for good protection.
  • No side air protection – The accordion panels are great for movement and comfort, but the airbags do not cover this area. This sucks, because I seem to always crack ribs and I’m afraid the vest won’t help prevent this injury.
  • Have to Remember to Connect – The vest won’t work unless you clip the tether to your bike. I’ve had to pull off the track after a lap because I forgot to clip the tether. That’s fine for a track day, but if you forget during a race, you’ll either have to ride unprotected, or  pull in and forfeit the race. To remind me to buckle up I have a piece of bright colored tape on my triple clamp. I also drape the tether across my seat.
  • Have to Remember to Disconnect – You have to disconnect the tether before walking away from the bike. A lot of people think they will deploy the vest by forgetting to disconnect before getting off the bike. But don’t worry. It takes a lot of force to deploy the vest. You’ll realize that you’re still connected well before you walk away. Watch the video below to see how hard the person has to pull to fire the vest.
  • It’s Hot – Adding a thick vest over my vented leather race suit defeats the benefit of a perforated suit. But, it hasn’t been as big a problem once I get up to speed.
  • It’s Expensive – At $919.00, the GP Air Vest is not cheap. But, the argument about how much is your spine, neck, ribs, and guts worth comes into play. If you ride on the track a lot (and especially if you race), it’s a good investment in your health.
photo: Helite

How to Put the Helite GP Air Vest on Alone

Putting on the vest like you would a jacket, one arm at a time is not easy. The vest is stiff and tight enough to not allow the second elbow to squeeze inside. You can get it on this way with help, but I don’t often have that luxury.

The way to put the vest on alone is to:

  • Hold the vest in front of you with the inside facing up and both wrists inside the arm holes.
  • Flip the vest up and over your head, letting vest hand on your shoulders.
  • Once on, pull the Velcro panel across your chest so the red Velcro is completely covered. Then secure the two leather “tabs”.
  • Connect the plastic clip on the vest tether to the lead on the bike and you’re done.

Now, just becasue you’re better protected from injury, doesn’t mean you can ride like an idiot. Be smart and get training. 

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10 Truths That All Motorcycle Riders Need to Know

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Here is a list of the top 10 things riders need to know (but often don’t):

1. Traction management and direction control are directly affected by load transferring to the tires.

2. Timing of deceleration, braking, countersteering and acceleration directly affects traction, direction control (line) and where the bike is pointed at the turn exit.

3. Intensity of brake and throttle application and handlebar inputs directly affects traction, chassis stability and direction control.

4. Specific Visual targets help to accurately read the road and minimize overspeed corner entry.

5. Dynamic Lane positioning is a critical tool for maximizing angle of view and conspicuity.

6. Trailbraking done correctly, maximizes stability, manages traction and refines corner entry speed and direction control at mid-corner and exit.

7. Even the best riders get into trouble if they don’t respect environmental limitations.

8. Electronic rider aids help manage traction; they do not create more traction.

9. Proper riding gear minimizes the risk of injury, but does not make you “safer”.

10. Reading lists like this can make you smarter about riding, but only application of knowledge can make you a better rider.

 
What would you add? Share your comments below
 
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5 Tips for Surviving Intersections

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Intersections are very dangerous places to be. The reason drivers collide with motorcycles is because they either don’t see us or they misjudge our approach speed or distance. Here are some tips to help you become more visible at intersections.

  1. Don’t Hide. Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you.
  2. Move within your lane. Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. People see what they expect to see and a motorcycle may not register in their consciousness, even if they are looking at you. Another reason drivers can look at you but not “see” you is because of “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Realize that you appear stationary if you approach a driver straight on. Even if drivers do see you they may not be able to accurately judge closing speed and approach distance because of your bikes relatively narrow frontal area.One trick is to move across your lane as you approach drivers at intersections to visually “present” the broader side area of your bike. For a more dramatic display, weave back and forth in your lane to “sweep” your headlight across drivers’ field of view. You don’t need to go crazy; swerving a few feet left and right a couple of times should do the trick. And weave only if it’s safe to do so.
  3. Be Bright. It’s smart to wear brightly colored riding gear that gets attention and separates you from the busy background. This includes wearing a light-colored helmet and jacket or vest, as well as putting reflective material on your bike and riding gear for being seen in low light situations.
  4. Don’t rely on noise. While loud pipes get attention, sound is not reliable for telling drivers exactly where you are. Not only that, but loud pipes direct most of the exhaust noise rearward rather than forward where the majority of dangers materialize. Selective use of an aftermarket horn is as effective and a lot less annoying to others.
  5. Be ready. Even after using these measures you will likely encounter drivers who invade your right or way. Being mentally ready makes you more likely to approach cautiously and respond skillfully when someone cuts you off. Being ready means actively looking for trouble, slowing down and covering your brakes before approaching intersections even when everything looks to be in order.
But, don’t be a victim. Instead, reflect on your part in any close calls. You may find that (if you’re truly honest and willing) most times you can identify at least one thing you did or didn’t do to prevent the incident.
 
The best riders predict that a driver might cut them off (or whatever) and are already prepared by covering their brakes and positioning themselves to give maximum time and space to respond.
 
All the best practices in the world sometimes cannot prevent some crashes. We can’t change the behavior of careless drivers. All we can do is minimize the risk. And wear good protection in case the unavoidable happens.
 
 
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Are Loud Pipes an Effective Survival Strategy?

copyright Ken Condon 2018

Like politics and religion, it’s usually a very bad idea to bring up the Loud Pipes debate in mixed company. But, this website is here to discuss such topics, because your well being is at stake.

Before you assume this is an anti- or pro-loud pipes opinion piece, rest assured that I am sympathetic to both sides of the argument. I’ve had bikes with loud exhaust and stock exhaust.

My intent for writing this article is to shed light on the effectiveness of certain strategies for surviving the streets on a motorcycle, including loud pipes.

See the complete list of Riding in the Zone articles here.

Sirens, and Horns

First, let’s discuss whether noise is effective at getting drivers’ attention. Before that can be answered fully, we must first define “attention”. A loud noise intended as an alert, such as a siren (EMS or law enforcement), a fire alarm, or a horn is perceived as something that requires attention and triggers immediate response.

The appropriate response depends on the noise. A siren heard while driving means you need to pull over. A blaring horn means you may be about to collide with another car (or the other driver is just being a dick). Either way, you snap out of any stupor you may be in and frantically look for the problem.

A siren blasting from a municipal building means a risk to the public, like an approaching weather or seismic event. Even this depends on where you live. In Kansas it’s likely to be a tornado. In California, think earthquake. It also depends on where you are. In a movie theater this may mean fire. You get it.

An Example

Did you know that drivers colliding with stationary construction crews is a big problem? Hard to believe, but I guess it’s a thing.

Several methods have been tried to mitigate this all-too-common problem with the latest being sound. An article from the Iowa DOT talks about their trial using audible attenuators to alert drivers of construction crews in the roadway. Read the article here.

Below is an accompanying video demonstrating the attenuator. Take a look. I’ll wait.

Loud Exhaust

Many of you will take this attenuator solution as justification to run loud pipes.

But, hold on. There are differences between this system and loud motorcycle exhausts.

Noise Direction
Considering that exhaust noise is directed rearward, is a loud exhaust more effective in this situation than being seen?

One big difference between the attenuator and loud bike exhaust noise is that the attenuator is directed toward the driver and is accompanied by bright flashing lights. The sound from a motorcycle exhaust is mostly directed rearward.

Sirens and horns are pointed forward for a reason. And when you consider that most multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes come from in front, not behind, you can see the argument against loud pipes being responsible for saving lives.

Also, sound bounces off buildings, etc and is absorbed by vegetation, etc. This means that locating the source of the sound is tough. And the time it takes for a driver to identify your location could be way too late.
Can You Hear Me Now?
Modern cars are well-insulated from sound.

Another argument against loud pipes is that even the loudest exhaust may not be heard and then responded to in time. This is because cars are sound-insulated to the degree that moderately loud music or an AC fan on high can mask, mute or muffle the sound until it is just part of the background noise.

An open window certainly helps in this regard, but almost every vehicle on the road today has efficient air conditioning, which means fewer and fewer people drive with windows open.

Loud pipes are seen (and heard) on sport bikes, as well as cruisers.

OK. Let’s assume that your loud pipes alert a driver that you and your bike is in the vicinity. But, to avoid a collision requires the driver to know exactly where you are. Knowing you’re in the vicinity isn’t enough.

An example is a driver traveling in the same direction (you’re not riding in a drivers blind spot, right?) not being able to see you and then cutting you off. Unfortunately, your loud exhaust noise won’t tell him or her whether they can change lanes or not. They may look first, but maybe not.

One scenario that was pointed out to me that may justify loud(er) pipes is when in very slow traffic (think L.A.) and you are lane splitting. At these slow speeds it’s possible that a driver could hear a bike approaching from behind and will think twice about changing lanes. But, thankfully most riders don’t have to endure (or at least avoid) that extreme traffic situation, which brings us back to questioning th validity of the loud pipes strategy.

Mixed Meaning

Let’s assume that loud exhaust systems can get attention. But what exactly is the noise conveying? It’s not telling drivers’ to pull over or run for cover, so what do we expect drivers to do exactly?

A Reliable Solution: Be More Visible

If your real goal for having loud pipes is to get drivers’ attention so they don’t cut you off or crash into you, then the arguments made in this article suggest you’d be wise to consider other (or additional) strategies. Here are some suggestions that are likely to be effective.

Bright Clothing

Now, I know that hi-viz jackets, vests and helmets may not be your thing. But, you don’t have to go all HAZMAT to become more visible. Harley-Davidson predictably sells mostly black jackets to satisfy their traditional customer base, however look beyond the badass blackness and you can find a few more visible options.

Those of you not as encumbered by traditional style requirements have many options available to you, including the aforementioned hi-viz, but also white or bright colored gear that looks both sporty and stylish…and helps you be seen better in traffic. Check out this Scorpion jacket at Twisted Throttle.

Lane Positioning
Lane position strategies are effective for helping drivers see you.

One of the MOST effective tools for being seen and avoiding crashes is effective lane positioning.

Select lane positions that put you in open view so drivers can see you. This means not tailgating the car or truck in front and riding in the left or right portion of your lane to make sure drivers waiting to turn into or across your lane can clearly see you. It’s up to you to select lane positions that put you in plain view.

Even if you are in plain sight, don’t assume drivers see you. There’s this thing called “motion-induced blindness” where stationary objects disappear when surrounded by a moving background, such as busy traffic. Get drivers’ attention my moving within your lane. You can simply change lane positions, or do a slight weave as you approach.

Horn

Perhaps a train horn will do the job. Notice the motor mounted behind the backrest that powers the horn.

You can rightly argue that a horn is in the same category as loud pipes. But, there is a difference. Unlike loud exhaust, a piercing horn has a more commanding meaning than the noise from loud pipes (yes, even from a “barking” throttle blip). Remember earlier when I talked about how the types of sounds communicate different meaning? Yeah, That.

The horn on most motorcycles is anemic at best and unless you fit an aftermarket blaster on your bike, you can only rely on this being effective at low speeds. Check out aftermarket horns at Twisted Throttle.

Your Choice

Before you get all cranky thinking I’m not on your side. I believe that any added tool for being seen is worthwhile.

However, (you knew this was coming, right?) loud pipes can’t be relied on for adding the kind of conspicuity necessary to avoid collisions…visibility. People have to see you!

I’m no scientist, and this is not based on empirical evidence, but experience and logic suggest that relying primarily on loud pipes for visibility is a weak strategy. Does it help? To a degree. But, in my opinion, the effectiveness is trumped by the risk of discrimination from authorities, the disdain from your neighbors and the perpetuation of the outlaw image puts us in risk of heavy handed regulation.

Of course I know that this won’t convince anyone already enamored with the badass sound of their bike to dig up the stock exhaust from the basement. However, I hope this article gives you pause before you repeat the old saw “Loud Pipes Save Lives” without at least considering that this strategy may have a relatively minor effect on preventing crashes.

Admit it…loud pipes make your bike sound better and is a way to experience the raw, visceral power of your awesome machine. But, ask yourself if perhaps they aren’t as effective as most people think at saving lives.

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Will You Stop Your Motorcycle in Time?

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Practicing emergency braking is critical. But, is it enough?

Getting your motorcycle stopped in time to avoid a collision is one of the most important skills you can have. But, simply being able to apply maximum brake force isn’t enough (even if you have modern ABS). Here is an article I wrote for Motorcyclist Magazine a while back about braking and reaction time that I think deserves some more airtime. Enjoy!

You’re riding along minding your own business when suddenly you are facing the bumper of a left turning sedan. Every cell commands you to get the motorcycle stopped ASAP to prevent your early demise. But, will your response be quick enough?

It’s a good thing that we are hardwired to respond immediately to threats, but too often our synapses do not fire fast enough for a quick and effective respond. Thankfully, there are ways to help make sure you aren’t a victim of too little, too late.

Perception Time

There are actually two components of reaction time: “perception time” and “activation time”. Perception time is the time it takes to figure out what’s going on and decide what action to take. Response time is the time it takes to reach for the brakes. You also have to account for the amount of time it takes to actually get the bike stopped.

Let’s say you’re traveling at 40 mph, which is about 59 feet per second. Recent research indicates the average rider will use about 1.5 seconds to recognize the situation and reach max braking rate, also known as perception-response time. That number can increase to over 2 seconds if you’re daydreaming. That equates to between 88 and 117+ feet before any physical action is taken.

illustration: Ken Lee

Stopping Distance

The actual time it takes to get the motorcycle stopped once the brakes are applied depends on speed, machine geometry/weight, available traction, and your ability to use your brakes fully without skidding (ABS helps in this regard). Recent research also shows that an average rider can only achieve a braking rate of 0.6 g’s. That means from 40 mph you’ll need 89 feet to complete the stop. The 1.5 seconds of perception-response time mentioned earlier adds another 88 feet for a total stopping distance of 177 feet.

With perception-response time adding nearly 50% to the total stopping distance, you can see why it’s so important to remain alert. You also want to develop your ability to predict when bad things are about to happen before they unfold. Get ahead of potentially hazardous situations by aggressively scanning for clues that indicate trouble. Be especially vigilant when approaching intersections where most collisions occur.

Stopping in a Corner

Hard braking when the bike is upright is tricky enough when facing an emergency. But, things get even more challenging when you have to stop quickly while leaned because of a hazard around a corner. Perception, response and braking times still apply, but now you also need more time to free up traction by reducing lean angle so you can brake hard with less chance of traction loss. This necessary action adds to total stopping distance. Machines with Cornering ABS offer a distinct advantage here where you can brake hard while maintaining lean angle.

Be Ready

You can reduce activation time by covering the front brake lever and rear brake pedal when approaching potential hot spots. Not only will this simple action reduce activation time, it also puts your whole system on alert.

Of course, the best way to reduce braking distances is to slow down. Trimming just 5 mph off your 40 mph travel speed requires about 32 less feet to stop. Add 5 mph and you’ll need about 35 more feet to stop. Speed up to 60 mph and you’re going to need an extra 155 feet to stop, for a total of 332 feet. Yikes.

Whether or not you avoid a crash is dependent on your ability to react quickly when an otherwise sublime day suddenly turns into a DEFCON 1 war zone. The best riders remain alert and ready for battle, wasting very little processing time before executing evasive action. They also cover the brakes to reduce activation time when approaching intersections. The final step is to regularly practice emergency braking techniques. Can you stop your motorcycle in the shortest possible distance while maintaining in control? Too many riders cannot.

Read “How to Not Suck at Braking”

Read the article at Motorcyclist Online.

Thanks to Lou Peck, forensics expert at Axiom Forensics for help in writing this article.


 

 


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Video Lesson: The Result of Poor Braking Ability

This is a clear demonstration of the consequences of not having proper braking skills. Take a look and then I’ll give you my opinion. I’ll wait.

A shocking number of riders in this video’s original version blamed everything but the rider. Sad.

Well, this is the most classic example of a failure to apply the brakes properly under pressure.

The rider demonstrates an inability to “predict the future” through situational awareness leading to the sudden need for evasive action. And while you can argue that the rider was positioned too close to deal with the stopping vehicles and that the tar snakes reduced traction, the primary reason the crash occurred was lousy skills.

  • The rider skids the rear tire. Untrained riders react to panic braking situations the only way they know how…  which is to stomp on the big brake pedal with their strong leg, like when driving in a car.
  • He then throws out his “outriggers” (legs) so that his feet are now off the pegs…and off the rear brake.
  • Our rider fails to use the most powerful tool at his disposal—the front brake.
  • All the time, the rider fixates his eyes on the back of the truck. Target fixation is the final straw.

This is 100% avoidable with proper braking practice. This article covers the basics. DO NOT neglect to develop this critical skill.


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Video Lesson: Intersection Crash

Here is another video posted by the rider who was involved in a crash at an intersection. See more video Lessons here.

One thing different about this rider is that he is taking the time to self-analyze his role in the crash and explore how he could have done better. Kudos Hans Solo!

I want to stress that in the real world, under battle conditions, we humans will make flawed decisions. It’s what we do. The takeaway is to have effective strategies so we can do all we can to avoid needing to use superhero skills…assuming we have them at our disposal. Hans should be commended. He is doing the hard work of looking in the mirror to evaluate what he could have done differently.

That said, I have a different take on what could have helped, so I’ll add my .02 about how things could possibly have turned out differently.

Monday morning quarterbacking can come off as smug, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity for my readers to learn from others’ mishaps if we can.
Take a look at the vid. I’ll wait.

If you can’t see the video:
Imagine a rider approaching a cross-street intersection with a white car waiting to turn left across his lane in a dedicated left turning lane. There is a gray car located at 10:00 from the rider who is also approaching the intersection. The rider accelerates to pass the gray car on the right before the intersection when the white, waiting car cuts across both the gray Nissan and the bike. The white car zips in front of the  gray car and the bike hits the white car broadside.  Sorry the video isn’t available.

 


OK, so here are my thoughts:

Lane Position & Conspicuity

Using the Dark Blue-Gray Nissan as a “pick” or blocker is often a good plan, but it’s a mistake to do it at the expense of being seen. In this case, Hans moved into the right lane to put the Nissan between him and the left turning cars. The problem is that the white car couldn’t see him as well (not that the driver was even looking) and Hans couldn’t see the white car as well. We call the blue-gray Nissan an eclipse vehicle.

Add to that the fact that the road was curving (see :45) in a way that makes Hans even less visible to the oncoming white car and you can see the problems with this particular lane position.

One possibility is if he had stayed in the left lane behind the Nissan, he could have seen the white car move earlier. But then if the Nissan hit the white car (they missed by inches), Hans would have needed to be far enough back to be able to brake in time to not rear end the Nissan. In the end, he made a fine decision, but the driver of the white car did something so unexpected that it’s tough to blame Hans for this decision.

Vision

Lane position plays a huge role in terms of being seen and being able to see ahead. Greater following distance would have allowed Hans to see the movement of the white car earlier. And remaining in the left lane (with lots of following distance) would have allowed him to see past the Nissan.

Because intersections are so dangerous, my eyes would be flicking around while my wide vision would be looking for any peripheral movement. You can see the white car move at 1:58. Impact comes at 1:59, so because of his speed he had almost zero time to react.

Speed & Stopping Distance

Hans wasn’t riding particularly fast, but his speed could have been better for the situation. Hans says he slowed (and downshifted) before impact, but I don’t hear any significant change in RPM…although he clearly brakes just before the crosswalk. What I saw was a seriously dangerous situation ahead that would have had me rolling off the throttle earlier and covering my brakes.

For reference, trimming just 5 mph off of 40-mph travel speed requires about 20 fewer feet to stop. Add to that the reality of perception time and reaction time that further increases actual stopping distances and you can see how much speed affects safety. Read my article in Motorcyclist about reaction time and speed.

So, how much time did Hans have to stop? A Nissan Altima is about 16 feet long, so at the time of initial brake application (seen by the front end dive) I estimate the distance between the rider and the white car to be about 40 feet. The speed he would need to be at to get the bike stopped in time is about 25 mph! See this chart from the MSF that documents that a VFR800 needs about 36 feet to stop at 29mph. This is with a trained rider in a controlled environment.

Keep in mind that Hans is likely to be an average rider who rarely (if ever) practices emergency braking skills. This means he, like most average riders, can only achieve a deceleration rate of 0.6 g’s even though most bikes are capable of 1.0 g. Add to that the reaction time of the average human is 1.3 seconds and you can see the problem.

Expect the Unexpected

The point of this article is for us to consider possible solutions that would have prevented or at least minimized the effect of the driver of the white car’s screw up. In this particular case, the white car cut off a large four-wheeled vehicle, so he would have surely cut in front of a motorcycle. This is an extreme case of a driver totally screwing up and is hard to believe. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t still do all we can to prepare for the unexpected. Do what you can to not let it happen to you!

That’s about all I got. I hope you heal fast, Hans.

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Video Lesson: Uphill Hairpin Fail

Here is another installment of “Videos Lessons” where we pull from the seemingly never ending supply of rider videos from which we can learn. Even though these are 2 very slow speed crashes, the injuries could have been serious. I hope everyone is okay.

This particular video shows the seriousness of slow speed mishaps and of course the importance of rider training.

First, take a look at the video. The crash happens around 1:15. I’ll wait.

Pretty scary, right? It’s hard to see, but it seems the first rider to crash was actually in the lead, and the rider with the passenger had to slow and go around his friend as he tipped over. The second rider (with passenger) watched his friend fall and appeared to be putting his right foot down to stop, but failed to use his front brake and rolled off the road.

I want to point out that at about :45 the Harley riders demonstrate some apprehension about their ability to handle the tight turns. You can see this as they approach the right hand turn marked by a 20mph road sign. They are smart to slow down because there is a yield sign before a narrow bridge, but they seem to slow more than necessary. This is often indicative of serious cornering anxiety. The confirmation of weak cornering confidence comes when the mishap occurs.

It’s interesting to note that this mishap is different than others where the rider enters a turn too fast (for his/her ability) and runs wide (see this video). In this case, both riders fell on the inside of the right-hander. Why?

Crasher #1

Let’s begin by discussing the rider who first crashed. He says that he hit a hole in the road and then rode over the patch of sand. I don’t doubt this. I also don’t doubt that the hole and the sand contributed to upsetting the bike’s stability (at least a little bit).

Even so, the real questions needed to be asked are:

1. why did he hit the hole when there was opportunity to ride over smoother pavement?

2. why did he fall over?

Here is my explanation:

1.Why did he hit the hole? The reason the rider who first crashed hit the pothole was because of poor visual skills. It’s human nature to look down when we are anxious. It is likely that the rider wasn’t looking far enough ahead to come up with a plan to manage the tricky hairpin, resulting in him being taken by surprise by the tight radius and and steep slope. As he rounds the bend, he sees the hole and the sand which further increases his anxiety and triggers his survival response that includes staring at the hole. When we panic, we tend to target fixate on hazards. The problem with staring at a hazard is that we tend to steer toward it like a super-powerful magnet.  This tendency of going where we look is called Visual Direction Control and is likely what causes him to run over the hole…and then the sand.

Solution: Looking well ahead allows you to avoid surprises. Also, looking at an escape route rather than the hazard could have kept the bike away front the surface hazards. Seeing hazards early is critical for keeping these dangerous survival triggers from taking over.

2.Why did he fall over? Hitting the hole and sand did not make the crash inevitable. Factors that caused the actual fall probably included an overreaction and extreme tension. This would result in the rider clamping on the handlebars and chopping the throttle at a time when he was already moving very slow on a steep uphill hairpin. This reaction hindered direction control and killed what little amount of stability the bike had, causing gravity to take over and the bike to fall over.

Solution: Motorcycles are more stable with speed. Had he kept steady drive the bike’s suspension would have handled the bump better and stability would have been maintained. As far as the sand goes, easy acceleration and a light grip on the handlebars while reducing lean angle slightly would have allowed the tires to deal with the sand while allowing the bike to remain in its lane. As I mentioned earlier, had the rider kept his eyes up, he would have likely selected a path that avoided both the hole and the sand. Problem solved.

Crasher #2

The lead rider’s crash was caused by the same two reasons I already outlined: Looking in the wrong place and insufficient speed for stability.

1.Why did he ride off the road? Because we tend go where we look. The lead rider looked over his right shoulder, causing the bike to drift to the right and drop off the shoulder and down the ravine.

Solution: Same as above. Look where you want to go. Yes, seeing your buddy fall over can grab all of your attention, but it’s imperative that you always remain in control and that means keeping your eyes ahead until you can come to a safe stop.

2. Why did the bike go off the road so quickly? Because of a loss of directional stability. When the rider decelerated on the steep slope he slowed down enough for gravity to take hold of the bike and send it down the hill.

Solution: Same as above. Had the rider maintained positive drive he would have completed the corner on two wheels.

This video demonstrates the importance of two of the most critical skills motorcyclists need to maintain control: Visual direction control and Speed for stability. Think of these two hapless riders the next time someone suggests taking a parking lot course that covers basic slow speed maneuvers and cornering techniques. The techniques would have saved these two a world of hurt and embarrassment.

Even better is if they had signed up for on-street training where instructors can observe problems at real world speeds and conditions.

Here are two links to articles I’ve written about visual skills and cornering. And here is an article specifically about managing hairpin turns. Use the Search field above to find more pertenent articles. These topics are also covered in depth in both Riding in the Zone and Motorcycling the Right Way.

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Yet Another Crash Video We Can Learn From

Here is another video that I’m pretty sure demonstrates how we humans don’t want to admit when we screw up.  See the video of the poor guy who sideswiped a big truck on his R6. The problem that he says the wind drove him into the truck. Whaaa?

Note: you only need to watch the first 15 seconds to see the incident, but you’ll have to stick it out until the first passerby arrives to hear him mention the wind. WARNING: The video may be difficult to listen to as the poor guy writhes in pain. He also swears a bit.

While I know the wind out west can be strong enough to knock over tractor trailer rigs, I’m pretty sure wind had nothing to do with this incident. I think it’s another case of inaccurate self-evaluation and lack of rider ability and/or a serious lack of concentration.

I can’t tell how strong the wind was at the time of the crash, but the trees aren’t being blown around very much and his friend’s hair (he appears later in the video) is barely moving at all. Maybe he’s wearing copious amounts of hairspray, but I don’t think so.

Besides, if it were strong enough to blow a bike across a lane, I doubt the rider would be chatting away so casually before the incident. Also, the rock formations on the side of the road should have blocked any direct side forces.

Dangerous Distraction

One explanation for this seemingly bizarre crash is a complete and total brain fart. I’m not sure if he is talking to himself or to his friend who is riding ahead, but he wasn’t focused on leaning enough to make the curve.

Early Turn Entry

Notice how the rider began heading toward the inside of the corner too early, causing his bike to be pointed toward the oncoming lane. – Thanks for readers for pointing this out.

Countersteering, Baby!

Another contributing factor is that perhaps he did not have a good grasp of countersteering. A hard push on the right handlebar should have kept him in his lane even if it were windy.

Target Fixation

Target fixation is another likely contributing factor in this incident. Target fixation is a phenomenon that explains why we go where we look. Once the rider realized he was drifting wide into the path of a big truck, he likely couldn’t take his eyes off the hazard and that’s where he ended up. Look toward the solution, not the problem.

Human Nature Strikes Again

I think this is another example of someone blaming something other than their inability to stay focused or steer effectively. Deferring blame is a basic human response to help explain how they could have made such a serious and basic mistake.

See this video of another crash that demonstrates how humans can delude themselves.

The reason to highlight these videos is not to place blame, but to recognize the danger of not knowing why an incident happened. Without that, we are destined to repeat the mistake.

What do you think?


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Video Lesson: Group Riding Crash Video

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Take a look at this video of the guy who crashes trying to avoid his buddy who just hit a dog. The second rider doesn’t hit his friend, but almost gets creamed by an oncoming Tractor Trailer. A lot of comments and Monday morning quarterbacking have filled social media already, so I wasn’t planning to add to the noise until a reader requested that I share my thoughts. So, here you go.

First off, I am really sorry this incident happened and I’m glad everyone is okay. I’m very thankful that the truck driver was paying attention so he was able to miss hitting the sliding rider. It’s really too bad about the dog, though.

For those of you who have not seen the video(s):

In addition to these clips, you can read a local TV station's post that interviews one of the riders, as well as a so-called "Expert". You can see that HERE.

A Second Incident Behind

Make note about the second video that another incident happened in the back of the group. This is an example of a chain reaction that can lead to more issues. Let’s analyze this to try and learn from the incident. Note that my comments are based on typical causation and not firsthand involvement.

What Went Wrong

A few things went wrong here:

Unleashed Animals

Animals are unpredictable, making it super difficult to know when they might dart in front of you. I hit a small dog last season when it ran out from some high brush and directly under my front wheel. We can’t control this, except to scan for movement along the sides of the road.

Staggered Formation

The staggered group riding formation that the group was using is not unreasonable when traveling on a straight section of road. But, if you look at the video from the rider ahead who looked back, you can see that the rider that struck the dog could not see the animal until it was really too late. That’s because the video rider was blocking the view of the side of the road.

Staggered formations also prevent the riders from using the full width of their lane and limited their option to swerve.

Instead of using a staggered formation that spans the full width of the lane, I suggest staggering only enough to see past the rider ahead so there is more distance between the yellow (center) line for riders staggering on the left part of the lane, and more distance between the white line for riders in the right part of the lane. This will help prevent them from “eclipsing” each other from hazards. This works best if there is ample following distance between riders.

Riding Too Close

It’s hard to tell just how close each rider is following, but a too close following distance commonly results in panic-induced over reaction. I suspect this was another factor.

A Lack of Training

The second rider got on the brakes hard, which is good. But, his abrupt braking caused his rear tire to leave the ground, which was quickly followed by smoke coming off the front tire from a skid. Once a front tire skids, it’s all over, most of the time.

Speed?

Speed is usually a factor in incidents, simply because the slower you go, the more time and space you have to respond to hazards. That said, it appears that the speed was reasonable for the road.

Another Example of the “I Had to Lay It Down” BS

The second rider said he avoided hitting his friend by deliberately dropping his bike. I hear this all the time…”I had to lay it down to avoid [fill in the blank]”.

I know, the idea is to try to avoid what could be a worse crash. And in VERY rare situations, this may be true. But, 99.9% of the time, crashing to avoid a crash makes no sense. Today’s brakes and tires allow tons of grip and stopping power to scrub off big speed very rapidly…if executed correctly.

Even if this was a viable solution, having the presence of mind to deliberately crash while facing a panic situation is not bloody likely. It’s way more likely that a person will react the way untrained humans do…by grabbing the brakes abruptly enough to cause the front tire to skid. Classic mistake.

Unfortunately, this video will help keep this dangerous BS myth alive.

Human Nature

The truth is that the second rider who crashed screwed up by braking too abruptly. Don’t feel too bad. We humans make mistakes.

As much as you’d like to think of yourself as a hero for sacrificing your bike and riding gear to avoid hitting your buddy, the odds are that you just braked so hard as to loft the rear tire and skid the front tire, which dropped your moto to the ground in an instant.

You’re not alone. A lot of riders claim that they layed down their bike because they:

  • genuinely believe it was the best thing to do
  • probably know better, but are in denial
  • helps them feel better about screwing up. And who can blame them, after all people easily accept this explanation in a positive way.

The Case For Training

It’s likely that this guy has not been exposed to such a severe situation before and was not trained to handle it. Unfortunately, most riders are ill prepared to handle this.

To be fair, it’s possible that I might do the exact same thing, because I too am human and make mistakes. But the odds are that I won’t, because I’m trained. One thing for sure is that I would not have deliberately crashed my bike because I thought it was best to throw in the towel.

Practicing braking techniques not only teaches your body how to execute the maneuver, it also puts the maneuver into your muscle memory. This is key when you have a split second to respond. Untrained riders snap, whereas trained riders are more likely to remain in control. ABS would have helped the second rider stay upright, but deferring rider ability to technology has its problems, too.

Notice that I say “respond” and not “react”. There is a difference. Trained riders respond, untrained riders react.

An Interview with a So-called “Expert”

Just look at the TV reporters and so called expert who gave the rider a big attaboy. The television station interviewed a local motorcycle safety instructor about the mishap:

“A perfect choice by the rider,” says Vandervest Harley-Davidson Riding Academy Coach Susie Davis. “The bikes can be fixed much easier than people can be fixed – so proud of them for doing that.”

Both men decided to drop their bikes and skid on the road instead of swerving to avoid the dog and then each other. Davis says that split-second decision may have saved their lives and the lives of the other motorcyclists with them.

”I think they did a miraculous job,” said Davis. “They let the bike go. They saved themselves. They came out alive. They’ve come out with minor injuries. I don’t know that it could have been done any differently.”

WRONG! This coach is dead wrong and is perpetuating this BS. Having a supposedly trained instructor miss the point just goes to show how deeply ingrained this myth has become. Sad.

A Similar Perspective

Riding Man author Mark Gardiner wrote these two excellent articles that corroborate my point of view. Check them out.

His Blog

Revzilla

The Takeaway

Untrained humans will react in a knee-jerk manner to panic situations. To avoid this:

  • Get yourself trained
  • Select lane positions that offer the best angle of view
  • Don’t lay your bike down, or at least stop claiming that laying it down was your only choice.

The guys did at least one thing right: They were wearing protective gear. Good job, there.

Share your thoughts below.



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8 Lessons to Learn from This Grom Crash

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Grom-CrashGroms are fun…really fun. They are small, yet powerful enough to do all sorts of silly shenanigans. Just watch my fellow scribes Ari and Zack from Motorcyclist Magazine for proof:

Gromkhana 1

Gromkhana 2

Playbike Dangers

The thing is that playbikes like the Grom can trigger a false sense of safety that can make a person think he or she is invincible.

The truth is that you can certainly be hurt or killed even on a little bike.

Another reason that small bikes can be unsafe is becasue they disappear in traffic. It’s hard enough to be conspicuous on a normal sized bike, but it’s extra tough on a Grom.

Lesson

Case in point is a video I saw that is no longer available of a Grom crashing into the side of a car.

It’s pretty obvious that an elderly driver thought he was good to go after waiting for a car ahead of the Grom to pass. It’s a classic case of “I didn’t see him”. Likely another case of inattentional blindness.

Before you launch hate missiles at the old guy you’ve got to remember that people make mistakes. Sure, the driver was at fault…no argument there. His insurance company will pay.

Knowing 100% that we can’t possibly hope to stop people from making mistakes means it’s up to us to do all we can not to become a victim of these people.

The Rider’s Mistakes

The rider in the video could have noticed that the car ahead was blocking him from view. He should have also predicted that the driver was ready to go as soon as the gray car went past. This would have alerted the rider to slow way down and be ready to apply the brakes–hard!

By the time he realized what was unfolding, it was too late. The rider heroically attempted to swerve to the left, but there was not enough time or space to sneak by.

One significant mistake the rider did not make (unlike soooo many other riders) is to wear full protective gear. He was mostly unhurt in the crash. Unfortunately, the dark riding gear probably didn’t help in the conspicuity department.

The Takeaway

Posting this video isn’t intended to callout the rider’s ineptitude; we all act on assumptions that don’t turn out as we expect. Rather, I use this video as an illustration of one of the most common reasons for multiple-vehicle motorcycle crashes, so we can learn from it. The following lessons can be applied to any situation involving intersections. The rider in this video did not necessarily break any of these lessons, but perhaps he did.

Lesson 1: Don’t be fooled into thinking because you’re riding a small, low powered bike that you cannot get hurt or killed…you can.

Lesson 2: Recognize that you are hard to see when riding a motorcycle, and you’re nearly invisible on a pint-sized bike like a Grom.

Lesson 3: Develop a sixth sense about your surroundings and then listen to that sense.

Lesson 4: Learn about the classic crash scenarios so you can recognize when they are developing in front of you.

Lesson 5: When approaching intersections with waiting cars, slow down and cover your brakes.

Lesson 6: Have an escape plan in mind in case something does happen.

Lesson 7: Plan for the Worst, hope for the best.

Lesson 8: Make sure your emergency braking skills are well-practiced, just in case.

Did I miss anything? Add you thoughts in the comments below.


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Truths About Riding Gear

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Crash4_02-smProtection is a good thing, right? Of course it is. After all, nobody wants to get hurt if they can help it. Besides that, the right riding gear makes being out on the open road more comfortable and enjoyable. The gear you choose also completes your “look” and style. What’s not to like?

Before you click away thinking this is another All-The-Gear-All-The-Time (ATGATT) article, think again. While I’m a big proponent of ATGATT, I also believe it doesn’t quite deliver as much as many people hope, so read on.

Freedom Lost

Most people ride motorcycles for fun…Nobody I ever met said they ride to be safe. The focus on fun over safety leads a lot of people to adopt a lackadaisical attitude toward the real risks of riding and a distaste for wearing protection.

I get that. Before I knew better I would hop on my CB160 in whatever I had on. Shorts? Sure. Sneakers? Absolutely. No Helmet? Why not?…It’s a short ride to the market, after all.

Well, that ill-informed and clueless kid turned into an adult who has seen what happens when skin contacts asphalt at speed and what a top-quality helmet looks like after an impact (see photo). You can say my innocence has been forever ruined. But, I’m okay with wearing protective gear if it means an increased chance of living a long life on two wheels.

Cost

That sense of security doesn’t come for free. First, there is the monetary cost of outfitting your body with decent-quality protective gear. You’ll want gear that works in hot, cold, and wet weather. It’s out there and is really not as costly as many people assume. Shop around.

Photo2_Readiness-nogear-smHassle

Then there is the inconvenience of putting on and taking off all that gear. Sometimes I just want to jump on the bike without taking 15 minutes to put on all the “proper” gear. But, if I don’t zip on my gear I feel a bit guilty for not managing the risk, imagining how much it would suck if I were to fall and slide wearing only my bluejeans instead of my armored MotoPort Kevlar pants.

A lot of you would think that’s a bit over the top as many of you have no problems wearing  jeans to protect your legs, with a few of you even choosing to ride lid-less, for Crys-sakes! For me, there’s never a question about wearing a riding jacket, boots, helmet and gloves…I always do.

As much as riding gear can be a PIA, once I’m on the road, I’m happier, more comfortable and less likely to need the services of Nurse Roadrash if something bad happens. I can live with that, and I hope you will too.

Think about this: Imagine how foolish and remorseful you’d be if you crashed in your t-shirt and jeans while all your best protective gear is hanging in the closet. Even if you don’t think you’d beat yourself up too bad about it, your mother, spouse or (smart) riding friends will probably raise an eyebrow about your lapse of judgment as you wince in pain with the slightest movement. Dumbass.

Photo3-Gear_Harley-smImage

Gear also completes your style, announcing to the public and your peers what “tribe” you belong to.

The type of gear your peeps wear (or not) is likely to be what you will wear. Showing up at a gathering looking “over protected” could mark you as less of a man or a Nervous Nellie. This matters because we’re all just kids living in overgrown bodies who want to fit in, after all.

The solution? I suggest you be brave and wear what makes the most sense to your values of risk management. You don’t have to diverge too far from the norm. Take a closer look at what’s available and you’ll discover that there are ways to protect yourself fairly well while still achieving the “Look” you’re aiming for.

Imagine this rider's skull if he wasn't wearing a helmet.
Imagine this rider’s skull if he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Does Protective Gear Make Us “Safer”?

Statistics and common sense suggest that wearing protective gear has had a positive affect on injury rates. However, the decrease in injury and fatality rates are not as dramatic as you might expect. In fact, the rate of injury has remained more-or-less constant even when more people are protected. Why?

One possible reason is when humans utilize risk-reducing “interventions”, such as safety belts, bicycle helmets or motorcycle safety gear, they tend to feel safer and therefore unconsciously increase their level of risk. This effect is called “Risk Compensation”.

The prevalence of this behavior varies from person to person, but we are all susceptible.

What this suggests is that the benefit of protective gear may not be fully realized until you understand the human tendency to compensate for a sense of protection. It’s smart to wear protective gear, but be sure to recalibrate your mind to avoid the trap of risk compensation.

J9_CrashRisk Homeostasis

The amount of risk a person takes is also determined by “risk homeostasis”. Gerald J.S. Wilde, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada wrote a controversial book titled “Target Risk 2: A New Psychology of Safety and Health” where he describes how each individual will compensate for changes in risk exposure. His hypothesis is that if risk is reduced in one area, the individual will increase risk in another area to maintain his or her level of acceptable risk.

Whether you believe this or not, it is an interesting theory that I think has at least a thread of truth and further points to the importance of self-awareness when it comes to risk perception and awareness.

Risk perception and acceptance varies from person to person and is based partly on personal beliefs and past experiences. Risk acceptance is determined by the individual’s need for a thrill. Some people thrive on adrenaline and living on the edge. Others, not so much.

No Panacea

Crashed helmet-sm

We’d all love to think we can prevent death or serious injury simply by zipping on a sturdy jacket and strapping on the most expensive helmet we can afford. But, the reality is that many deaths occur despite the rider wearing all the best gear. After all, elbow, knee, back and shoulder armor is no match for a truck or tree. And no helmet made can withstand the impact of more than 300 G, which is a problem when a direct impact at normal speeds can easily exceed 500 G.

BCordura-Damage02-smy all means, increase your protection. But, don’t be fooled into thinking that simply wearing protection will save you from poor decisions. You need to be careful not to adopt a false sense of confidence because you feel less vulnerable.

PLEASE do not think for one minute that wearing good riding gear doesn’t reduce or prevent injury and death…it does. Just remember that protective gear is intended to prevent injury, not give permission to ride recklessly.

What am I missing? Add your comments below.

Remember that I moderate comments and it may take a few days to approve yours. But, rest assured, your voice will be heard.


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Crashing Sucks: Ask Me How I Know

Collarbone-XRay
Broken Clavicle

I crashed. In the scheme of things, the mishap wasn’t a huge affair. I was only traveling about 15 mph when I tucked the front tire of a brand new Ducati Multistrada, but the vertical force was enough to pop my collarbone.

Dirt bike riding and road racing aside, it’s been quite a while since I last found myself on the ground next to or underneath a motorcycle.

My last road mishap was in 1978 when I fell victim to a dreaded left-hand turner at an intersection. I took a ride in the blinky bus (aka ambulance) but was promptly treated and released. My 1973 Yamaha TX650 didn’t fare as well and was sold for parts.

This most recent crash involved a street bike, but didn’t happen on the street, rather it occurred during a joint Bosch/Ducati press event in Detroit Michigan on the gravel test track at the Bosch proving grounds. You see, I was invited to test the most-awesome safety electronics found on the newest Ducati Multistrada. FYI, the cornering ABS is truly amazing.

Racing Crashes Don’t Count, Do They?

Racetrack crashes have also been relatively rare but do occur a bit more frequently, which is the result of pushing the limits or vying for a podium finish.

My previous track crash happened about 3 years ago when I pushed the front tire of the Twisted Throttle BMW S1000RR a bit too hard (I sense a theme) into a cold and slightly damp turn 11 at Loudon trying to get a good knee down photo. No injury, but a truckload of embarrassment.

A few years earlier I fell in turn 5 at New Jersey’s Thunderbolt Raceway when an old and cold front tire finally gave up and lowsided me onto the pavement. No injury to me, but the bike flipped and stuff broke. Despite the bike looking bad, both the ZX6R and I were back on track within two hours time.

A few racing crashes between those two mishaps round out my thankfully brief crashing resume. That’s really not too bad considering I have ridden a lot of street and track miles over almost 40 years with many of those miles dragging knee on the racetrack.

Crashed_Multi
Not too bad, really. Photo: Steve Kamrad

Crashing the “Uncrashable” Bike

Like I said, the crash that involved the new Ducati Multistrada, and resultant fractured clavicle, wasn’t a particularly big one.

I simply countersteered the bike a bit too hard while entering a turn on the gravel test track and lost grip at the front tire. I fared worse than the bike with the Multi suffering some cosmetic rash and a broken hand guard.

Before anyone blames the technology, this crash was not the bike’s fault! The Bosch electronics are designed to prevent braking and accelerating miscues, not manage the effects of pushing a front tire too hard into a turn. And since I was not on the brakes when I tucked the front tire, the bike is not to blame. These systems only manage available traction (when braking and accelerating); they do not create more traction! Read More about the Truths About Electronic Stability Control.

Why?

You may be asking why I would do such a silly thing. Surely I know enough not to push a 500+ pound street bike with quasi-dual sport tires on gravel, right? Yes, normally I would have never pushed the bike this hard, but what caused me to do this admittedly dumb thing stems from four factors:

  1. I was fooled into a false confidence: I had just performed mind-blowing feats of daring on wet pavement that warped my basic understanding of physics. This was possible because of the absolutely awesome Bosch electronics package that is integrated into the Multi. Traction control that allows hamfisted throttle inputs while dragging footpegs in the rain! Maximum braking on wet pavement while leaned at 37 degrees! Unbelievable.
  2. I was tired: Testing the TC and Corner ABS for like 20 minutes made me a bit woozy and I had barely recovered when I took to the gravel track. “Just one more run” was one run too many.
  3. A photographer was pointing his evil lens at me: This isn’t the first time I’ve pushed harder knowing that a camera is pointed my way. Most times, I simply drop a little deeper into a corner and turn my head a little farther to ensure my body position and general awesomeness is captured. This time, I was trying for the best action shot that would accompany the magazine article.
  4. I have just enough off-road confidence to get myself in trouble: I had already done 5 runs on the gravel course and was impressed with the way the Pirelli Trail II tires worked as I drifted the bike out of the corners using the limited traction control setting in “enduro” mode. But, when push came to shove, I wasn’t in quite the right position and was too slow on the throttle to keep the front tire from plowing through the gravel.
  5. I didn’t heed warnings coming from my inner voice: In hindsight, my inner voice told me to call it a day. I had acknowledged to myself that I was tired. But, just before I fell I made a few mistakes that indicated that I was pushing beyond my ability at that particular moment. My voice of warning was speaking, but did I listen? No.

Being “that guy”

As I got to my feet and shut off the engine I was in utter disbelief. Had I really just dropped a brand new Ducati? With shock wearing off, my inner voice began tormenting me with doubts about my professionalism, competence and judgment. Not surprisingly, the Ducati and Bosch folks were gracious about the whole thing (apparently this happens more than people think).

I ride motorcycles, and I ride them hard. So, I should expect an occasional mishap. However, part of me actually thought I had somehow trained myself out of being human, insulating myself from simple mistakes. While I have worked hard to be the best rider I can be, I am not (yet) perfect.

Getting Over It

My collarbone is healed after 8 weeks and I’m back on the racetrack and street. As expected, part of me is a bit spooked about gravel surfaces, but not enough to matter. I’m back to riding hard and feeling good again. A big reason why I bounced back quickly is because I know why the crash happened and how to avoid it in the future. It’s a lot tougher when you don’t know what happened and don’t know how to avoid a future crash…that can get into your head and under your skin.

To avoid a similar crash in the future I’ll be more mindful about my limits at any given moment.


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Truths About Electronic Stability Control

Bosch-CornerABS-rain
Grab the brakes or whack the throttle while leaned, Bosch has your back. Rain or shine.

The newest Ducati Multistrada has super sophisticated Bosch Traction Control and ABS electronics. These rider aids will make it a whole lot harder to crash! But, are they all they are cracked up to be?

The Bosch electronics I tested at the Bosch proving ground near Detroit included updated ABS with Combined Braking Systems (eCBS), Ducati Wheelie Control (DWC), Lift (Stoppie) Control, Ducati Traction Control (DTC) and Cornering ABS, aka Motorcycle Stability Control (MSC).

The straight-line ABS is nothing particularly new, but the introduction of corner sensitive traction control and Corner ABS certainly is. The brain behind this technology is the Inertia Measuring Unit (IMU) that can detect angles of roll, yaw, and pitch. With this data, the ABS and Traction Control systems can intervene to prevent many crashes caused by over-exuberant braking or throttle inputs. Without the IMU, TC and ABS cannot detect and then intervene to arrest traction loss that includes a lateral slide. With the lean-angle sensitive IMU, it can bleed engine torque or brake power if it detects abrupt changes in pitch, lean or direction. Cool, huh?

Wet tile with ABS OFF.
Wet tile with ABS OFF.

Disclaimer: The system I am reviewing here is the latest technology found on only a few 2014-2015 machines. Older and less sophisticated electronic aid packages without the benefit of a lean-angle sensitive IMU will not perform the miracles I am about to describe.

Testing, Testing: ABS

To test the traditional straight-line ABS I made several high and low speed runs on gravel and wet and dry pavement. The ABS never let me down. Riding on a wet tile runway with ABS switch off caused the bike to slam onto the sturdy outriggers with just the touch of the brakes. It was possible to apply the brakes without skidding, but it took all the brake feel and control I could muster. With ABS switched on, I was able to grab the brakes and the bike remained balanced on two wheels.

Wet tile with ABS ON.
Wet tile with ABS ON.

Riding on the gravel course further confirmed the effectiveness of the ABS as the bike to remained upright even when applying copious amounts of front brake pressure. Set to Enduro mode, rear brake ABS is disabled to allow direction changes using a locked rear wheel …fun, but not something I recommend on a 511-pound motorcycle with street-biased tires.

Testing, Testing: Cornering ABS

Testing the Cornering ABS (what Ducati calls Motorcycle Stability Control or “MSC”) required me to grab the brakes as hard as possible while fully leaned in a corner. Really?

It was nearly impossible to toss aside decades of instinctive emergency corner braking technique and common sense to do this test. Normally I would reduce lean angle before (or while) applying the brakes. Instead we were told to jam on the brakes and hold lean angle as long as possible.

Demo of Cornering ABS.
Demo of Cornering ABS. Bosch photo.

I held my breath and headed for the curve before I leaned hard and went for it. It worked! Not only did the MSC manage the available traction, it also allowed me to slow rapidly while maintaining the path through the curve; no more crossing into the oncoming lane or hitting a guardrail in an emergency corner braking situation.

Trying this on dry pavement was unnerving as hell, but a passing shower meant that I got the chance to test this mind-bending system in the rain. This maneuver went against all of my instincts but once I trusted the system I was sold!

Testing, Testing: Traction Control

After the MSC test, I set out to further tax my nerves by testing the Ducati Traction Control (DTC), which consisted of whacking the throttle open in second gear at 37+ degrees of lean. Instead of a nasty crash, the rear drifted controllably with the rear tire slipping and gripping predictably. Look at me, I’m Valentino Rossi.

But, the TC isn’t foolproof. During one run, I made a particularly abrupt throttle input while dragging the footpegs (crazy, right?) that caused the rear tire to swing a bit farther than comfortable, prompting me to instinctively reduce throttle enough to regain grip. The next time, I was determined to stay on the gas to see if the system would sort things out. I can’t be 100% sure whether I was a bit more cautious or the electronics reacted quicker, but this time the bike remained in control as I blasted out of the corner.

Smitten

At the end of the test, I was compelled to express my sense of awe with my friends on Facebook: “OMG. Bosch has defied physics with the corner ABS and Traction Control. I just grabbed a handful of front brake at 37 degrees and whacked the throttle WFO while dragging my foot peg IN THE RAIN!”

Debate

Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.
Somewhere in there are a bunch of electronic doo-dads that I hope can stand the test of time.

These electronics are awesome, but there are some valid concerns circulating about how traction and stability control is going to influence traditional methods and attitudes. Here are the major concerns and my responses:

  1. Reliability: Motorcycle electronics seem to be the Achilles Heel of reliability, so skepticism about reliability is understandable. But, consider that solid state technology has no switches, relays or moving parts to fail compared to mechanical devices, and connections are designed and tested to prevent dust and water infiltration. Also, other electronic units, like ride-by-wire throttles, have no cables to break. In the event that a fault does occur, “limp-home” mode will allow you to get home. Will it fail? At some point, probably. But will it render the bike useless, probably not.
  2. Electronic intervention will interfere when I don’t want it to: Older, less sophisticated systems have fewer options and have been known to get in the way. But, with the wide range of intervention levels to choose from with the latest systems, it’s hard to think there isn’t a setting that suits almost any rider. It’ll take time to really learn what these systems are capable of and to find your perfect setup.
  3. Electronics will interfere with the essence of riding a motorcycle: Contrary to what a lot of Luddites and Skeptics think, these systems can be set to lurk in the background, never impeding with normal riding situations. I believe these systems enhance riding and can be set to your liking to never (or rarely ever) get in the way of riding enjoyment.
  4. Advanced traction control make advanced rider skills obsolete: I don’t see rider technique becoming obsolete any time soon. To avoid close calls and crashes, riders must have strong control skills and effective survival strategies. You can still careen into a Buick or off a cliff, just like before. While TC will manage traction loss from clumsy braking and throttling, riders will soon learn that getting the most out of their motorcycle comes from smooth, well-timed rider inputs and not electronics.
  5. Electronic aids will encourage bad riding: It is possible that these electronics can encourage risky behavior as people discover just how competent these systems are. What’s to stop someone from relying completely on the TC to manage grip while powering out of a turn, or letting the ABS manage grip as he trailbrakes hard into a turn? TC and ABS may help prevent a crash, but will not to lead to better riding skill or faster lap times. Good technique still trumps electronic aids. Just ask the Moto GP guys. And remember, electronics cannot fix stupid.
  6. Electronic aids can lead to false confidence: Yes. I can personally attest that a false sense of confidence is possible. After fully testing the MSC, ABS and advanced traction control I was somehow fooled for one moment into thinking that the bike was not crashable. Of course, I was wrong! It’s important to remember that these systems manage available traction under braking and acceleration; they do not create more traction! You cannot expect to magically lean onto the edge of your tire over sand or dip into a corner over gravel and come out unscathed.

Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.
Despite looking like a Star Wars console, the Ducati interface is quite easy to use.

Safety

One of the most important selling points of the Bosch rider aids is safety. But, these systems cannot influence all crash factors, nor are they able to correct for bad decisions like excessive speed or bad lane position.

Riders must still rely on good technique and judgment to prevent most crashes from occurring. The smartest riders will never need these systems as they continue to use traction management techniques like smooth, progressive brake and throttle application.

Practice

Whether you have new-fangled IMU-based electronics or basic ABS, you should take time to practice maximum braking to the point where ABS kicks in. Without finding that limit, you will never trust that you can brake as hard as the system allows and not likely use the total amount of stopping power available when you need it most. Braking that hard is unnerving at first, but trust me the system will intervene.


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How To Survive Mid-Corner Hazards

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CornerBraking_TightenThe vast majority of single-vehicle crashes occur in a curve. Many times these crashes are the result of an assumption that the corner will be easy to negotiate, only to find that it suddenly tightens or there is a mid-corner hazard.

Negotiating most curves is fairly easy as long as you enter at conservative speeds that require lean angles that are well within your personal “lean-angle” limits. Mid-corner obstacles or surface hazards that require advanced braking techniques can also make an otherwise easy corner a real challenge. And if you’re like most riders, you do not have proficient enough skills to handle these types of complex cornering situations.

The best riders use their brains so they don’t have to use their muscles. In other words, they use strategies and good judgment that nearly negates the use of superhero cornering and braking skill. They certainly have these skills in spades, but they know they are doing something wrong if they need to use them regularly.

But, even the best riders have to manage an unexpected mid-corner hazard from time to time. So, let’s go over how to either maneuver around a corner hazard or stop if we can steer around it.

Either tighten or widen your line to avoid a corner hazard
Either tighten or widen your line to avoid a corner hazard. © Ken Condon

Mid-Corner Maneuvers

Sometimes we are faced with a situation where you encounter a fallen branch, a patch of sand or diesel fuel spill that you must avoid. If the hazard spans the whole road, you may need to stop (see next section). But, many times the better choice is to maneuver around the problem.

Let’s say you lean into a turn, and about halfway around the curve you spot some debris. You have to make a quick choice about whether to maneuver inside or outside of the problem.

Maneuver outside

If you have the room, it may be better to go around the outside of the problem (go around the left of the obstacle in a right hand turn and vice versa). However, this may be a poor choice if it means that you risk going off the road or into the oncoming lane. Also, once past the obstacle, you will have to quickly turn to stay in your lane.

Maneuver inside

The other option is to tighten your line and go to the inside of the obstacle. This requires you to lean quickly by pressing firmly on the inside handlebar. Done correctly, this option keeps you in your lane, but asks a lot from your tires and your confidence to achieve more extreme lean angles. Also, in a left-hand turn this may bring you dangerously close to the oncoming lane as your upper body hangs well over the centerline.

Another reason why this option may not turn out well is if you fail to turn tight enough to actually avoid the hazard…and you’ll hit the object at a greater lean angle. Not good.

Straighten, then Brake
Method #1: Straighten, then Brake. © Ken Condon

Braking in a Curve

Sometimes our only option is to slow down or stop. Unfortunately, traction is limited and adding significant brake force will likely overwhelm traction. To safely introduce significant stopping power without falling you must make traction available by first reducing cornering forces.

There are two basic techniques for stopping quickly in a curve.

  1. Straighten the bike fully for maximum braking
  2. Brake as hard as you can without skidding and then brake harder as the bike straightens.

Straighten, then Brake

This option is the one to choose if you must stop very quickly. First, straighten the motorcycle upright by pushing on the outside handgrip (countersteering). Once the bike is no longer leaning you can apply maximum braking. Brake progressively to avoid skidding. Read more about proper braking HERE.

This “straighten, then brake” method sounds good, but it means that the motorcycle will no longer be on a curved path, which makes it a poor choice if straightening the bike will send you into the dirt or into the oncoming lane. (See illustration)

Method #2: Gradually brake and brake harder as you straighten.
Method #2: Gradually brake and brake harder as you straighten. © Ken Condon

Brake while Straightening

When straightening before braking is not possible, or when you have a bit more time to stop, you can use the “brake while straightening” option. This technique involves applying the brakes as much as possible to slow, but not so much that traction is exceeded. Lean angle will decrease as the motorcycle slows making more traction available for braking. Brake progressively harder as the motorcycle straightens fully. (See illustration)

A hybrid version of these two techniques involves partially straightening the motorcycle before braking. This allows stronger initial brake force compared to the gradual straightening method, and it allows the motorcycle to stay on a curved path.

Trailbraking

Trailbraking is a technique that is done by continuing to brake beyond the turn-in point and then gradually “trail” off the brakes as you lean fully.

But, trailbraking is intended to be used as a planned technique to refine cornering control and not as a way to salvage a blown corner entry and is not defined as a technique for avoiding a mid-corner hazard. That said, riders proficient at trailbraking will find the “brake while straightening” technique less intimidating to execute.

Trailbraking is often used to fix a too-fast entry mistake. If you are adept at trailbraking, you can brake past the turn entry while still maintaining a relatively relaxed composure (depending how overspeed you are). You may have salvaged the miscue this time, but slow down! Charging into corners will eventually bite you hard. Slow more than necessary…you can always get on the gas if you slowed too much.

No matter which method you choose, if you can’t avoid the object, straighten the bike so you hit it as upright as possible where you stand a better chance of not crashing.

ABS?

It is important to note that most anti-lock braking systems on the road today cannot prevent a cornering slide due to overbraking. However, some newer ABS systems can now detect sideward slides and prevent falls from braking hard in corners. Aren’t electronics amazing?

Practice

As you can see, handling mid-corner obstacles can be tricky. The best way to manage these hazards is to predict them and ride so that you always have options of either maneuvering or stopping with minimal drama. This usually means entering turns a bit slower than you think you need to and practicing your leaning skills so both become second nature.

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