Thursday, July 30, 2009

Skills Practice and Where to do it.

I've been talking to a lot of bikers and safety experts lately. In a conversation with MSF's Vicky Cunningham, she suggested that training, without regular skills practice is almost a waste. And I am totally in agreement. If defensive riding doesn't pan out, and you need to do an emergency stop or swerve, if you haven't been practicing, you'll freeze up or severely underperform. A course you took 18 months ago will avail you not, without practice.

I'm thinking that it would be cool for bikers to have a place to go and practice riding skills. A city owned employee parking lot, for example, that isn't used at the weekend. All the city would have to do is have someone blow it out with a leaf blower on Friday afternoons, to remove excess gravel, and place a barrier, like a construction barrel, in the entrance, to keep cages out but let motorcycles in.

Bikers, riding club chapters etc could get together and practice riding skills. There would be no liability to the city, as motorcycles can enter parking lots anytime, and the practice wouldn't need to be organized by the city. The payoff would be potentially large - a single serious bike injury in Memphis, my home town, with a biker having no health insurance, might cost hundreds of thousands for an extended stay at the MED, our city-supported local trauma center.

As regards skills practice instructions, a copy of Jerry Palladino's 'Ride like a Pro' (reviewed here), or even the free practice guide from his website would be all that's needed. And here's our page on skills practice.

Anyone out there got any ideas? If you know a good place to practice bike skills, spread the word, gather some buddies and have some fun on your bikes practicing the what you learned in basic and experienced rider training.

And the next time local candidates come around asking for your vote, remind them that bikers vote too.

Our city has a skateboard park, ball fields, golf courses, a rollerblade trail and all sorts of specialized sporting facilities. Why not a biker park?

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Summer rallies and Motorcycle Clubs

Summer is upon us, and everyone is riding to rallies and events. You might meet up with members of 'one-percenter' motorcycle clubs (MC) on your travels. Riding club versus motorcycle club distinctions are covered in this useful link. Read up on protocol for meeting motorcycle club members and one-percenters, colors etiquette and be aware of any relationships that might exist between any group of which you are a member and motorcycle clubs. Your chapter officers should be able to brief you on such issues.

I have always found my local one-percenters to be sweetness and light, but I am careful not to do anything inadvertent that might be considered disrespectful.

It's a safety issue, a word to the wise.

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Zero Electric Cycle

Zero Motorcycles just put out a new, dual-sport electric motorcycle with a 50-mile range. Trying hard to think of a safety aspect to this, but it is cool. When the oil runs out, this sort of thing is probably what we'll have to ride. OK there's my safety angle, no oil spots on the floor of the garage to get on the tires and dump you in the driveway. And you can run it all day in the garage with no carbon monoxide build-up.

Wonder if they'll let me test-ride it.

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Bikesafer.com training

As promised, we've been concentrating on our training section lately, and, although we have a ways to go, there are some improvements. We've added a review of Lee Park's 'Total Control' book to our training resources review page, and an expanded pillion passenger training section, and we have more training-related features on the way.

Ride safe.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bikesafer upgrades training section

Bikesafer.com just grew up. We've been researching biker education and training and we've re-released our training section. We've got features on deciding if we should ride, biker psychology, retreads (returning riders), basic training, your first bike, skills practice, experienced rider courses, advanced training, a training review page, and pillion passengers.

We've added a review of Jerry Palladino's 'Ride like a Pro' book, and updated our clickable, by-state training map. We have numerous new training features ready to roll out in coming months.

For real insight into biker safety, Bikesafer.com is leading edge. We bring the fun back into training. As a handy buyers guide, or a do-it-yourself resource for parking lot practice, we got it.

Come visit, and tell your friends.

Our new feature for webmasters is also in place. Our monthly safety briefing is a copyright-free cut and pasteable ready-made safety corner for your biker site or forum. You can sign up for a regular email feed, another way of showing your members your love, and we do all the work for you.


Half the fun of riding is getting home safe.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Training at Total Control

Just got back from a ride to Johnson City, Tennessee. I took the Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Clinic, level 1.

It's reviewed here. Bikesafer.com is planning a series of training reviews to cover major parts of the industry, this is the first installment.

Total Control is an interesting critter. It's all about turning your bike, using race-proven technique adapted for road use. Big Beemer tourers, a Harley Ultra Classic and my ST1300 were quite at home, and I must say I had fun and learned a lot. Traction is traction, whether on the track or the road, and scientific cornering gets you around with a nice bit of road to spare, ready for the unexpected. It will take me weeks to fully assimilate what I learned last Thursday, throw me in the briar patch.

Afterwards, Wayne Miller of Dragon Safe and Lee Parks and I chatted over dinner. We talked about Brittany Morrow's sad case and all she's been doing since to promote good bike gear. I've got to say that Wayne and Lee both wore head-to-toe gear any time they rode, as did everyone in the course.

Biker psychology was to the fore. Bikers are risk-takers (but don't have death wishes). We sometimes have a victim mentality, which is something we could lose. We sometimes crave peer approval, to the point where we do dumb stuff, like wheelies and wearing inadequate protection. Head adjustment time.

Wayne and Lee are very excited about the new training course they are putting together for the Marines, and Lee's new intermediate level rider course in Troy, NY.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Two Second Rule Inadequate, the proof

Last May, we blogged about the 2-second rule quoting SurvivalSkills.co.uk and referring to a bunch of studies from the Quebec PromoCycle.com which did some nice research on motorcycle braking, coming up with new numbers for reaction time and average deceleration force which made Survival Skills look a bit optimistic.

Prompted by our discussion with Steve Garets of TEAM OREGON, who train much more conservative sight and anticipated path distances than standard, I dusted off my old physics 101 notes and did some calculations. Using the Promocycle observed average decelerative force of -0.774G and their 95-percentile reaction time of 0.62 seconds, I came up with numbers like 2 seconds from 25 mph at 50 feet, 3 seconds from 50 mph at 153 feet and 4 seconds from 65 mph for 242 feet, this being the average performances for experience riders on mechanically sound bikes in perfect traction conditions.

The full calculations and tables of stopping times and distances are here. Our revised notes on the bike time/space window are here.

As a result, we are following TEAM OREGON's lead for immediate path and sight distance rules, and add our own numbers for following distances.

Following Distance: At least 3 seconds over 25 MPH, at least 4 seconds over 55 MPH, at least 5 seconds over 75 MPH, at least an additional 25% in the wet or on loose surfaces, and an additional 10 percent on downhill grades.

Immediate Path: 10 seconds (the MSF standard is 4 seconds)

Sight Distance/Anticipated Path: 20 seconds (MSF recommends 12 seconds)

The good news is that these are average numbers for over a hundred tests run by experienced riders. If you could train up to a deceleration performance of -1.09 (the best Promocycle test) and were covering the brakes to reduce your reaction time to 0.47 seconds, your stopping time for 60 MPH would be reduced from an expected 4.15 seconds to a shade under 3 seconds, and your stopping distance from 210 feet to 152 feet. But if you performed at the worse Promocycle example for deceleration (just under -0.4G) and weren't covering the brake, 60 to 0 might take 7.5 seconds and 355 feet. Surely not good enough to keep you out of trouble in an emergency. Note that the very best performance in the Promocycle tests still have the bike stopping from 60 mph in three seconds. Two seconds looke very unrealistic even at this modest highway speed.

It seems to us that the difference between the worst and best performances is a matter of training and then practice. Good emergency braking skills seem like a skill worth acquiring.

The full Bikesafer reports are at time/space window and stopping distance calculations

Incidentally, Promocycle proved a benefit for ABS in improving braking performance significantly, even under good traction conditions where ABS benefits are smaller.

We plan a series on available training to put us on the good end of this braking skills spectrum, starting next week.

Friday, July 10, 2009

TEAM OREGON and biker training

On hearing some comments about the effectiveness of the TEAM OREGON basic training model versus the MSF Basic RiderCourse, I talked to Steve Garets of Oregon State University, which provides statewide rider training services. I think a large part of the mindset in OSU and TEAM OREGON might be from a self-reliant pioneer heritage, but their take on things is surprisingly different.

Steve told me that, prior to the introduction of the new Oregon basic training course in 2004-5, that OSU conducted some research comparing the (new and current) MSF BRC to the MSF MRC:RSS (which it replaced) and found some shortcomings, which resulted in the new Oregon Basic Rider Training (BRT) Course.

The new curriculum is generally similar to the MSF BRC curriculum, but has more emphasis on paying attention to the road situation and a much bigger sight rule. They recommend a 10-second immediate path rule (as opposed to the MSF 4-second immediate path) and a 20-second sight distance rule, which is more than the 12-second MSF anticipated path rule. (we agree that the traditional following distance rules were never enough, see 2-second rule.

After field testing the BRT and comparing it with the then-benchmark MRC:RSS, Oregon hasn't done any formal follow-up research into the effectiveness of the new curriculum. They have been following up closely on motorcycle crashes and have some rather startling numbers. Oregon has about half the national average of fatal bike crashes, per registered motorcycle. An incredibly low 19 percent of fatal crashes (compared to Hurt's 75%) are caused by a car turning into the right of way of the biker. Half of the crashes are single vehicle crashes and a total of 87 percent of all crashes are the fault of the rider, including the bike rear-ending the other vehicle and head-ons with the bike in the oncoming lane.

Steve says that they haven't done anything to the driver training, so the difference might well be with the bikers. Steve is reluctant to attribute the huge difference in state fatalities to the TEAM OREGON training program, because they don't have the data, but it seems that the citizens of Oregon have every reason to be happy with these numbers.

Steve thinks that TEAM OREGON's defensive riding approach, with riders being conservative about the bike following distances and generally paying more attention is major. We talked about the victim mentality of riders in assuming that crashes are caused by cage drivers.

ET editorializes: The victim mentality will be a factor in our upcoming features on rider psychology, which will follow on our visit to Dragon Safe next week and a study of Lee Park's approach to rider psychology.

I'm reminded of one prominent local biker, who rear-ended a car one summer, was fairly lucky to escape with minimal damage, then rear-ended another car almost on the anniversary of the first crash. I had occasion to talk to him about it after the second crash, where his bike was written off and he spent time in the hospital. He inexplicably maintained that both crashes were the cage drivers' fault.

This rider was in huge denial and was exhibiting the victim mentality that Steve was talking about. Either mindset (victim or denial) will get you in trouble. Hurt, for all the brilliance of his study, helped establish the idea that the cage driver is always at fault, which, even if true, is not helpful to bikers who want to ride safer.

That said, we need to remind ourselves that the reduction in biker deaths per motorcycle would need to be adjusted by miles ridden to be a true measure of risk, and that the numbers here do not imply cause and effect. You'd expect that if biker ed was the cause of a reduction in biker deaths that the remaining accidents would predominantly be caused by the cage driver, and Oregon is reporting the exact opposite. I am puzzled and we'll be trying to follow up with the Oregon DOT to see if we can gt some insight into what's going on. Maybe the TEAM OREGON analysts are being harder on bikers because they are looking for defensive biker errors to help with improving their course material. We just don't know. One thing we can say, from general systems principles, is that when the developers responsible for a program follow the results closely and feed back outcomes into a redevelopment process, generally the program responds better to real-life conditions over time, and this may be one of the strengths of the Oregon program. Off the top of the head, you would expect wet and/or icy conditions and mountainous terrain to be more of a factor in Oregon than elsewhere, and we have the impression that there is a high level of bike and scooter usage for commute purposes in some of these Western cities. You would expect that a program like TEAM OREGON would adapt over time to specific conditions in Oregon, which is not a feature of a one-size-fits-all program like MSF's BRC. Our expectation is that if two programs start out equivalent and one is incrementally redeveloped, that the second program would soon produce better outcomes. We have more questions than answers, which often happens in the bike safety realm.

From the POV of riders in the other states, if we are riding around with insufficient stopping distances, not paying attention and with a built-in victim mentality, we'll have more crashes. We could all use a good dose of Oregon rationality.

This is why we will be following up on rider psychology in depth after we do some homework. Now we're going to have to totally revamp our site. As always, bike safety is a ride, not a destination.

We want to thank Steve for his generosity with his time and insights, and to congratulate him and his colleagues what seems like an incredible job in Oregon. Steve has invited us to visit TEAM OREGON and audit one of their BRT sessions, and we intend to take him up on that offer as soon as we can organize the 5K ride.

Motorcycle Safety and Training

The dust has settled a bit and maybe it's time to sum up how important training is for bikers. Lack of bike control skills and observation/situational analysis has time and time again been identified as a contributing cause in the majority of bike accidents in studies from Hurt to Maids and by every experienced and responsible biker I have ever talked to.

As a bike safety site, we at BikeSafer.com are appalled at the negativity and bogus allegations expressed in various quarters. Yes, five people died due to crashes during MSF training in the last ten years. But the MSF has trained more than two and a half million riders during this time, so the chances of being killed during training are about one in half a million. Compared to more than 30,000 bikers killed in accidents during this time, it is a very small number, especially when you consider that lack of training probably contributed to 20,000 or more of those deaths. Yes, deaths during training are tragic and should not happen, but consider the benefit of training 2.5 million bikers and the awful trade-off makes sense. I do hope that MSF is changing up its processes with a view to reducing the death rate, and I will be talking to them about that. (I hope I don't wear out my welcome there).

So the training isn't as good as it could be. Oregon's course material is similar to MSF's but they use different adult teaching techniques and claim better results. (We're checking this out right now). The Marines and Air Force are currently revamping their training regimens, and are being a bit secretive about the research they base it on. Famously, the Marines claim they lose more squaddies from bike crashes than in combat, which is motivating their current development. There is also evidence that some states have been dumbing down their training and testing requirements, while we note that the EU generally has more stringent requirements and is in the process of making them tougher. We think this is a factor.

What needs to happen here is a new study so we can have good information, not the bogus junk obtained from public records. (The military research underpinning their recent training decisions was based to a large extent on researchers responding to crashes and collecting their own data, but they won't release their results due to their culture of secrecy). We need to research improved course material and educational methods, and to have tougher training and testing requirements. In the meantime, responsible bikers educators, researchers and safety people need to be improving and promoting training incrementally, based on what we know now. If the military can research the options and make decisions regarding training courses, then the rest of us and the MSF can do something too.

We at BikeSafer.com have been working on this. We have a new national training page with a cool, clickable map, listing all the non-MSF basic, experienced, advanced and specialized bike training we could find. (The MSF already has their own version of this). We've been talking to a lot of the trainers. I am booked into Dragon Safe's training course next week, nice excuse to take the ST up into the Smokies. I'll be reviewing this course, based on Lee Park's Level 1 shortly. While on the road, I hope to interview Lee himself, another upcoming feature, and also review his book. I am very interested in his theories on Rider Psychology which will probably be a new section in BikeSafer.com pretty soon. I'm also planning to visit with an MSF Basic Rider Course in coming weeks, and we'll do an in-depth article on the training and the people. I also plan to visit with Joey Redmon in North Carolina soon, to sit in on his 'Ride like a Pro' police-style training class, and I'm sure I'll be writing about that.

In short, Bikesafer.com is getting ready to take a major ride through the training landscape and y'all are invited. Along the way, I have identified several people who are knowledgeable on the changes happening in the military training, and we'll be trying hard to get under the skin of what's going on there.

I have been talking and corresponding with dozens of motorcycle trainers and bike police lately, with hundreds of years and millions of miles of combined riding experience, and man-years of advanced training. I've asked them all if they'd recommend that a new rider takes the MSF course. The answer is unanimous - train early and often, learn riding skills, learn defensive strategies, develop situational awareness and ride a little bit safer. That's the research we care about.

We'll have the first installment of the new and expanded BikeSafer training coverage when I get back from my road trip next weekend.

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