Friday, September 25, 2009

Crash Causation Revisited

Ok, we admit it. Our original version of our information section followed the 'conventional wisdom' that the majority of crashes are caused by cages violating the right of way of the biker. Hurt proved this, and everyone knows bikers who had crashes like that.

We no longer believe this.

But we don't know for sure. After spending the summer riding around, talking to bike training and safety experts and reviewing obscure studies from abroad, it is clear to us that things have changed.

We believe that bikers are now responsible for the majority of bike crashes, as Steve Garets of TEAM OREGON told us last June. The actions of the US Marines, Air Force and the Army in revamping their training regimen, and several studies from abroad were further clues.

As I said, in the absence of a new crash causation study, we can't say for sure, but it seems unsafe to assume that, if we go, it will probably be at the hands of a cage driver who didn't see us.

Far healthier to assume that, if we are going to die on our bikes, it will probably be because we didn't know enough, were not defensive enough, had not practiced our skills enough, or were taking too many risks without being able to back them up. Or maybe because we were drunk or stoned. All these probable causes are ones we can do something about. See our BikerED section for more.

I am not saying we need to ignore the conspicuity issues and situational awareness of cages that can potentially turn across us. Far from it, they are still probably responsible for over a third of bike crashes. It is still a big deal. Just not the major issue.

And the next time you come across conventional wisdoms, reflect that if it is based on outdated information, maybe it's not so wise.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ride like a Pro DVD reviewed. adds to its library of training reviews with Ride like a Pro, the DVD, Jerry Palladino's training DVD. This is a very nicely-produced video featuring the patented Palladino brand of range training. The exercises are based on a relaxed, civilian-oriented version of the police rodeo style training. It cover the vital skills of cornering, swerving and the quick stop, all essential for survival.

We always say that, without regular practice, the techniques learned in basic rider training and other courses go away, and bikers fall short when these skills are really needed. This DVD is an economical way for a couple of riding buddies, or a riding club, to set up an afternoon or a day of skills practice. Gerry Palladino's direct and engaging style, and the clearly filmed demonstrations, explain the principles in a straightforward way.

With a little additional reading in riding strategy, which you can find in, this video is a good training aid for intermediate and experienced bikers looking for an economical skills training option.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Looking Under the Hood at MSF

It's been a long time coming, but has finally reviewed the MSF's Basic Rider Course. ET was invited to audit a course held over the Labor Day weekend, and the review explores the range exercises, classroom sessions and test content in detail.

ET gets under the tupperware and hauls out the guts for all to see. We had total access to all the material, interviewed the students, talked to the Rider Coaches and the owners of the franchise, Vickye and Harry Cunningham of Memphis's, and took lots of photos.

We didn't pull our punches. We found some problems and wrote them up.

We are very impressed by the passion and commitment displayed by the staff we met that weekend, and at the obvious progress the students made during the course.

We all have a long way to go with rider training in the USA, and MSF's Basic Rider Course is what most of us have to start with. Let's get to know it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

T-CLOCS pre-ride check: Open letter to the MSF

I recently visited with Memphis, an MSF franchise, where Vickye Cunningham kindly invited me to audit their Basic Rider Course.

T-CLOCS, the MSF's pre-ride checklist, came up for discussion.

I agree that the pre-ride check is an essential part of getting your bike ready for the road, and I do a slightly edited version of the check most of the time I ride. Hurt found that four percent of accidents were caused by bike defects, and Maids found a much lower rate of about 0.3 percent. But Maids also found that the existence of a bike defect that was not the primary cause of a crash was much more likely to get a biker killed. This makes sense. If your brakes fail when a cage pulls out in front of you, your chances of avoiding a headslam are much reduced.

Whatever the numbers, bike defects do cause crashes and deaths, and even if the numbers are small, this is one tiny part of the safety equation that bikers can control.

Bikers should all be doing T-CLOCS before each ride as a matter of course. Having ridden with hundreds of bikers, and been there as bikes are loaded up after overnight stops, I can honestly say that a tiny percentage of bikers seem to actually do the T-CLOCS checks regularly. Many bikers I have spoken to have rather lame excuses for not doing T-CLOCS, and I have seen a few near-accidents that could have been avoided by T-CLOCS.

The reason why seems fairly clear. T-CLOCS is a superset of all the possible checks, and some are not needed on all bikes. There are 71 boxes to check off on the T-CLOCS list, including items like spokes, drive shafts and center stands, which a lot of bikes don't have, inaccessible items like battery terminals and rear brake master cylinders, and redundant items like fuel levels, which are probably not necessary to check if you have a reliable fuel gauge or warning light system, or if you keep track of your fuel consumption.

The T-CLOCS list is probably the best that the MSF can do, but I don't think it works, and it could be made a lot less onerous. The only real way to do this is for the bike manufacturers to publish a short pre-ride checklist tailored for each model of bike, and distribute the list as a laminated card with every bike. The list should contain only the items which actually go wrong in practice, and are real safety issues. Maids focuses on brakes, tires and lighting problems as the major contributors to crash deaths. The motorcycle manufacturers already publish maintenance checklists as part of the owners and workshop manuals, so there is no added liability, and the cost to the manufacturers of printing the checklists would be a matter of a few cents per bike. The checklist might become an incentive for manufacturers to add automated checks of some of the potential problem areas. Even a dumbed-down, simplified list would be better than a checklist that is not done.

The MSF role would then become to encourage bikers to follow the shorter, easier, pre-ride checklist for their bike, which would be less onerous for the biker, and might be more likely to be followed in practice.

The MSF's detractors, like hysterical misinformationist Wendy Moon, claim that the MSF is a creature of the manufacturers and acts only in their interests, sometimes to the detriment of biker safety. This is an opportunity for MSF to pressure the manufacturers to do the right thing and improve motorcycle safety at minimal cost to themselves.

While MSF is at it, they also have an opportunity to get out in front of the ABS issue. The writing is already on the wall for ABS, and MSF has another chance here to promote safety and also protect their members interests. Surely they can make the case to their members that only live bikers can buy their products? The role of the conscience of the industry is a natural for MSF if they can rise to the challenge. Harley Davidson has shown the way by making ABS standard on all their bikes, and my helmet is off to them for that. There is no real way the other manufacturers can continue to deny ABS. The large increase in numbers of ABS equipped bikes will eventually produce some good statistics about its efficacy. The smart money is on the news being good, and who wants to be seen to be neglecting the ABS as a standard option and basically cashing in bikers lives to save a few dollars in manufacturing costs? That's a PR and product liability nightmare.

How about it, MSF? Here's a couple of opportunities to do the right thing for safety, to look good, and to put the lie to allegations of industry bias.

In the meantime, all we can say to bikers is: keep doing your pre-ride checks, check as much as you can from the T-CLOCS list, bike defects can get you killed.


When I bought my ST1300 two years ago, my local Honda dealer tried to persuade me that ABS didn't really work on bikes, and that the vibration caused by ABS when it activated was destabilizing. He didn't have the ABS version in stock, and I ended up buying my previous-year 2006 ST1300A from a competitor of his. I put my money where my mouth was to the tune of a little over a grand, which is what Honda was charging for the ABS option. The dealer's story about ABS vibration during activation turned out not to be true, by the way, you barely notice when it kicks in, except that you stop very quickly.

In fact, there is no real proof that ABS is effective on bikes, although at the time I believed that it was. But there is a lot of persuasive evidence.

, for example, flubbed the chance to make a definitive finding on ABS. They discovered that bikes with ABS seemed to be under-represented in the crash numbers, but they discarded these data because they made a mistake in their control group recruitment. (This might be a good opportunity for a masters student to make a thesis, as the control group issue affected only the German part of the study, the rest of the data might be salvaged, and Maids is willing to share their database).

Promocycle of Montreal did some nice studies on braking, finding that ABS, under ideal conditions, added about one-tenth of a negative G to the average deceleration force of about three-quarters of a negative G. That's about a 15% bonus in stopping power, and ABS's real advantage is when the surface is wet or slippery, where you'd expect the benefit to be much greater. My calculations suggest that the average rider can emergency-stop from 60 MPH in 3.77 seconds (4.15 without ABS) or 193 feet versus 210 without ABS - that's a ten percent benefit that might save your life. Again, that's in perfect conditions, in the real world you'd expect much better.

The Netherlands police force dropped their ST1300s this year because of negative reports from the UK police, who found a high-speed wobble in their ST1300s over 90 MPH. I think this was actually due to user error in loading the saddlebags. They went to Honda Transalps this year, but plan to dump them in favor of the Yamaha FJR1300 police version, because the Transalp doesn't have ABS, and the Yamaha does. Yamaha appears to be cleaning up worldwide with its police bike, because it is the ABS bike that's not an ST1300 with its alleged wobble or a Beemer with its heavy dry clutch and high maintenance costs.

Stateside, Harley Davidson seems to be selling to more police departments, despite its weak acceleration, partly because of it's recent decision to put ABS on all its models. They are taking advantage of disarray among the competition and Yamaha's poor police market penetration. This has to be a smart move from Harley.

No-one questions the efficacy of ABS on cars, despite initial negative feedback from some police departments which was based on misunderstanding of the mechanism.

I spent the last weekend as a guest of, a Memphis based motorcycle safety school that uses the MSF Basic Rider Course curriculum. I observed the emphasis placed on the quick stop techniques, which is an essential safety skill. Many bikers perform poorly in crash situations because they don't practice this skill enough. It's not something that you do every day, and like all such skills, it goes away if you don't practice it. The problem with emergency braking practice is that it is itself dangerous. Maximum braking is achieved by applying both brakes to within an iota of the wheel lock points, for each wheel. Just a little additional pressure over the maximum on either of the brake controls will cause the corresponding wheel to lock. This situation is correctable, with skill and luck, but is itself dangerous, and even if it doesn't cause a crash, it will make your emergency stop non-optimal. To complicate the matter further, your bike's brake lock points vary with the coefficient of friction of the road surface, which changes in the wet and on poor surfaces. The physics of the situation is lethal, and almost all non-professional riders are guaranteed to perform less than optimally in an emergency stop without ABS.

If you have ABS, emergency stopping becomes simple. You start straightening up the bike, and you jam on both brakes to the max, making sure your handlebars and the bike are straight by the time you stop. Problem solved. The bike and the ABS takes care of the rest. Who wouldn't want that in an emergency situation?

I don't think that any reasonable person can now deny the accumulation of evidence that ABS does work on bikes, and that it saves lives.

It is time for the other bike manufacturers to follow Harley Davidson's lead and make ABS standard on all bikes.

The benefit and necessity of ABS is no longer really in question. Product liability should do the rest, it is time for the other bike makers to jump on the bandwagon before it rolls over them. They have a maximum of about four years to make the change, because the new Federal accident causation study is unlikely to ignore ABS and my bet is that there will soon be enough ABS bikes in the population, because of the Harley initiative, to yield solid statistics on its efficacy. I am willing to bet that ABS will be proven to be effective in that study, after which it will be open season for product liability lawyers representing the 5000+ dead bikers each year.

Putting ABS as standard on all bikes is the cheap option for bike manufacturers. They are endangering their shareholders funds by holding out.

I'd love to get my hands on some of the research that police buyers seem to be doing on ABS.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Guns and bikes

OK, this is not a rant about guns, either way. I noticed a post on ADVrider's Face Plant forum from a few months ago that has since rolled off. What happened was, a rider (who seemed to be a law enforcement employee) was wearing a gun on his belt, came off and broke his hip because of the gun.

Gear manufacturers usually warn not to carry heavy objects like tools in the pockets, and guns definitely qualify as 'heavy objects'. Even the diminutive Derringer, as favored by Special ED, is a heavy object in your pocket.

My personal take on carrying a gun is, if it's legal and you feel like you need one, go ahead. I have a Tennessee concealed carry permit and I often avail of it when riding. I know a lot of bikers who either carry or pack a weapon in their luggage, legally or not. As I said, I live in Tennessee, where the movie 'Deliverance' was filmed, and every time I see a gay redneck in a pickup truck on a country road, I hear those duelling banjos and my hair stands on end. Never know when you'll be glad of having a weapon handy.

The question is, what's the safest way to carry a weapon, if you choose to do so? When I first got my carry permit, I wore my gun in a shoulder rig, but it soon occurred to me that the chances of going down and breaking some ribs were probably a lot higher than the likelihood of a need to use the weapon in self-defense. The shoulder carry option came to look self-destructive. For a while I switched to carrying in the side pocket of my Aerostich, but the ADVrider story of the hip injury came along and that seemed a bad idea too.

All the carry options also include issues during stops. If you plan to eat in a place that has alcohol, for example, most state law bans even legally-carried guns, so you have to do an awkward transfer of the gun to your saddlebag. Same would be true of many parks and most schools.

The security advantage of having a gun actually on your person is pretty small. Chances are, you have to unzip your jacket or pocket and maybe remove a glove before you can use it. If you get into a situation, and you are actually on your functioning bike, chances are you can outrun most threats, ninjas on Hayabusas notwithstanding. It seems to me that the most real security threat occurs when you are stationery, especially if your bike is disabled. There would most likely be a transition between being mobile on your bike and being stopped, with a corresponding chance to move your gun. I don't see any situations where you would want to be using your gun while actually moving. If stopped on your bike, chances are you'd want to dismount before actually firing a gun, due to the vulnerability of a bike-straddled firing position, and the likelihood of taking a bullet in your gas tank while your nads are in close proximity to it.

Long and short: if mobile, you run. If immobile, you are off the bike asap, and maybe using it for cover. Your gun just needs to be readily available on the bike.

What I've ended up with depends on my bike. On the ST1300, I keep it in one of the cowl pockets, with the lid unlocked. On my 919, I use a small tank bag. In both cases, the gun is fairly readily available, at least as handy as it would be under my jacket. When needing to leave the bike and gun, I either lock the cowl pocket or unmount the tank bag and lock it in the saddlebag.

A lot of trouble, you might say, and you'd be right. But gun ownership carries responsibilities, including the need to lock your gun away when unattended, and honoring those pesky rules that say you can't carry in certain places.

Too much trouble? Well, that's a call. I have to admit that when I visited Canada recently, and left my ironically Canadian Para Ordnance pistol at home, I felt naked the whole trip, despite a can of Mace clipped to the handlebar and a taser in the side pocket. So I still carry the gun whenever I get on the highway, despite all the inconveniences. But I do my best to try to keep the safety ledger in the plus column.

And that's always the trick with bike safety. Anything you do to enhance safety has the potential to bring its own set of risks, so that the thinking biker is constantly balancing the pros and cons of safety. Guns on bikes are no different.