Crash Analysis

Take a look at this video and measure yourself and your take on this crash against the incident and the opinions expressed in the comments section.

It’s probably more than a little obvious that I put more than a little blame on the biker (I hesitate to call him a “motorcyclist.”) because his “braking” attempt was so lame and his assumption that the job of everyone in the world was to be looking out for a speeding motorcyclist. I used to see this kind of oblivious-to-reality lane splitting in CA all the time and, like this guy, they were astounded and hysterically angry when ever their mindless riding tactics knocked them on their asses.

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Nicky Is Gone

And another really nice guy dies young. Nicky Hayden died from complications on May 22. He was struck by a car while riding a bicycle in Itally on May 17. Hayden has often been called the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.” The Kentucky Kid snatched the championship out of Valentino Rossi’s hands in 2006. Before that, the last time the red, white, and blue was on the podium was Kenny Robert Jr’s year, 2000. No American has been close since Hayden pulled off his winning season. The 80’s and early 90’s was prime time for the USA, with Roberts Sr, Lawson, Schwantz and Rainey swapping championships for a good part of two decades. Nicky Hayden was a surprise win on his Honda and it could be years before the world is surprised by an American again.

In the meantime, we’re going to miss the “nicest MotoGP rider that had ever been.”

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Outta My Cold, Dead Hands

cavemanThe Geezer with a Grudge Columns

(Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycling Monthly Magazine.) 

All Rights Reserved © 2015 Thomas W. Day

There is a punk gangbanger group on Facebook called the Yamaha WR250X and WR250R Public Group. I joined this group about two years ago, because their intro FAQ is all about the useful (and not so useful) things that can be done to make the WR250X/R more fun and practical to ride. I left the group this week because the most outspoken members are consistently spoiled brats. Like a lot of bikers/gun nuts/spoiled children and the rest of the crowd who think their “right” to do any damn thing they please overrides public safety, an undisturbed peace, and their neighbor’s property rights, many of these kids consider themselves above the law and beyond reproach. They are classic examples of why motorcycles and motorcyclists are about as popular as used car salesmen in plaid suits or politicians from another state. Between the “I don’t need no stinkin’ endorsement” and the “why would I carry insurance, I’m just a motorcycle” and “why should I care if wheeling out of control freaks out cagers” attitudes, the group is a sad cartoon of why motorcycles are likely to be historical relics in a decade or less. There are some decent folks in the group, but their voices (like the voice of reasonable motorcyclists everywhere) are drowned out by the goons, brats, and gangbangers.

The last “conversation” I had on the group was about how gangbanging is going to be tough in an autonomous vehicle world. One of the kids claimed “they’ll have to pry my steering wheel away from my cold, dead hands” and a half-dozen or more chimed in accordingly. I asked what they were driving now and got a list of fairly new, mostly-Japanese sedans and mid-sized pickups. I suggested that since all of these vehicles had automatic transmissions and were controlled by transmission and engine computers they weren’t really driving now. Add power steering, backup cameras, parking sensors, ABS brakes, adaptive cruise control and proximity warning systems and you are about 1/2 way to the fully autonomous vehicle. The difference between being a total passenger and a terrible driver in a smarter-than-humans car is immeasurably small. I think it is safe to assume that, based on their motorcycling attitudes, that these kids are awful cagers too.

As macho as the American driver pretends to be, it ain’t gonna take much to remove most of us from the steering wheel. The first and logical step is to crank the shit out of the price of car insurance for those who insist on driving themselves. That will pretty much do the job alone. Cops will be watching the self-piloted vehicles closely, since their business will pretty much dry up on the autonomous side of transportation. They are absolutely not going to be issuing tickets to the corporations that provide the multi-user leases to autonomous vehicle passengers. Not only are corporations “people” but they are people with super-special privileges not to be fucked with. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a cop going after any sort of big business, regardless of how vicious the corporation’s crimes may have been. So, the only ticketing game in town will be the “cold, dead hands” crowd and they will be feeling pretty picked on by the time they hand over the reins to their own autonomous car. I know, you’re thinking “The Geezer is still just pissed off about his damn Volkswagen automatic transmission experience.” True, I’m pissed off at Volkswagen over that nightmare, but I have always disliked automatic transmission cars. They feel patronizing, sort of like having someone pat me on the head, when they put me in an electric wheel chair and say, “Now you’re in charge old dude. The hallway is all yours.”

I think the most insulting vehicle I’ve ever driven was a Toyota rental car with “Sport Shift Mode” thumb shifters.  I guess some kid who grew up playing video games might be able to fool himself into believing that he’s “really driving a car” when he can select the gear with a flick of the thumb, but I don’t play video games. The little Corolla had more than enough power to get out of its own way, but the Sport Shift Mode was clunky, intolerant of any high RPM operation, and it felt like an attempt by Toyota’s engineers to convince me to go back to letting the car do the driving. Which I did after a couple of unsatisfactory experiments with the thumb shifters.

Unlike the obtuse kids, I don’t care about driving and I’d just as soon lease a portion of an autonomous car as own a whole car that I have to finance, insure, and drive myself. Cars are boring and I’m a lot happier as a distracted passenger than driving. I can read, sleep, watch the scenery, or write as a passenger. As a driver, I spend most of my energy trying to stay awake. Unlike these kids, if I’m going be stuck behind the wheel I want as much control as I can have, including getting to decide my vehicle’s gear, engine RPM, and the point in the powerband for the situation at hand. I’ve yet to see an automatic transmission or all-wheel drive vehicle do a half decent job on ice or in deep sand and I’ve sure as hell seen those vehicles do a pitiful job in those conditions. So, until I can get at least 95% of an autonomous car, I’m hanging on to my 4WD, manual transmission pickup.

There is nothing cold-dead-handish about this, though. I just don’t like doing things half-assed. If I can get a computer to drive for me, I’m in. If the computer is just there to make me a more distracted, less competent driver, I don’t need that kind of help. But back to the original point of this rant, in an autonomous car world (Coming soon to your town!) motorcycles morbidity/mortality statistics will become unjustifiably over-represented majority in traffic crashes and the ugly face motorcycling has proudly presented to the public will be something we’re going to wish we’d have done something about when it would have helped.

MMM April 2016

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Necessary Parts

Following up on my plan to regularly verify my semi-competence (see “Creating A Baseline”), I headed for the Red Wing MSF training range yesterday. I invited a friend, but he wasn’t interested in testing himself or his new V-Strom in the rain. I invited a kid I went to school with this year; he couldn’t get his bike to start. Absolving myself of any sense of obligation to combine my self-analysis with some sort of service to my fellow man, I wrapped up my honey-do projects and loaded up for the afternoon ride and practice.

Rain was definitely in the weather prediction, so I suited up AGAT Aerostich. First, I had a few errands to run on the bike, so I filled it up for the first time this season and put about a dozen miles running errands from one end of the gigantic Red Wing metropolis to the other. It’s a rough life, but someone has to be enough of a screw-off to manage it. About the time I wrapped up the errands and started up the hill to Southeast Community Tech where the MSF range lives, it started to rain. Rain isn’t a big show-stopper for me, but the Red Wing range is poorly marked and pretty much a mess on a good day. Still, if I were teaching a class we’d be riding, so I might as well get on with it. As expected, the range was soaked and I had to ride around it a few times, noting visible markers as clues where my targets would, roughly, be.

I started off surprisingly well, considering my lousy day on the bicycle last week (where my new cleated clip-in pedals put me on my ass twice in about 20 miles). I aced the figure-8 box twice, which wasn’t expected because I’m stiff as a board after this lethargic winter and turning my head to look for my target points was a little painful and not particularly impressive, flexibility-wise. However, it went downhill from there, fairly quickly. I moved to Exercise 6, the small oval cornering exercise, next. I was Ok there, but not as confident as I should be as a coach or even as a half-decent rider. I kept at it for a couple dozen laps in each direction. I got better, but a little colder, too. Cold equals stiff and so does old. Next, I worked on the 270o timed corner. Ok, but not great again. No problem staying in the lines or going minimally quick enough, but I didn’t convince myself to push the bike hard enough to get a little slide out of the back tire (easy in the rain) or to approach touching a peg to the asphalt. Quick stops, emergency swerves, and the big offset cone exercises pretty much wrapped up the stuff I usually practice and after all that I’d blown about two hours on the range.

Then the sky opened up and dumped for a couple of hours. Between when I left and this morning, we got 5” of rain on Wednesday. 4” of that landed on me between the school and home that evening.

wrpartsWhen I bought my WR250X, I busted my “no bikes from kids” rule. Some of the stupid things that had been done to that bike were trendy nitwit stuff: like removing the “tail” of the rear fender, hacking up the tail pipe and the intake air box. In a rain storm like this one, the last thing I need is a shade tree butchering of Yamaha’s well-thought-out air box. Water and high compression do not mix, ever. Likewise, without that “ugly” tail fin on the rear fender, the back tire tosses crap from the top of my head to my ass. I know, I rode it a couple of times before I found a cheap used replacement fender. Since I replaced all of that stuff fairly quickly, I made it home in the rain without any mechanical problems.

DarienRanger1_smIMG_8182Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to my personal protection. I was properly geared up, so I should have been reasonably dry. However, there is a key move you have to make to stay dry in an Aerostich Darien: you have to zip up the jacket all the way and close the collar. I didn’t do either. Lucky it was a warm rain.

I’m still trying to decide if I passed this year’s riding benchmark. I absolutely decided that I’m not smart enough to take advantage of good riding gear and the protection it provides.

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One, Two, Three, or Four Fingers?

 cavemanAll Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

In the MSF program, instructors are infamous for requiring students to use their whole hand on either the throttle or the brake. Not just one, two, or three finger braking, but the whole collection of finger-like digits; “If you have ’em, use ’em.” This is a position that generates a lot of controversy among “experienced riders” who have cultivated (politi-speak for “clung to beginner habits”) a variety of tactics that involve various fingers applied at random times with an assortment of justifications with empirically inconsistent results. There are some strong justifications for the MSF position. Is this the best way to teach front brake use? Probably. Is it absolutely the only right way to use the front brake? Not necessarily.

fingersSometimes even more controversial, MSF instructors are not fond of the “covering the brake” habit. I believe this tactic mostly comes from a fevered need to feel “prepared,” in case a piano falls out of the sky and scares the crap out of you. Newbies may want the security of nervously covering that apparatus in case they forget where the brake is, but “need” and “want” are not the same animal. In high tension situations, it is natural to want to be ready to stop. The problem is, more often than not, grabbing a handful of brake is exactly the wrong move. All of those “I had to lay ‘er down” stories are examples of how poor braking tactics turn into a justification for doing something stupid. Rubber will out-stop metal and plastic any time. Besides, we all know you didn’t “lay ‘er down,” you screamed, panicked, and fell down. One reason for breaking the brake-covering habit is to force a few moments of thought into the decision-making process. If your hand is already on the brake, you’ll use it before thinking.

2-fingersThere are a lot of arguments on the web and in bars and every other place motorcyclists hang out about how many fingers are necessary or ideal for precise, safe rapid stops. I snagged a portion of this answer to a question from a newbie about his MSF BRC experience from a moto-discussion site; “Some use 2 fingers because you can keep them over the lever at all times. If your brakes are bled correctly and the lever is adjusted, you will not trap the other fingers. (Tell me how that works out for you if you drop the bike hard on the right bar.) How many fingers you will need in a emergency is dependent on finger strength and brake caliper strength.” Another of those kids claimed, “I convinced a friend to ride with two fingers always on the break[sic] and he said the habit saved his life.” When that friend drops the bike in a corner because his “habit” caused him to grab the brake when he should have been no where near that control, I wonder if the kid with the “great advice” will take the blame?

I think habit explains why so many riders feel the need to rest their fingers on the brake. Safety or preparedness are pretty low on the list of logical justifications for this practice. Fear is a lot higher on the list, but most riders won’t acknowledge that. They began hanging on to the grip when they first started riding and haven’t re-evaluated the practice since. New riders are terrified of letting go of the grip and just as nervous about taking their fingers off of the brake. Terror does justify a habit.

one fingerObviously, some brakes and some riders are able to get all the stopping power they need from one finger. YouTube and the Web are full of guys showing off their one finger stoppie power. That doesn’t make one-finger braking a brilliant concept, or a safe riding habit. A stunt is not the same as an unplanned emergency stop. In a stunt, you not only aim for the best possible spot to make the stop, you shift your weight to maximize the pressure on the front wheel to prevent skidding, and if you screw it up it you’ll probably survive to try again. In an emergency, you want to stop with as much control and power as possible. If you screw it up, you might be dead.

I’m a long ways from an MSF-fanatic, but I do think our training organization is right in teaching the four-fingered braking habit. Being the single-minded, single-task animal we humans are, learning how to use the front brake with power and confidence is life-saving. In fact, if you never learn how to use the rear brake, you’re only giving up on 10-30% of your stopping power. Precise front brake operation is one of the most critical skills in motorcycling. One of the reasons for learning how to perform a skill absolutely correctly is, then, you can intentionally modify that technique when conditions change. If you never learn how to use your brakes correctly, you won’t suddenly figure it out in an emergency.

First published in the Rider’s Digest #171 Winter 2015-2016.

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#142 Dumb Laws for Stupid Products

All Rights Reserved © 2013 Thomas W. Day

On my usual mid-week trip to the library, I got stopped by a Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy. As usual, he asked, “Do you know why I stopped you?” I did not.

“You crossed the white line to pass that van on the right.” Fortunately for me, the deputy was a good guy (and a motorcyclist) and he let me go with a warning. All the way to the library and through the rest of my day’s errands, I thought about what kind of goofy state has a dumbass law like that. Keeping in mind that I believe every state in the nation, except California, is barely sophisticated enough to bang the rocks together in a primitive attempt to communicate — because of the national ban on filtering and lane sharing. Holding a motorcycle behind a stopped vehicle seems outrageously and unusually primitive.

I can just imagine our hillbilly state representatives creating this idiotic law and including all vehicles in it because one of their inbred offspring blasted by a stopped vehicle that suddenly turned right and tagged the passing vehicle. The obvious “solution” is to create another dumb law to regulate all of the stupid products (cages) and every other vehicle on the road because you never know when the next “special” child will take himself out of the gene pool.

It makes sense to hold cages to the no-passing-on-the-right rule because the damn things are too fat to fit in that small space, even on the freeway. But motorcycles and scooters? That’s just stupid. If I’d have been on a bicycle, that would have been the lane I’m supposed to riding in. Does the law insist a bicycle stop in the same situation? The last place I want to be is stuck between a cage sandwich because some hillbilly lawmaker can’t tell the difference between a motorcycle and a cage.

Like the ban on filtering and splitting, the fact that a rider can get a citation for saving his own life when one braindead cager slams into another on the freeway or any other place designed to stack up traffic irregularly, this is a dumb law. Aerostich’s Mr. Subjective optimistically would like to believe that laws only reflect what the majority of the public is already doing, but anyone who observes traffic in neighborhoods where the “no left turn on red” or various misplaced stop signs have been randomly distributed without rhyme or reason knows that laws are self-perpetuating and lawmakers are a species unto themselves.

In case you’re confused about this rant’s title, the “stupid products” I’m referring to are cages, cars, single-passenger four-wheeled fuel-and-space-wasters. I have always believed the passenger car is one of the dumbest, most wasteful, most harmful inventions in human history. Anyone with rudimentary mathematics skills has to despair at seeing miles and miles of single-occupant, gas-guzzling cages stacked in congested parallel lines, draining our children’s futures and destroying this version of the earth and current life forms for no good reason other than we all dislike each other and can’t be bothered to use mass transit. Cars are for people who aren’t competent on two wheels.

Likewise, the existence of handicapped parking is irrational. Everyone who drives a car is, obviously, handicapped. Those flags we hang from our windshield mirrors are just identifying those who are incredibly handicapped as opposed to those mostly handicapped. I know that from experience: for three months post-hip-surgery, I used one of those special parking permits because I couldn’t get from the bedroom to the bathroom without a walker, crutch, or cane (in that order as my healing progressed). I was trapped in my cage, with my wife driving for most of two months, because I was incapable of riding a motorcycle. Now, I’m better and I don’t need the damn car. If we had a civilized public transportation system, I wouldn’t own one of the damn things. For those rare moments when I need to carry stuff larger than my side-cases, I’d rent a car or take a taxi. I hate being required to own a cage and am about 90% of the way convinced to move somewhere I won’t need a car.

But what really twists my chain is being limited to the handicapped center-lane on a motorcycle because the dimbulbs who make the laws can’t tell a handicapped vehicle from a motorcycle. Making the rules the same for all means of transportation is as stupid as punishing everyone for the sins of a few. It would be really nice to be a member of a society that makes laws to reflect what the public does, but I don’t see that happening here or many places. A couple of years ago, a kid who was a wannabe cop asked me to list laws that I thought were irrational. I named about a dozen in the few minutes we had to talk. A day later, I emailed him another couple-hundred irrational laws that came to me after we’d talked. A few weeks later, my list had grown so large that I had to give up the whole project because it was taking over my life. Our legal system is downright depressing, when you take time to think about it. It long since has given up pretending to be a justice system and, now, just masquerades as a police state employment-bureau-for-the-mentally-handicapped while exercising its primary function as a tax collection system. 

When I move into my cave in Montana, you’re going to hear the verse from one of my favorite Bobby Dylan songs coming from dim light that will be my gas lantern. “You ask why I don’t live here? Man, I don’t believe you don’t leave.” There will be only one law enforced from the entrance to my cave: “Get the hell out of my yard unless you want to be picking rock salt out of your lame ass!”

MMM Winter 2015

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I Don’t Know What to Think

My first thought was, “What a pair of posers.” I’m still waiting for a second thought. However, here’s the press release and you can make up your own mind, then tell me what you think.

My primary, cynical-self thinks this is more anti-helmet, Harley-poser promoting bullshit.

Sens. Ernst & Peters Launch Motorcycle Caucus

Apr 04 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) announced the formation of the first-ever Motorcycle Caucus in the United States Senate. The life-long motorcycle riding senators will serve as co-chairs of the caucus, and will advocate for a multitude of issues on behalf of both motorcycle riders and manufacturers.

“Some of my most cherished memories include motorcycles, from delivering messages as a young girl to my dad while he was working out in the fields, to riding through the rolling hills of Northeast Iowa with family and friends,” said Senator Ernst. “I am thrilled to have the opportunity to encourage thoughtful discussion and solutions on behalf of motorcycle riders and manufacturers through my new role as co-chair of the Motorcycle Caucus. Throughout my 99 county tour of Iowa, I have heard from many of these folks about some of their priorities, including improving safety, infrastructure, and energy efficiency. These concerns are shared by folks across our great state and country, and I look forward to working with Senator Peters toward solutions.”

“I’ve loved motorcycles since I was a kid, and I started a newspaper route to buy my first motorcycle at age 11. To this day, I believe there is no better way to see Michigan’s beautiful scenery than by bike, whether I’m riding to meet with constituents and small businesses or taking my bike out on the weekend,” said Senator Peters. “Motorcyclists come from all walks of life, and I can’t think of a better way to bring together a diverse and dedicated group of advocates to discuss everything from safety concerns to manufacturing. I’m looking forward to working with Senator Ernst as co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Motorcycle Caucus to foster these important discussions and find common ground with motorcycle lovers across the country.”

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