This is one of the best documents that I have read.
How To Ride Over That Thing In The Road
And survive the encounter
Sooner or later you will find something in the road just ahead of you and you are going to hit it. Maybe a small animal. Possibly something that falls off of the vehicle in front of you. Maybe you have missed a curve and a curb is dead ahead.
One of the exercises taught by the MSF includes running over a board (4x4?) and you are told to 'lift' the front-end of your motorcycle at the last possible moment before you hit. I suspect that most of us could actually 'lift' the front-end of a little 125cc motorcycle, but I can tell you that this is one reasonably strong male that couldn't raise the front-end of my GoldWing a meaningful fraction of an inch, from my seat, and neither can you. What's the point of the exercise, then?
Maybe it was just badly explained in my particular class, but I'm sure that what the instructor said was that you are trying to 'help' the bike over the obstacle by lifting it. While that is correct, both the explanation and the exercise fell as short of the mark as did my ability to lift the Wing.
Remember our discussion about shock absorbers? It was learned that bumps are first absorbed by your springs and that your front-end rises and falls as allowed by how the shock absorber/spring set are designed and setup. If you are traveling at a steady speed your front-end is extended about as far as it will normally be extended and your ability to 'lift' it further is a function of how much weight you can remove from it, not how strong you are. That 'for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction' tells you that if you are able to exert 200 pounds of lift on your grips you will put the same amount of new 'weight' on the seat and pegs while you do it. So, even if you try to 'snap' lift the front while throwing as much of your body towards the rear of your bike as possible, the result will be a TRIVIAL difference in the extension of your front forks. i.e., virtually a waste of time and energy.
Still, the idea is RIGHT! But instead of you doing the lifting, you want the bike to lift itself by transferring its weight from the front to the rear wheel.
You already know that this happens naturally as a result of acceleration. So, the way you lift the front end without suffering a hernia is to twist your wrist and open the throttle.
But you will remember that your front-end is already almost fully extended to start with. Wouldn't it be nice if you could get a whole lot more extension just before you hit that object? Well, of course the fact is that the only way to do that is if the front-end was more heavily loaded (compressed) before you started to accelerate. And how do you get the front-end to be more loaded? Why you hit the brakes, of course.
In other words, in the real world if you see that you are going to hit something you will naturally apply your brakes in an effort to slow down before you do so. Isn't that fortunate? For in order to maintain as much control of your bike as possible WHEN you hit it all you have to do is roll-on the throttle at the very last moment (about 1/2 second will do very nicely.) This will result in a weight shift from front to rear, and allows the springs in your shock absorber system to extend. Thus, as you hit the object you have maximum shock absorbing capacity, just when you need it. (Don't forget to shift your weight to your pegs and get that butt off the seat when you do this since when the rear tire hits the obstacle it will receive a severe vertical bounce.)
[I suppose it is obvious, but since you are going to experience a vertical jarring of the bike and you are going to be lifting your butt off your seat just before that happens, you will want to have all of your fingers wrapped around your grips at the time - not covering any levers.]
But why not just stay on the brakes all the way, you ask? At the very least this will insure that you hit the object with the minimum of speed possible. What's wrong with that?
The shock absorber system is compressed almost as far as it will go during hard braking. That means there is essentially no more travel left to absorb the bump. That, in turn, means that you will FEEL and be affected by that bump - just as if you didn't have any shock absorber at all. You will remember that this means that the entire bike will rise and fall at least as much as the height of what you hit because it is no longer 'sprung weight'. And it is just such bike motion which usually translates into loss of control!
Another, but equally important reason you do not want to have your brakes maximally applied at the time you hit the object is that you are then at, or past, the point of a skid. When you hit you will certainly pass that point and end up in a skid. It takes only a fraction of a second of front tire skid to totally lose control of your motorcycle. If you happened to be going is a straight line when you start a skid, your chance of recovering and not going down is actually pretty good. But if the skid is the result of your front-end being lifted off the ground because of hitting something, the odds that it will come down with the front wheel pointing straight ahead is not very good at all.
The third reason you do not want to be braking when you hit is that the object may well be alive and your tires will act like erasers as they go over it. Indeed, the 'object' you hit might even have been human (before you 'erased' it.)
Five things to do if you are going to run over something:
• Use maximum braking in an effort to stop before you hit it.
• Wrap all of your fingers around your grips - do not 'cover' any levers
• Roll-on your throttle starting about 1/2 second before the impact and shift your weight onto your feet.
• Roll-off your throttle right after the front tire surmounts the obstacle (shifts weight to front and lengthens the rear shocks).
Control stop (if you want to) after BOTH tires return to the ground.
Rather than let it lead you into trouble, use it
Sometimes we riders tend to minimize the risks we hear about. Take, for example, what every student of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation has heard about - 'target fixation'. 'Fixating' on something means not being able to take your attention (your eyes, for example) away from it. In the case of riding motorcycles, for example, this leads to the phenomena wherein our motorcycles tend to go in the direction we are looking and is usually described with an example familiar to all -- that if you see a pothole in the street ahead of you and don't take your eyes off it you are likely to hit it.
While that is true, it is too trivial an example to get our attention appropriately. We are left with the opinion that 'target fixation' is of trivial concern because we all know that we can, if we try, avoid that pothole.
In the case study we talk at great length about the tragic consequences possible from thinking that target fixation is a trivial problem. You are strongly encouraged to read that case study. While it is more graphic than most will be comfortable with, I can think of nothing that will better make the case for respecting the danger of target fixation.
It is insufficient to simply post the advise that you should avoid target fixation. Saying "don't fixate" is all very well, but once it starts, you need a positive technique to get yourself out in one piece. So once you are in trouble, use target fixation to save your skin.
Don't look at the oncoming truck/tree/pothole; figure out where you would rather be and fixate on that instead. In fact, those of you that have taken the MSF classes know that "target fixation" is an excellent way to control skids - fixate on a point dead ahead on the horizon, and you'll be well on the way towards automatically correcting most skids
Covering Those Control Levers
A function of speed, not style
If you have read some of my other articles you know that I am a strong advocate of covering the front brake lever while I've been essentially quiet about whether or not you should cover your clutch lever while riding.
Further, you probably know that I prefer to use two fingers to cover my brake and, when I do cover my clutch, I prefer to cover it using all four fingers. So, what's the deal? What's the logic that explains these differences?
First, let's look at why we cover a lever. Whether it's the brake or the clutch, the ONLY reason we cover these controls is to reduce reaction time when we need to operate them. In exchange for reduced reaction time we pay a price - we have less control of the corresponding grip when some of our fingers are covering a lever instead of being in contact with that grip.
The next question is not as obviously answered as the first one: When should you cover those controls? The answer is that we cover them whenever we might have need to quickly use them, but NOT when quick usage of the control (or simply covering it) can be dangerous.
The brake lever is the one that most of us cover virtually all the time. Is there a time when it should NOT be covered? You bet. At slow speeds, particularly when making turns. In these cases the use of your front brake is often so counter-productive or dangerous that you are far better off having the fingers of your right hand wrapped around the throttle.
Another time you want to keep your fingers off the brake lever is when you are about to surmount an obstacle in the road. If you take a firm jolt to the front or back wheel you must not lose your hold on the grip and having all of your fingers wrapped around it is your best insurance against that happening.
So, it follows that in general you want to cover your front brake lever anytime you might have to stop quickly. In other words, almost always if your motorcycle is moving faster than you can run.
But should you cover it with two fingers? Three? Four?
The answer to that question raises no end of controversy amongst seasoned riders. I suggest that you use as many fingers as you are comfortable using over an extended period of time. In my case, I use two fingers. If I try to use three, my hand gets cramped as I try to maintain the other one in contact with the grip. If I use four fingers then without a wrist rest to give me positive control of my throttle I find myself unable to smoothly control speed and my thumb will cramp over time. Since the right grip is itself a control (throttle), it is my preference to use two fingers to cover the brake lever and two to maintain contact with the throttle. Further, using two fingers GREATLY reduces the odds that in a panic I might try the dangerous practice of 'grabbing a handful' of brake.
When to cover your clutch lever is a little more subtle than when to cover your front brake lever. However, since the left grip is not itself another control, when you do cover the clutch you should use all four fingers. And, of course, the clutch lever can be squeezed until it contacts the grip. That means that if you use less than four fingers to cover the lever you can trap the other fingers between the lever and the grip.
The clutch is not used simply to disengage power from the rear wheel. Its friction zone is used to act like a vernier control of speed and it is far more subtle in doing that job than the throttle is, particularly at slow speeds. Thus, covering the clutch makes sense at slow speeds.
At higher speeds, however, covering the clutch is essentially useless. The price you pay to cover the clutch at higher speeds is a diminished control of the left grip. Since the brake lever should be covered when traveling at any reasonable speed, it makes sense to me that the clutch should not.
And, like the brake lever, the clutch should NOT be covered if you are about to surmount an obstacle in the road. This, to minimize the chance of losing control of the grip altogether.
• Cover the clutch at slow speeds
• Cover the brake at higher speeds
Motorcycle Goes Where You're Looking
Magic? Undiscovered Law Of Physics? Does It Really Work?
If you read the Case Study, you learned that Target Fixation is real. If you then read the article that discussed Target Fixation, you learned how to use it to get out of trouble. In essence, Target Fixation demonstrates pretty convincingly that your motorcycle goes where you're looking. But why? Your eyes, after all, are not holding your handlebars and you frequently scan directions other than the one you're traveling in without your bike wandering all over the road. Is it magic? Or perhaps an undiscovered law of physics?
In the case study you learned that Karen was intimidated by the truck that she was fixated on. She knew she was going to hit it and tried to lean away from the impact. In doing so what she actually accomplished was to PUSH her bike away from her body and towards the truck. What she should have done was to press the handgrip that was farthest away from the truck in order to force the bike to lean away from that truck. And the way to have done that was to look away from the truck and actively use counter-steering.
Besides fixating on the truck, Karen's mistake was that she actively counter-steered INTO the truck instead of away from it. Might there be a connection between the two errors?
The idea that your motorcycle will go where you're looking is merely a shorthand way of thinking about a phenomenon that virtually all drivers (of any kind of vehicle) have experienced before: that if you turn your head you tend to STEER in the direction you're looking. In fact, it might be clearer to simply acknowledge that it is HARD to steer in any direction other than the one you are looking at. ALL of your prior experience has taught you how to steer your vehicle where you want it to go. So, if you look where you want to go, you kick in all that prior experience and AUTOMATICALLY steer in that direction.
There is no magic here nor is there a hidden law of physics involved. Your bike (or automobile) TENDS to go in the direction you are looking because, via experience, you have taught yourself to steer, more or less subconsciously.
To take advantage of that phenomenon you merely need to actively look in the direction you want to go - away from danger. The rest is virtually subconscious reaction. Of course it takes more than a turn of your eyes or even your head. You still need to steer away from danger. Since it is HARD to steer away from what you're looking at, and easy (almost automatic) to steer in the direction you are looking, surely it makes sense to look where you want to go.
But, you say, there are many times when you look in directions other than the one you want to go. After all, one of the most important safety practices you engage in is to actively scan all around you looking out for hazards. Why is it that your motorcycle does not wander all over the road while you are scanning if it's true that it tends to go where you're looking? (More often than not, it does!)
The answer to that question is that when you are scanning or looking in a direction other than the one you want to go in you tell yourself to keep going in the direction you want - you turn OFF your 'autopilot'. If you don't believe me, next time you're out on the road and it is safe to do so, point your bike in the direction you want to go and look in any other direction. Notice how a part of your mind is CONSTANTLY VERIFYING that you are still on course. You do not normally have to do that - that's what your autopilot does for you.
[Keeping to the airplane analogy, we have been talking about how your eyes tend to control your ailerons (roll or lateral controls). A moving motorcycle does not have the equivalent of rudder or elevator controls.]
But we have also been well advised to keep our head and eyes 'up' and pointed at the horizon. Surely looking down will not cause a motorcycle to go down, or will it?
Well, not directly. If you are in a skid, however, and look down the odds are overwhelming that you will go down. That, because you will have failed to actively steer the bike in such a way as to try to keep it upright. But that's only one reason why you should keep your head up and eyes looking at the horizon. The other is that only by doing so can you actively scan for hazards or know, for sure, if your bike is vertical. But that's another story.
Does NOT provide stability
Like other folklore, a popular misconception is making its round within the motorcycle community that is simply wrong - and dangerous to you should you believe it - that speed provides a motorcycle's stability.
Indeed, even the MSF teaches this inaccuracy to its students during the first day of range work. So how, do you suppose, can they explain the following fact?
• If you lock your rear brake while traveling at 100 MPH your bike will fall over.
I received correspondence today from a person who wished to discuss highside avoidance techniques. He trotted out what he said an MSF instructor had told his class: if you lock your rear brake and cause a skid, all you have to do is look forward and keep your head vertical and your bike will come to a stop without falling over (if you keep your brakes applied.) He said that the instructor told the class that the rear-end of the bike would not slide out from under them, but would, instead, 'fishtail' (wander back and forth from side to side.)
That advise is entirely correct - ONLY at speeds less than about 20 MPH. (The speed at which you are instructed to be going during their rear-brake lock and skid exercise on the range.)
Speed is NOT what provides stability (or ease of balance) to a motorcycle. Rather, it is the enormous strength of the gyroscopic force generated by your spinning rear wheel. Since that spinning rear wheel is directly connected to the frame of the motorcycle (unlike your front wheel), it affects the stability and ease of balance of about 80% of the mass involved (including you.)
Should you lock your rear brake, thus stopping the rotation of the rear wheel, your bike will fall over in a matter of seconds - far less time than it takes to stop when traveling at any meaningful speed!!! This is what causes your rear-end to slide out from under you, and cannot explain or support a fishtailing - once it starts to fall to one side or the other there is nothing the direction you are looking at can do to cause the bike to change gravity and try to fall UP rather than DOWN.
There is NEVER a time when it makes sense to aggressively use your rear brake - NEVER - WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Not even during an MSF range exercise. Refuse to do it - it is not mandatory (at least if you have some form of integrated brakes.) I wonder why.
Good or Bad?
From the perspective of on-street riding, the question often comes up as to whether or not prior off-road riding experience is beneficial or harmful. Invariably I fail to satisfy the questioner because my answer is 'both'.
There should be no doubt that off-road experience provides an opportunity to learn great skills in the handling of a motorcycle, particularly for those situations where traction is less than optimal or when the bike is close to its limits (big lean or during obstacle avoidance.)
On the other hand, off-road experience tends to be irrelevant when it comes to having to deal with traffic or interstate speeds.
It is generally true that off-road riding involves an increased expectation of accidents. Spilling (dumping) a bike off-road happens with some frequency. On-road motorcyclists expect to never have such an accident. (That is not to say that dumping a bike doesn't happen - it does, usually in a driveway or in a parking lot at an effective speed of zero MPH.)
Except when racing, off-road riders that experience an accident can be virtually certain that they were responsible for it. On-road driving accidents are about equally the responsibility of someone else as of the motorcycle rider.
On a more subtle note, off-road experience tends to result in riders who become convinced that they, unlike all the 'squids' out there, are more likely to survive riding motorcycles on the street. This, in turn, tends to lead to these riders being more willing to ride closer to 'the edge' - taking risks that others shy away from.
Of the surveys that I have conducted here on the site it is clear that those who ride dirt tend to have slightly fewer accidents than those who ride street, but when you add any form of racing (motocross, for example), they have the highest incident of accidents, by far. (By the way, those who ride dirt have many more accidents, but not as many accidents that involve injury or death - probably because they tend to ride with far superior protective gear such as hard armor.)
When you have off-road experience you are unlikely to be intimidated with unpaved roads or even riding on hard packed sand.
One interesting observation that my site surveys have shown is that riders who have off-road experience tend, almost universally, to wear a helmet when they ride on the street. (Bravo!)
Beating The Odds
Requires that you behave ABNORMALLY
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for reducing accidents/injuries/deaths on our highways. They provide annual statistics which are extremely well documented in order to inform the public of how successful, or not, they have been. There is much to be learned from those statistics.
For example, there were just over 4.9 million registered motorcycles in the United States during the year 2001 and those motorcycles were ridden for a total of just over 9.5 BILLION miles in that year. Those are impressive numbers until you recognize that they mean that the average motorcycle was ridden for only about 1,943 miles in the year. On the other hand there were nearly 129 million registered passenger cars which accounted for nearly 1.6 TRILLION miles of travel in the same year, which means an average of about 12,311 miles per registered car.
So? Well, let's add some more information from the NHTSA. There were 33.38 fatalities per each 100 million miles of travel on a motorcycle while there were only 1.28 fatalities per each 100 million miles of passenger car travel. That argues that you are TWENTY-SIX times more likely to get killed riding a motorcycle than you are when riding in a car.
There were 632 injuries for each 100 million miles of motorcycle travel while there were only 122 injuries for each 100 million miles of passenger car travel. Meaning it is FIVE times as likely that you will get injured riding a motorcycle than riding a car.
But on the other side of the statistics is the following: 74,000 motorcycles were involved in an accident in the year 2001 which is only 1.5% of all registered motorcycles while there were 6,705,000 passenger cars involved in an accident in the same year which is an astonishingly large 5%. That means that the odds of your motorcycle being involved in an accident is SUBSTANTIALLY LOWER than your car being in an accident while the odds are overwhelming that if you are involved in an accident on your bike it will be catastrophic in comparison to what would happen if you were in a car.
At the very least you must conclude from the above facts that riding a motorcycle is substantially more dangerous than riding in a car. However, you know that a motorcycle is more agile than a car and should be able to, thus, avoid more of certain kinds of accidents than do cars. They can stop more quickly and can usually out accelerate most cars so there is even more reason to wonder why they don't avoid certain kinds of accidents that cars cannot avoid. Yet the statistics are not lying - they tell us that the more miles you drive your motorcycle, the higher the odds that you will be involved in an accident.
But must that be the case? Must it be true that your passion for motorcycles requires that you end up dead or injured in a motorcycle related accident sooner or later? Of course not! So, how do you beat the odds?
Statistics are only true if the population behaves 'normally.' Let me explain...
A substantial number of motorcycle accidents involve a rider who has been drinking. So, if on occasion you drink and drive, you are acting 'normally' as to the statistics and they are more closely predicting what will happen to you. A substantial number of accidents occur when 'luck' runs out - you drive through a yellow light and a truck happens to run over you in the intersection. But many, if not most, motorcyclists rely on luck to get them through a ride in just such a scenario. To the extent that you rely on 'luck' you are acting 'normally' relative to the statistics - you are trying to insure that they are self-fulfilling predictors.
What DOES make a difference in statistical outcomes is BEHAVIOR that is at variance with 'normal.' If the normal motorcyclist fails to cover his front brake while moving, those motorcyclists who DO cover their brakes tend to beat the odds. If the normal motorcyclist rides his bike once a month, and gets a couple of hundred miles of experience in the process, all of it as if s/he was a newbie each time, then those of you who take your bikes to a parking lot and practice braking or slow speed maneuvers and who ride more frequently and obtain more experience and familiarity with your bikes as a result are acting 'abnormally', and your odds of surviving the experience increases as a result.
If an incredibly high percentage of motorcycle accidents occur within the first six months of ownership and within just a few miles of home then those of you who have years of experience - not just years, but EXPERIENCED years - are 'abnormal' and your odds of being in an accident are not the same as those predicted by normal statistics.
If a substantial number of motorcyclists died when their heads hit the ground without wearing a helmet then it can be said that the statistics show what will happen to a 'normal' population of motorcyclists, including a percentage of those who do not wear helmets, so that if you DO ALWAYS wear a helmet you are acting 'abnormally' and your odds of survival increases, and if you SOMETIMES do not wear one you are acting 'normally' so that the odds more closely describe YOUR future potential as an organ donor. (And, of course, if you NEVER wear a helmet you are also behaving abnormally, but in this case you SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASE YOUR ODDS of dying on a motorcycle beyond the already dreadful statistics mentioned earlier.)
The fact is that it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle than it is to ride in a passenger car. The way to beat the odds is to BEHAVE in ways that decrease YOUR odds of being involved in an accident or being injured or killed if you are in one. In other words, you must behave 'abnormally'. (i.e., defensively, intelligently, soberly, with learned (practiced) skills, with protective gear and as if your life depends on it, because it does.)
Relying on luck (odds) is simply stupid.
For those of you who are inclined to argue that the statistics don't apply to you - that you are less likely to be involved in a motorcycle accident because you don't BEHAVE like some you have seen on the streets racing through curves at well over posted speed limits or weaving through traffic without use of signals, or any other unsafe behavior you care to describe - you MIGHT be right, but not necessarily so. All that it takes for the statistics to closely predict YOUR odds of survival is that you closely match the CUMULATIVE average behavior of the entire population sampled by the statistic. It does not take 'bad' behavior to match the odds, it takes an 'occasional' lapse of judgement to move you towards 'normal' odds. Actually, it doesn't even take that. We already know that the average biker rides his motorcycle less than 2,000 miles per year and that the higher the mileage, the higher the odds that you will be involved in an accident. That is, the higher the mileage, the more often you expose yourself to danger. So, assuming your other behaviors tend to reduce the odds of an accident, if you ride a lot of miles that behavior increases your odds of an accident - possibly as much as you reduced the odds by your otherwise safer behaviors. YOU are already a part of the sample and make up a small portion of the total sampled. There are others in that list who have never had an accident and never will. They, like you, are the counter-weight offsetting the behavior of those that clearly increase the odds of an accident. To the extent that your CUMULATIVE behaviors are safer than those of all others in the sample, your odds of survival without an accident are better than the statistics predict.
Squeezing Both Levers
Is Often Enough To Save It
True story (husband wants to sue manufacturer) ...
The wife mounts her motorcycle while in her driveway. It is pointing towards the street. She is wearing safety gear including a helmet. She is experienced and has recently attended an MSF class, apparently not for the first time. She plans to ride the bike to the end of the driveway and make a turn into the street at the end. Her husband also has the same motorcycle and has started his bike just before wife and completed the drive out onto the street where he waits for her to join him.
Something goes wrong. Just as she starts to move the engine begins to race as if the throttle is fully open. The bike moves 58 feet before it hits the curb on the other side of the street throwing the rider off itself and becomes a total loss as far as the insurance company is concerned. The woman is only bruised and buys a new motorcycle with insurance proceeds. According to the policeman who investigated the accident, says the husband, she was traveling at about 40 MPH when she hit the curb.
It should be pointed out that BOTH the husband and wife reported having experienced their motorcycles behave in this way previously. That is, both of their bikes have, after a brief ride and shut down then restart of their engines, experienced a sudden and unexpected 'racing' of their engines. They claim to have reported this problem to their motorcycle dealership and were told there is no known problem with the motorcycle such as they describe. So, of course, according to the husband, neither of them could possibly have expected that the problem might happen again. Further, neither of them could possibly be expected to be prepared to remain in control of their motorcycles if the problem did happen again because if it did it would be totally unexpected and if it took any corrective action on the part of the rider (such as use of the clutch) within a period of two seconds that would be entirely too little time to recognize that something was wrong and do anything other than 'hold on'.
Everybody has 'attitude', including this author. When I hear about or witness a motorcycle accident my attitude includes concern for the parties involved and a desire to LEARN something from it in hopes that *I* might be spared a similar experience.
This author concludes that she actually didn't do ANYTHING (right OR wrong) other than hold on until she was thrown off the bike. Because she KNEW, based on prior experience, that her engine seemed to sometimes 'runaway' by itself, and because she did NOTHING to try to regain control of her motorcycle, it is simply not credible that the 'accident' was 'entirely' the fault of the equipment. However, the 'blame game' is best reserved for the courts.
I believe that EVERYBODY, including myself, is STUPID when on an adrenalin high and that such times are not when they should be expected to LEARN anything. It is after the fact that the rider learns, if they want to, and before the fact is the best time for everyone else. That learning necessarily involves knowing and thinking about what actually happened - and that, in turn, requires asking questions and, not incidentally, credibility on the part of the 'witness.'
The husband claimed that the accident happened in the blink of an eye - too fast to do anything. Absurd and defeatist thinking. The accident took between two and three seconds from the time the bike started moving until it hit the curb 58 feet away. If the policeman's estimate was accurate (it was too high, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt) then she was traveling at 40 MPH when she hit the curb. For any vehicle to accelerate to a speed of 40 MPH in 58 feet requires that it do so at a rate of approximately 30 feet per second per second. (That's almost ONE G and beyond the capability of almost all motorcycles.) Further, that means, assuming a constant rate of acceleration, she averaged 20 MPH during that 58 feet and was traveling at a speed of 20 MPH at the end of the first second.
(20 MPH is just over 29 feet per second. For the first second of travel she was averaging 10 MPH meaning she traveled approximately 15 feet and had an additional 43 feet to go before the crash. During the second second she averaged a speed of 30 MPH which means she traveled 44 feet for a total of 59 feet which is close enough to 58 feet to be convincing.)
Two seconds is a LONG TIME! It is NOT a 'blink of the eye'. It should be recognized by any experienced group rider that there is a golden rule about following distance: TWO SECONDS between yourself and the bike immediately ahead of you. It's a coincidence, but that just happens to be how long the wife had before she ended up thrown off the bike. It is, in other words, exactly the same amount of time deemed to be 'safe' when following another bike because it gives you time to recognize and react to virtually any emergency situation and remain in control of your motorcycle.
The lady had at least two full seconds and probably more like three to do SOMETHING to try to regain control of her bike.
Holding on is probably what most people do when their bikes go weird. But, that 'explanation' for why the wife couldn't do anything to regain control of her bike ignores the fact that in order for that to have FAILED to get the bike back under control (at least to stop accelerating) means that she did not have hold of her clutch lever. In fact, in order for the motorcycle to have max accelerated for the entire 58 means - with absolute certainty - that she had abandoned both her clutch lever and her brakes for the duration of the ride.
Any experienced motorcycle rider knows, particularly one who has attended more than one MSF class, that starting out from a dead stop involves using the clutch lever and putting it into its 'friction zone.' Had this woman begun her ride without 'popping her clutch' (or letting go of it when the adrenalin rush hit her) despite the engine attaining high revolutions the bike cannot run away from her. Further, had she simply 'squeezed both levers' no matter what kind of emergency presented itself so long as she was moving in a straight line she would have regained control of her motorcycle. She used neither clutch lever nor either brake - she was 'frozen' for at least two seconds.
Had the rider merely REMAINED in control rather than give it away by letting go of her clutch lever there would not have been an accident. For those that would argue that the runaway engine 'caused' the accident because it happened first - might it not be just as appropriate to think that because she knew first hand that her bike had a tendency to demonstrate unexplained engine runaway that the FIRST MISTAKE was that she was willing to ignore that fact and ride the bike at all?
It might seem to you that despite my having claimed not to be interested in the 'blame game' I have done exactly that in pointing out that the rider did NOTHING (right or wrong) other than hold on until the bike crashed. In other words, by whatever name I might chose to call it I was actually blaming the rider for the accident.
But as I said earlier, under an adrenalin high we are all stupid and that learning while under the influence of adrenalin should not be expected. Instead of blaming the rider in this case I would merely say 'So what?' - that was history and mistakes were made and the result was an accident. How does it help you or me in any way whether the rider was to blame or not? It is the lessons learned that matter now, not what mistakes were made but that mistakes WERE made and what those mistakes were. I maintain that no accident would have happened at all had the rider done even the simplest of things - like squeeze her clutch lever - and that, thus, the accident was not 'entirely' the fault of her motorcycle malfunctioning. If there is a need to ascertain blame I suggest that be taken up in the justice system.
As learning is not best done DURING an accident then it should be done before the accident in order to minimize the odds that an accident will occur at all. There is a need to do some things correctly before an accident as well as during it - things that have already been learned. For example, you should cover your clutch and leave it in the friction zone while beginning to move from a dead stop. Or such as understanding, in advance, that no matter what happens ONE THING you can do to regain control of a motorcycle (if it's moving in a straight line) is to squeeze both levers - maybe not the ideal solution to a problem but one which can be done by anyone with any level of experience and skill. Or like practicing the things that are difficult, not just the things that are fun, in order to build some muscle memory that allows you to react without thought or having to learn while in the middle of a crisis
Listen To That Inner Voice
Some call it 'intuition'
Advice like 'listen to that inner voice and ACT accordingly' is not just vacuous new-age meta-physics crystal-gazing stuff. This rider is deadly serious about it.
If you are behind a truck and 'feel' like you should change lanes - change lanes. You may not be aware of why, you may not be aware that you have noticed something wrong, but when part of its load bounces out of its bed and lands on the ground where you would have been had you not changed lanes, you will then appreciate that your subconscious mind plays with details that your conscious mind tends to ignore.
If for any reason whatever you feel like you should not ride before you start, don't.
If for any reason whatever you feel like you would rather end your ride early, end your ride early.
If for any reason whatever you feel like you might not be able to make that hard right turn to get out of a parking lot and onto the feeder road, STOP and wait for that 'moment' to pass. Wait for your mind to get 'right' before you proceed. How much time have you lost doing that? Not enough to measure. But if you decide to ignore it and then 'freeze' exiting that parking lot, or make an unusually wide turn taking you into an adjacent (busy) lane it will be because you didn't listen to yourself, or (and here is where 'ACT accordingly' comes into play) because you did and it became a self-fulfilling prophesy, very like 'target fixation'.
Your Motorcycle CANNOT Fall Down
(At any speed greater than 10 MPH /15 KPH))
I have recently received a number of E-mails from new riders asking me to help them figure out how to deal with the fear they feel while riding at highway speeds and having to lean their bikes during turns. Invariably they tell me that they can't take those turns as fast as other riders do because they are afraid to lean the bikes enough to allow them to do so.
Despite the fact that their comments include all the information they need to know about their problem, they honestly don't get it. (That is, they know that if they do not go as fast as others do they will not lean their bikes as far as those others do either.)
So, here is a brief and possibly eye-opening response to those people and to those of you who are experiencing the same problem.
When you are moving at a speed in excess of about 10 MPH (15kph) on your motorcycle, so long as you keep your tires on the ground, you CANNOT FALL DOWN. It is IMPOSSIBLE!
Balance is only required by you as a rider at speeds so slow that counter-steering doesn't work. Above that speed, not only is steering virtually effortless, it is the only thing that you CAN control about your motorcycle other than its speed. You are along just for the ride when traveling at speeds in excess of 10 MPH (15kph).
Your motorcycle does not have a brain and it does not, therefore, decide to do what you want it to, or not. Instead, it is just a dumb machine that ALWAYS follows the laws (of physics), even if you don't.
And, you do NOT decide what the bike's lean angle will be when you are in a turn - the bike does that for you automatically, as a result of following those laws of physics.
The amount of centrifugal force generated in a turn is determined, exactly, and invariably, as a function of the square of your speed and the radius of the turn you are in. The greater the speed or the shorter that radius is, the steeper that lean angle will be. When the amount of centrifugal force is exactly equal to the force of gravity (discounting any effect that a side wind might have), the bike will be leaned over at exactly 45 degrees. Less centrifugal force, because gravity is constant, results in a smaller lean angle while if it is greater than gravity the lean angle will be greater than 45 degrees. *YOU* control the amount of centrifugal force by changing speed or by changing the radius of the turn you are in.
So, for example, if when you are riding at 45 MPH on a particular curve your lean angle might be 30 degrees and when you speed up to 55 MPH on that same curve that lean angle might be 35 degrees. That is the angle at which the force of gravity which is trying to pull you down is exactly offset by the centrifugal force being generated.
Why should that matter to you? Because not only is it impossible for that lean angle to be less than the one determined by the laws of physics as I just described, but because it CANNOT BE GREATER THAN THAT - in other words, IT CANNOT FALL OVER!
In order for the bike to fall over that lean angle would have to increase to well over 45 degrees at which point your pegs would scrape HARD and that, in turn, would lift your tires off the ground (which is why, then, you fall down.) But we already know that the lean angle CANNOT BE GREATER than the angle at which the centrifugal force and gravity are equally offsetting each other. In order to reach a 45 degree angle or more you have to deliberately increase your speed or shorten the radius of the turn.
Let me be very clear about the above. *YOU* can decide only the direction and the speed of travel of your motorcycle. Those things, in turn, determine what the lean angle of your bike is - not you. Once you have reached a lean angle of, say, 40 degrees, if you do not increase your speed or shorten the radius of the turn, your motorcycle MUST maintain that lean angle - neither less than nor greater than that angle. So it CANNOT FALL DOWN.
The same is true at any lean angle. So long as your tires maintain traction and you are not dragging any parts of the bike, you CANNOT FALL DOWN.
There is something to be said about following the law, no?
According to the MSF our tires provide only so much traction and that if you exceed that amount your tire breaks loose (you skid or slide). That's true.
They also presented to all students a 'visualization' of this in the form of a 'Traction Pie'. Below is a chart that is close to what that visualization looks like. Note that it is NOT *THEIR* chart as I am mindful that the MSF likes to sue people for copyright infringement and they seem to think that anything they say in their curriculum is 'intellectual property' and has great worth - not true.
The idea, according to the MSF, is that the circle represents the amount of traction a tire provides. They go on to suggest that there are FOUR 'pieces' of that circle (pie), the sum of which is the total pie: Acceleration force, Braking force, Cornering force, and Reserve (unused). The Assertion by the MSF is that if any 'piece' of that pie is Reserve, then you are not skidding/sliding. Fair enough, but that is not the same as saying you are not in trouble.
Well, if you were a fourth grader, I suppose, you might buy that and that is the fundamental problem with the analogy - it is a dumbed down concept that is easy to grasp, but is wrong and virtually useless. For example, instead of having FOUR 'pieces' that pie can have ONE, TWO or THREE 'pieces', and NEVER FOUR. If the tire is motionless, there is only one 'piece' (Reserve.) If moving in a straight line, there are AT MOST two 'pieces' (Acceleration OR Braking, and Reserve - if any.) And if moving in other than a straight line there are AT MOST three 'pieces' (Acceleration OR Braking, Cornering, and Reserve - if any.) So we already know that the visualization is mis-representing.
At least in the figure I drew for you above I have attempted to show you that the piece of the pie shown as 'A' is EITHER Acceleration force OR Braking force. In other words, the pie can have no more than three pieces. Nothing earth shattering about that mis-representation, but please bear with me as we next try to determine anything of value from the MSF's 'Traction Pie' concept.
Let's first look at the circle itself. The MSF would have you believe that it represents the traction provided by a tire. Fine. But there are no numbers associated with that circle so we must conclude that it represents 100% of that traction. And how much is that? I mean it is a finite number, right? Let's be charitable and say that *YOUR* tire can provide enough traction so that it supports 1.0g of force (Acceleration, Braking, Cornering.) So, I suppose, and the students will as well, that the circle would represent 1.0g. That is, the 'pieces' of the pie, when added together will amount to 1.0g.
There is a problem already. The amount of traction your tire provides is NOT independent of the roadway surface. If that tire is in the air, for example, it supports ZERO Acceleration, Braking and Cornering forces - thus, I suppose, that means there is only one 'piece' of that pie - Reserve. And since there is a Reserve 'piece' of that pie, the MSF would claim that you are not in trouble. If your tire is in the air you are NOT then in control and that, to me, means that you ARE in trouble.
But let's say that the tire is on the ground and moving. How much traction does it provide? I assure you that it does NOT provide 1.0g worth unless the coefficient of friction between that tire and the roadway is 1.0. In other words, that circle actually represents the coefficient of friction available (sometimes called the 'drag factor'.)
So let's pretend that all the students know that and that the drag factor happens to be 1.0. Is the visualization then right? No.
What would the diagram look like if the tire was moving in a straight line, that the drag factor was 1.0, and it was braking at a rate of 0.5g's?
Would you agree that this is a fair representation of that scenario using the MSF's 'Traction Pie' visualization?
Well, I'll not quibble here except to say that almost everybody would because they will be dealing with a false assumption, but for practical purposes I will agree that it is fair in that it shows that a good deal of Reserve exists and the tire is not skidding or sliding.
But let's change the scenario and say that we are looking at the 'Traction Pie' for a tire and that in addition to supporting a 0.5g braking force is also supporting a 0.5g Cornering force. Again, total traction supported by the tire is 1.0. Is, then, this diagram fair and correct? Since there is no Reserve 'piece' of the pie left, is this tire about to skid or slide?
The answer to those questions is a decided NO! Though it shows the assumptions made using the concepts earlier explained, it totally misrepresents reality. The tire in this example is nowhere close to a skid or a slide - there remains a Reserve of about 0.3g's of force that it can support.
And now you see the fundamental problem with the MSF's 'Traction Pie' visualization - it does not convey reality even in concept form and students have absolutely no way of understanding the actual dynamics of traction from it. A correct and fair 'Traction Pie' chart using the information provided would be:
How is this possible? Simple. Braking and Acceleration forces are ORTHOGONAL (Perpendicular) to cornering forces.
So that, according to Pythagoreas, instead of the total force being the sum of those forces, it is the Square root of the sum of the squares. Thus, the amount of traction used in the example is NOT 1.0. Instead, it is 0.7. That leaves 0.3 in Reserve.
Forces are always directional. That is, they are VECTORED quantities. In order for the 'Traction Pie' to represent reality, therefore, it would have to be a vector diagram. In that case, instead of the area of the circle representing total traction available, it must be that the RADIUS of that circle does that. In other words, if you were to apply line segments from the center of the circle of a length equal to the amount of force being described, and the DIRECTION of those line segments representing the vector, it would have much greater utility (and accuracy.)
Our current example would be represented this way:
It would be clear that since the vectored total forces line did not go beyond the edge of the circle that the tire was not about to skid or slide.
And if we then increased one of those forces from 0.5g's to, say, 0.9g's, the resulting diagram would look like this and a skid or slide would already have happened!
Please pay attention to what was just said. The MSF teachings have left virtually every graduate of their classes with the absolute belief that if you are in a turn you must NOT use your brakes without first standing your bike upright. What you just saw is how preposterous that belief actually is. Unless your bike is leaned over at close to 45 degrees and, therefore, taking nearly 1.0 full g's of lateral (cornering) force, you have the ability to use somewhat more braking force than you think without exceeding the traction limits of your tires. How much?
Well, let's look at a normal and reasonable example. You are traveling at 50 MPH in a curve that has a radius of 335 feet. As a result, your bike is leaned over at an angle of 27 degrees and you are experiencing lateral acceleration of 0.5g's. How hard can you brake in that case without exceeding the traction your tire's provide?
Again assuming that your tires (and the roadway) support 1.0g's of force before skidding or sliding, then you can apply as much as 0.87g's of braking force. That is a WORLD-CLASS BRAKING EFFORT before a slide will occur! Most riders cannot get a deceleration rate of more than about 0.80g's, even in a panic stop! (I should point out that though you will not slide in this scenario, you WILL widen your turn - perhaps a great deal!)
Here is the output of a model I created that shows this scenario for you. Note the 'Maximum Deceleration Rate' line near the bottom.
Now, please pay attention! The model shows a maximum deceleration rate that is higher than real! That, because until I modify it to include the effects of weight transfer in the calculation of that maximum for each tire, it shows a result for an imaginary vehicle having only a single tire - thus, without weight transfer effects.
Now if you REALLY wanted to reflect some reality with the 'Traction Pie' diagram and teach some valuable information along with showing a visualization, you might want to tell the students that the 'Traction Pie' is not really a circle at all. It is more like an oblong. That's right, some tires provide greater Braking/Acceleration traction then they do Cornering traction:
While others, perhaps those you want to put on your sport bikes for example, provide better Cornering traction than they do Braking/Acceleration traction:
But, hey, all of that defies the dumbed down approach - designed to 'make learning easier and more fun', so don't hold your breath.
See Spot. See Spot run
"I laid it down" is a crock
(More charitably, it is an excuse.)
I recently had a message posted on my board from a long-time rider which said the following:
I laid it down one time on purpose.
I was entering a green light intersection about 30mph when I saw what turned out to be a drunk driver entering on my right intending to run his red light.
I ran thru 3 options in my head:
1) If I keep going he will T-bone me;
2) If I try and stop I will T-bone him;
3) Lay it down and hit him with both of my wheels and the whole bike between me and his car.
I took Option 3, destroyed my helmet on his A-pillar, destroyed his left front fender/wheel/ door, landed on my tailbone after flying over his car. Bottom line: totaled Harley, totaled Plymouth, totaled Bell helmet, cracked tailbone, opened up head, 10 days on a board in the hospital.
I never ride without a helmet now.
His 'logic' was reasonable, though badly flawed, but worse by far it sounded like a recommendation to others to consider doing the same thing. On balance, it was a crock of ...
This is the kind of story that a newbie must learn to filter and dismiss instead of believing. It is especially difficult for them given the 'story' includes a rational and obvious bit of good advice (to always wear a helmet).
His 'option 2' was the ONLY viable and certainly the safest choice he could have made. If you are going to crash you want to do it at the slowest possible speed and that happens only if you use an emergency braking maneuver. By 'maneuver' I mean that you squeeze the front brake hard, then harder, then harder still without locking up the brake, and by using the rear brake modestly and then with less and less pressure so that it, too, does not lock up. And it means that you keep your head and eyes pointing straight ahead, the bike pointing straight ahead, and you lean forward to lower the bike's center of gravity.
Let's look at the whole idea of 'laying it down'. Do you wonder where a person learns how to lay a bike down on purpose? I mean, I have never heard of a class, certainly not an MSF class, that teaches a rider how to do that. Yet, it seems, this rider knew just how to do it in an emergency situation. Isn't that fantastic?
Let's suppose that you really did want to lay down a bike while it's moving at highway speeds. Which control would you use? There is no 'lay down' button on your motorcycle so it must be one or more of the other controls. Since this rider wants to end up with his wheels hitting the car ahead of him, my guess is that the bike has to be made to turn 90 degrees from its direction of travel. The only controls that you have to change direction are the handlebar itself. And, at highway speeds, you have no choice but to use counter-steering. So, it must be that you use counter-steering to lay a bike down. But my experience has taught me that when you change direction you actually move in a different direction. If this rider merely pressed hard on, say, his left grip, then his motorcycle would have moved dramatically to the left, not just swiveled in place within his lane of traffic and switched the front end of the bike from pointing dead ahead to pointing directly to the left.
But if the bike actually moved away from the track he was riding in, and aggressively so, then wouldn't that actually be a panic swerve? And if a panic swerve COULD be performed such that you would miss the collision altogether, why wouldn't you simply do that instead of going further and ending up on the ground?
The fact is that if you could use a panic swerve to avoid an accident you would do so instead of 'laying it down'. This rider already claimed that that was not an option because it was not listed.
In order to end up on the ground your tires have to lose traction. That happens, as you know, if you overuse your brakes. Skid marks are clear indicators when that happens. And the brake that is easiest to overuse is attached to the rear wheel. Its at least a coincidence that when you skid the rear tire your bike's rear end tends to yaw to one side or the other, particularly if you are also using the front brake. And the result can easily be that the rear tire, not the front one, is what slides out from under you while you tend to stay in the same lane you were traveling in at the time. Surely it is more likely that in order to 'lay a bike down' you use the rear brake instead of counter-steering.
But if you skid your tires you no longer are getting maximum stopping power from your brakes. Instead, you have reduced your rate of deceleration by about 25% from what it was just prior to the start of the skid.
Now I don't know about you but if I had my preferences I would want to be slowing as quickly as possible when faced with a crash and that means I would not want my tires to skid at all.
But what if you could increase your rate of deceleration by sliding on the side of your motorcycle instead of on its tires? Well, the problem with that is that steel (and plastic) have less friction when scrubbing against asphalt than does the rubber of its tires. So that a sliding motorcycle which is on its side instead of on its tires will slow even less quickly than if you simply skid your tires.
You know what I'm saying ... 'laying down' a motorcycle is NOT a deliberate event on the street. Instead, it is an after-the-event explanation, an excuse, of what happened which is designed to save face. In short, it is BS.