Sunday, February 11, 2007

"You're probably screwed"...comment and discussion.

In the previous post on rear wheel skids I wrote something that could probably be taken two ways. Gary Charpentier of "Rush Hour Rambling" fame brought it to my attention. He left a comment on the post telling me about it. Leave it to Gary to challenge me! I was going to reply in the comment section. Having decided it would be too long, I chose to do another post. Besides, it's a good chance to take another look at the situation. The previous post was short on purpose so as not to lose focus on the topic at hand. This will be an opportunity to dig a little deeper.

I have a lot of respect for Mr. Charpentier. ( Gary, if you're reading this it's just a figment of your imagination. You must be delirious from riding in that Mid-West cold ) I'm off on a small side-trip here. Bear with me. Isn't that what we do on a bike? There's this little side-road we've always wanted to explore. Riding makes us eager to go take a look. We'll be back on the main road soon.

The internet can be good or bad depending on what you're after. There's a lot of mis-information out there. One of the magical things for me has been finding this small community of motorcycle bloggers. Gary and I are a lot alike. We're both soldiers. Ok, ok, I'm a soldier and Gary's a Marine! It wasn't my choice where I went. Let's split the difference and say we're both Warriors. Oftentimes we've found ourselves on the same wavelength at the same time despite the distance between us. Life experiences have been similar. Having never met in person, I still feel a connection. Interesting how the internet brought us together. People with shared traits who might never have met otherwise.

Gary was the first of the Ride to Work bloggers. He sent out an invitation for others to join the fun. Thanks much for that. Steve Williams also stepped up. Steve's a needed contrast to the Warrior style Gary and I adopt. We're just as apt to use force as anything else. Can't get there by discussion? Swords and fisticuffs will work as well. Steve, on the other hand, has the heart and soul of a poet and philosopher. I'm sure Steve would be there in battle with us. He'd also be the one using words and pictures to remind us what we're fighting for in the first place. Reading Steve's blog has added a much needed balance to my perspective. Not to mention a certain extra push to stop and really look at the world around me.

Others have joined us since. Eric, Bill, John, Guiliano, Dru, Allen, Snark, Lucky, and others are part of the community. Some through Ride to Work, some on their own. Whether we think of it this way or not, the things shared in the blogs are a gift to the rest of us. Sometimes we nod in agreement, sometimes not so much. At least it makes us think about things from differing perspectives. Other times we learn something new or cement something we already thought we knew. Either way, the proffered gifts are a means of enrichment. I thank everyone for those treasures.

Which brings me back to the main road. This is an answer to Gary's comment. Warriors may agree or not. They have the same objective but can have differing views of each aspect of the battle. Meshing their opposing views can strengthen their unit. What can seem like opposite views can end up not really being that at all. It might be a matter of actually seeing the same thing but looking at different views of it. I believe there's a verse in Proverbs that says something to the effect of "As iron sharpens iron, so the face of one man sharpens the other".

This is the spirit in which I offer the following commentary. I'm reproducing the comment here in full. Just to be fair, you know, with nothing taken out of context.

"Great piece, Dan. It pretty much confirmed most of what I think I know about braking. I have only one question: Is it wise to tell folks that they are pretty much screwed if they get into situation #3? I've been in that situation many a time, and rarely has it resulted in a crash. A lot of the time, it is how I set up my entry into a tight corner, and it's the "sweet spot" in the torque curve on the way out. I realize that, as a safety instructor, you can't really teach this stuff with a clear conscience. It requires many hours on the racetrack to learn properly.But please don't tell folks they are always screwed in that situation, or they might believe you. That's usually when you hear the phrase "...then I had to lay `er down.". Just my two-cents. Ride well,=gc= "

First off, Gary's right. If you read the comment in one way it can seem like a blanket statement. One that says if you find yourself in this particular situation you might just as well give up and crash. I also hereby firmly stand by my statement in the context in which it was made. So let's dig a little deeper. For purposes of refreshing memories, here's the picture that went with the comment.

The picture on the right shows the motorcycle's front and rear wheels way out of alignment. This is the position I made comment on. I wrote that if you find the motorcycle in this position you're pretty much screwed. In the context of this picture the average rider pretty much is. Let me add a sentence or two that will clearly define the context.

Too often when riders are faced with an emergency situation, they over-brake and lock the rear wheel. A skidding tire is a dangerous condition that can result in a violent crash and serious injury or death. The key words are "emergency situation".

Two things you don't see in the picture. One is the reason the rider's trying an emergency stop in the first place. Put a car in front of the bike. A car that's suddenly slammed on the brakes for whatever reason. Or no reason at all. Secondly, the view from the top doesn't show the severe lean angle of the bike. In this case, the bike's leaned way over to the left. The rear brake is still applied and the tire is sliding.

Let's make it personal and say it's me riding Sophie in that picture. For those of you who don't know, Sophie is a 2001 Honda ST1100. Curb weight ( that is, the real weight of a bike that actually has fuel, oil, antifreeze, and a battery installed ) is around 721 pounds. Add my 180 pounds. ( MOST of it is still muscle! ) I now have a little over 900 pounds of bike and rider leaned to the left and still sliding. The rear wheel's stepped out to the right. Right in front of me is THE STOPPED CAR. What are my options?

If I keep the brake locked it's going to be touch and go whether I hit the car before I low-side. A sliding rear tire adds a lot to stopping distances. The bike's already leaned over so even if I stop short of the car, I'm going to have a heck of a time keeping Sophie from falling over. Remember, it's gyroscopic precession that holds a bike up. That only happens with a little speed. When the bike's out of momentum guess who holds the bike up?

If I let go of the rear brake there's a huge chance I'll high-side. Even if that doesn't happen the resultant jerk is going to try to unseat me and cause me to have a lapse of control. Of the bike, and maybe my bowels! I could even experience the same thing if I leave the rear tire locked. Once I get so far over the center of gravity is going to shift depending on my weight relative to the bike.

Going around the car isn't an option as long as the rear tire's sliding. Sophie and I have surrendered all direction control to whatever path we were on when we started the skid.

Does that mean there's absolutely no options? No, but I'll say right now that there are very few riders who could get out of this. Riders like Gary and I with a lot of race track time could probably do it. To be honest, I'm not even sure if I could do it with Sophie. On the VFR, yeah. Or my recently sold CBR. On a huge sport tourer? I don't know if I want to find out. By carefully transitioning the throttle, rear brake, and front brake I could control how the rear tire hooks up. Once I got that right I could hope the steering is responsive to my presses quickly enough to essentially perform a smoking corner exit. Even though it's the least of my worries at the moment, I'm going to hope the knee of my Roadcrafter is padded enough because I'm probably going to test it out.

To put closure on my statement:

I realize that there are riders like some of us who are actually crazy enough to put a bike in this position on purpose. Skills honed on tracks and from year after year of high mileages can be used in a variety of situations. As a professional instructor, I'm talking here about accident avoidance skills. This rider is responding to something that's happened suddenly and right in front of them. Poorly developed braking skills or very high adrenaline has caused them to apply too much rear brake.

Unless you're really good or really lucky, this is a very bad situation to be in. Few riders will be able to recover. Never surrender but realize you're going to be at a large disadvantage. The best option is to NEVER GO THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!! Release the rear brake as soon as you recognize the rear wheel skid. You'll give yourself more options and more time to use them in.

Again, as a professional trainer I have to urge you to practice and practice so proper braking is second nature. Use your mental skills to avoid surprises in the first place. If you want track skills come take my classes. Don't try to learn power slides on the street.

Should a rider ever decide that "laying the bike down" is an option? Absolutely not! This comes from the old days when bikes had really poor brakes. When police departments first started using motorcycles the officers were trained in how to properly lay the bike down. That's because the fastest way to stop in a real emergency was to make the bike an anchor. Motorcycles no longer suffer from that affliction. It would be an extremely rare occasion where laying a bike down would be the best option. Extremely rare. What has more traction for braking, the rubber of the tires or your body and the paint job? Even if it looks like a rider is certainly going to impact an object, stay on the brakes until the last possible second. Every bit of speed the rider scrubs off will lessen the impact accordingly. That's not to say a rider shouldn't learn the proper way to exit a bike should the thing fall over. Cops are still trained on how to separate from the bike safely if not gracefully. That's not the same as learning to "lay it down".

Remember a year and a half ago or so when Arnold laid his Harley down to avoid a truck? He broke some ribs and ruined his bike. What really cracked me up was when he was interviewed on national television. When asked why he laid the bike down you might have expected some answer based on reason and logic. Here's what came of his mouth in front of God and America:

"Because that's how we did it in 'Terminator'!" Excuse me while I let out a loud groan.

A guy got killed here last year doing the same thing. He encountered a truck that took him by surprise. Instead of braking he laid it down and got run over. So much mis-information and so little time!

Thanks for the comment, Gary. You also reminded me of the caliber of the folks reading the blogs. This braking thing is important. I'm inspired to do another post on front wheel braking, ABS, and stopping distances. Stay tuned.

Miles and smiles,



Tinker said...

There are a few pictures of an event that looks very much like the event you are discussing. Yes he saved it but he was on a race track, and nobody was apparently "obstacling his path".

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Nice to see you back.

Your comment gave me a chuckle:
"That's not to say a rider shouldn't learn the proper way to exit a bike should the thing fall over."

I never had anyone suggest how to part ways w/ the machine, other than emphasizing NOT to hold on once it fell. (Karl might have mentioned attempting to jump away, pushing off the pegs.) Any words of wisdom on that topic, Oh Learned Instructor? ; )

When I crashed last Oct., I landed hip, shoulder, helmet and somehow managed to slide up the road on my back... curled in a ball! Wish someone had video. [The bike crunched both sides. Our repair bills have been about the same.]

When the world finally held still again, I was looking up at the sky past my knees. I know I'd held my head off the pavement, too, 'cause the helmet only has slight scrapes from the first contact rather than what I'd expect from being dragged along asphalt.

As a plug for Aerostich gear (like they need any!) - I had their TF2 hip pads in my jeans, and am absolutely convinced that without them something in my hip would have been broken. My collarbone was, and I had a concussion, and the bone bruise in the hip hurt for several months. Hate to think what I'd be like without all the gear (esp. helmet!).

Gary said...

Thanks for the clarification, Dan. Either I didn't read the first post closely enough, or I just had a mental block about the context.

It would never occur to me to slide my bike sideways in an emergency stop. As you said here, I would use combinations of control inputs, depending on the situation, to steer the bike around the obstacle, or in the worst case, choose the best point of impact.

It's surprising how much thought you can put into these situations in about half a second. If you can listen to the calculating part of your mind while the adrenaline is jazzing your nervous system, you can usually minimize the amount of damage by heeding that voice.

Again, a great post. You really have the knack for teaching, and I will continue to read and learn from you.

Ride well,

Steve Williams said...

Dan: What an amazing post. I am going to have to read it again to fully understand your description of how you might manage that terrible skidding position in the third image but I will tell you that my goal will be to never get in that position.

As Gary said your writing and instructional insight are simply amazing. It is a pleasure and gift to be able to access some of the educational program that the people of Oregon get from you.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Allen Madding said...

I had just been riding about 4 months when on my way to work on a congested highway with traffic moving around 50 mph, the cars in front of me began sliding brakes. I could see a car two ahead of me sliding towards the shoulder and smoke coming from the tires of the SUV in front of me. I admit I probably was a bit too close to begin with...I got on the brakes and immediately experienced rear tire lock up. Despite my recent training to not do so, my old instinct kicked in to ease off the brake. I did ease up slightly and aimed for the dotted line between the cars ahead of me. As the bike took a straightened posture, I eased the brakes to bring it to a final stop. The bike bucked a few times and died as I had inadvertantly released the clutch at the last second. Despite my lack of skill and experience, I somehow stopped with the bike upright and without any contact to the stopping cars.

I tried to regain composure and looked back into the lane where I had been riding to see that the car that had been behind me was now sitting about a foot from the SUV I was trying to avoid. If the shock of the entire episode hadn't rattled me, seeing there was no space left in the lane where I had been certainly did.

I doubt I have ever left quite as much space between myself and the car ahead in traffic as I did the rest of the trip that morning. I continue to replay that experience in my mind and try to extract as much from it as I can to prevent myself from getting in that position again.

The following day, I was able to see my marks in the road. I had locked the rear and it had kicked out and apparently shifted to the other side as the mark was an "S". Perhaps I blindly fell on the technique of easing off the rear brake when it got back inline with the front.

But I can say that during the whole episode, I never once thought about throwing the bike down as an alternative. Granted it had plenty of opportunity to get horizontal on its own, I had no intention of getting there by my doings.

Thanks for the post(s). They give me a lot to chew on as I continue to press myslef to be a better rider.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan
Glad I have got ABS!
On the subject of avoiding catastrophe with a technique which is not often taught. I think that I have avoided falling off my bike at least once by pushing it back into balance with my leg. I would agree that this is an obvious thing to do, but I haven't seen it recommended anywhere?

Combatscoot said...

My Father did just such a thing one time, and his foot hit the ground so hard that it destroyed his knee and shattered his shin bone. He was going pretty fast when it happened, though.
I put my foot down on a sidecar rig one time, when the car came up on me on a sharp right hander where there was oncoming traffic. The only reason why the maneuver worked is I was wearing leather-soled boots that allowed my foot to slide on the pavement. Major pucker-factor on that one!