Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Aim first, then fire!

Sorry, no pictures. There just wasn't anything that seemed to fit this time. I feel delinquent in the lack of attention I've been devoting to blogging, lately. So sorry. Please hang in there with me. I know what it's like to tune in for information and entertainment and find...nothing. There's a couple of trade shows to get out of the way this week. After that I promise to make it up to you all.

In the meantime, I came across a grim reminder of how many motorcyclists get the whole cornering sequence wrong. Good judgement's critical no matter what vehicle we're in or on. When the vehicle's a bike, it's even more critical. The consequences are so much worse for those of us on two wheels. I continually have cause to shake my head. It's not like new and unique things are always springing up to surprise riders. That happens once in a while like when I had a bear run across the road in front of me coming down off of Odell Lake. What gets the most motorcyclists are the same things over and over.

Getting corners wrong and being whacked by left turning cars are two scenarios that are repeated over and over, ad naseum. These are things that are right in front of us as riders. All we have to do is look. Use our eyes and gather information. It sounds over simplistic. While there's no magic bullets, simply using our eyes effectively isn't rocket science, either.

Riders don't look nearly far enough through corners. What happens is that extremely important decisions are made without having all the required information. Corners are taken literally on blind faith. If a rider can't see all the way through a corner, or worse, just hasn't looked the best that can happen is a guess. Time after time I see riders gamble their life on a guess. My question is, WHY???

Here's the latest thing that set me off.

Late Saturday afternoon. Highway 20 runs East of here and eventually heads over the Cascades into Central Oregon. Like any road that follows mountains it has its share of curves. Where the accident happened the curves were just starting. A 36 year old rider from Astoria was piloting a 2006 Kawasaki cruiser. Coming the other direction was a 25 year old man and a younger passenger in a Buick LaSabre. Bear in mind that Astoria is way up on the Northern Oregon Coast. Probably a couple of hours from the accident site. Which means that the road was likely not a familiar one to the Kawasaki pilot. Good visual information would have been the best ally for the motorcyclist. Accident reconstruction showed this factor to be missing. The rider crossed the center line in a curve and hit the Buick head on. This accident wasn't fatal but the rider was taken to a hospital with some pretty serious injuries.

Many police reports have that catch-all phrase listed. "Failure to negotiate" A casual observer would conclude that it was because of excessive speed. Someone more familiar with motorcycle accidents would ask where in the corner the accident happened. The last third? Ah, a classic case. Speeds weren't too fast for the bike, after all. Most bikes are way better than the rider ever hoped to be. No, the speed was too fast for the information the rider had. Crashing in the last third of the corner is the prime indicator. The rider does one of two things. One is straightening up and running off the road, colliding with a tree or some other fixed hazard. Or, as in this case, the rider runs over the center line and impacts oncoming traffic.

Looking is so important to the cornering sequence. Everything else hinges on the visual information. Entry speeds and lines should be set by what can be seen. Charging blindly through a corner can have disastrous consequences. Aiming comes first. Have a target to shoot for. If a rider can't see all the way through a corner then they need to assume the worst. Only after having a definite target can a rider successfully "fire", or pull the trigger on the corner.

I know I seem wound up about this. It's probably because I am. 85 percent of our fatalities in the last few years have been riders getting corners wrong. What a travesty! If motorcylists would just work on looking farther ahead, the fatalities and injuries would drop. I know I'm preaching to the choir with the ones who read this blog. Please accept my urgings to spread the gospel among riders you come into contact with.

Coming up in the next week or so should be a post on ABS and linked brakes, looking for traction clues, as well as some fun stories of riding to work. After all, that's why we do this, isn't it? We ride to have fun and look good, don't we? If there's any interest I might plug something in about lines and apexes in corners.

Miles and smiles,



Anonymous said...

I don't care if all motorcycle riders have perfect skill, there will always be injurys and death when riders ignore the speed limits.

The Snark said...

Anonymous : It has nothing to do with speed limits, but rather matching riding speed to road conditions, visual information and rider skill, as was pointed out by Dan in the post. Any modern motorcycle has more performance than the average rider can use, and I am not referring just to speed.

Another excellent post Dan. Thank you. Was just thinking the same thing myself the other day, coming in to work, going knee down on a highway on-ramp :P

Bill Sommers said...

The difference between taking careful aim, and snap shooting. What percentage of the time does the snap shooter hit the target?

I will continue to pass these lessons along, and to apply the information to myself as well. I apprieciate it.

Have fun,

Michael Bird said...

When you said 85 percent of fatals bought it in a curve I became very interested in anything you may want to add about "lines and apexes". I need to find a good motorcycle book since these are fuzzy abstracts & you've made a few past references. So yeah, there’s definitely some interest!

I’ve been riding a long time, but don’t “charge blindly into curves”; mainly because of a keenly felt lack of cornering skills. (It doesn’t help the bike weighs 4 times what I do.) Instead I hold back too much on curves. You see, there’s currently a lot of freeway construction here in Las Vegas. They keep putting in temporary doglegs with posted 35 & 40 MPH limits (which the cagers ignore, causing daily fender benders. Yes daily.) One carnival ride looks like an S, then has one extra right exit turn that gets em every time. It’s unnerving to push boundaries, taking a 40 MPH S curve at 50 or 55 to avoid being run over by heavy morning traffic, then watch some idiot swerve into my lane as he speeds by at 60! Yet I still feel safer here than on city surface streets. No intersections to worry about. Just today there was a drunk driver in the news who caused a 7 car pileup when he ran a red light.

Anyway, thanks for all the months of sage advice. I go back now & then to ponder an especially helpful one.

irondad said...

You bring up an interesting contrast. If the skills were perfect it would mean that there was a mindset of wanting to be perfect. Which, in turn, means taking responsibility for themselves. Hand in hand with that would come obeying the laws or, as I say, at least riding prudently.

I see squids on sport bikes riding insanely fast in city traffic and strafing curvy roads like there was no tomorrow. For many, there's not a tomorrow. The irresponsibility and lack of skills go together, don't they?

You summed it up pretty well. Thanks. Provided I have the available traction and visibility my cornering strategy is "double minus ten". In other words, a corner posted at 35 mph would be ridden at 60 mph. That's everyday riding. There's times when the karma's right that I "let off a little steam" in corners.

My God man, don't you realize that we commute on a bike for utility and we're not supposed to have fun on freeway ramps? ( snicker, snicker )

Good analogy. With your permission I might use it someday.

It might help you to know that the riders who act prudently like you aren't highly represented in these accidents. Mostly the riders are guys who used to ride as kids and come back. They also happen to be predominantly cruiser mounted. Their attitude is "I don't need no stinkin' training! It's like riding a bicycle, you never forget." Sometimes they find out that it's not a matter of not forgetting. It's a matter of never having known in the first place.

Some sort of beverage induced impairment is involved in about half the fatalities across the board. Bad combination.

Your situation sounds interesting, to say the least. I'll put up a short post later tonight with some good book references. Thanks for your long-time reading!


Bryce Lee said...

You summed it up pretty well. Thanks. Provided I have the available traction and visibility my cornering strategy is "double minus ten". In other words, a corner posted at 35 mph would be ridden at 60 mph. That's everyday riding. There's times when the karma's right that I "let off a little steam" in corners.

borrowed the quote from one of
the comments...

make sure its 35 mph and not 35
kmh as it is here in Canada.

All too many foreigners from the
USA see that 100 on the highway
and figure it's 100 mph.

Strangely enough, the locals
all drive at 100 mph or so it seems. Which is actually 160 km/h!

Gary said...

Dan, I really like your interpretation of the pre-corner-entry phase as "gathering information". That, of course, is exactly what experienced riders do.

Unfortunately, the only way riders truly become experienced is by pursuing training beyond that simply required to get a license.

But sadly, the majority of "bikers" refuse to do that, and we end up with these statistics instead.

Really, the only solution is to require a more advanced education in order to become a licensed rider, but the Industry would would probably never permit that.

Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Ride well,

Steve Williams said...

I have to agree with Gary about riders not wanting additional training. I have talked to many riders now who only know what they learn by riding. You can learn a lot riding but if you don't have sound fundamental thinking about riding I fear you just end up with a lot of bad habits to manage.

It's funny how riders feel threatened by the thought that they might need some additional training. I don't think it is a time or money issue but rather one of pride and ego.

Too bad...

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks