Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Judged by the worst.

It's happened again. Somebody in my circle of acquaintances has crashed a bike. Now I'm hearing a fresh round of how people worry about me riding. "Motorcycles are so dangerous" they say. Never mind the hundreds and hundreds of hours and thousands upon thousands of miles I've ridden without serious incident. Not to mention the miles put on by my fellow bike commuters. No, I'm being judged by what happened to a single individual. And one, truth be told, who reaped the rewards of his own attitude. By extension, I'm also being judged by others just like him. Why are these always the most visible ones?

If you're reading this you've probably realized I'm back. Katie and I had some time together without too many other things intruding. A gentleman will never "kiss and tell" but suffice it to say that she's humming to herself again. Always a good sign! The down side is that I haven't been on two wheels for a week. I'm suffering severe withdrawal. As we drove through the Coast Range I couldn't help but remember the awesome rides I've had through there before. Everywhere we went by car we'd been on the bike, as well. Rain drops on the kitchen window air conditioner sound like heavy men line dancing on a tin floor. Soaked or not, motorcycle tires are going to roll this morning!

When we got back into town I called my mother to let her know we were safely home. You know how that goes. She asked me if I'd heard what happened while we were gone. Of course, I hadn't, so she tells me the story. About two guys riding when a car pulls out in front of them. One gets around the car and the other runs into it. This was also the first of what would become several expressions of "motorcycles are dangerous".

I did a little checking into things. To quote Paul Harvey, here's the "rest of the story".

Three guys decide to get bikes. Two are close to my age and one's a little older. I went to high school with and casually dated the girl that one of them is married to. Obviously well before he married her, of course! This guy is the fairly new rider. The other two guys are coming back to riding after being away a long time. That's a big trend these days. Unfortunately, the riding world's a totally different place now. A person can't step off a time machine and expect to seamlessly blend into the future without a little help. Enter The Trainer.

All three bought Harley's. All three were strongly urged by yours truly to seek some sort of training before they actually took them out on the road. Here's where it gets interesting. Two of the three had no endorsements. One had let it lapse and the other had never had one. Both of these took one of our courses, did well, and had gotten endorsed. Now they are legal and much better equipped to start taking care of themselves out there. As much as I'd like to say otherwise, riding is dangerous. That's a constant that is only likely to get worse. What isn't a constant, though, is how we prepare ourselves to deal with the risk. That aspect is totally under our control. We can choose to accept the risk and act accordingly. Or, we can don the mask of denial. Two of the riders chose the former, one chose the latter.

Katie and I happened to be out riding on a nice afternoon not too long ago. Stopping for coffee and tea, we saw the new rider and the eventual crasher sitting at a table. Their bikes were parked nearby. The new rider proudly told me of how he'd taken a class and learned a lot. The crasher basically said he didn't need training. He'd gotten an endorsement at DMV decades ago. That was good enough. Despite my efforts to sway him, that attitude didn't change. I'm only going to push someone so hard. It's their decision to make, after all. It's also up to them to deal with the consequences.

Attitude played a big part here. This guy is pretty full of himself otherwise. It's one of the reasons he's an acquaintance and not someone I'd really call a friend. Anyway, this isn't an opportunity to speak ill of him. I simply want to show the contrasting attitudes of these two riders. Fast forward to the crash.

These same two are riding together. The newer rider is in front. They're approaching Corvallis on Highway 20. Corvallis is a college town, housing Oregon State University. Highway 20 is a scenic connector between Albany and Corvallis. It follows the Willamette River for most of it's way. If it weren't for all the commuter traffic it would be a most excellent ride. The stretch where the crash happened is where the highway turns into a city street. There's some business and residential mixed together. The speed limit is just about to turn from 35 mph to 25. A woman in a small car starts to pull out onto the street. Pretty close to the bikes. She sees the bikes and freezes. About half the car is sticking out into the lane perpendicular to the bike's path of travel. Now what?

Newer rider, fresh out of training, is in front by a ways. He is able to swerve around the front of the car. No harm, no foul. Except for some language, possibly. The "I don't need no stinkin' training" rider is a little farther back. He should have had more room to maneuver. At the lower speed he should have been able to actually stop. I know, I wasn't on the bike so it's hard to say. Here's what happened. See what you think.

The guy ran into the side of the car. There was no attempt to make any sort of avoidance maneuver. No attempt to swerve, no attempt to brake. In fact, he hit the car so hard that his helmet broke the passenger side door window. By the way, gear was, shall we say, less than optimal. The police officer on scene commented on how it was a good thing the window actually gave way. Otherwise, the rider would probably have broken his neck. As it is, the rider receives a very large gash on his head, some spinal cord compression, and one arm requires surgery. His wife's freaking out about his ever riding again. Maybe with good cause.

Did he just not see the car? We really emphasize using aggressive scanning to spot potential hazards as soon as possible. Did he see the car and just freeze from not knowing what to do? It could have been the classic "stare at the hazard and crash right into it" thing. The rider got his bell rung so hard he can't tell me. Even if he would.

What's the takeaway?

Sure, riding a motorcycle is more dangerous than driving a car. Even good riders crash once in a while. Proper training makes a huge difference. Attitude makes an even bigger difference. Faulty attitudes make for faulty riders. These are the ones who populate the statistics, unfortunately. I'm just getting tired of being judged by the actions of these riders. You know I'm going to keep speaking up whenever I get the opportunity. Two of the three heeded the message. Big thumbs up to them!

Stay tuned for the next post. Figures are in for last year on fatal accident causes. There's also been a statement released by the Insurance Institute. Let's see how they compare.

Miles and smiles,



Road Captain said...

I am currently reading Ultimate Street Strategies and found this post very on the mark. Thanks for the interesting piece pointing out the key factors between those who crash and those who don't.

Conchscooter said...

He should have been practicing his swerves.

Charlie6 said...

good to see you back Dan.

Like you mention, hard to tell without actually witnessing it yourself. Still, Hough mentions intersections as usually the most dangerous spots for motorcyclists, this includes driveways and sidestreets/alleys I believe. I tend to actively scan these as I ride, its paid off many times.

Formal training, and follow-on readings would have instilled this perhaps on the rider, perhaps not. I guess, as you also mentioned, its all in the attitude.

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Anonymous said...

Hough says that if you have time to do anything, it is to brake. Sounds like the new rider got a case of object fixation.

irondad said...

If you're reading David Hough's books then you're a great example of the right attitude!

With some braking practice, too, I suspect.

The greater percentage of bike / vehicle collisions happen there. You're correct in what constitutes intersections. Don't forget all the parking lots lining commercial streets.

We make training available. It does eventually boil down to the rider's attitude. Good or bad.

That's what I think happened, too. The rider probably didn't see the car until he was close. Then he couldn't see anything else.

As I get the chance to talk more with the rider I'll update it on the blog.

Jeff In NY said...

Hi Dan - Sleet was in the forecast today so I took my truck to work. I do not pay the same kind of attention than on the bike. I still see everything, but I think the evaluation of the situation is a little different. I almost felt detached from my body thinking of the beauty of a Canadian Goose taking flight...right at my windsheild!

I kicked myself after the fact for the delay in going full mash to the brakes (only had a wingtip touch right in front of my nose). So, I can understand how the unfortunate situation in your story could have happened. Thanks for the reminder...it will help me redouble my vigilance and keep the brain focused assessing the true risks.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Nice to see you back.

People see and remember problems, not the good people (quiet bike, full safety equipment, etc.), so it doesn't matter how good you are, how well trained and accident-free, people will keep trying to convince you not to ride for your own good.

One of our TV stations has its own radar gun, and occasionally goes out to clock people on problem streets... The piece they showed Mon. night had a kid on a sport bike going 103mph in a 35 zone.

Just another kind of idiot, and I'll betcha he thinks he doesn't need a safety course, either. Didn't have a helmet, no. Idiot. I just hope he has an organ donor card.

I was wondering if you'd heard about, and would share your opinion on, the legislation that's coming up for a vote in FL. Applies only to motorcyclists. If they're convicted of driving recklessly, or over 50mph above the posted speed, they can lose their vehicle. I think it should apply to all vehicles.

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

Excuse me, it was only 30mph over.

But the bike is subject to forfit when the person is only charged, not convicted. After being convicted, the motorcycle endorsement is lost for 10 years.

And it only applies to motorcycles.

Florida HB 137, "Offenses Committed While Operating a Motorcycle"

for the text...:


Lady Ridesalot said...

Great article! I took a 3 day MST course given by my state three years ago when I became a new rider. I think it was the best thing I ever did to give myself a foundation to build on. I feel like I'm a good rider and I am always learning more. I have a great time on my bike, but nothing is more beneficial to us riders than experience. The more we ride, the more we get. Thanks again for the interesting story. You may have just helped someone to decide and sign up for the next class! Ride Safe. Lady R.

Sankoobaba said...

Here in India..there is no such formal training center for Bikes...though there are numerous on car driving....so all that people learn here is from experience...but the catch is people could keep making the same mistakes...for me the my learning and experiments began on bicycle....and now i have been riding a bike since 2 years...have had 3 falls in total..1 serious where car bumped from the side... 2 slippage due to oil... my only source of training were online material...and other people mistakes/experiences I read online and also about accidents that I read about in newspapers...these all keep teaching me ..what should not be done...