Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Had to lay 'er down!"

Not me, of course. This was a snippet of conversation I heard at an adjoining table last night. Katie and I were at Red Robin. I'd had this huge urge for a bacon guacamole burger. I allow myself a artery hardening meal once a quarter or so.

At the table next to us were two couples. One of the guys had his lower leg in a cast. Short story was that he was telling his friends how he had to lay the bike down to avoid running off the road in a corner. I can't tell you how badly I wanted to turn around and say something. It doesn't help in these situations. So I stuffed my mouth full of burger and kept quiet.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard that same expression from people. This fallacy is everywhere. Do you remember a couple of posts ago where I included a newspaper article about how training has reduced fatalities in Oregon? In part of the article a man talks about how his son got killed on a bike. Here's a quote from the man.

A crash at a curve in the road three years ago claimed the life of Brandon Chike, 32, in one of the handful of fatal motorcycle crashes that happen each year in Oregon.

"He'd gotten in a fight with his girlfriend and took off on his bike like a maniac," said father Lewis Chike, a Keizer resident who would go on rides with his son every other weekend. "He lost it in a curve and hit a tree."Chike still rides motorcycles and is the owner of five, including two Harley-Davidsons.

He preaches the value of situational awareness to all his buddies."You have to be aware and watch everyone. You have to psyche yourself that the worst is going to happen at all times and be ready to act," he said. "You have to be ready to move or hit the brakes or lay the bike down at a moment's notice."

There it is, again. Be ready to lay the bike down at a moment's notice?

Even being a famous celebrity doesn't mean a rider knows the right thing to do, either. Here's an example from Arnold, the Governator. I mean no disrespect. Arnold's accomplished a great deal. This just illustrates how widespread wrong ideas are.

Before Arnold had the crash with his son in the sidecar, he had another crash. In this one Arnold was trying to avoid a truck. He laid his Harley down. The self-induced crash badly damaged the bike and broke three of Arnold's ribs. Here's the really odd part. Being a celebrity, Arnold was interviewed on national television. He was asked why he laid the bike down. Now, you'd expect some reasoned answer based on assessements of the situation. Instead, in front of God and America, this is what Arnold told the press: ( provide your own Austrian accent, here )

"Because that's how we did it in Terminator!"

It was a stunt in Terminator 2. That's where the picture of Arnold on the bike came from. What makes it worse is that Arnold is looked up to by many and will probably influence others in turn to do the wrong thing. It hangs on enough by itself without extra help.

If I'm wrong, Arnold, please correct me. However, there's a published record.

Remember the Hurt study? Want to know how many times in the thousands of accidents they studied that they would have recommended laying the bike down as an option? Not even once!

So why the lingering steadfastly held belief on the part of so many riders? Because once upon a time, in an age long ago, there was a grain of truth to this. It came from the very first police bikes being used. These bikes were, coincidently, cruiser styles from Indian and Harley. Technology was primitive, especially with brakes. Horsepower advances meant that the bike's ability to gain speed overpowered ( no pun intended ) the bike's ability to haul it down from those speeds. At that period in time the best way to stop a rapidly hurtling bike was to make it an anchor. It wasn't really a good technique but it was the lesser of two evils.

This is no longer the case. Brakes on every style of bike are up to the task of quick stops. Granted, some are better than others. When properly applied, however, bikes can be stopped pretty aggressively. Think of the situation in another way.

Laying the bike down is an accident. No two ways about it. It's a purposely induced crash. Does it usually help? Ask Arnold and his broken ribs. Ask the guy at the table next to me with his leg in a cast. Ask the guy killed ( if you could ) near here a few years ago. He laid his Harley down to avoid a truck. The bike never hit the truck but the rider smacked his head on the road and died. Can anyone really say they suffer less damage than if properly used accident skills were present?

Isn't that an irony? Accident avoidance skills. Laying the bike down and causing an accident on purpose to avoid an accident. Weird. What's got more traction for stopping? Brakes and tires or a rider's body and the bike's paint job? Like I said before, even if a rider ends up impacting an object, you can bet that staying on the bike until the last minute and braking hard is going to cause far less damage. Every mile per hour of speed scrubbed off weighs heavily in the equation.

Even better, rewind the film farther back. Can we detect hazards sooner and avoid being surprised at the last minute? Can we set up better for corners so we don't experience the danger of running off the road? So many better options, aren't there?

My wish is that I never hear that phrase used again. Maybe some day. Until then, I'll just keep trying to educate riders. There's a better way, let me show you!

Miles and smiles,



Steve Johnson said...

I tend to believe that "I had to lay it down" is a manly way of saying, "I didn't know what to do and I crashed". I doubt that this guy actually intentionally laid it down.

Joe said...

Your post is so timely. One of my co workers avoided a crash today and he told me one of his options was to lay it down. I didn't argue with him, but I thought of your blog and what you write about accident aviodance. My co worker (in a round about way) said he had target fixation (though he didn't use that term) and almost hit the car that cut him off.
I've been riding for over 30 years and can't think of a time where "laying it down" was ever an acceptable option.

Lady Ridesalot said...

Irondad, I remember going through braking exercises in MST. They would have us in curves or turns and then yell at us to BRAKE! Since I have been riding, I have avoided two serious accidents, just by hard braking. Your comment about our brakes performance holds much truth. My Electra Glide can stop pretty damn fast. I fished tailed it once doing so, but managed to hold on for dear life, keep it upright, and survived to give the culprit of my demise that "thanks for almost killing me today" look! I heard my instructors voice in my head yelling BRAKE and that's what I did. I'm just glad they didn't teach us how to lay it down properly. I would hate to have to practice that! Thanks for the words of wisdom. Lady R

Steve Williams said...

I have to agree with Mr. Johnson that saying "I had to lay it down" is a face saving way I getting around a crash. A way to make a bad thing more romantic.

I remember watching a documentary about stunt men and one guy talked about intentionally dumping a bicycle or motorcycle and he said even though he was trained to do it he has to force himself past the hardwired part in his brain that says "this is dumb..."

I know one scooter rider who used to live here that jumped off his scooter before running into something. I can see doing that especially since they are so easy to bail from. But laying it down.... nah.

Chuck said...

I hear ya, man. The only time to lay a bike down is if you want it to crash faster.

irondad said...

In a lot of cases, I'm sure that's quite true. Sometimes people actually do it on purpose, too. Both cases make me shudder.

I'm glad your co-worker actually avoided the crash. Hopefully, it was a learning experience. I'm with you. Never seen a reason to lay the bike down and I've been riding for as long or longer.

Lady Ridesalot,
Congratulations for developing and using proper skills. I love it when students say they hear an instructor's voice in their head when facing an adverse situation. Makes me feel like we do something of value.

That's something I never thought of. Can't imagine practicing "laying it down"!

Just a small tip on avoiding fish-tailing when braking hard. Remember that weight transfers to the front during braking. So the rear gets lighter. Which means traction for braking on the rear wheel decreases. Pedal pressure is light to lighter. When braking hard, say to yourself something like,

"Toes must meet fingers."

In other words, slightly lift your toes towards your fingers. That helps reduce the chances of a rear wheel skid, which is where the fishtailing comes from.

Sorry to tell you something you might already know. Sometimes folks forget the little things that make a difference in the heat of battle. Glad you came out ok!

Your comment lines up well with the other Steve's. Very few people want to admit fault or ignorance. Falling back on the old fallacy makes it seem less like the rider's fault.

Believe it or not, the thought of jumping off the bike at the last minute crossed my mind while I was writing the post. I think the only time I'd do that was if the bike was headed over a cliff!

Exactly. Let's do it now and get it over with!

Take care,

Heinz & Frenchie said...

Really interesting post. We are scooter riders and actually took the scooter school course before buying ours. We were taught to break hard in class and get both feet on the ground. Of course we were not going very fast. We were just learning at that time and 15 miles per hour seemed like 50 to us. We remember the instructor saying you have to get up to a certain speed. And at that time we never thought we would. Can't imagine going the speed of some motorcycles. That is scary. Thanks for your invaluable tips.

Lady Ridesalot said...

Thanks for the advice Irondad! I will NEVER think I know too much. As soon as I cop that attitude, I'm destined for trouble. I think veteran riders have a lot to contribute to help new beginners. I've been riding solo for almost four years now, and I think I will still learn something every time I ride. Always trying to ride safe. Lady R

irondad said...

Heinz & Frenchie,
It's relative. Going the speeds I do at the racetrack, for instance, would seem frightening even to me if on a scooter!

With an attitude like that, you'll do quite well!

Take care,

Krysta in Milwaukee said...

People will continue using the same old unproven phrases / methods because it's easier than learning the truth or the right way to do something (and, yes, saves face). Deliberately crashing to avoid another crash? I'm with you... seems pretty dumb.

irondad said...

You're right on. Inertia is really hard to overcome.

chuck said...

I was going way to fast into a turn with a 90 foot cliff. I braked as best i could I knew i would not make the turn, so i then fixated on a tree. out of reflex i layed it down hit the tree and lived! this seems to be the only time an aimed lay down might be in order?? what do you guys think? thanks Chuck