Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Beating the House.

My last post had a link to an article about aging Road Warriors being highly represented in severe injuries and fatalities due to motorcycle accidents. It can seem depressing at first glance. There are many factors we don't know about in the study. There is also a lot we can do to keep the odds in our favor. Keeping our skill levels up, for example, can help us "beat the house". I use that term on purpose because I don't like the idea of leaving my well being up to random chance.

Factors we don't know about include the type of experience the riders have. We don't know much about the training levels of the riders. We don't know about attitudes. How many of the minimal gear, water hole to water hole riders are represented? These things I don't see listed in the report.

What I do know, based on my personal experience as a professional rider and trainer, is that a lot of riders don't take riding as seriously as they should. There's a variety of reasons for that but the end result is often the same. Different pathways leading to the same destination.

I try to find ways to impress upon riders the need to take training and skill development seriously. The old "Blood on the Asphalt" scare tactics don't seem to have much of an impact, pun intended. People always think it won't happen to them, anyway. Legislation regarding mandatory gear usage and punitive measures don't seem to be all that effective, either. Yes, there's a positive effect, but not like one might expect.

The big key is to influence and shape attitudes. That's where I put a lot of my efforts. Having the right attitude towards physical and mental riding skills will help us to "beat the house". Knowing the game so well that we can actually bend the odds in our favor is the goal. Better yet, I prefer to stack the deck. To take chance out of the equation and control the situation to the farthest extent I can. The trouble with trying to shape attitudes is in trying to find ways to get the point across to riders. In a positive and motivating way.

Recently I came across something written by Keith Code. He was talking about the width of racetracks versus the width of the streets we travel when in the real world. It ocurred to me that this line of thinking is a great way to help get the point across about taking our street riding seriously.

We always admire people who race motorcycles. We often think of them as having such great skills, don't we? The speeds they reach while racing are awe inspiring when you think about it. Imagine controlling a motorcycle so precisely while at those speeds in corners. Interestingly, a lot of young riders want to be just like the racers. Maybe this is a way to relate.

Not to take anything away from these riders, but they have a lot going in their favor. Street riders, on the other hand, actually have to be more precise. Think about this angle for a minute. As a starting point, take a look at this picture. A typical country road. This is a straight stretch between two curves.

Keith was talking about how a race track can be 30 to 40 feet wide. A typical lane of a roadway is 10 to 12 feet, depending. I prefer to go to the narrow side because we need to keep little things like our head and upper body in our own lane while leaned over in a curve.

Our lane is only a fourth or a third as wide as the track. So the upshot, based on physical distance, is that a street rider needs to be three to four times better and more precise at cornering than a racer. Yes, I know this is simplified. Speeds are higher on a track. On the other hand, it's a controlled environment. The street is more like controlled chaos so that has to count for something. The point isn't to directly compare racing and street riding.

The point is to offer another way to think about street riding. More importantly, to ponder the seriousness of developing expert physical and mental skills in riding. Precision. It's how we continue to "beat the house". Even as we become aging Road Warriors!

Miles and smiles,



Dean W said...

On the other hand...

A racer is there to win. To do that they have to use the most efficient line, most of the time. The track may be 30-40 feet wide, but they probably want to put their tires in the same 1-2 foot wide stripe lap after lap after lap. If a racer misses an apex by as much as three feet wide, you can bet he'll find himself elbow-to-elbow with the guy that used to be behind him and is now pulling ahead.

Worse than that, racers are counting on every bit of traction, and while race tracks may be smoother, they're not perfect. Racers find the imperfections and work to either avoid them or take advantage of them (by making the other guy deal with it).

I've done track days at Portland International Raceway. A number of corners have concrete patches laid into the asphalt surface. Car racers will tell you they don't affect traction at all. That's because a car either straddles the patch, or runs the inside tires over it... when it's the outside tires that are doing all the work. Run across one of those patches on a bike and you'll know about it. Run across one when you're already at the limit, and you know about it when your world goes sky-ground-sky-ground-sky-ground...

On the other, other hand. For all the more precise a racer wants to be, they do get the entire rest of the surface- three or four times as wide as we get on the street- to recover; and there's never an oncoming car, or a guardrail, tree, or cliff waiting for them.

Conchscooter said...

Interesting comparison about which I had never thought.

Young Dai said...

I remember the first track day I did on a middleweight Yamaha 600, sold as the Seca in USA

After a day of circuiting on perfect tarmac, after I left to go home I stopped 3 times in the first mile, because there was so much vibration coming through the handlebars I was sure the front wheel was flat. But all it was was just worn out road surface with criss-crossed by random trenches left by the water or gas utilities or the cable co's.

Sobering to think that in a 12ft carriage way, you probably have less than 3ft of sweet spot to aim for, before you either run onto the gravel amd marbles along the edge, or start hanging into the decapitation zone as you get closer to the middle

Chris Luhman said...

Good points on race track vs street. The track is great. No sand, salt, oil, gas, SUVs, left turning mini vans, kids chasing kangaroos, etc. The punishment of mistakes is much less on the track too. You slide off into the runoff area and get back up. On the street you slide into a post and get run over by a semi.

bluekat said...

That's the thing with some of these articles and/or news stories. The devil's in the details. I also wondered what other circumstances were involved besides age.

I like the approach of keeping the odds in our favor. Proactive, rather than sitting back and doing nothing. Stopping isn't an option, so I want to do what I can to make it as safe as possible. Every ride is a training ride, an opportunity to learn something new or practice something familiar and make it better. Not that that takes the place of real training, but I think it helps and it's fun if nothing else.

On a different note...took me a bit, but I think I figured out where that road is ...out by the refuge?

Chuck Pefley said...

Illuminating! Never ridden a track. Great food for thought, as always. Thanks, Dan.

kathy said...

I had the opportunity to ride the Nashville Speedway one year at the TN State HOG rally. What a rush. I found it easy to twist the throttle because everyone was riding in the same direction, the turns were wide and banked and there weren't any cars pulling out from side streets or dogs or deer darting in front of you. Riding is a full body and mind experience. Can't get enough practice at skills, especially swerves and fast stops. And practicing the anticipation game. Whether in the car or on the bike, I'm always looking around and asking what if that driver does the stupid thing? What if I do that stupid thing? How would I react? First rule is ride safe. Nothing else matters.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

I have never ridden a track day, nor am I likely to. I have been to a few races and consider myself fortunate to count Chris Carr, a champion and a record-breaker as a personal friend. But I consider the track as a kind of exotic and artificial atmosphere. The battles fought there are in the stratosphere, and are far above the likes of me.

Nevertheless, I thought this was another of your better pieces. Your commentary on training contained many points that should be well taken. I went out again yesterday (second time this season), and the massive cold fronts passing through here first presented the region with heat close to the mid-80's, followed by high winds, chilling rain, and a 30ยบ drop in temperature.

My arthritis rang like a bell. The pain was incredible. And while the run was only 110 miles, I had to pull over during the final hour in the saddle, with less than 25 miles to go, to straighten out my legs.

It was then I decided that I am too feeble to ride a motorcycle. And that by remaining obese, I will deprive myself of many future hours in the saddle. I believe I can handle the motorcycle in a competent manner, but I owe it to the friends who ride with me, to train on the exercise machinery in the basement.

That is the training I am consigned to.

Good piece today. I've been sick with one damn thing or another and haven't written much lately. But I am better now, so your luck is over in that regard.

By the way, I thought your banner on this episode was a very good photograph.

Fondes regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

irondad said...


You actually illustrate my point exactly. Racers have the mindset such that they recognize the seriousness of being precise.

I don't believe most street riders have that same attitude. The comparison seemed like a way to get the point across.

By the way, I was on the track in the 80's after the first Indy Champ car race there. Could not believe how much rubber they left in big chunks on the surface!

Take care,


irondad said...


I suspect you are not alone in that. Which is why I chose the comparison.

Young Dai,

What's really sobering is that the leading cause of rider fatalities in our state is screwing up corners. You are right about the small size of the sweet spot. Which is why I'm trying to get riders' attention focused on being precise.


Great points about the cost of getting it wrong. Do you remember that video that shows racers falling and sliding into signs, bus stops, and such beside the track? What a graphic way to show the difference?

Take care,


irondad said...


Training is like building the structural support. It only lasts a few hours. There is really just enough time to solidify the anchor points. Sort of like setting the foundation of the house.

You are smart to use rides as practice sessions. That's where the structural support is filled in. In other words, everyday riding is where the house is actually built.

As to the road, you're pretty good. Yes, it's North of the Ankeny Refuge. When you go around the corner at the end of my photo there is a small winery. The refuge is a couple miles behind where we stand in the picture.

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you. My intent was to get riders to think a bit differently. Glad it worked for at least one person!


You have wisely pointed out the most vital aspect of riding safe. Mental skills have the largest role in our street survival. For good or bad.

It sounds like your mental skills are sharp and applied in the correct way. Nicely done!!!

Thank you for gracing my blog with a comment.

Take care,


irondad said...


You honor me with your comments. Thank you. On the other hand, I suspect you may still be delirious from one of your illnesses. Still, I will take positive feedback from whence I can find it.

Take care,


Chris Luhman said...

Dan, I do remember that commercial. I wasn't thinking about it when I commented, but it totally applies.