Monday, May 03, 2010

"But I haven't studied for that one!"

So it begins for another riding season. The yearly dose of insanity. The riders who go out and do stupid things. The ones who think they know how to ride but they're lying to themselves. It's bad enough that they're hurting and killing themselves. Those of us who ride responsibly get sucked into the whirling vortex of these other riders' folly. Call it selfish, but it pisses me off. So much of the problem could be avoided if these riders would lower their egos enough to participate in ongoing training.

"I'll deal with it when I get there." "Things will work out." "I'll play it by ear." Learn by burn. School of hard knocks. Learning the hard way. "I'll just use my intelligence guided by experience." "Gut instinct will guide me." "I'm a man. These things are inborn in us. " And the list goes on...........................

During a recent phone conversation with my birth mother she mentioned seeing an obituary for a man from Redmond ( the BMW rally site ) who had died as a result of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.

"Motorcycles are dangerous, you know. You're out in the open with no protection around you" she tells me.

You know, I've managed to figure that out already. I'm very proactive in compensating for that fact. Yet I hear this kind of crap over and over. No matter how skilled I am, no matter how many miles I ride accident free, I'm forever being lumped in with people like the following examples.

Here's an excerpt from an Oregon State Police informational release:

A north Portland man was seriously injured Sunday afternoon along Highway
211 in the Eagle Creek area when he was ejected from his motorcycle while trying to pass a vehicle preparing to turn. This crash is a reminder during "Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month" for all travelers and motorcycle operators to drive safely and remember the rules of the road.

According to Oregon State Police (OSP) Trooper Scott McLeod, on May 2, 2010 at approximately 4:00 p.m. a 1975 Harley Davidson operated by RUSSELL DEAN MATHEWS, age 62, from north Portland, was following a vehicle preparing to stop and turn left onto Judd Road. MATHEWS attempted to pass the turning vehicle using the right side of the highway when the motorcycle's front tire went off the abrupt pavement edge. The motorcycle continued down the steep embankment, flipping and ejecting MATHEWS.

MATHEWS was wearing a protective helmet and received serious injuries. He was transported by LifeFlight to Legacy Emanuel Hospital.

Look at the photos provided by OSP.

The rider tried to pass a left turning car on the right. I look at the shoulder and the sharp drop of the embankment and wonder "What the hell was he thinking?"

Then there's the part about the protective helmet. The rider was wearing a protective helmet and received serious injuries. That's a protective helmet? I can just see the medics.

"Yes, Sir. Your face is crushed but your helmet kept your do-rag clean when you tumbled through the dirt."

If you think I'm being cruel here, I really don't give a crap right now. A few blocks away from me there lives a man who is desperate to prove that wearing a helmet doesn't do anything to prevent injuries. In fact, he wants to try to prove that wearing a helmet actually causes additional injuries. The man comes across as an idiot with his public and faulty reasoning. Look, if you're against helmet laws just say so. Don't use stupid reasoning on top of it all. This accident is just one more he'll use in his arguments and ignore the actual facts of the situation.

I can see the newspaper letter to the editor now.

"I know this guy who crashed while wearing a helmet. He still had injuries serious enough to be life flighted to the hospital."

The "motorcycles are dangerous" argument has no footing in the accident. This wasn't a fault with the motorcycle. This was a rider doing something stupid. And I'm getting sick of getting drug in with these kind of riders. Yeah, I'm edgy right now. It's all so darn senseless. Especially since a lot of it could be fixed if riders had different attitudes.

Here's another one. No photos, just a description.

A man was riding along recently and came up behind a car turning left. Same as the situation above. This rider didn't realize that the driver of the car was actually turning. According to the cop on the scene, the driver was signalling the turn as he slowed. The rider tried to pass on the left and then finally saw the signal and the car start to turn.

The cop said there are skid marks for 146 feet. After the skid mark ended, there are scrape marks on the pavement from the bike sliding on its side. That's another 22 feet. The bike and rider slid into the side of the car still moving fairly quickly.

This is another case of "motorcycles are dangerous?" How about stupid and oblivious riders being dangerous?

Here's a case of the rider not paying attention. When startled, he reacted by slamming down on the rear brake pedal. I would bet there was very little front brake applied. That would account for the long skid mark. A locked up front wheel wouldn't slide that far, believe me.

A well trained rider probably could have stopped the motorcycle in that distance. At 60 mph it would have been possible, even without ABS. At the very least, the hard braking rider would have scrubbed off a lot more speed than the rider who slid so far did. After all, what has more traction for braking? A properly braked tire or a sliding tire? How much stopping friction does a rider's body and the bike's paint job offer? In actual fact, a really well trained rider would have seen the turn signal and slowed appropriately without it being a crisis in the first place.

Wait! We don't need no stinkin' training! We are men. Pardon us while we thump our chests and ponder how our genetic makeup makes us natural riders that don't need training. As for dressing up like all our buddies and riding from tavern to tavern? That's what us guys do. Real men, that is!

I find it telling that our Basic Rider classes are usually booked so full that students complain about how long it takes to get in. Seems everybody wants to get in to these classes as a way to get their endorsements. As well they should. This is the perfect way for a new rider or a rider wanting to get legally endorsed to go about things.

On the other hand, our offerings for more advanced training often go unfilled. It's easy to get into them. A lot get cancelled due to a lack of students. There is something totally wrong with that picture. If only a third, even, of the beginner riders we trained came back for more advanced training, we'd have three thousand of these students a year. Sadly, the advanced classes go empty, instead.

The skills and strategies learned in the beginner classes relate directly to street riding. We give new riders the best foundation we can but they still need to construct their buildings, as it were. The bikes they ride will be larger and capable of getting them into trouble frighteningly quickly. We train for real world traffic conditions but the training is done in a parking lot.

In the picture below you can see Justin riding his big Honda cruiser through the offset cone weave. It's much different than riding a training bike through it. Big bikes can be successfully riden through the weave. People say you can't do the cone weave at DMV on a big bike. Yes, you can. We do it all the time. I've done it over and over on many kinds of bikes as we volunteer to help train DMV examiners. If the bike won't go through, it's not the bike's fault. It's the rider.

We often get students who have failed the DMV test several times. They finally swallow their pride and admit they could use the training. Seems real men do need training, after all.

This is not Elvira, by the way. It's a different FJR that belongs to a fellow instructor.

Then there are those who complain that they need an endorsement for a scooter. Sorry, folks. These are not bicycles. These are real motorcycles being ridden in real traffic in a real world. Batteries are included but some training is required.

I keep looking for ways to encourage riders to come back for more training. I've written here about keeping motor skills sharp. I've tried a lot of pathways towards the goal of getting riders to keep coming back for training sessions every other year or so. I recently came across another way to express the idea.

Ken Condon has a column in one of the motorcycle magazines. He made a statement that hit home with me.

Ken stated that riding a motorcycle and thinking one will just deal with things as they go is like taking a test without studying for it ahead of time.

Taking it a bit further myself, there will be tests. Failing them results in more than just a low score. The consequences of failure are steep. At times lethal. Do riders really want to "just wing it" when the time comes?

If winging it is such a great strategy, who do so many professions where performance matters require continuing education?

Why do we see motor cops come back year after year for our training? Motor cops have been listed among the top two percent of riders as to skill level. I see a lot of our state's motor cops every year. Male or female, these are brave and skilled riders. They also have a career where being adaptable to conditions on a second's notice is critical. If anyone could just learn by experience, it would be these folks. Yet, why do they come back every year?

It's not just a fun day for them. Although they do have fun, let me tell you. Departments spend good money out of tight budgets to send these officers to training. There's a reason for that.

This photo is from a couple of years ago at Portland International Raceway. I wanted a picture of Sophie. I still miss her.

There is truth to the fact that riding a motorcycle is dangerous. It's a truth we need to be well aware of. As in so many other things, it's the training level and actions of the operator that make the difference. The bike offers the potential for trouble but it's the rider who, to a great degree, controls that potential.

As an advance warning, those who do not like firearms and the concept of using them for self defense should quit reading now.

Motorcycles and handguns have the potential for danger in common. You twist the throttle on a bike and it goes "zoom!" You pull the trigger on a handgun and it goes "bang!"

Owning either does not automatically make the owner a skilled user.
I regularly carry a handgun. The world is getting crazier all the time. Grandpa taught me to shoot as a kid. Uncle Sam provided some more training. I spent time on police ranges. I still do. I still participate in tactical shooting exercises with instructors.

I always tend to pull slightly left at distances over thirty feet, for some reason. The grouping above comes from double or triple taps from holster. I'm not training for expert marksmanship. I'm training for real world conditions. The grouping is combat accurate enough for me at 50 feet.

One hopes with all their heart to never use this training in real life. If all goes well it will never happen. I will use all the preventative measures I can to avoid that eventuality. If the system does break down and the test is administered, doing homework now will help me pass it.

Is it really different when it comes to riding a motorcycle when a wrong outcome can be fatal?

Hope for success. Train for failure.

It's about control. Control of your weapon. Control of your motorcycle. Control your surroundings as much as possible. Have a strategy in place. Or several. When plan A fails, have a plan B. Know what to do.

I'm not going to do it as a series, but I am going to come back to the value of training off and on for the next while. There's always that one question to be answered.

Why should I care?

I hope you will find those answers and refer people you know here.

Miles and smiles,



bobskoot said...

dear Irondad:

I've already seen a photo of the accident scene on another forum and everyone remarking about that toy helmet. That's why I don't like to lane split. It appears evident that this rider is aggressive in that "he" always changes lanes to get ahead of traffic and does not really look ahead at the road conditions. Perhaps I am too cautious but mostly I pretend that I am a car and would wait patiently in line. Many times other bikers would pass on the right to avoid stopping.

Wet Coast Scootin

Richard Machida said...

Another excellent post. Like bobskoot, I tend to ride like I'm in a car as well. Pretty conservative. I also shy away from riding with groups since I like to keep my escape options as open as possible. It's easy to control the distance in front of you but near impossible keeping others off your back end. One of these years I'll find an advanced riding class somewhere near where I am. They don't offer the class up here I think due to lack of demand.

Karina at Tiny Choices said...

right on, right on. this is just my 2nd year motorcycling and I was really shocked to see all the flesh on bikes come out when the temperatures got higher over the last month. Maybe it's my day job as a nerdy engineer who is overly concerned with health and safety practices, and maybe it's just that motorcycling is the perfect mix of technical, challenging, and joyful activities, but loved getting my training and would welcome more opportunity to improve - but all the schools near us only offer the basic riders course, not the experienced. this post has given me the extra nudge to email a couple of schools and let them know that I have several people who would like to take the course, hopefully we can make it happen!

Dave said...


The chest thumpers aren’t men there little boys who haven’t grown up. They just happen to ride motorcycles and are not riders.

Took the ERC again a week ago There was this 40 some thing guy on a sports bike had a bit of a chip on his shoulder. His family talked him in to taking it. He new it all until he found himself being out ridden
by 65 year old lady on a Honda Rebel and this Old F on a 250 scooter. : )
I only scraped my center stand two or three times
: )

Dave AKA Old F

Dave said...

One more thing

Give the guy who thinks helmet cause more harm than good this

It is run by James Davis who is a expert witnesses
Of motorcycle safety his facts have to hold up in court
If helmet guy shows up and posts the folks there will eat him alive

Old F

Chuck Pefley said...

Dan, thanks for continuing to hammer the training mantra again and again. There are no substitutes.

Dean W said...

And let's not forget my favorite excuse for not training- "riding in a parking lot has nothing to do with riding on the street". I'm just sorry- if you can't make a bike go around a few cones in a cordoned off parking lot, why should I believe you're OK to operate a motorcycle in traffic?

Steve Williams said...

Pride (and ego) goeth before the fall. Or something lime that. There is no logic to accidents like this and no talking to some riders. Their style or belief stands stubbornly in the way of their own self interest. And add to that an angry and aggressive personality on the road and it all makes for spectacular stories.

Don't feel bad Dan. Plenty of people hear you. You made me a convert.

Andrew said...

Great post. I too hate hearing how dangerous bikes are and very rarely blame being apportioned to the idiot swinging on the bars. Sure, tin tops account for a few bike accidents but they're a known hazard and should be treated as such by all riders. (Same with weather, road surfaces etc etc).

Personally, I don't trust any other vehicle on the road and assume they're trying to kill me.

I applaud riders who undertake repeated training and after having my first self-caused incident in 23 years of riding, then I should be signing up for a course too...

Arizona Harley Dude said...

Well, if motorcycles weren't dangerous what would be the purpose in riding them? I'm serious, I started because of the danger aspect and continue for that same reason 39 years later. By the way, I have taken 4 MSF training courses and learned something new every time.

Guns on the other hand are something else. I finally went out to target shoot after many years of just knowing it was there. Now I plan to get to the range at least once a month to make sure I'm not a hazard to myself or anyone else.

Balisada said...

Personally, I like the full face helmets due to the closed in feeling they give. It makes me feel safer.

Another rider said that he didn't like the closed in feeling that they give. So he wears a skid lid.

I imagine that many who wear skid lids don't like the closed in feeling that the full face helmets provide.

And, the "Cone Weave".

I didn't do so good with that in my Basic Rider Training, but I came back in Rider Skills Practice and did just fine.

I think that a healthy dose of confidence and looking up and not at those blasted little cones has a lot to do with getting through.

I remember wondering if they moved the cones wider for the Rider Skills Practice!



Mike Simmons said...

I appreciate your care and concern for everyone riding. You have an inborn desire to help people improve their riding skills and to be safer. That's why you do so well as a motorcycle safety instructor. I really appreciate your posts on these subjects but can you please not hold back and just tell us how you really feel about things?

I couldn't resist that last line, sorry if I offended anyone. I'm thinkin' I should sign up for an advanced course. You got me when you said motor cops consistantly do it. Thanks again!

jason.ewert said...

I crashed a street bike for the first time yesterday.

Just wanted to share. The scene: clover leaf ramp, first minutes of the rain in weeks. Coming around at 25 -30 mph and the front tire washed out, low side. My full face helmet protected my head, the foam pads in my jacket broke my fall, and my FirstGear boots saved my ankle. I have a nickel sized road rash on my forearm. That is it.

What really happened is this: many factors lead up to the fall. I was just getting back from a 700 mi. trip I was tired. the road was wet. And it was the FIRST rain in a long time so it was wet AND oily.

Lesson learned:

I knew to slow down in the rain, but I underestimated how slow I needed to go. My pre-flight check should have included three things: equipment, conditions, and my physical state.

Thank god for the training that has protected me for the last 30K miles, and the gear that let me walk away. You do not want to learn this the hard way.

Thanks for the excellent blog, and remember all, you need to apply what you already know.

Dean W said...

Balisada- there's a difference between a proper fitting DOT half-shell and a "skid lid".

Young Dai said...

That's a long and angry post Dan, you must have been really pissed.

Did Mr Matthews really plan to try to pass around the left turning car, or was he away with the fairies and woke up too late ? Any car would have to be at least half its width in the oncoming lane to give even the hope of making that manauever on a bike that size.

As for self perceived riding/driving skills, a Policeman I know said you can flag a rider down and say he has an ugly wife and he would probably agree with you with a smile and nod, but tell him he can't ride for toffee and he will start a fight with you there at the roads edge.

For some reason we all assume we are world class. That is only disproved if we are luckily enough to come away from the learning how bad we really are, just about intact and able to climb back on again. And that can include doing harm to others by our lack of skills.

To use your hand gun analogy, and crib from Jeff Cooper : most seem to ride about in Mental State White, whereas State Yellow should be your normal riding mind-set, ready to change to react to Condition Orange or Red threats as the road develops.

Conchscooter said...

It's nice to see you getting annoyed but human stupidity has to be funny otherwise we won't laugh at ourselves when we goof.

Anonymous said...

I find the reference to the use of
firearms; any firearms to br abhorrent and completly negative in its pupose and the need for same.
Guns seem seem to bre such as false sense of scyriy

bluekat said...

Study? We were supposed to study??

There is no room on that road, and that's not a shoulder it's a drop off. I'm not crazy about squeaking past cars on the side, even if there is a shoulder and plenty of room. I hope the rider recovers for his loved ones sake.

My class caught one of our instructors running through the cone weave on his Honda ST(?). I think that's what it was. Much more impressive than when they demoed with the little bikes. Fun to watch, and yes, we were in awe. Silly boy, he actually looked like he was having fun.

I'm with Mike, I need to suck up some courage and take a class. I know I'd love it.

Great post once again. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

This is your best post yet, i think the blunt honesty is what is needed, alot.
Your breakdown of the various accidents is spot on, a 146 feet is a long way, 22 feet on your bum? Ouch. And the first helmet is a toy. Can i point out that in any decelleration scenario you are going to go face first?
I love your pictures of the students, all lined up. You can feel the energy of the moment come through.
As to shooting, i've compared cars with guns before too. Depends 100% on the user. Nice grouping ;-)

Anonymous said...

"During a recent phone conversation with my birth mother she mentioned seeing an obituary for a man from Redmond ( the BMW rally site ) who had died as a result of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident.

"Motorcycles are dangerous, you know. You're out in the open with no protection around you" she tells me.""

Ah yes however she is your birth mother (is there any other kind?) and she is protective of her offspring now that they are grown
and have matured as much as any mother; would you expect otherwise?

Charlie6 said...

Good post with great analogies re motorcycles and handguns. Both take training, both will do exactly what you cause them to do.

My first day on a motorcycle was day one of the Basic Rider Course. Since then I've taken the Experienced Rider Course as well and learned/relearned stuff there....well worth my time. I'm coming up on almost 90K miles of riding on different motorcycles since that first day and you are so right in the need for continuing training and then exercising that training when riding.

There's no time to think about it, you will do what you've trained to do, muscle memory if you will.

Been down once due to ice, no fault but my own, but wearing a proper helmet and gear saved my ass that day.

Re the idiot who tries to use "facts" for not wearing helmets...I remind you of a saying: "never wrestle with a pig, you both get dirty but he likes it"

As you mention, you have to ride aware, if you're surprised by a hazard, you probably weren't paying attention in the first place. Riders who don't do the "lifesaver check" of actually turning their heads and checking their blind spots before changing lanes are just a statistic waiting to happen.

I ride like I'm invisible, and position myself in traffic accordingly. You've heard me state it before: Be un-hittable if you can. Or try and leave yourself an escape route when stopped at a light.

Thanks for a great post.

And yes, its truly amazing the stupid shit you see other motorcycle "riders" do, and yes we all end up painted with the same broad brush. The perceptions of how dangerous motorcycles are will always be there, spread by the unknowing and reinforced by the stupid. After all, what news is it if someone rides to/from work every day, does so safely and NOTHING happens because of that?

Noli nothis permittere te terere.
"Never let the bastards wear you down."

Young Dai said...

Non illegitimi carborundum

Surely a bit more classy ?

irondad said...


Pretending to be a car is a good strategy in some ways. For example, riders get into trouble by putting themselves where a car driver doesn't expect to see a vehicle.

I don't have a problem passing on the right but I would have at least slowed enough to plan the move properly.

How did that photo get on a forum so quickly? Things spread quickly, don't they?


The problem with rider attitude seems to be spread across the U.S. If there were a demand the classes would be offered. Maybe I'll do some posts on self-training.


Thank you for gracing this blog with a comment. I find your site useful though I only comment once in a while.

Everybody knows the pavement gets softer when it's hot, right? So there's less need for gear! ( tongue in cheek )

Here's to success in getting an advanced course offered.

As far as I know, the MSF has an Experienced Rider Course, but the ART we teach is unique to us.

Take care,


irondad said...


That is funny, thanks for sharing! Be sure to leave enough of the centerstand to hold the bike up, you animal!

Thank you for the link.


You're welcome. I wonder if I get too involved with training stuff sometimes. I'll take your comment as a "no".

Dean W,

Precisely! Well said.

Take care,


irondad said...


Good reminder. I know I can't change the world so I have to accept that. Thank you, also, for reminding me that not all riders eschew training.

Makes me think of the story about the man throwing starfish back into the ocean.


I read about your "off" on your blog. Sometimes things happen despite our best preventative measures. On the other hand, think of how many other bad things we've avoided over the years by keeping up on our skills.

Arizona Harley Dude,

I'm totally with you there. I know it sounds weird but there's almost a romance and mystique when you think of the danger factor.

On the other hand, reading one of your past blog posts about your quick braking, it seems you don't actually want to be seriously injured while enjoying the danger factor.

I applaud you for setting a great example of continuing education!

Take care,


irondad said...


The cone weave cones are the same for the RSP. You just got more skilled!


Sorry. I'll try to be less shy next time. Thank you for the compliment, by the way.

I would love to have you as a student!

Take care,


irondad said...


Thank you so much for your comment. It is well stated and offers valuable advice. You are a great example of a serious rider. It takes a bit of courage to share personal stories in which we don't appear to be the hero.

I appreciate the kind words about the blog.

By the way, how is your bike?

Take care,


irondad said...

Young Dai,

The comment came on top of several other things. I finally burst with my disgust at all these riders who buy the same bike, dress the same, suffer deep insecurities, drink and ride, and have no riding skills whatsoever. Then they snub the rest of us because we're not "cool" like them.

Usually I live and let live. I just hate being grouped in with them.

Ego can be a good thing, but as you wrote, it can also be bad.

I wonder if Jeff Cooper also called the White Alert "oblivious"?


I know, I lost my sense of humor for a bit. Thanks for bringing me back.


I respect your right to feel that way. That's why I gave warning ahead of time to stop reading.

Take care,


irondad said...


Great comment! Thank you. I will leave it stand on its own.

What baffles me is how these riders can be that stupid. I just can't make that jump, for some reason.

Young Dai,

Now I have to go look that one up.

Take care,


irondad said...


Most people can't seem to handle blunt honesty. So what could be a great tool turns into something more of an alienation factor.

Thank you for your support.


My invitation to Mike stands for you. I would love to have you as a student!

I would like to share your comment on the ST rider doing the cone weave. We're having a discussion about instructor credibility by using our own bikes for the IRT classes instead of the training bikes. I'd like to post the quote on our instructor list.

By the way, we have a saying about doing this demo. If you're having fun,you're riding it too fast! The instuctor must have been riding too quickly. :)

Take care,


Dean W said...

Interestingly, I came upon a pack of "Rugged Individualists" on my way home Sunday night. They were rolling along in the left lane on I-5, about a dozen bikes in staggered formation... until they got behind someone not going fast. Then they collapsed into an intimidating pack, riders in tandem and less than a second between them, half a second between the lead pair and the car ahead of them.

Because that worked so well last year for the Brothers Speed. sigh.

Orin said...

I get a depressing number of viewers who arrive via a search engine term along the lines of "full face helmet dangerous."

My travels to other parts of our globe have led me to realize there is a level of ignorance (if not stupidity) in the U.S. that simply doesn't exit anywhere else. Why? Damned if I know...

Scootin' Old Skool

bluekat said...

Sure, feel free to share the comment. I'd say he was going a tad faster than the rest of us. A bit more lean angle on the bike too. ;)

jason.ewert said...

Thanks, the bike's OK, just waiting for parts. It's a V11 sport (Guzzi) so it takes some time to get them. Just a quick plug for progressive: my disapearing dudctable has done just that so they're paying the full $2400 and they're giving me a check for all my gear.

Keep fighting the good fight!


Chris Luhman said...

Nice post Dan. I share a lot of the sentiments you stated in your post.

Training is a must! I think riders should take at least one class a year. I try and take at least two. This year I'm taking an advanced riding school next week with my wife and then an advanced sidecar course in June. If things work out, I will also take a dirt class too.

Different kinds of training on different surfaces and bikes makes for a bigger skill set to deal with problems.

Krysta in MKE said...

Bryce - then why did you read on after he gave you a warning about upcoming content????

Dan has a point, though - both machines are safe when handled by a trained operator and deadly when they're not taken seriously.
I think the learning curve is steeper for the motorcycle. Curves are more fun with a bike, too...

"it's truly amazing the stupid shit you see other motorcycle "riders" do"

In the car a few days ago I had a 'rider' pass me on the right (using the exit ramp I was moving into), then cross in front of me to get back into the right lane of freeway traffic.
If I hadn't been A) paying attention and B) bike friendly he would have been hurt.

Krysta in MKE said...

"she is your birth mother (is there any other kind?)"

Yes... there are adoptive mothers and foster mothers. I'm a very lucky birth mother; I get to see my kid frequently. His adoptive parents were themselves adopted, back in the old closed, secret, shameful times, and didn't want that for our son.