Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fast and Furious?

Every so often we will hear someone suggesting that our ride-outs are "too fast". Let's see if we can shed some light on this.

With every participant's safety firmly in mind it is our policy that ride-outs should be run at legal road speeds where road and traffic conditions permit.   Our ride-out leaders* do exactly this.  In the pre-ride briefings participants are advised that everyone should 'ride their own ride", i.e. at a pace which is comfortable and safe for them. 

Because we want everyone to have a good time and not become lost each we employ the drop-off system where a rider 'marks' a junction by their presence, indicator lights and hand signals.  There also are regular stops to gather everyone up and there is a Tail-end Charlie or sweep rider.  There is absolutely no need to keep up with others who, for various reasons, may be riding at different speeds.  

It's a fact that some riders will negotiate bends more swiftly than others.  This may be due to higher levels of competence and confidence, an easier to ride machine or a combination of these.  While they may appear to be riding much faster they are simply carrying a more constant speed through bends.  They are not slowing down as much on bend entry and then having to recover their previous pace when the road opens up. 

If someone feels some sort of a need to 'keep up' it is a choice they are making, either consciously or unconsciously.  A motorcycle's speed is completely dependent on the input of its operator.  Only the individual rider can adjust their speed to what is appropriate for them in the circumstances.  It is completely and utterly their responsibility and most importantly, their choice.

Should ride-outs be run at speeds below the speed limit when it is perfectly safe to be at the speed limit?  In short, never.  Just as it is incumbent on road users to avoid hazards* there is an equal responsibility to avoid becoming one or creating one.  

In terms of group riding traveling in an artificially slow manner quickly creates a multi-vehicle rolling road hazard, never mind the mounting frustration of those stuck in the queue behind.  There is also the fact that most Highway Codes clearly state that you should not hold up other traffic. 

If someone is of the view that a Peak Rider Adventure ride-out is ‘too fast’ it is simply because they are riding faster than they are comfortable with.  The solution is simple; slow down and ride at a pace better suited to current abilities.  Better, safer riders are self-aware and honest with themselves.  

Ask yourself the question, "Would I like to be a more proficient and safer motorcycle rider?"  If the answer is no then you may need to question whether motorcycling is really for you.  If the answer is yes there are numerous ways to further develop riding skills.  The worst that can happen is that you will become a better, safer rider and have even more fun.

Our ride-outs are voluntary participation social rides.  They are wonderful opportunities for experiencing the many joys of motorcycling and sharing laughter with friends old and new.  Our safety record and the steady growth in numbers of enthusiastic attendees are proof of our success.  We hope to see you soon. 

*Peak Rider Adventure's UK ride-out leaders hold RoSPA Gold accreditation.  Those who have earned this distinction are acknowledged as among the most proficient and safest of British road riders.  To maintain this status a rider must undergo a rigorous and comprehensive re-test every three years. 

*A hazard is defined as any real or potential danger and anything which would cause a road user to change speed or position. 


© Mike Moloney 2015

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Roadcraft Files - "I Made Eye Contact...Right Before We Collided."

"Are you lookin' at me?"  Okay, so we've taken some liberty with one of the most famous lines in moviedom - Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver - but it's a question we need to be asking.  Let's look at this in more detail.

Often heard in the motorcycling community is this; "Car drivers are all out to kill us."  
I don't know about you but of all the car drivers I've come across over the years I have yet to encounter one who deliberately set out to cause me serious harm.  There are plenty of ornery jerks out there, and tens of thousands who are distracted or not paying attention, but the ones who set out to commit vehicular homicide appear, thankfully,
 to be few and far between.  

A common phrase in police accident reports is this; "The driver looked but didn't see."  We often hear this referred to as a SMIDSY - Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You.  Why didn't that driver see you?  They were looking right at you, right?  How could they look, but not see?  It's a rather complicated issue.

Let's start with Global Precedence.  "Global Precedence occurs when an individual more readily identifies the global feature when presented with a stimulus containing both global and local features."  In other words the individual sees the big picture but perhaps not all of the smaller features within it; for example you, the motorcyclist.  Prime attention is directed to larger objects.  A truck is bigger than a car which is bigger and wider than a motorcycle which is bigger than a bicycle, etc. 

In the previous newsletter we noted that Reaction time is Decision-making and Output combined.  Both drivers and riders have similar response times (output) but vary greatly in the amount of time it takes to make a decision.  In demanding or complex situations key information may be forgotten or discarded before it can be stored in short-term memory.  It's entirely possible that in developing or busy traffic situations some road users may unconsciously 'choose' not to see you.  SMIDSY

What are you wearing?  Are you familiar with camouflage?  Are you aware that your bike and clothing colours may be blending in very nicely with your background.  Excellent. Zombie snipers will have a devil of a time picking you out.  On the other hand so will other road users. 

What else might cause us to go unseen?  The human eye is a true wonder but still short of nature's best, such as found on eagles and houseflies.  Not only do we have a dominant eye - meaning there is a weaker one - but each eye has its own blind spot. Then there is depth perception, itself a very complicated processing of sensory information, binocular and monocular visual cues.  If one or more aspects of that system are not working well then distance perception will be compromised.  Only your optometrist knows for sure and I don't know your optometrist. 

Is the person in the car next to you wearing their prescription eyewear?  Or did they leave their glasses/contacts home because they're unstylish or 'too uncomfortable'?  Any person over 40 can develop cataracts - a clouding of the lens - not ideal for crisp vision and subsequent decision-making and action.  Do they have a form of dyslexia, a headache, an itch to scratch?  What about glare from low sun, dirty windscreens, kids making a fuss in the back seat, that oh-so-important text message (What! There are people who text and drive?!), that heavy thought weighing on their mind, cement trucks; the list goes on and on.  SMIDSY

Are you lookin' at me?  Honestly I can't say for sure but I do know this.  You are the only one in control of your motorcycle. By claiming it's always the other guy's fault you abdicate your responsibility to put yourself in the right position at the right speed at the right time to avoid a hazard.  It's your move.

Mike Moloney ©2015



The Roadcraft Files - Every Day is a School Day

The Moto Guzzi California mini-test left me nearly exhausted so I went for lie-down.  And this got me to thinking. How many ways are there to learn?

According to Wikipedia, "A 2004 literature review identified 71 different learning styles theories." Whoa, we need to keep things simple here.

Let's take a brief look at these: Mistakes, Instruction and Example.

Mistakes: Soichiro Honda, a man who in the space of a brief few decades went from a piston ring manufacturer to global leader in motorcycle production was once asked why he was so successful. His reply was simple, "Because I made so many mistakes."

In terms of motorcycling learning from mistakes can be a bad proposition. Making an errors puts us at much greater risk of injury.  The best riders are extremely sensitive to the smallest errors in their riding and will figuratively kick themselves when they feel they didn't 'get it right'. They will immediately look for the cause of the error and take steps to correct it. 

How do you know whether you're making errors?  The best way is to take...

Instruction: It's about learning new skills, absorbing practical advise and applying knowledge you didn't have before.  Instead of being oblivious you can now act using information provided to you for your benefit.  As the old saying goes, "The more you know the better it gets."  

Reaching the third of the four stages of competence - Conscious Competence - is a very good place to be. That being said a truly Conscious Competent person does not fool themselves.  Self-awareness much match the reality. And finally...

Example: Good example or bad example? Bad example riders are easy to spot. Throttle and brake applications are abrupt or inconsistent.  They veer suddenly away from or even into things they did not anticipate or see in advance.  They are hesitant or stiff in bends.  They ride in car drivers' blind spots.  They constantly blame others for their actions. And so on.

Better riders are also easy to spot. They never have 'suddenly' or 'where did he come from' moments.  They take complete responsibility for their actions. They appear to flow effortlessly along their intended path and through traffic. They use the Roadcraft system of motorcycle control to put themselves in the right place at the right speed at the right time.  They ride unflustered and take joy in being masters of their time and space. Follow, observe and learn.

Looking for some free good examples and helpful advice? Follow the leaders on our Peak Rider ride-outs.

Mike Moloney © 2015



Product Impression - Italian Beauty with Big Jugs

Sometimes the opportunity arises to ride new motorbikes which I don't actually own.  Recently the folks at Aprilia/BMW/Moto Guzzi Motorcycles of Escondido asked me to take a Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom to Bike Night at the local Hooters Restaurant.  If we must. Hooters is located about a mile north of the shop so I immediately set off...to the south. 

So-called cruiser-style bikes are not normally of interest to me.  For the most part form - something the manufacturers take great pains to refer to as 'style' - takes priority over function.  Offerings from American manufacturers and the Japanese-made 'metric' clones tend to place emphasis on largeness; in the size and weight of the machines and also in engine displacement.  Motors are typically big inline narrow-angle V-twins and relatively slow-revving due to significant crankshaft and flywheel mass.  Emphasis is placed on torque characteristics rather than chasing horsepower numbers.  

With their long wheelbases, significant weight and limited ground clearance many of these bikes can be challenging to ride in terms of bends.  The grinding of floorboards (Floor boards? On motorcycles! Good gracious.) at moderate lean angle are an all too early warning sign of potential disaster.  Certain bikes from one 100+ year old brand can sometimes be seen 'wiggling their hips' in bends.  It's often scary just watching.  

Then there's the curious seating position where the weight of your body rests on the base of your spine whilst arms reach out in wide supplication to handlebars which appear borrowed from large wheelbarrows.  It's evident that I struggle to 'get it'.  The cool-aid drinking faithful are fond of saying that if they had to explain it I wouldn't understand. That I get.

Meanwhile over in Italy the cappuccino crowd have their own way of thinking.  Perhaps it's in part because designers who live in the foothills of the Alps are bound to arrive at different solutions than those whose roots are in flat farmland.  Italians produce cruisers alright, but very much on their own terms.  Ducati's Diavel power-cruiser is a case in point. 

So, back to the Moto Guzzi California 1400.  Yes, it appears long and sits low to the ground.  It is stylish; Italians couldn't design a bad-looking toaster.  (Well okay, over at Lancia cars there are some elements of awkwardness.)  The California doesn't look like a copy of anything else.  Massive cylinders intruding into tank space are meant to inform. An artful rear fender/mudguard is graced with LED tail and brake lights.  The instrument pod is simple, round and contains all the info you need.  Like an Armani suit the sum of the parts exude a dignified presence without any need to shout.

The handlebars are great wide tillers.  Yes, there are floorboards - hinged - where you are meant to rest your feet.  There's a substantial looking heel-and-toe shifter on the left and a brake pedal on the right which appears as if it could have been borrowed from a small Italian car.  The saddle is big enough for naturally large persons or someone whose caloric intake occasionally exceeds the recommended daily amount. I felt a bit small on this bike. 

Start me up.  A bit like a radial-enginned airplane there's a big shake and a snort from the 90 degree V-twin and then it just settles.  Before setting off we notice it says Tourismo on the instrument display. The throttle is ride-by-wire and Tourismo is one of three settings; the others being an Italian word for Lame (or possibly Rain) and the enticing-sounding Veloce.  Settings are changed via the starter button once the bike is running and in neutral.  Throttle settings don't appear to be changeable on the fly. 

Off we go then.  Wha' hey?  This thing steers!  No, not like a sports bike or even a sports tourer but with easy deftness that belies its size and looks.  The suspension is another revelation.  It's no indulgingly plush adventure tourer but it's more than compliant and doesn't hint at bottoming out.  With the wide bars and no windscreen there's a good deal of wind blast on the freeway but it's no worse than most naked bikes.  Set on Tourismo the throttle control is smooth and naturally progressive.  

Guzzi's so-called big-block engine is very eager to rev and is anything but slow.  Rumbly vibes at lower revs - quite noticeable but at a frequency that is entertaining rather than intrusive - disappear completely as you reach 4500 rpm and beyond.  Did I really just close up on that quickly on the car ahead?  Off to Hooters then before the shop owner begins to wonder where the Peak fella went with his bike. 

After an evening of hootin' it was time to take the big girl home.  Whilst stopped at a traffic light a large-diplacement Milwaukee twin pulled up in the lane next to me; all rumbles and shakes and blipping of throttle.  Well then, surely this must be the appointed time to see what the Veloce throttle setting is all about?  

Holy Mother of Mary!  Throttle response is instant and accompanied by a mighty surge of forward thrust.  It revs much quicker than expected leading to a series of hurried upshifts.  The other bike is a distant speck in the mirrors.   A couple of turns later I try it again on a street where it's less likely a need will arise to explain these actions to someone 'in authority'.  The shift from second into third sees the front tyre cease contact with the asphalt. 

So, here we have a stylish Italian cruiser which you can ride in a relaxed manner if you so choose.  Or, you can ride it 'con brio' and thoroughly enjoy a bike which neither sacrifices function nor subscribes to tired cliches.  If this is your kind of bike you're sure to have a lot of fun either way.  California dreamin?  Good vibrations are happenin'.

Mike Moloney © 2015



The Roadcraft Files - What's Your Plan?

Having assessed the riding skills of more than a few bikers in the past few years the single most critical aspect which presents itself is the importance of planning and anticipation.  Anticipation and visible evidence of planning are hallmarks of advanced riding.  Anticipation is fueled by obtaining information as early as possible to inform the decision-making process.  

Observation is the overriding and most important aspect of systematic riding.  In terms of hazards* what we need is time; time to react.  When riding or driving we process complex information in a loop comprised of Input, Decision-making, Output (response) and Feedback (what's next?).  We should always be asking ourselves these questions: What can we see?  What can't we see?  What can we reasonably expect to happen?

Reaction time is Decision-making and Output combined.  Most riders have a similar response time but vary greatly in the amount of time it takes to make a decision.  Our brains can't always deal with the information received.  In demanding or complex situations key information may be forgotten or discarded before it can be stored in short-term memory.  This is why riders and drivers often 'freeze' and crash when presented with something unexpected.  

If we tend to concentrate our vision on a small area - whether it's a car, bike or the road immediately in front - we are less aware of the whole picture.  The time we need to plan, anticipate and react, i.e. decision-making and response, may not be available. 

We need to move our head and use our eyes in a scanning motion which sweeps the whole environment to build up and maintain a picture of what's happening around us, as far as we can see, in every direction.  This includes the far distance, middle distance, foreground, sides and rear.  In bends we need to keep our heads up and noses pointed towards the limit or vanishing point.  For pilots, military personnel and others this is part of Situation Awareness.  

A few years ago I jokingly asked an SAS guard if he would take a bullet for the Cabinet Minister he was escorting.  His answer was simple and illustrative, "We'd never let it get that far."  In an advanced rider's vocabulary the word suddenly does not appear.  By learning to correctly Observe, Plan and Anticipate we will already have the answer to 'What's Next?'

* A hazard being defined as any real or potential danger and/or anything which will cause you to change speed or position. 

* Some of the text above is from Motorcycle Roadcraft, The Police Rider's Handbook - ISBN 978 0 11 708188 8 

Mike Moloney © 2015