Talking, Texting, Eating, Jamming, Farding, Babysitting, Computing And Oh, Yeah … Driving

Big Guy82

LR-Texting-While-Driving-PSAEver notice a distracted driver – or worse yet, been one yourself?  Very rare, right?   Riiiight … right, right, right.  Here’s a few ways to be distracted while operating a four-wheeled motor vehicle (you can’t do most of this stuff on a bike):

  • Talking on the phone without using “hands free” technology – cradling the phone in the crook of your neck also counts.
  • Texting – how many “texters” do you observe during your rides?  A couple of years back, five young girls in this area were killed in a head on collision with a truck.  Care to guess what the young driver was doing?  Not much else needs to be said about this extremely dangerous habit.
  • Eating – Saturday Night Live did a skit many years ago about a new invention … the Cheeseburger Phone.  The point was everybody at the time was complaining about cell phone use while driving, but a lot of those who were complaining thought nothing about chowing down on a messy burger while driving.  So, why not talk on a phone that is disguised as a cheeseburger?  Lesson: eating while driving is OK but talking on the phone is bad.  You get the picture … eating while driving is also a very dangerous distraction.
  • Jamming – “Loud Pipes Save Lives!!!” – nonsense.  I don’t care how loud your pipes are … that kid playing music at levels that OSHA considers to be permanently damaging to human hearing can’t hear your stupid pipes, can’t hear sirens, can’t hear horns and likely does not have a clue what’s going on around him.  It is stupid.  It is illegal.  My guess is it is almost never citied by law enforcement (but they may pull you over for your loud pipes).  Even more dangerous is the fool wearing headphones.
  • Farding – stop laughing … it’s derived from the French “fard’ – meaning “make up” and it’s a term used to describe the act of applying make-up while driving.  In case you have any questions, the answer is “yes!” … this is every bit as dangerous as any other form of distracted driving.
  • Babysitting – ever notice mom turned around fiddling with baby in the back seat WHILE THE CAR IS MOVING!  No really, I see this frequently.  Junior spilled his milk, is crying, dropped his toy … whatever and momma spins around in her seat to handle the matter.  Really?  Are you kidding?  Not only is she not watching the road … she is facing the rear of the car!  No doubt she bought the best car seat she could find to protect her baby and then she does this?
  • Computing – now we’ve got “Google Glass”.  Great!  Now some dummy can concentrate on watching his favorite vampire movie instead of being bothered by paying attention to the road.  But, to be fair, the same dopes (no wait! They’re brilliant geeks!) who this technology appeals to were computing “on the go” long before this new innovation.  I remember one guy I worked with who mounted a computer on a stand next to the drivers seat so he could do “stuff” while tooling down the super highway at 80 mph.  No problems there, right?  AND, now we have “iWatch” (or whatever the piece of junk is called) so that we can text, compute, etc. while driving and the cop won’t be able to cite them because they aren’t holding a device … it’s on our wrist!  Think that’s obnoxious?  Ask a lawyer.

600-talk

I’m sure you could come up with more stupidity that you’ve observed while riding.   And while chatting about stuff like this is amusing and sometimes funny, what’s not cool is when some idiot who’s not paying attention turns you into road pizza while you’re just cruising along, enjoying life on your bike.

I just had two separate instances during the past week that brought this continuing problem to the front of my admittedly limited mind, both of which involved severely distracted cagers.  The first one had me in the passing lane on an interstate, cruising along at about 70 mph when I noticed that the guy I was passing had a cell phone tucked into the right crook of his neck and was looking down at the passenger seat.   Can you imagine that –talking and looking off the road.  Watching in my rearview after blowing by him, he kept drifting to the left – if I had been next to him during one of these “cycles”, I could have been a pile in the median ditch.  Yes, I did keep him well behind me until I exited.

The second run in was even scarier.  I was in lovely Canandaigua, NY on the four lane main street, where traffic direction is separated by a grassy divider.  The speed limit is 30 mph and the crosswalks are clearly marked with signs that say “Yield To Pedestrians”.  Seeing a man starting to cross from my left and just getting to the divider, I stopped in my lane (the left one) and he began to cross when he stopped and got a shocked look on his face.  In my mirror, I noticed a pickup truck approaching in the right lane and she had absolutely no intention of stopping.  She whizzed by me on the right without even slowing and if I had to guess, she was well over the posted limit.  Good thing she wasn’t in my lane or I would be dead.  What do you think she might have been doing?

Yes, I know all about road rage and I also know that confronting those who I call “road fools” can lead to escalation, but to me, almost killing someone is certainly a cause for discussion.  I caught up to her at the next red light, pushed up my face shield and asked her (in a calm voice) through her open window “did you see the guy in the crosswalk who I was stopped for that you almost killed?”  She looked at me with a totally surprised look on her face and simply said “no”.  What’s the sense of taking that conversation any further?  I just shook my head and rode on, hoping that maybe she learned some sort of lesson.  Bottom line is that a pedestrian and/or I could have become a statistic, simply because somebody was too involved with doing something other than driving.

What can you do about all of this?  Here’s some ideas:

  1. Don’t do any of these stupid things yourself when you are driving a car
  2. If you are in a car with someone who is doing any of these distracting things, ask them to stop doing it.  If they don’t, tell them to stop doing it.  If they still don’t stop, tell them to pull over and let you out.  Make the damn point, because if you don’t it’s very likely no one ever will.  If they are a friend, ask yourself if you need idiots like that for a friend.
  3. Put a “Look Twice – Save A Life” sign in your front yard (and anywhere else where it’s legal).  Keep reminding people that motorcycles are out there … we as bikers CANNOT do enough to make the public aware … it has to be a constant effort.
  4. In casual conversation, talk about your near misses with your cager friends.  This let’s them know the dangers very nice biker types (like you) face while simply enjoying the ride
  5. Ride defensively!  It’s still your job to protect yourself from these idiots and this includes staying well away from them when you can.
  6. Confrontation has the potential to end badly and calling 911 is useless because the offender will be long gone and not doing anything illegal by the time a cop arrives, if one is even sent to investigate.  Best advice is to use common sense when interfacing with strangers, if you choose to at all.
  7. Write to your local newspaper OpEd page about this subject and the havoc distracted driving causes every single day.  All the statistics you’ll ever need are easily found on the web.  Even if only one person has a change of heart after reading the article, you are a winner.  If we all do this at least once, think of the number of people who we will get our message to.
  8. The government and the auto industry (now largely one and the same) are starting to develop “smart cars” that drive themselves relying on the latest computer technology.  Swell … so the answer is more regulation and gadgets that will add thousands of dollars to the price of our already over priced cars, just because as a collective group, motorists can’t keep their heads out of their asses.  And, don’t forget the side benefit of even more government control and monitoring of your actions.  Not really a good answer in my opinion, but an answer nevertheless.
  9. Tell your politicians and cops that you support strict fines for distracted driving and absolutely no “warnings” – write the damn ticket.  I’m anti-regulation, but having no laws is a bad thing, Having too many laws is a bad thing but some laws are just smart things.
  10. If you are a parent and your kid gets a ticket for distracted driving, take the keys away!  A car is transportation but it can also be a weapon.  Don’t give junior the chance to use it as such.  Would you (or the state) let him continue driving if he was stopped for drunk driving?
  11. Again, if you are a parent, petition your school district to conduct a distracted driving campaign … posters, classroom instruction, educational visits by local law enforcement, etc.  You might need to get involved in the PTA or go to school board meetings to get this done, but no one ever said life was easy!  One way to get people’s attention is to get on the speaking schedule and then have a supportive law enforcement officer attend with you.  And yes – in case you’re wondering, I did this stuff when supporting local drunk driving efforts. It works.

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So, there are things you can do top put a stop to the lunacy that is distracted driving (I don’t think that’s to harsh a term considering it involves operating a couple of thousand pounds of metal at high speed in an uncontrolled manner).  Some of them take a lot of work, but your owe it to yourselves and your community to do what you can.

Drive defensively and enjoy the ride!

Two Dummies and An Innocent Passenger

BigGuy82

opening-summer-cocktail-umbrella-ss

On a recent trip to Hawaii, I rented a Harley Ultra for my wife and I to tour Oahu on.  Not a bad ride, but certainly not as maneuverable as my Triumph Thunderbird 1600 ABS.  During my ride, I wanted to visit the Punchbowl National Cemetery so off we went.  Enjoying the ride, I missed the turn and found myself going up a very challenging road (at least for a Harley) on a major hill named Tantalus.  It wasn’t too long before I was negotiating the hairpins on a large Harley with a passenger and since I was already well into this, I decided to push on rather than turn the monster around on a narrow winding road.  All seemed to be going quite well.

Well into the journey, I came upon a left hand hairpin curve.  To the right, there was a car pulled over against the guardrail … the driver was sightseeing at a non-sightseeing curve.  Between the edge of the road and the guardrail, there was a 2 -3 foot strip of grass.  I slowed and as I approached, the dummy in the car put it in reverse then threw it into drive and pulled out in front of me.  Not able to go into a blind left hand hairpin curve, I opted for the right.  I narrowly missed the ass end of his car but was headed towards the edge of the pavement.  The big Harley barely caught the edge, slipped off and tipped, jamming itself between the roadway and the guardrail.  We both hit the pavement, but I was moving so slowly at that point (under 5 mph), there was no road rash at all.  Unfortunately, my wife’s left leg took the brunt of the weight and she ended up with a torn ACL.  The bike only suffered minor scratches on the left saddlebag.

cagers

A minute later, the guy who pulled out in front of me must have seen us lying in the road and he stopped and backed up.  His first question was “Are you alright?”.  His first statement was “I didn’t see you”, which is just another way of saying “I wasn’t looking”.  Stupid, dumb cager!  Of course, there was another dummy involved in this preventable accident … me.

Here are the things that I could have done to avoid this, proving that a lot of experience does not always translate into ongoing common sense:

 

  • On a new bike (to me) I should not have been on such a challenging road.  I should have paid attention to where I was, not missed my turn and therefore avoided Tantalus all together.
  • Once on the road, I did the right thing and took my time, so I wasn’t trying to emulate riding The Dragon one up on a crotch rocket.  However, when I saw the driver who was illegally pulled to the side of the road put his car in reverse, I should not have slowed … I should have stopped.
  • Finally, as I played this back in my mind (over and over), I realize that as soon as I knew I was headed towards the rail, I FOCUSED ON WHERE THE BIKE WAS GOING, NOT WHERE I WANTED IT TO GO.  This is so basic and I have been doing it correctly for years.  However, in a tight situation, your brain has a mind of it’s own (get it?) and unless you fight it, it will take over.

So, the moral of this story … no matter how experienced you are and no matter how good you think you are, you really do need to practice the basics from time to time.  In this case, I have been really focusing on looking where I want to go, even though this is normally an automatic reflex.  I am, in a way, reinforcing the “muscle memory” in my admittedly weak brain.  At the end of the day, we were very lucky and the silver lining is that this will make me an even better rider.

PS – another silver lining here … I was so depressed about this accident, I had to go out and buy a new 2014 Gold Wing :)

BigGuy82

How To Retread A Biker

BigGuy82

It’s too bad that no one has learned how to retread a biker who has been injured by a retread(or recap) tire.  A few weeks ago, I was almost in need of this as a chunk of trailer tire flew into the air and nearly clipped me while riding through the Texas panhandle.  Now, if this chunk had hit me it would have been lights out at 75 mph … no chance for a walk away here.  This got me to thinking about my experiences (in cars and on motorcycles) over the years with tire debris because I put a lot of riding and driving miles on.  Several years ago, just outside of Cleveland, I suffered a smashed windshield on my car from flying rubber and three days ago, I whacked an entire tractor trailer tire tread that had just flown off of a piggy-back trailer rig (more on that later).

Ever been the correct distance (2 – 3 seconds) behind a car when suddenly you’re swerving to miss a scrap of tire that was passed over?  Wonder what would happen if you hit that chunk?  Next time you’re on a highway, look at all the rubber crap on the road and you’ll realize just how common this problem is.  Even though it doesn’t matter from an end result standpoint (I wouldn’t care if it was a new or recapped tire that injured me), my contention is that most of this hazard is the result of trucking companies using using recapped tires to save money.

Recapping companies, their lobbyists and the government (who, of course gets political donations from the recappers and their lobbyists) will tell you how safe these tires are and they are no more liable to fall apart than original equipment tires.  Despite industry hype, a recent study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) disagreed, finding that about 68% of roadside tire fragments were from retread tires and 18% were from original tread tires.  Don’t think that’s a significant difference?  This is essentially saying that for every OEM tire that disintegrates (for whatever reason), nearly four (4) recaps suffer the same fate. The origin of the remaining 14% could not be determined.  Apparently the lobbyists think a 4x failure rate is just as safe as a new tire.  Also, it’s a good guess that none of them has been riding a motorcycle when a huge piece of rubber on an eighteen wheeler tire shoots across the highway like a piece of shrapnel.

Even after reviewing the evidence above, the SAME study also stated:

  • Retreads were not over represented in the tire debris items collected. (So 68% of the tires on the road are recaps? I don’t think so)
  • Results indicated the majority of tire debris collected was not a result of manufacturing or retreading process deficiencies – it was mostly due to “under inflation).  Really?  How on earth can you determine this???

Sadly, even the AMA has bought into this nonsense (their best recommendation is to “report road debris” and they have no active campaigns afoot to address recap hazards) but I only know what I see and have experienced.  Go to the web and you’ll find passionate arguments on both sides.

The government agency regulating this (the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has tons of regulations … none of which prohibit the use of recaps anywhere on a truck, meaning that yes, you can even use these on the front (steering) axle.  I’m not a lawyer and certain states may have stricter laws, but at the end of the day, the trucking industry saves billions annually by using recaps instead of new tires.  I’m all for saving money and keeping freight costs down, but I am definitely not for allowing an antiquated technology (grind off the old tread and glue a new one on) to be used on 80,000 pound, high speed behemoths that can kill me, all to save a few bucks.

Now for my latest run in with a recap.  Tooling along the passing lane on the New York State Thruway in my 2003 Corvette (my 4 wheel baby), I was suddenly confronted with a full tire tread that had been struck by the truck I was passing and kicked in front of me.  Swerving to avoid it almost put me into the gully in the median and had it been a less stable car than a ‘vette, my guess is I would have flipped down into the ditch.  I managed to avoid a direct head on contact (and the truck next to me) but still clipped the piece of junk with the right front of my car, causing $3,000 worth of damage.  Less than a mile down the road, there’s a piggyback rig sitting on the side with the driver looking at a mangled rear tire.  I stopped, asked if he lost a recap, told him I found it and called the State Police.  During the discussion, I made a disparaging comment to the Trooper about recaps and he looked at me understandingly and said “you don’t have to tell me about recaps” …  so much about all the statistics pumped out by manufacturers, lobbyists and bureaucrats.

Recaps are a hazard to any motorist (just my opinion), especially riders.  When one lets go, it is extremely dangerous when it occurs and for a long time afterwards while chunks of tire sit in the middle of the roadway (and it’s my contention that these tires “let go” a lot).  They also result in a roadside eyesore.  So, what can you do to protect yourself?

First, always allow adequate room with the vehicle in front of you so that you have adequate time to see a chunk of rubber and avoid it, especially vehicles that are difficult to see over or through.  Second, don’t spend one second longer than necessary next to or just behind any truck … wait until it’s clear to pass and get by quickly.  Third, as part of your defensive riding routine always take a quick look at truck wheels to see if there is anything that appears out of the ordinary.  Fourth, practice riding whenever you can … properly accelerating, urgent braking, swerving.  Fifth, support efforts to properly (and objectively) evaluate the efficacy of recaps.  I’m a motorcycle libertarian, but if someone else’s actions can kill me, I’d like to see those actions stop and I don’t care how much money anyone is saving.  I’m not going to injure or kill anyone else by going helmetless or jacketless.  But if I drive a truck with tires that disintegrate, I very well could end someone’s life.

As always, defensive riding comes first.  If you follow these suggestions, perhaps you’ll never have to have your hide “retreaded”.

BigGuy82

Singin’ In The Rain

BigGuy82

Great title for an old movie, but I don’t know many bikers who think riding through a rainstorm is any flavor of fun.  Recently, I had the “opportunity” to ride 9 hours through rain (often a downpour).  Not much of a choice on sitting this one out, because the forecast was the same for the next two days and I had a job to get to, so through the rain I rode.  Along the way, I learned a few things that you might find useful.

Safety comes first.  Tires bad?  Stop.  Bad highway with pooling water? Stop.  Torrential downpour?  Stop.  Tired?  Stop.  Not confident in your ability?  Stop.  But, if you decide to ride for extended periods in the rain, here are a few things to consider.

Let’s start with luggage.  All of those great pieces of “motorcycle” luggage come with a rain cover, which helps for a while.  But for extended periods in steady rain, plan on some amount of water getting in.  Why?  I don’t have a clue, but I can tell you that with the rain cover securely fastened over the top of a quality backpack type bag that was strapped to the sissy bar and rested on the passenger pillion of my seat, a lot of stuff in the bag got wet.  Every place on the bag was covered except the bottom, which rested on a covered seat, so the water was likely forced in through the bottom due to wind pressure.  Fortunately, I put my computer and camera in heavy duty, waterproof bags. Tank bag?  Same deal, but again, the essentials were in sealed plastic bags.

Now about saddlebags.  Go with hard bags if you can find them for your ride because they will stay dry inside (as long as the gaskets are good). If you go with soft bags, your stuff is going to get wet.  I spent 150 bucks on custom “waterproof” covers from a canvas maker.  These are waterproof, well made, and fit snugly.  Nevertheless, my bags had puddles in the bottom at the end of my ride.  My guess is there is absolutely no way to stop water spraying up off the roadway, the wheels and being forced in by 60-70 mph wind from getting into any tiny opening.  I think the water was forced in between the cover and the bag and once inside, it had no way to escape.

The most important rain gear you can have is a rain suit.  Don’t scrimp … buy quality.  My Tourmaster gear kept me dry and warm for the entire ride in 60 degree temperatures (rain gear also makes a great windbreaker in cold weather).  I’m not crazy about boot covers … mine got in the way when shifting/braking and were awkward when my feet were on the ground and during rest stops.  But, they did keep my boots dry.

Other stuff.  Some seats absorb water rather than repel it.  I have a custom seat cover and it was worth it because after the rain is long gone and you’re wearing jeans, your butt isn’t getting soaking wet from a saturated seat.  ABS brakes are simply better on wet roads (and I personally think they’re better all around).  If you have them, great.  If you’re going to be an all weather rider you should consider them for your next bike.

If you ride, you’re gonna get wet.  Dealing with it properly won’t leave you singin’ in the rain, but it will make the experience less aggravating.

BigGuy82

But what about the pants?

BigGuy82

OK … I’m not a big fan of wearing a motorcycle jacket, especially when the temperature is 90 degrees and the humidity has you feeling like you’re in a sauna.  I’m a big fan of T-shirts when it gets hot (I also like to show off my ink).  Remember, I’m a motorcycle “libertarian” … I think adults should evaluate a risk and make their own decision as to accepting that risk.  That said, there’s no arguing that a leather or Kevlar type jacket with armor in the right places can save you from some serious pain and disfigurement.  But, even though the first thing riders think of when considering these jackets is usually safety and/or looks, there is also a strong case to be made for comfort.

On a recent journey, I rode through rain and temperatures that ranged from the low 50’s in the Rockies to 105 in the Texas panhandle. For this trip, I selected a Tourmaster Intake Air Series 3 Jacket.  While there are a lot of brands to choose from out there, if you’re looking for comfort, you should ensure that whichever one you choose has similar features that will make your ride more comfortable.

This jacket has a mesh shell that is very well ventilated and that means it remains relatively cool on a hot day (when you’re moving).  When the temperature gets cool, you have a choice of two liners that can be inserted separately or in combination for maximum insulation.  The lightweight liner provides great wind resistance and is also rain resistant (not at the level of a quality rain suit, but it does keep you dry in light or moderate rain).  The lightweight padded liner provides insulation and when these two are used together, the jacket provides comfort at temperatures as low as 45 degrees (for me).  Stick a thermal T-shirt under it and your good to go down to about 40.  For hot desert weather in the 90’s or higher, you can wear the mesh outer jacket over a wet T-shirt to keep cool and hydrated.  This jacket provides the advantages of three different pieces of clothing resulting in less required storage room and lighter weight, both premium requirements for long road trips.  Both liners can be rolled up tightly and take up very little room.  During my trip, I actually wore the jacket in extremely high dessert heat and at 12,500 feet in the Rockies, where I went from the high 70’s in Ft. Collins, CO to the low 50’s at 12,500 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park and then back down, all in less than three hours. I was able to adjust my clothing for comfort in just a few minutes and then easily readjust as I descended.  Very convenient, very compact and far less expensive than multiple jackets.

For those of you who also value the protective aspect of outerwear more than me, this particular jacket offers construction of Armor Link, 600 Denier Carbolex and 1680 Denier ballistic polyester with CE approved armor at all the strategic locations.  Hell, I don’t have a clue what all that means, other than it offers you some great protection from impact and road rash.

Comfortable long trips on a motorcycle don’t take any luck at all … they take careful planning.  The correct choice of equipment is critical.  You must pack lightly, compactly and efficiently, meaning that everything you bring along should preferably have more than one use and leather doesn’t fit this description.  This premium jacket certainly fits the bill (all right … leather looks a little cooler, but even without the liner and with the vents open, it is still hot as hell on a warm day).

Pants are a whole other subject …

The Merits of Going Topless …

BigGuy82

I’m a believer in voluntary helmet use – I live in New York State where the law demands helmet usage but I believe that adult riders are capable of deciding for themselves.  While I often times don’t wear a helmet outside of NY (because I do love the wind in my face and through my hair), I strongly suggest that you determine how much risk you are willing to accept, because regardless of what type of accident you may become involved in (hopefully none), your chances of survival are increased by helmet usage.

During a recent trip, I passed through 14 states that don’t require motorcycle helmets.  Some mandate them for the passenger.  At times, I wore my helmet and chose not to wear it at other times.  Why?  Well, for me, helmet usage is determined by how I will be riding that day.  For instance, whenever I’m on the highway for extended periods of time, I wear a helmet.  I do it more for comfort than safety, but I also believe that wearing it increases my chances for survival in an accident.  While it may look “cool” to cruise down the interstate at 75 mph with your hair blowing in the breeze, what’s not cool is the wind blasting your face for extended periods.  This causes your eyes to water (even with a windshield and/or sunglasses) and after a while, they dry out and get itchy, which in turn is very distracting.  You dehydrate more quickly because wind is blasting your eyes as well as your nasal and oral passages.  Another consideration is the noise level, even with earplugs.  When you wear a helmet, it is much quieter and the chance for long-term hearing loss is reduced. Wind noise is also just plain annoying after many hours on the road.

Although I have several helmets, I knew that the 6,000 mile trip I was planning would need a special one.  I wanted something that would fit perfectly, give me a great view of my surroundings (eliminating a full face or modular helmet), had a built-in sun visor so I wouldn’t need to fool with sunglasses and regular glasses, give me excellent hearing protection (meaning a thicker internal padding system) and protect me from wind buffeting.   After a lot of research, I decided on the new Shoei J Cruise because it has everything I wanted and more.

It’s an open face helmet that has an optically correct face shield, giving me a full picture of my surroundings (unlike a full face or modular helmet) while still protecting my face, eyes and ears from wind and other elements.  For those of you who get a little claustrophobic inside a full face or modular helmet, this wide face shield really opens things up.  Another great feature is the retractable, optically correct sunscreen, allowing use of prescription glasses while offering full protection from glare.  The Shoei sunscreen is special because it doesn’t smack into my glasses when I lower it like most full helmets with this feature.  Shoei designed the shell around it … they didn’t just add a sunscreen to an existing shell.  Thick padding provides excellent protection and the best noise reduction of any helmet I have owned.  It has outstanding ventilation even on the hottest days (I wore it on a 104 degree day in Oklahoma).

Whether you are a fan of helmets or not, there are times when it makes very good sense to wear one.  Whatever brand you choose, make sure it offers everything you’re looking for, regardless of price.

BigGuy82