Common Sense vs. No Sense

Guest Writer: Big Guy 82

A few weeks back, I was picking up my new Gold Wing.  While waiting for the obligatory paperwork to be processed, I went over to the parts counter to spend even more money on a new bike that had not yet been delivered.  In my opinion, this is perfectly normal behavior.

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I waited patiently while a young woman ordered some parts for her bike.   While there, she started explaining to the person at the counter why she needed the parts, which involved two (count ‘em, TWO) accidents in one day.  Now really, you just can’t make stuff like that up, so as she walked away, I turned and told her I didn’t want to be nosy, but I was very curious how she became involved in two motorcycle accidents in one day.

She proceeded to tell me about the accidents, both involving her falling off the bike, while “learning to ride” (in traffic no less) from her boyfriend.  Since her forearm was bandaged and she had a bit of a limp, I asked her if she was wearing protective clothing when it happened … you guessed it … no (other than the helmet that is mandatory in the state of New York).  I then asked how much time she had on a motorcycle and she told me that this happened on her FIRST DAY out … like I said, you just can’t make dumb stuff like this up.  Apparently, her boyfriend took her to a parking lot for a while and then out on the road they went. The very best part is that after arguably putting her life at risk, this guy actually sent her to the dealer to buy the repagirl-on-motorcycle-wallpapers007ir parts!  At least he didn’t make her ride the bike!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, normally, I really do mind my own business, but I kind of thought that this could actually be a life/death situation, so I asked the woman if she had considered taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation safety course.  She said no and I got the impression that she didn’t really know much about it.  I told her that when she completed this brief course, she would come away with enough skills to safely control a motorcycle.  I also told her I was an experienced rider and I highly suggested that she take the course for her own safety.  The counter guy even piped up in support.  Certainly, none of this was my “business”, but I took some comfort in knowing I may have saved her some pain or worse.

This woman and her boyfriend are just two of many riders who are on motorcycles and don’t really have a clue about how to control the damn thing.  They get a license by riding around with a friend or relative who may be just as clueless as they are, then they take a cursory road test (only if required by their state) and then off they go.  At this point, they have a huge chance of becoming an unfavorable statistic.  Their ignorance causes injury to themselves, endangers others and puts all motorcycle riders in an unfavorable light.

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Since I am anti-mandatory on most things, what is the point of this little tale?  To suggest that you encourage those new (and maybe not so new) riders you know or meet to take a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course.

Why?  To help them stay healthy and to help maintain a more favorable image of motorcyclists in general.

Ride safe.

Big Guy 82

The Great Summer Lane Splitting Confustication and BBQ

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: Things is hottin’ up in the old Cali corral when it comes to lane splitting. Let’s try to sort it out a bit.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back out onto the freeway and ride the dashed white lines it turns out that the California Highway Patrol has had something of a change of spirit when it comes to lane splitting. Someone filed a legal action that contends that the CHP’s (now prior) stance was tantamount to legally condoning lane splitting.  As a consequence of this action the CHP has pulled its lane splitting guidelines and effectively 404′d their position on the CHP home site.

laneIs lane splitting now legal in California? Yes, but many in California seem to believe that it is in a limbo state where it is neither legal nor illegal – just uncodified. Previously there was a bill introduced in the state that would have made splitting illegal.  SB350 never made it into law and lane splitting, thankfully, continued to remain a legal practice. There is a website that helps sort this out and it is ever more useful now that the CHP’s own site has disappeared its previous position.

Surj Gish has done a commendable job of putting together a website dedicated to making sense of the lane splitting fight (note: much of the information for this post comes from his site.)  The mother ship for lane splitting info is called <lanesplittingislegal.com> The site is well done and filled with information that makes a convincing case for lane splitting. The AMA (yes, the motorcyclists not the doctors) has taken a stand on lane splitting as well. Check out the AMA site.

The CHP’s most recent position on lane splitting, until this most recent shift in attitude, was written circa 2012 and is as follows:

1) Lane splitting by motorcycles is not illegal in California when done in a safe and prudent manner.

2) Motorists should not take it upon themselves to discourage motorcyclists from lane splitting.

3) Intentionally blocking or impeding a motorcyclist in a way that could cause harm to a rider is illegal (CVC 22400.)

4) Opening a vehicle door to impede a motorcyclist is illegal (CVC 22517.)

5) Never drive while distracted

6) You can keep motorcyclists and all road users safe by:

A) Checking mirrors and blind spots, especially before changing lanes or turning.

B) Signaling your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.

C) Allowing more following distance, 3 or 4 seconds, when behind a motorcycle so the               motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.

All of this has been yanked from the CHP site as a direct consequence of this legal action – we are now in a state of minor confusion, again.

lane-splittingMe, I am much in favor of the splitting of lanes when done with a modicum of prudence. I have, for years, minded the gap on both the Bay Bridge and also with the stalled traffic before the yawping mouth of the Caldecott Tunnel.  When traffic slows to a crawl I split lanes rather than sitting there waiting for my air cooled Guzzi to overheat.  I do not split when traffic is rolling at anything more than, say, 20 mph.

My favorite lane splitting moment (yes, I have a favorite) was on a trip from Amsterdam to Prague. When you leave Dresden you enter the mountains and forested winding roads; It is good bike riding country. When you get some few kilometers from the border of the Czech Republic the traffic backs up to a dead stop – I mean a dead stop, like the L.I.E. on the way to Jones Beach on a summer Saturday morning – dead stop. Lane splitting through 6 kilometers of hobbled traffic to get to the border checkpoint is heaven in a can. Nobody in the line of cars freaks out, shakes their fists or opens their car doors in a homicidal blocking maneuver – none of that, but you come back home though and my god there is a nutball on every 3rd commute.

Something happens to a lot of folks once they get into the car. The big mobile container of glass and steel becomes The-Box-of-Privilege.  Folks who would never scream at someone when they stride past them on the sidewalk seem to have no compunction about unleashing a torrent of crazy-ass spew at motorcyclists on the roadway. Folks (thankfully the rare ones) who would normally never physically assault someone in boots and a leather jacket when they amble by them, pushing their shopping carts in the box store parking lot, seem to revel in the fantasy or the act of obstructing a motorcyclist by dooring or faux-dooring her.  There is yet one more technique employed by the angry, privileged cager to keep those bikers from getting past.  It is the squeeze play.  The cager spies in the rear view a lane splitter coming up on them and they steer their car over toward the edge of the lane to block the bike’s path. Now you have a scenario where a petulant locked-down cager has an angry biker directly behind them. What sort of lunatic finds satisfaction in this?

The-Box-of-Privilege makes this possible. You are secure in your bubble of steel and glass and this will accommodate all manner of Hyde-like behavior. I went to a barbeque in Santa Monica recently and those in attendance were a mixed bag of motorcyclists and also cage drivers who had limited or no moto experience. It becomes bizarre to hear some of the ice cube rattling umbrage taken by (a percentage of) cage drivers once they are tanked up on a couple of early afternoon citrusy vodkas. They rail and mumble against lane splitting bikers on their freeways.  Underlying it all is the sense that someone is getting ahead of you; you wouldn’t let them cut in line at the store why would you let them cut in line on the freeway? Madness, its all madness. No one on a bike is getting something that you could have had but for the fact that the biker cut in line. There is no limited-amount prize booth at the end of your commute. The lane splitting biker will neither speed nor slow your progress to the job or to your home. Let them go. Let them go. Listen you crazy %*#holes, just say  “¡Vaya Con Dios!”  Let them go.

The public in my home state needs to know that lane splitting is legal here and they also need to know that motorcyclists are allowed to use the H.O.V. lanes. The education on these things is woefully lacking. The current retreat by the CHP on lane splitting only serves to muddy the waters… or uh, fog up the face shield… or uh… wait, I got one…. uhm.

Yes, alright, it doesn’t help that there are idiots on bikes too. Some pillock who goes flying by at a breakneck pace while threading the needle between decently moving cars does nothing to sell the lane splitting product. Once while heading uphill on highway 4 toward Pittsburg, CA (while in my Pickup-Truck-of-Privilege) I witnessed a guy on a chopper lane splitting at a demonic rate of speed. He came up on us pretty fast and never made it beyond the cab of the big rig truck just ahead of me and one lane over. He caromed off of the truck and into the car adjacent… and back again… and wound up on the ground with his left leg twisted agonizingly in a manner that screamed “Ninety days in a cast, Vicodin and some nice titanium pins to boot.” It happens. Individual vignettes like this do not represent the whole.

As time goes on things will change and California will not be the only state at the forefront of lane splitting rights.  The lack of understanding of lane splitting’s common sense amongst the cage driving public needs to be repaired. Gish is going a long way in that regard. Go to his site and follow the links, talk to your neighbors at the next barbeque and see if you can come to some brighter understanding with them about lane splitting. I’ll have a dirty martini – i’m not driving.

Gerde

Two Dummies and An Innocent Passenger

BigGuy82

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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.

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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

Helmet Designs for Tomorrow – Today

By Gerde Applethwaite

Bell recently announced that they are designing a helmet with an EPS liner that can be custom shaped to your individual head. I do not know whether or not this will be more comfortable on a long ride but intuitively I would think so. It also seems that in the event of a crash it would distribute and cushion the impact across your head better than a traditional unit. This got me to thinking about the future of helmet design and what we might have in store.

I like the idea of a custom molded helmet liner but more than that I would like to have an off the shelf helmet with a D3O or Sastech liner. The molecular armor would be more effective than the ubiquitous EPS foam in helping insulate your head bone against the shock of an impact, albeit a bit more expensive. D3O makes a helmet liner but I have never seen one in a helmet.

Reebok is making a small electronic device called the Checklight that installs into football helmets. It determines the shock force of an impact and reads it out. That’s clever. The notion of having some more objective way to evaluate the extent of an impact after your crash might be useful to the folks in the ER and it also might give you pause to think before you jumped back on your bike after what you thought was a small get-off.

Fighter jet style heads-up displays are already being designed for motorcycle helmet use. They are an interesting idea but they are not for me. I don’t want anything in my visual plain that will in any way distract me from scanning the road although I would consider one that displayed a visual warning if, say, the oil pressure dropped suddenly or the water temperature rose suddenly on my bike.

Photochromic face shields are available on some new Bell and Shoei helmets and I intend to test them out sometime this Summer. I like the idea of a shield that will change its shade in response to the light but I don’t believe that the current photochromic shields are polarized. I would like to see the polarized shields become more available across product lines.

The state of helmet communications systems improves with every season. Not that long ago they were scratchy and sounded like a bad walkie talkie but today the sound is markedly better and you can also hook up your phone and music devices. Things will rapidly change and become more even more innovative with these systems – and quickly at that.

Helmet shell plastics technology only gets better with every passing season.  Carbon fiber and Kevlar are still only available in the more expensive offerings but as the manufacturing techniques develop further we will see carbon and Kevlar migrating into lower priced helmets. New types of helmet shell materials are right around the corner and these new materials make my first helmet seem like a real antique bucket.

If you have an older helmet I recommend that you take a look at some of the newer helmet designs – whether it be comm. systems, drop down inner shields or pinlock setups the future is now… or at least soon.

Gerde Applethwaite

Get-Offs In Slo-Mo

By Gerde Applethwaite

A guy falling off his motorcycleI was watching the Olympics a while back and the crashes of the downhill skiers caught my eye.  The slo-mo replays of somebody biffing it on a downhill run have some resonance with a motorcycle get-off. You got to see the way in which the body automatically, in the absurdly brief time available, attempts to set up for the fall.  Arms and legs splay akimbo but there is often just enough time to put out your hands or feet in a defensive posture.

The yootoobz be full of slo-mo viddys of motorcycle get-offs. They run the gamut from CCTV of Chinese scooter accidents on busy streets to wobbly Isle of Man TT high-sides or the fixed camera setups of weekend riders who go wide out of a turn on Mulholland. There is a similarity between many of the bike get-offs and the downhill skiing fly-offs. Basically, in both you have yer low-sides and yer high-sides. The low-side skiers (if they maintain consciousness and are fortunate enough to remain unbroken) are attempting to push against the slope in a braking maneuver. The high-side skiers, when slowed down enough, often have the look of an old slapstick cartoon where the poor boffo is swimming in air.  Also the high-siders will put an arm down to broach the distance between themselves and impending doom. Its an automatic reaction – skiers do it, skateboarders do it, bicyclists and motorcyclists too. If you watch professional football you will all too often see a receiver on the edge of the field catch a pass and then step one foot out of bounds to maintain balance. The pass is ruled ‘not a reception’ because you need 2 feet inbound at the time of the catch. The better players have trained themselves to drag that second foot keeping 2 feet inbound and just taking the fall. It is counter intuitive to just take the fall. The football players earn 6, 7 and 8 figure salaries and train for this sort of stuff constantly but on the day they will still, instinctively, put that foot out to brake the fall or prevent it.

I recently wrote a post about road rash and one of the pieces of information I decided not to include in that post (not because I deemed it uninteresting but in a rare attempt at keeping the post brief) was Dr. Flash Gordon’s* information about the ways in which infection can cause serious permanent damage to your body.  If you have a full thickness road rash on your hand or you have torn up the area around a joint be very careful; infections consequent to this can cause permanent damage to your hand.  So there you are in mid-air in the midst of your soon-to-be expensive high side as you and your CBR part company and you reflexively (in the micro-seconds afforded to you) stick one or both of your ungloved hands out toward the approaching pavement. You snap a wrist or two, tear open the skin and then pivot onto your t-shirt covered shoulder; some sliding …. and you stop – let’s say partially under a parked car. Just for the purposes of full disclosure I should say that something similar happened to me. The details are a bit different: it was a parked semi-tractor trailer, it was raining, and I was all ATGATT’d out but the sense is the same – one second you are riding blissfully along and then somehow you are the star of your own brief, slo-mo, get-off cartoon.

In a low-side you will quite often not have time to pull your leg from between the side of the bike and the pavement. This is an ugly sandwich. Its the luck of the draw whether or not you break your ankle and mangle toes. It really depends upon where your leg just happens to be, the shape of the bike, the terrain of the road bed and, not least, your foot wear. The skiers often have time and free room to do that kicking, braking, steering motion but even if you could it will be of little avail to you with one leg trapped under your bike. Maybe in your low-side the bike slides out ahead of you or off to the side – that could be lucky. You see it on the race track frequently enough – Rossi slides on his back at 80 MPH and lives to sign autographs later that day. I mean it could be lucky if your chosen path did not lead toward an impact with something that will mangle you. Good luck. I find it somewhat comical when I see a guy on a sport bike wearing shorts and a t-shirt but he has frame sliders installed on his bike. He is aware that a crash might happen and he has taken the time to install something that will help minimize the damage to his costy fiberglass but he has thought not one wit about what will happen to his body in the same scenario. DOH.

Women, you’re not out of this either. You think your jeggings and cute boots will protect you in a crash? It is to laugh. The pressure on women to look good while doing anything and while being anywhere is crazy-making. It discombobulates any reasoned approach to the purchase of riding gear. When I commuted to work by motorcycle I wore an old Air Force flight suit, helmet, gloves and boots. I kept a pair of shoes at work. My commute was fully suited out in protective gear but underneath I wore my work clothes. A Joe Rocket Survivor Suit is my current kit and it does the same duty. I really didn’t care all that much how I looked on the bike although I like the look of the Joe Rocket.  I wasn’t out there to look gooey nectar on my commute. These days I am astonished at the number of women who wear clothing that will do them less than no good when they are riding. She wears the helmet and a pair of leather garden gloves and no other protective gear. Believe me they will cut those pricey jeggings off of you in a heartbeat in the ER.

I used to like one particular Italian restaurant in San Francisco’s North Beach. The first time I showed up there to meet friends I was confronted just inside the front door by the maitre d’ who politely explained to me that there was a dress code and that my flight suit was not appropriate. I laughed and told him that I expected to check it and then started to doff the suit. Underneath I was wearing clothing acceptable to management and everybody was happy.  It is possible to plan an evening out on the town and still wear riding gear that will help keep you safe – they are not mutually exclusive. The maitre d’ got to know me and would make a comic flourish out of welcoming me when I came in. It was fun for us both.  Yes, my boots were a bit out of the norm but it became my look. Trust me, you can wear your motorcycle boots to the opera and as long as everything you are wearing is black you will get away with it just fine (note: boots with lotsa buckles can make a sound that is annoying to those sitting next to you.)

Take a look at the online videos of riders going down and make some reasoned decisions about how you want to look when you are the one staring up at the sky after a crash. Do you want to be she who is wearing very little riding gear and has to be carted off to the ER or do you want to extend the chances that you will not be carted anywhere and wear the ATGATT? There are ways to wear the gear that won’t inhibit your social life or your look.

*Note: Dr. Flash Gordon’s book Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear: More Medicine for Motorcyclists is available from White Horse Press.

 

Gerde Applethwaite

Road Pizza: A Most Unwelcome Roadside Treat

 By Gerde Applethwaite

“Once again I race toward Dr. Flash Gordon’s brilliant motorcycle
first aid book entitled Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear: More Medicine for
Motorcyclists.  I suspect it is no coincidence that his first chapter
starts with road rash, pavement dermatitis.”

The Weather on the Left Coast at the time of writing is still mostly dry and mostly warm. In other parts of the country the cold havoc reigns supreme. The scooter evolution is in full swing here and for reasons somewhat beyond my understanding scooter riders seem to have a penchant for Teva’s and cargo shorts. The vast majority of motorcycle/scooter accidents occur at under 30 miles per hour. The bi-product of the under dressed and the over-accelerated is road rash or as we affectionately call it – road pizza (you will know why if you have ever seen it.)

Once again I race toward Dr. Flash Gordon’s brilliant motorcycle first aid book entitled Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear: More Medicine for Motorcyclists.  I suspect it is no coincidence that his first chapter starts with road rash, pavement dermatitis. This is a really common condition for the under dressed who ride – whether it be on bicycles, skateboards, scooters or motorcycles. What I wasn’t aware of were the complications that can ensue from an improperly treated road rash. Yeah, you should wear the right clothing and we sell the right clothing but for right now let’s just focus on a few select notions from Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear.

(Picture Taken from Wiki How)

You need to get as much of the dirt out of the wound as you can. Any leftover dirt can produce scarring at best and complications from a serious infection at worst. I knew a guy in high school who did a face plant while on his bicycle; he hit a poorly designed road grate. They didn’t get all of the gravel out of his road rash wound and years later you could still see the occasional dark bits of gravel on the side of his face. Sometimes a little chunk of gravel would work its way to the surface causing intense itching until it finally broke loose of the skin – some bits stayed where they were. The broken skin is incredibly sensitive to stuff like Betadine or even tap water. It alone will send your nerve endings howling. Saline solution is better.  Contact lens solution is actually good. I now carry a bottle of it under the seats of both bikes, along side the small first aid kit.  Again, this is thanks to having read the Flash Gordon MD. book/s. Read them – no foolin’. The idea in this first phase is to get as much of the dirt and germs out of the wound as possible. The longer the microbes party in your road pizza wound the more you will pay for it later. If all you have is tap water then use that – get the wound clean.

Yes, the next phase is to protect the wound. Dr. Gordon no longer recommends antibiotic ointments like Neosporin for this. I didn’t know this. I knew enough to try clean the wound but then my first reaction would have been to slather it all up with something Like Neosporin then put down gauze 4×4′s and finally pave it all over with tape. Wrong. The wound needs to be cleaned but not dried out. The ointment will actually dry out the wound. You have a couple of ways to go here.

One is something called a semi-occlusive dressing like Tegaderm or Opsite for example. You apply the film onto and around the wound. It adheres to healthy skin around the wound both protecting the area and allowing the wound to breathe. This can be packed into your first aid kit as well as the saline solution and your other stuff. It really doesn’t take up that much room and if you don’t need it for yourself you may one day need it for someone else.

An alternative means to protect the cleaned wound site is to spray on some stuff out of a can that films over and will rapidly give you some protection. The products noted in Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear are 3m’s Nexcare or something called Medi-Stat. I have the Nexcare in my kit. I haven’t seen the Medi-Stat in my local pharmacy. Gordon mentions that the added advantage of using the spray is that if you are the wounded one and you find yourself without help you will have an easier time of it by spraying something onto the wound site than you will applying a sheet film because you can one-hand it. Good tip.

You’re not out of the woods yet. You still risk serious infection and the potential consequences of infection turn out to be more than a little startling. I’m not going to go into it here because I want to keep this piece brief. Read the book (have I said that already?) or at least go online and do some research. At some point, either at the time of the initial accident or later when you suspect infection you may need to seek medical help. Do not hesitate to get it.

Finally a word, directly from my experience, about hospitals. Not all hospitals are created equally. I am given to understand that ambulance crews are not obligated to take you to your hospital of choice – they are obligated to take you to the nearest hospital. Now its roulette. If you are unfortunate to be taken to a crappy hospital or to one that has an overburdened emergency room (often one and the same) then you are really at the mercy of the fates. I happen to live in an area where the local hospital — the one that I would be taken to in the event of a neighborhood accident — has a stupefyingly poor reputation for everything except gun shot wounds – they appear to be good at that and they get a lot practice. If you show up with a road pizza shoulder and/or face you could realistically wait for 12 hours before you are seen depending upon who got shot before you showed up – or while you waiting. Do you want to risk that just so that you can feel the warm breeze blowing up your cargo shorts? Buy some riding gear, fool!

Gerde Applethwaite

Firstgear Mil. Spec. Hi-Viz Vest On The Road

By Gerde Applethwaite

Shorter: I bought the Firstgear Mil. Spec. Vest and took it out on the road to see and be seen.

I wrote recently about the wisdom of buying a hi-viz vest and just popped for the Firstgear version. Wait? What! More hi-viz chatter from Gerde? Yup. Hold on – this is a nifty sixty-some-odd dollar solution to your hi-viz needs. This time I flipped my hi-viz ride test scenario. Instead of riding around with it myself and asking folks how well they could see me on the road I reversed it. I loaned the vest to various riders on a few rides so that I could judge its visibility over that of conventional jackets. As predicted it makes a huge difference. I am now a big fan of the hi-viz vest for substantially increasing your visibility while wearing one of your no-viz jackets. Firstgear says that it provides you with visibility at a thousand yards away. This is not hyperbole, I tested it out and yup it’s true.

The design of this vest is the best I have seen to date as regards the placement of both the hi-viz fabric and the reflective material. The design is savvy all the way around – including the side area below the arm pit which is hi-viz, black and reflective. It is your standard CE EN-471 hi-viz color.

First gear makes this in three doubled sizes, I mean; extra small/ small, medium/large and large/2XL. I bought the medium/large and its a snug fit on my old medium Tourmaster jacket. They have sets of adjustment straps on the sides so you can easily snug it up to fit your jacket.

The vest is constructed mostly of a double layered mesh material so it will breathe air right through to the vents in your jacket. The mesh also gives it low wind resistance and I don’t get any annoying flapping at all – the vest zippers closed. They have placed an ID wallet on the chest (that’s required for the Mil.Spec. Part.) It is Velcro’d on and you can just pull it off if you do not need to have your id immediately available. If you have any particular medical needs in case of an accident I think its a good idea to leave the wallet in place and put that info in this chest wallet thing on a laminated card. I ironed a Flying Spaghetti Monster patch over the front of mine. Voila.

There is a long narrow pocket on the back and it just fits my empty helmet bag. It will instead fit a pair of gloves

Ask yourself this: how many times have you idled past drivers on a clotted freeway or at a stop light and looked over to see folks banging away on their cell phones? I see it every damned day! For something a bit over sixty dollars why wouldn’t you want to enhance your visibility in the face of the half-wits on phones in car cages across the land.

Gerde Applethwaite

Motorcycle Safety in the Bathroom

Overheard in the bathroom stall this morning: “If I had been a better rider, I probably wouldn’t have gone down. It seemed like the car came out of nowhere!” I wanted to jump out and say, “I’m Sarah from Helmet City, how can I help you?” But I assumed the poor woman had been through enough.

As I washed my hands, I watched as she wiped the fingers that extruded from the cast and explained to her friends that she had surgery scheduled for Thursday to repair a broken bone in her wrist.

I wondered if she would ride again. Not her bike, I gathered, as I heard her telling her friends it was totaled, but ever again.  And I wondered, “What could have happened differently to keep this woman from going down after only 8 months of riding?”

How prepared are new riders after basic motorcycle training?

I know riders that have many years and thousands of miles under their belts that are still surprised by motorists and challenged by tough riding conditions. So what is the answer?

  • More classroom time?
  • Required riding with an experienced motorcyclists?

Knowing the requirements for a motorcycle helmet (which is the #1 question on the CA DMV test), being able to identify the nine important parts of motorcycle and ride in a small figure 8 is important for motorcycle safety. But how can these new riders be properly prepared for scenarios they will see on the road? How can they have the most knowledge possible under their belts before they make that difficult turn or come up against that distracted driver?

What has been the most important lesson to you to keep you safe in your motorcycling career?

And what would you say to the woman in the bathroom?

After she exited, of course…

We would love to hear your thoughts.

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

Save a Friend, Save Yourself

Shorter:  You are out on a ride on a country road with a friend. Your friend is ahead and disappears into a sweeper turn. You come around the bend to find said pal on the ground and the bike mangled a few feet away (deer? a car? oil on the road? It matters not for this tale.) What do you do first? Quickly now. What’s first?

Do you:

A) Get off your bike and attend immediately to your wounded friend?

B) Call 911?

C) Go back up the road to stop traffic and prevent a car or two from rolling over you both?

Alright, let’s make this a bit easier.

You are riding with 3 friends and 1 is injured. You have the presence of mind to send 1 rider up the road to warn traffic as you rush to your friend on the ground with your phone in hand. Traffic is safely stopped, 911 has been dialed (you were so lucky to get a signal way out here. So lucky.) Now you need to assess your friend and stabilize him. Are you a doctor?  You are not.  Are you perhaps a paramedic? You are not? What the frack to do?

Maybe you have taken a Red Cross class on trauma care. That would be good. You know enough not to precipitously drag your bud off of the road for fear of damaging him even further, perhaps fatally. The traffic is not a problem for you now and their looky-loo impatience to both move on and also take a good long gander at the scene are of no concern. Your mind is racing. Tick Tock. Is he conscious? Airway constricted? Can he tell you where it hurts? Can he move? Is anything broken? Are you worried about how much blood he has lost?

By the way, while we’re here let me ask — do you have a first aid kit under your seat? What’s in it? Bandaids and some Neosporin? That’s a start, bandaids are always a good idea but this is much more serious. What to pack?

There is gasoline spilling from your friends tank and 50 feet up the road one of the motorists, a well intentioned samaritan, pulls a couple of road flares out of the trunk of his car. A small crowd has gathered and starts to encircle you and your friends – back them off a little. Everyone has an idea.  You don’t need a ‘leader’ to take charge here – what you need to do is methodically, calmly, tick chores off of a mental list. Training in first aid and trauma aid will help you manage that list. You need collaborators. Send someone up the road to stop the guy with the flares. Get a couple of other people to shift the broken bike off the road and stop the gas leak. Maybe one of the cage drivers has a fire extinguisher. Find out.  It would be nice to keep that handy just in case. Many of these chores will be taken up by the people around you. Focus on your friend and apply your knowledge of first aid.

If he is in bad shape and you have ascertained that it will take some time for an ambulance to come then find out if you can get a Med-evac copter in there. Yes? Have someone scout the nearest landing spot. Is it going to be the roadway? Clear it of cars and cordon off that area. Let someone take care of that on another cell phone.

Let’s say you are luckier even still and while your friend’s bike is toast (because he is all ATGATT kitted out – motorcycle helmet, jacket, pants, boots, gloves) he has only suffered a sprained wrist. What do you do to immobilize the hand or do you just leave it alone?

Also, and I hate to bring this up, not everyone at the scene may be worthy of your trust. The scene is chaotic and it doesn’t take much for some stooge to go through your tank bag or that of one of your riding partners. Try to cluster your bikes together and see if you can get one of your buddies to keep more than half an eye on them. Yeah, its too much to contemplate that in the midst of this nightmare someone would rip you off but this is a tough planet. Don’t go all paranoid on me but just remain aware of your surroundings. Everyone in your crew should have their cell phones and any other pricey electronics on them while they wander around the site.  Your accident may not happen on a bucolic country road. The more chance there is for civilians to wander through the scene the higher the likelihood that you will get ripped off. ‘Nuff said.

Getting yourself trained up to be of help to yourself or another is a great idea whether it be at a car accident, a farm accident, a boating mishap or some bike smashingham. Merde avoir lieu. There is a guy who wrote a couple of books about first aid for motorcyclists. His name is Flash Gordon M.D. and I commend his books to you. He is a rider and it so happens that he is also an emergency room doctor. The books are: Blood, Sweat and Gears: Ramblings on Motorcycles and Medicine and the followup Blood, Sweat and 2nd Gear: More Medicine for Motorcyclists.  These 2 books will go a long way toward getting you up to speed. I repeat the recommendation that you take some first aid training through your community college or a group like the Red Cross (or its equivalent) where you live. This training will hold you in good stead no matter where you find yourself. Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem.

Ride hard, ride safe and live to ride another day.

Gerde Applethwaite