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

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

Motorcycle Safety Report Series

As part of our Helmet City’s passion for motorcycling safety, we are beginning a series to keep you informed about important safety topics! We will be reviewing a fascinating report issued by the The Governors Highway Safety Association from last year. The report, titled Motorcyclist Traffic Fatalities By State 2011 Preliminary Data, was authored by Dr. James Hedlund from Highway Safety North. As one might expect, the report recommends several common sense strategies for states to adopt to lower the number of motorcycle fatalities, including:

  • Increasing helmet use
  • Reducing alcohol impairment
  • Reducing speeding
  • Training all motorcycle operators
  • Encouraging other drivers to share the road with motorcyclists

It concludes that the most effective strategy for drastically reducing motorcycle related fatalities on the nation’s roadways is to enact a universal helmet use law in the 31 states that do not yet have such a law.

The preliminary data from this report, as well as previous reports, bears this out. Data supplied by all 50 states and the District of Columbia in February and March 2012 suggests that the number of motorcyclist fatalities in the United States was about the same in 2011 as in 2010.

While fatalities decreased by 1.7% during the first nine months of 2011, the 2010 data suggests that the final numbers are unlikely to show a decrease; e.g. the 2010 motorcyclist fatality total for the first nine months was 2.0 % greater in the final data than in the preliminary data. Unfortunately, the fatalities recorded in 2011 will probably be strikingly similar to the 4,502 fatalities recorded in 2010.

Through the first nine months of 2011, motorcyclist fatalities decreased in 23 states, increased in 26 states and D.C., and were unchanged from 2010 in only one state. The states that saw fewer fatalities attributed the decrease to a number of factors:

  • Poor cycling weather
  • Reduced motorcycle registrations
  • Reduced motorcycle travel
  • Increased law enforcement
  • Increased rider training and motorcycle safety education

The 26 states that saw increased fatalities mostly attributed the inverse:

  • Good cycling weather
  • Increased registrations
  • Increased travel
  • Return to normal levels after unusually low 2010 numbers

Perhaps most ominously, data from 1976 to 2012 shows a clear correlation between increased fatalities and registrations, and the same correlation between motorcycle registrations and gas prices.

As gas prices continue to climb, more and more people are looking to save money with motorcycle travel, and the most effective way to curb a steady increase in fatalities is to enact universal helmet laws. The clearest argument for this:

  • When worn, helmets prevent 37% of motorcycle-operator fatal injuries in a crash and 41% of passenger fatal injuries.

Despite this staggering statistic, universal helmet laws are in place in only 19 states and the District of Columbia. The report’s conclusions (and common sense) clearly dictate the use of a motorcycle helmet. We hope that the information seen here will encourage more riders to invest in protective gear. Stay tuned for more vital information on this critical topic soon!

Ride in Safety and Style

With all the dangers out there on the road today, it is becoming increasingly important to protect yourself when riding your motorcycle. You may be a safe rider, but the cars and debris around you can potentially harm you.

Some of the motorcycle gear that you want to make sure to wear when riding are a helmet, faceshield, gloves, jacket, pants, and boots. Helmet City has a variety of different selection to assure that your personality and style shine through. All of this gear will add a layer of protection as well as make you the most stylish biker on the road!

Take a look at the infographic below, provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, to see the difference between cool gear and a fool’s gear.