Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Listen to that voice in your ear, even if you can’t hear it.

As experienced bikers we often talk about our sixth sense, that unknown something that somehow alerts us to imminent danger. I have often attributed my own many drama-free (relatively drama-free, that is) years of riding to that spidey sense, and even though it has sometimes let me down, on more than one occasion it has also saved my skin. There have been days when it has been tingling to such an extent that I just leave the bike parked and take 4 wheels. Fortunately those days are infrequent, and there’s really no way to know whether my concerns were well-founded or not, but I always felt better listening to that voice whispering in my ear.
spidey-senseBut it’s not all about paranormal messages. Sometimes it’s just good, defensive driving practices, practices that have become so deep-seated that we don’t consciously think of them at all, and so when something does happen and we avoid becoming someone’s hood ornament, the immediate response is to credit that sixth sense for our preparedness and situation avoidance.
I thought of this today when I rode into the city to run a few errands. I was travelling a two-lane country road at about 60 mph, coming up to a crossroads. There were cars waiting at the stop signs on both sides of the road, ready to cross as soon as there was a break in traffic. I saw them in plenty of time and was obviously watching them as I approached the intersection, but it wasn’t until I had passed them that I realised that I had, unconsciously, covered both the front and rear brakes and the clutch lever. A habit so ingrained that it actually caught me a bit by surprise to realize what I had done.  It may not have helped much if one of them did pull out, but that split second extra response time could make the difference. In fact, as I look back upon that incident referred to earlier (Two-legged, four-wheeled buffalo) I’m now thinking that my little voice probably didn’t desert me at all, but was fully functional, buying me those few milliseconds between a near miss and disaster by making sure that I was ready for the worst – whether I knew it or not.
What I also know for sure is that voice is fragile. The slightest impairment, whether caused by exhaustion, stress, alcohol, drugs, or even an overabundance of testosterone, will see it shut down and go into hibernation, leaving the rider without that most important yet usually over-looked defence. Totally exposed. Like a knight going into battle without his chain-maille.    
So when I see novice riders out there (of any age) I wonder how long it will take them to develop those skills and learn to listen, subconsciously, to what years of experience will teach them. Taking an accredited rider training program will give them a good head start, but time in the saddle is the true teacher. I only hope they make it that far.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Two wheels is still two wheels. Or us versus us.

Bike motorcycle crash While motorcyclists and bicyclists usually don’t have a lot in common, we do share one important attribute, and that is our vulnerability on the road. Both groups rail loud and long over the ignorance and poor driving skills of the majority of cagers with whom we must share the roadways. And we both are guaranteed to come out second best in any altercation with a larger mass of steel and chrome. In that sense we are brothers.
Well that brotherhood was tested late Sunday night in Ottawa when a motorcyclist collided with a bicyclist, killing the 16-year-old bicycle rider and sending the biker and his female passenger to hospital with critical injuries. The police report is not yet out, and charges may yet be laid, but at this point it looks like inattention and poor driving skills were the cause, with both riders sharing some responsibility. If I were to prejudge I would bet that the police report will find that the bicyclist was doing tricks on the road to impress his girlfriend, and the motorcyclist was speeding, driving way too fast for the conditions, also to impress his girlfriend/passenger.
Like most accidents, this one was totally predictable and avoidable had both parties been paying the least amount of attention to their environment and the traffic around them. Also, like most fatal accidents, this one will probably result in political calls for more restrictions and regulations concerning our respective pastimes/sports.
So while I offer my condolences to the family of the young man who died, I also grieve for our sport. Every time there is a motorcycle involved in an accident it provides more ammunition to those who would prefer to see motorcycles and motorcyclists even further restricted if not banned completely. And it sure doesn’t help our cause when one of our own is involved this way.
More on the story here: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Update+Speed+factor+fatal+bicycle+motorbike+crash+police/3036045/story.html

Friday, May 7, 2010

Monocycles revisited

Last fall I blogged about a monocycle, the MV Agusta 60cc  Monomoto Superleggera, that was supposedly raced in the 1960’s in Italy. Well that was the story, but the reality was somewhat different. One needed only to look at the picture to see that not only wasn’t it a functioning single-wheeled racer, but in the 1960’s technology hadn’t yet been invented to keep the rider from doing a face plant every time he tried to slow down. So while the bike in question was an interesting art piece, that’s all it was.
Fast forward 40 years to 2001. Engineers had mastered the use of electronics to keep people upright while moving forwards or backwards on two parallel wheels, and the Segway personal transporter is unveiled. While undoubtedly cool, the resulting vehicles never really took off like the developers planned. The biggest challenges to its widespread adoption were cost and the fact that no jurisdiction seemed to know how to classify it. Was it a motor vehicle? A weird bicycle? Did you need a license to operate it and a permit to put it on the road? Should riders wear helmets? And the list goes on. So like most bureaucrats faced with tough decisions, they just made it illegal on public roadways and so the Segway was instead relegated to filling small niche markets like mall security, crowd control, and golf courses.
Now 10 years later, Honda has significantly raised the bar on the personal transporter concept. Still in prototype, the U3-X is the first mono-wheeled vehicle that I’m aware of that can not only go forwards and backwards, but also sideways and diagonally. And the technology used to do that is decidedly cool. Wheels within wheels. Which, I guess strictly speaking would no longer classify it as a mono-wheel. Doesn’t matter. Don’t care. This little gizmo is truly amazing.
I don’t expect to see these available at the local Honda dealer any time soon for all the same reasons there isn’t a Segway dealer in every town. But as a prototype, the U3-X proves a technical concept which could see use in many future products, including those that help people with mobility issues. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010

You’ve got a parcel!

It’s been like a continuous birthday here the last couple of days. Several eBay purchases I had been waiting for for weeks finally arrived (As an aside, why is it that General Motors can build an engine in Virginia and have it at a plant in Ontario in 12 hours, but it takes Canada Customs 3 GoPro Hero Cameraweeks to process a t-shirt?) including the biggie – a GoPro HD camera.
I’ve had my eye on one of these little gems since I first saw them at a show in January, so as soon as I had a bit of what is euphemistically referred to as “disposable income” from the sale of some no-longer-required parts on eBay, the order was placed. Also on eBay, of course.
Today it arrived, along with the mounting gear I had ordered that would allow me to use my RAM mount.  (The GoPro has it’s own rather unique mounting system.)
But as is often the case, the thrill of playing with the new toy will have to wait as I am out of town (no riding involved, but golf and casinos will play a significant role) for the next week or so. I haven’t even left yet and already I can’t wait to get back home to strap it on the bike and go play. It even comes with a helmet mount, so perhaps I’ll grab an old helmet and drive a few back roads and trails for something different,  never-before-seen video footage of the back roads of Lanark Highlands.
A boy and his toys…..

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Personalizing my ride

Like most riders, Harley riders in particular, I spend more time and more money than I should customising my motorcycle. In fact I’m not so sure I don’t get as much satisfaction out of wrenching and adding the bling as I do out of riding sometimes.
I don’t really understand the motivation. If I really wanted a stand-out machine that would turn eyes I would go full custom, or at the very least a super trick paint job with high-end wheels, exhaust system, the works. But that’s pretty expensive, and besides, I think I’m more into making it mine than necessarily making it a one-of-a-kind unit. So while I know that anyone with a few extra $$$ in their jeans and a couple of accessory catalogues beside their La-Z-Boy recliner could come up with an identical looking machine, I don’t really care. Let’s face it, with the number of accessory parts out there the permutations and combinations are such that the chance of running into a mirror image machine are virtually nil, unless it remains stock, which NEVER happens.
But having said that, I have thought it would be nice to have something on the bike that was truly unique, that really makes it mine and no one else’s.
So I thought of derby covers.
There are lots of after-market derby covers that are emblazoned with “Live to Ride”, or advertise Jack Daniels No. 7, or your military affiliation, or … the sky seems to be the limit. But there are also companies that will custom fabricate a derby cover to your own design.  So rather than simply fly the flag, as many riders do, I’m thinking of having it engraved on my derby cover.
I think it could look kind of cool. And it would be unique.
Derby cover flag