The Bike Bit

Why I Ride.

Why not? Essentially, I ride because it's fun, and because in Europe at least, you can slice through traffic like it's not there. I currently live in America and the traffic laws in Utah are a little different, so most of my commuting is done in a car now. The bike has become a pleasure tool, used in the evenings and weekends when I want to, rather than when I have to. I did 7 years commuting 120 miles a day around London in all weathers on a bike so I've done my 'hard man' bit. Nothing sharpens the senses like tussling with blind drivers in freezing rain at 7am on the M25. Been there. Done that. Don't need to do it again.

What I Ride.

triumph tiger 1050
The Triumph Tiger 1050. I made the fatal mistake of test-riding one of these whilst I still had my BMW R1150GS. Six weeks later, I owned one along with a crapload of debt. This orange one is actually my second Tiger - see the story next to the yellow one below for the full scoop. This picture was taken on route 72 in Utah.
Google Earth placemark
For the curious, here's my trusty steeds going back to 1988 - the earliest photo I have of one. Not that I like Endure/Big Trailies/Sports-tourers or anything.
dt80 Yamaha DT80. This was my introduction to riding. I went through one piston on this bike - I still have it in my office. It was a loud little bumble-bee of a two-stroke bike.
dt125 Yamaha DT125. Bigger and better. Louder, faster. Still small. Great bike.
TDR Yamaha TDR250. The idiot-proof hooligan tool. Based on the race-bred TZR250, this was a wheelie machine. I used this bastard on the motorways every day and it was well scary. It has the typical two-stroke powerband where all the power arrives at 5000rpm and dies off at 5500rpm. Amazing bike.
xtz660 Yamaha XTZ660 Tenere. My first 4-stroke bike. A big-single - one cylinder, 660cc. A thumper of a bike, great for riding with a passenger but with possibly the least comfortable seat, ever.
africa twin Honda XRV750 Africa Twin. Think Tim Taylor. More power! Arf arf arf! This was a fantastic bike. If I could get one here in America, I'd buy another one in a heartbeat. It did 120 miles a day for 18 months without a single problem. W-a-y better build quality than the Yamaha's I'd owned and supremely comfortable.
bmw r1150gs BMW R1150GS. The über-moto. I lusted after this for years. Went all over America with me until a sad day in 2007 when I sold it to a Canadian, who then promptly rode it 1100 miles non-stop back to Alberta. Go figure.
triumph tiger 1050 Triumph Tiger 1050. (The first one). Best bike so far. Loved it. Slight problem with the clutch - wouldn't re-engage particularly cleanly. I took it in to my dealer who spent 17 weeks doing nothing but feeding me excuses and lies. Triumph corporate became involved both in the US and UK and forced the dealer to buy me a new bike. Dealer has long-since gone out of business when KTM and BMW stripped them of their franchise, then Triumph followed suit. Whisper the name 'Accolade' around Utah motorcyclists and you'll find similar horror stories.

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What I Dislike about fair-weather bikers.

cbrxx

These are the guys who buy a fantastically expensive plastic crotch rocket as a fashion accessory to go with their dog-in-a-handbag, their trophy wife, their Armani suit and their Rolex watch. They'll buy their insanely powerful litre-bike, some race-replica leathers and a Pedrosa helmet, and assume that this means they can ride like Rossi despite only putting 500 dry miles a year on the bike. They then wonder what went wrong when they drive under a truck/into a car/into a tree/up a kerb/over a roundabout etc. They have no regard for any other road users, other motorcyclists included. They shoot the gap at 80mph in stationary traffic, overtake on blind bends, scare the crap out of car drivers and give the rest of us a bad image. The media love an easy target, and these guys give them the target they need. The result is that the rest of us all get tarred with the same brush.

Helmets vs. 'invincible' bikers.

Living in America, it amazes me how many states don't have helmet laws. It amazes me even more that one of the states did have a helmet law, but repealed it because of complaints that it was infringing on people's civil liberties and their rights to 'freedom'. Some riders believe they're invicible, some think that because they ride slow-and-straight cruisers, any crash will be mild. All of these people are simply wrong. It's pretty obvious to anyone on a bike that you're very vulnerable in any crash. If you want to have a nervous moment, next time you overtake a semi, slow down and take a quick look at the wheels and driveshafts spinning next to you.....
Proper clothing isn't really an option when riding a bike - it's a necessity. It has nothing to do with your freedom, and everything to do with giving you a fighting chance when you come off. Some people's self-preservation instinct is functioning so badly that their brains don't even have the common sense to wear a helmet to protect the very skull it lives in. Face it - any crash over about 15mph and you're going to get hurt if you don't have protective gear on. Any crash involving another vehicle and it will be much worse. (Bear in mind that over 60% of motorcycle crashes are caused by a car or SUV driver.)

Flip flops, sandals, T-shirts, O.R. scrubs - apparently these two
future bodybag occupants are too stupid to be breathing, let alone riding a bike.
...although the girl on the right ......

Every weekend I see guys charging along the motorways riding in shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt. No helmet, no gloves, no armour or padding. Exactly what do these people think is going to happen to them when they comes off? Does they think they'll never come off? If that's the case, they're more dangerous than they think. Do they somehow think they'll be thrown clear? Great - what happens when they land? Do they think it will all happen in a nice controlled fashion so they can control how they fall and what happens in the crash?.....For the uninitiated, then, here is:
The anatomy of a motorbike crash
You see the car pull out from the side road as you're approaching. You didn't leave enough safety sphere around you so it looks like a crash is inevitable. You check behind you, and grab a fistful of brake lever and clutch. You stomp on the rear brake and the back wheel locks. The bike starts to skid sideways as the rear end comes out. Because the wheels have stopped, the gyroscopic stabilising effect has gone and the bike is now top-heavy. You're getting closer to the car and he's now seen you and has stopped instead of pulling out of the way - a crash is now certain. The bike starts to go down and then the tyres dig-in and the bike highsides you. You're about 60° to your original direction of travel now and you're flipped over so you're now lying on the ground skidding head-first towards the car with the bike on top of you. Your bike boots are stopping your foot from being crushed and the padding in your jacket and pants is rapidly shredding - sacrificing itself for your skin. Your head bounces off the road and the shock stuns you and makes you dizzy. Disoriented, you put a hand out and your glove starts to burn as the leather and padding rubs away on the road surface. You're almost upon the car now and in the last moments, you crumple like a rag-doll and slam into the side of the car head-first with the bike on top of you. The change in speed causes the momentum of the bike to flip up into the side of the car. You still have one leg over the saddle so this forces you to do the splits and flicks that leg off into the car door. As everything comes to rest, the bike falls back on your foot and the crash is over.

Of course, that all happened in slightly under a second, and what you remember is sky-ground-sky-ground-sky-ground-car........I'll leave you to re-write that paragraph from the point-of-view of someone wearing no helmet and no protective gear, crashing on a motorway at 130km/h.

The anatomy of the same crash from your passenger's point of view if you have one.
You see the car pull out from the side road as you're approaching. Your rider looks over his shoulder, and grabs a fistful of brake lever and clutch. He stomps on the rear brake and the back wheel locks. The bike starts to skid sideways as the rear end comes out and you start to shift on the pillion seat. Because the wheels have stopped, the gyroscopic stabilising effect has gone and the bike is now top-heavy. You're getting closer to the car and he's now seen you and has stopped instead of pulling out of the way - a crash is now certain. The bike starts to go down and then the tyres dig-in and the bike highsides you. You're catapulted up in the air like a cat on a trampoline. As you spin end-over-end, you see your rider pinned under the bike skidding head-first towards the car. As you start to descend from your parabolic flight, you see the see your rider crumple up like a rag doll and slam into the side of the car head-first. The change in speed causes the momentum of the bike to flip up into the side of the car. As you plummet towards the resulting melee, you see the rider still has one leg over the saddle. As everything below you comes to a rest, you land head-first on a wrecked bike and car combo and the rider's trapped foot catches you in the stomach. You decellerate at about 40G and come to rest on the wreckage, and the crash is over.


This little scene took all of 2 seconds to set up.
Note the non-bike boots that came off and the blood from the head-ground (no helmet) interface...

What about the lawyer option?. Yes? What about it? Came off your bike and you've got a lawyer suing the motorist - great. Money isn't going to reverse brain damage. It won't heal road-rash. It doesn't cure incurable stupidity.

Ok so don't go the whole leather biker thing if you don't want, but use some common sense. Why the protective gear? Well...

Helmet
Protects your noggin from splitting open like a ripe watermelon.
Boots
Proper bike boots have a heavy steel shank in them. If you wear trainers, then when the bike keels over and lands on your foot during a crash, the sole of the trainer crushes and the bike mangles your foot against the road. With a steel shank in there, it provides a rigid sole that resists crushing.
Gloves
Look at your knuckles and the palm of your hand. Now scrape the palm of your hand with a pair of scissors, and run your knuckles along a brick wall. Hurts doesn't it? Do it over 15mph on a rough road and you'll understand the reason for gloves.
Back-protector
Ever felt how close your spine is to the skin - no muscles or padding is there?
Armoured jackets and pants
Denim - great fashion accessory, lousy tear-resistance as indicated by the speed at which you can ruin a $100 pair of Levis by falling over and scuffing the knees. Armour and padding in pants and jackets cushions your knees, thighs, shoulders and elbows - all parts of your body that will interface very quickly with the ground when you come off.

Ok so what do you wear, Chris?
An armoured jacket with a separate hard armoured back protector underneath, armoured riding pants armoured gloves, leather boots with steel shanks and a Shoei helmet:

bmw r1150gs

"It'll never happen to me"
You keep thinking that, then look at this picture and imagine its you. Blind car driver, red light. For the sake of your own protection, wear proper gear. The only thing this picture is missing is the driver's white cane sticking out of the window (see below).

Like the site? The page you're reading is free, but if you like what you see and feel you've learned something, a small donation to help pay down my car loan would be appreciated. Thank you.

Further reading. If you want more info on motorbike accidents (and I don't mean that in a gruesome way), this site has some interesting tips, statistics and info: motorcycleaccident.org

Emails from a non-motorcyclists.

I get dozens of emails from non-motorcyclists that spew hatred and venom because in their world, we're all child-raping spawns of Satan that deserve to be on the receiving end of a shotgun. That attitude isn't so rare, unfortunately, and it's exhibitted by a lot of drivers when they come across motorcyclists. So if you've ever wondered why motorcyclists in general have such disregard for people in cars, read these and think long and hard about it - it will explain a lot of what comes next on this page. Note - I've left the grammar and spelling as it was...

Example 1
Having read your atricle on motorbikes I must strongly disagree that they are cool as they are hazards and should be banned. Firstly most accidents with severe injuries and death are motorbikers. Secondly today during a 4 miles trip to and from a local football ground where I work I was nearly killed twice by two motorbikers traveling behide car coming towards me and then overtaking in dangerous place causing myself to brake hard to avoid them. May I also remind you that if bikers hit care the car will have a dent while the biker is in a wooden box. In my opinion the motorcycle is ok on holiday but in the uk stupid idea unless you're on a proper track. Also I have noticed that bikers have the beam on all the time firstly this is against the law and secondly it means the driver will probably be so annoyed that he will brake later knowing the car has four brakes and four wheels or tyres while the biker has two and will be launched over the car and then probably then be driven over cartainly not to drive again. - Miles Stinger

Example 2
I'm sure you're far too busy to be troubled with trifling emails from idiot car drivers like me, but... The picture of "what a car driver sees" is of course the view from his back mirror (cf. the picture of "what a biker sees", which is his view from the front). It is completely insane to suggest that a biker has better road-vision than a car driver.
Furthermore:
1. That bikes are hard to see is not the fault of car drivers. Many more people want to drive cars than want to drive motorbikes, in both the UK and US. The percentage of bikes that get into accidents that harm car drivers is far higher than the percentage of cars that get into accidents that harm other car drivers. Therefore (and for other reasons as well, of course) biking is selfish and anti-social.
2. As far as speed limits are concerned, bikers break the law, all the time. All of them. And by a far greater margin than car drivers ever do. As far as I can tell, bikers, aside from a bit of muttering about 'bad apples', think that they are good enough riders to do this safely. Statistics show otherwise. Moreover, parliament has seen fit to set a speed limit which applies to skilled motorcyclists as well as mere car drivers, so you should stick to it. No car driver should ever have to take precautions against a biker coming round the corner at 150mph.
3. Almost all bikers are ugly. The only way you lot can look cool is by putting on a full-body costume and a helmet that covers your face. If you didn't we'd all be able to laugh at what a bunch of fat loser gaylords you are.
The overall tone of your website gives the impression that you are a complete cunt. So fuck off.
Andy Naylor.

Promoting the killing of motorcyclists on radio.

In January 2006, a "popular" San Francisco-area radio host (Woody, of 105.3) made some seriously anti-motorcycling comments in his morning broadcast. Woody told his listeners "One of my pet-peeves is people on motorcycles who think they don't have to wait in traffic like everybody else... Nothing would make me happier than to watch somebody, and I've actually seen this happen, somebody open a door and take you out as you are trying to squeeze through..."

Well, Woody, you are the idiot for sitting in your cage every day complaining and suggesting that other drivers try to murder motorcyclists. Your premeditation suggests it wouldn't be manslaughter......

To my fellow motorcyclists : don't antagonise the car drivers - check your headlight.

One thing that I get emailed about a lot is car drivers hating motorbikes with badly-adjusted headlights. On the one hand, riding with your lights on makes you more visible, and you could argue a badly-adjusted headlight that dazzles the other drivers is sure to attract their attention. But don't antagonise them - if your low beam is all squiffy and it's pissing car drivers off, you're not helping your image as a motorbike rider. So do yourself a favour and check your headlight aim once in a while. It gives the car drivers one less thing to be irritated about...

And so to my rant about car-only drivers.

blind driver

Know your enemy. I ride a motorbike and I try to put to the back of my mind one simple truth : people who have never ridden a motorbike are totally blind to them. That's not bias or hatred or opinion - that's simple fact backed up by accident statistics the world over. The picture on the right is not an exaggeration. That's exactly how every car driver who's never ridden a motorbike should be considered. If you're a car-only driver and you've got this far, you're probably now stuck in a mental debate about how arrogant I am and how offensive that comment is because it clearly doesn't apply to you. Stop. Don't try to analyse it - you're confused and wrong. This does apply to you. No - stop debating it because you don't understand. You ride around in a 2-ton mobile entertainment complex and you can't see anything further ahead than your own windscreen. Trust me. You are blind to motorcyclists.
As I stated above, over 60% of bike accidents are caused by car drivers. The Booth report, published in 1989, assessed nearly 10,000 motorcycle accidents. It concluded that nearly two-thirds (62%) of motorcycle accidents were primarily caused by the other road user. The report found that two-thirds of motorcycle accidents where the driver was at fault were due to the driver failing to anticipate the action of the motorcyclist or failing to see the motorcyclist. Things have not become any better since then with the advent of cellphones and people texting at the wheel.
Motorcyclists typically don't drive into cars no reason. Now I know this will come as news to some of you, but it's true - we're actually pretty good at staying on our bikes until you fools put metal boxes in our way. I used to ride in England - 120 miles a day commuting to and from work along three of the busiest roads in the country; the M23, M25 and A23. I've learned, just like every other motorcyclist learns, that there's really nothing we can do that will educate you car drivers into seeing us.
I've had people look right at me, and (still looking me right in the eye), pull out into the road. In the UK, it's called SMIDSY - Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You. This is normally what comes out of the mouth of a car driver once you're lying on the road with a broken limb and a written-off motorbike. And it's also the one response most likely to result in a violent lashing out from the motorcyclist. It's pretty obvious you didn't see him - he's lying under your bloody car!
I tried all sorts of things to make myself more conspicuous - flashing lights, luminous strips, loud exhaust, bright clothes. Nothing works. We riders simply have to understand that as a bike rider, we will not be seen by the majority of car drivers. Not only do we have to understand that, but we have to deal with it. It's one of the reasons I love bikes like the Triumph Tiger - I'm up so high up that I can see what is happening way further ahead than most car drivers. I've been riding since 1987 - 2 years in Holland, 12 years in the UK, and the rest of the time in the US. The attitude of car drivers is the same everywhere - they look, but they don't see.
The responsibility then rests with us motorcyclists to ride according to the abject incompetence of car drivers. Most of them don't understand that they are accountable for their behaviour and actions, and most of them have their two A's mixed up - Ability and Ambition.
The bottom line? As a motorcyclist, I'd be just as safe riding a black motorbike wearing black leathers at night with the lights off - because most car drivers will still see the same thing - empty road.
So if you drive a car, and don't ride a bike, and you've read this far, just think about this little rant the next time you go out in your car. See how many motorbikes you can spot if you actually look for them - you'll be surprised and shocked at how blinkered you normally are. USE YOUR EYES!

What the average motorcyclist sees when riding
What the average motorist sees when driving
What's actually there
How a motorists sees the same scene

Threat perception and the average motorist.

The average motorist, when assessing a traffic scene, prioritises things mentally based on threat perception. They don't know they're doing it, but it turns out that a tall, thin object, like a motorbike, is percieved as less of a threat than a short, fat object, like a car. There's some talk of the position of lights on a motorbike helping out this mental awareness. If you put bright lights further apart than normal - say on outriggers - a motorbike will be percieved as more of a threat, and thus register higher in the motorist's scene analysis.
This is all very well, but how does the average motorist's brain deal with the threat perception of a hot cup of Starbucks and a cellphone first thing in the morning. Apparently, clamping a phone to their ear and drinking coffee while driving is also not perceived as a threat, whilst most motorists consider a motorcyclist threatening to look at (leathers, helmet etc - oooooooohhh. Scary....) Yet the same motorcyclist actually on a bike registers so low that the average motorist will look straight through them.

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Chris's tips for car-only drivers

(Because clearly millions of you need to be told)

Eyes
You have two of these, normally located in the front of your head. Use them. Don't just look, but see what's going on. You might spot someone else on the road other than you. I know that comes as a surprise, but there are other people entitled to share the same road space with you. Here's something else - get them tested. In the UK, a 2003 study found that 1 in 7 drivers who didn't think they needed glasses had vision so bad that their licenses could have been revoked.
Brain
You should have one of these. Most humans are issued with one as standard. It's used for a lot of things, and is certainly capable of multitasking. When you're using your eyes (see above) to look in your mirrors (see below), use your brain to interpret the information. Very handy.
Mirrors
The shiny, reflective things in your car. You have at least one, and most modern cars have three. Interestingly, they're not for putting your makeup on, or adjusting your hair. They are in fact to help you use your eyes to see what's behind you without the horrible inconvenience of actually turning your head. Look in them occasionally, you'll be surprised at what you see.
Indicators
You know those pretty little orange lights that light up the corners of your car? I hate to tell you, but they're not decorative elements put there by the designers on a whim. They actually have a purpose. For the 99.999% of us who can't read your thoughts, those are indicator lights, for you to use to indicate to us what you intend to do. They're operated by a stalk on the steering column - you should try them some time. Oh, and when you do, make sure you use them before actually turning. Like I said, most of the rest of us have trouble reading your mind.
Steering wheel
The big circular thing you hold on to when driving. Apparently, not many of you realise that if you turn this, your car will drift from lane to lane. Most often, you also haven't grasped the basic use of the indicators (see above) so the result is that you'll change lanes, probably surprising yourself, and certainly surprising everyone behind you because you didn't tell us you were going to do it. By the way, when you do this, that grating, scraping, crashing sound from the back of the car isn't "ordinary car noises" - it means you've hit someone.
Brakes
Now this is a complicated one. The middle pedal in your manual car, or the left pedal in your automatic, is there to slow you down, and even stop you. I mention this because it seems that when you've committed to a bonehead maneuver, and see the motorbike at the last minute, not many of you realise that pushing this pedal will make you stop. Often, if you stop, it will avoid the accident. You don't have to run into us you know - your car will stop if instructed to do so. I think the problem is that in order to use the brakes, you also need to engage your eyes and your brain at the same time, and for most of you, that does seem to cause some trouble.
Cellphone
Throw the fucking thing away. You can't drive on a good day. Now you're trying to drive while clamping a cellphone to your ear and holding a conversation? I know I said the brain was multitasking, but you know that you can't do all this at the same time. Just throw it away. You're not that important, really - you aren't. And believe me, your phonecall isn't so important that you have to endanger everyone else on the road to take it.
"Sorry, I didn't see you"
This is the phrase that your brain will be desperately trying to get you to say, when you realise that your eyes didn't see the motorbike you just hit because you didn't use your mirrors, brakes or indicators appropriately, and were having an unimportant, inconsequential conversation on your cellphone. You'll step out of the car and find the motorcyclist and you'll be so desperately wanting to say this phrase that you'll not be able to hold back. It's worth knowing that if you do utter these five words to an injured motorcyclist, you are likely to be punched and kicked and otherwise generally assaulted because these are not words that we like to hear. You say "sorry, I didn't see you". What we hear is "I'm a blind fucking moron and my brain doesn't work". These five words are only marginally less offensive than "Are you okay?"
Crash helmet
This is not so much of a tip as a public information service. Now that you've run the motorcyclist down, and pissed him off by telling him you didn't see him, and asking if he's okay, your next course of action will typically be to try to take his crash helmet off. No, no no no no no no no no a thousand times no. Use your brain. You just nearly killed the guy and now you want to remove the one item of protective gear that might be holding his head together after you swatted him with your Buick? Are you totally deranged? No - don't answer that. If you've got this far into the accident, we all know the answer. You're blind, and stupid. We don't need to add deranged to the list.

Proof.

I don't have to ride very long to see shitty car driving. It's important to note that I didn't go looking for trouble to justify what I've written on this page. Far from it - this is a section of video from a review I was doing of motorsports camcorders. Of the 23 drivers who didn't see me in the 30 minutes of footage, this was one of the more entertaining ones.
So note the sequence of events: my lights go green and I pull away. On the right, the BMW driver cruises through his red light without stopping, looks right at me then turns on to the road I'm on. The best bit - he didn't stay in his own lane, but changed lanes mid corner and ended up in my lane in front of me. In the US, he's just broken two laws - 1 - he didn't stop at the red light before turning right, and 2 - he changed lanes in an intersection. So why did I pass him on the inside? Because frankly I've given up with drivers like this. I see no point in pandering to their appalling driving by being inconvenienced by their arrogance and selfishness. I'm sure the BMW driver is wondering why I gave him the finger when I went past him too - he undoubtedly didn't see me, and has no idea he did anything wrong. So take note Idaho plate EGT 4519 - this is for you because you didn't use your eyes, your brain or your mirrors:

Download Video:MP4 : Ogg

Chris's "Thank you" to car drivers.

It seems after a good page-long rant that I should finish the page with a 'thank you' to the other car drivers. Not the 95% of the blind ones who don't see us, but the 5% of the alert ones who do, who compensate for the occasional idiotic maneuver. Ask any motorcyclists - we all do stupid things from time to time whether intentional or not. And once in a blue moon, we're saved from certain injury or death not by our skill, judgment or luck, but by an alert car driver who saw us coming and got out of the way. If you're one of those, I understand how angry you probably are at having been presented with an over-zealous motorcyclist who took a corner too wide and ended up in your lane coming towards you - but thank you for being alert. Now please spread that talent to the other 95% ....