Saturday, June 4, 2016

Motorcycle Safety Dance (or "Always wear your helmet")

Yesterday I took a long bike ride up north along the foothills above Ft. Collins to Laramie and then through the Medicine Bow mountains on Happy Jack road. What a “happy” name, “Happy Jack.”

Happy Jack wasn't old, but he was a man
He lived in the sand at the Isle of Mann
The kids would all sing, he would take the wrong key
So they rode on his head on their furry donkey

Isle of Mann … who knew Happy Jack was a motorcycle song?

No, I wasn’t riding a furry donkey. That would be a Suzuki or a Kawasaki or maybe one of those Spanish bikes, like a DelTaco.

Now, where was I? Oh yes, I am always conscious of SAFETY. Especially when I have my precious wife on the back. I don’t worry that much about me, but I’d hate for any harm to come to her. Safety. That’s my motto.

I always fasten my safety belt. I practice safe sex. I only use safety pins. I keep my money in a safe. All my guns are set on “safe” … and kept in a gun safe. (Not really. I don’t have any guns. Wouldn’t be safe.)

I even dance safe:

We can dance if we want to, we've got all your life and mine
As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it
Everything'll work out right
I say, we can dance if we want to we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're are no friends of mine

I say we can dance, we can dance everything out control
We can dance, we can dance we're doing it wall to wall
We can dance, we can dance everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance everybody's takin' the chance

And that is the topic of today’s screed. Safety. Particularly motorcycle safety.

Motorcycles are inherently more dangerous than automobiles. In the first place, they are not as stable. A little sand in the road or some leaves on a turn and you can end up sliding into first. What would be a minor fender bender in a car, can be a serious accident on a scooter. You don’t have a steel cage around you and, even with appropriate safety gear: helmet, leathers, boots, gloves, crucifix; you just aren’t as safe as in a two ton cage with airbags, bumpers, and collapsing metal parts.

A biker does have some advantages. Even though small size (relative to an SUV) means you aren’t as noticeable, it does mean you can fit in a smaller space … like when that oncoming crazy guy tries to pass on the double yellow line and you have to share the single lane road with an impending collision.

Some argue that the greater maneuverability (and acceleration) of a bike means you can get out of the way. To me it just seems like you get quicker to the scene of the accident.

No, the main safety feature of a motorcycle, in my humble opinion, is your greater vision. There is really nothing to block your view of the road and oncoming hazards. So let’s discuss.

I will give you a visual example. Suppose you had a slice of pizza. Now lay it on the table in front of you with the pointy end toward you and the crust away. No, don’t take a bite out of it. Now that ruined it. Go ahead and finish it.

Now, put another piece of pizza in front of you with the pointy part toward you. It does look good. Pepperoni and Italian sausage. That’s one of my favorites. I’ll just take a little bite. Mmmmm. I’d better finish it now. I didn’t have lunch yet, you know.

Ok. One more time. Take a slice of imaginary pizza. Put it on the table in front of you with the pointy end closest to you. Now this will be our model of your vision.

Look down and focus on the pointy end of the pizza. This is like focusing on the ten feet in front of your bike (while traveling at 60 mph). Sure you’ll have a good view of the detail of the road and road hazards such as potholes and foreign (or domestic) objects in the roadway, but you don’t have the time (or reflexes) to avoid them anyway. Instead, focus down the road.

In our example, that means to look at the crust on the other end of the pizza. Not only is that farther away giving you more time to respond to what you spy, but it also increases your field of vision.

See how the pizza is wider at that end (the crust end). Your vision works the same way (only without anchovies). By focusing on the distance, you actually get a clear view of the entire road and the things alongside the road such as deer, antelope, moose, and skunk; as well as cars, trucks, and large ocean liners approaching at right angles (ninety degrees) to your direction of traffic. Looking to the distance actually expands your vision to the sides. You take in the entire panorama of events unfolding out in front of your motorcycle. (This works with cars too.)

You know about those cars and trucks approaching from the side roads. Sure they have a red light, stop sign, road construction barriers, and police car with flashing lights; but you know they’re going to ignore all that and just pull out in front of you. There’s that guy up ahead turning left. And don’t forget about the U-turners. By focusing on the distance you have more time to respond and your vision … like the pizza … is wider.

Hey, what happened to that last slice of pizza?

Some people argue it is safer to not wear a helmet on a bike because it can block this sideways or “peripheral” vision. It can also block your hearing. Well, that may be true to some extent, but I think that, if you play the odds, it is safer to wear the helmet. Choose a helmet carefully that preserves your side vision. Regarding hearing, with wind noise, etc., the helmet may actually allow you to hear more clearly. It depends on the circumstances and you have to play the odds.

(Someone noted that hockey players have been wearing athletic supporters with a cup for a hundred years, but only added helmet in the last ten. That doesn’t prove anything except that men have their priorities on what is more important to protect.)

Note some people argue that seat belts aren’t safe either because they can trap you in the car after the rollover and you burn up in the wreckage. But I say for every accident where the seat belt trapped someone and caused injury, there are 100 accounts where a no seat belt let the person be thrown from the vehicle and killed or badly injured. You gotta play the statistics.

There are some other advantages to being out in the open besides vision. You also have better hearing than a guy (or gal) in a car or truck with the radio blasting, talking on the telephone, windows rolled up, A/C blasting, and kids in the back fighting.

And don’t get me started on cell phones, texting, Facebooking, YouTubing, Twittering (I know, I know, it’s “tweeting”), or checking the weather reports and trying to write a blog whilst driving. (Wow … “whilst,” now that’s an old-fashioned word. Love it.)

And speaking of pizza and Facebook, also keep an eye in the mirror. Latest motorcycle accident statistics state the most frequent road accident is being hit from behind by a distracted driver. Keep an eye on the rear view mirror when stopped at a light. Keep an escape lane available (remember the narrow bike can go where no car can go) or just split the lane and pull right up to the light. Just don’t get those crazy car and truck drivers mad at you. Avoid eye contact.

I can’t think of a clever way to connect Facebook and pizza to a mirror. Maybe something about a selfie, but I see I’ve run out of time. So TTFN

Now I think I’ll go to my safe place and contemplate safety and the rules of the road. Have a safe ride.

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