Sad, But True

tommy-Aquino-3I know not every reader of the Zone Blog follows motorcycle roadracing, so you may not have heard about the recent death of 21 year old young gun Tommy Aquino who was involved in a collision with a fellow rider while training at a motocross track in California. Even though Tommy’s death occurred on a motocross track, it is one more example of the sad realities of riding a motorcycle, whether on the dirt or the street.

It Happens

I don’t know the details of Tommy’s crash, but knowing that he was a very skilled rider begs the question, “If it can happen to him, what chance do I have?” Of course, most of you aren’t training to become a future world champion, but that doesn’t mean that you are immune to a similar fate.
The fact is that the public roads present as many or more dangers as a motocross track. Safety guru Larry Grodsky died while riding home from a safety conference. My friend and coworker, Chappy lost his life commuting home after work. My wife’s cousin died on a Sunday ride with a friend. The list of street riders who have died goes on and on.
I often say that most crashes are avoidable, and I stand by that statement, but the reality is that even the best riders can find themselves at the pointy end of a bad crash. Larry Grodsky is an excellent example, but there are many others.
Fred Rau, a colleague at Motorcycle Consumer News wrote a poignant column in the latest issue about a fellow rider who met his end on a group ride. The article illustrates the cold truth that sometimes shit happens even to the best riders. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the only reason his friend is dead now.
Hopefully, you all understand the realities of motorcycle safety and act accordingly. Not that you should ride scared or never push the envelope from time to time, but one key to survival is to know the real risks of riding and how to manage those risks. Unfortunately, many riders don’t take risk management seriously enough.

Don’t Give Up, Get Smart

I’ve been riding motorcycles for almost 40 years and have survived this long partly because of luck, but mostly because I am very conscientious of where and how I ride. I don’t take my safety for granted.
I’m not saying that those who have met their demise were not conscientious. What I am saying is that life is unpredictable. But, we can minimize the risks.
Read this post to learn how.
And this one.

Risk versus Reward

I often tell people who are on the fence about whether they should ride a motorcycle to carefully measure the risk versus reward ratio. If there is not a big payback in terms of enjoyment, then I suggest they find something else to do. The reward must match or exceed the risk.
This is what I told my daughter Jeannine when she first started riding on the street back in 2006. I wanted her to know that the decision she was making to become a street rider had serious consequences. Of course, intellectually, she knew this, but it is important that we remind ourselves frequently about the risks of straddling a two-wheeled machine and then riding it at speed.
Is your risk to reward ratio acceptable to you?

Fight Complacency

If you haven’t evaluated your mental and physical skill sets lately, I suggest you do so. Why? Because it’s too easy to become complacent about the importance of excellent survival strategies and riding skills. As we ride more and more miles without incident, we gradually assume that we have this riding thing figured out and that the bad things won’t happen to us. Wrong!
We can’t control everything, but we can hedge our bets by increasing our knowledge and skill and making sure our behavior is in line with minimizing the risks of riding a motorcycle. Take this post as a reminder to do all you can to be the best rider you can be.

Proficiency-PledgeProficiency Pledge

Earlier this past year, I included a pledge in one of my MCN columns to encourage readers to think about their responsibility to be the best they can be. Take this pledge for yourself AND for the ones who love you. Feel free to add your own points.

Pledge:
  1. I will expand my knowledge of motorcycling safety and control through continual reading, and by taking one formal safety/skills course per season.
  2. I will practice my physical skills on my own to keep them sharp.
  3. I will wear protective gear on every ride.
  4. I will develop mental strategies for managing traffic and other hazardous situations.
  5. I will never ride while intoxicated or impaired in any way.
  6. I will choose not to ride if my ability to manage hazards is compromised.
  7. I will choose not to ride with others who do not share my commitment to safety.

Signed:___________________________
Feel free to copy this pledge and print it out.*
Then hang it on your garage wall and give a copy to each of the people who care about you.
*Anyone wanting to distribute this pledge to more than their immediate friends and family should contact me for permission.
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Tell Me Where it Hurts

Say no more.
Say no more.

The type of injuries sustained by motorcycle riders may not be what you think. We all know that a traumatic bonk on the head is the most likely way to become dead. The brain just cannot handle being bashed around inside your cranium without suffering some bleeding or bruising.
That’s why those who understand the risks of riding a motorcycle wear helmets, and not those skull cap, yamaka, pseudo brain buckets, but a real DOT or ECE (“Economic Commission for Europe), or Snell approved unit; preferably one with really cool colors and graphics (if that’s your thing).

Legs and Feet

Take a look at the pie graph (mmmm, pie, source: CDC). While the head and neck are understandably high on the list of parts we injure. Statistically, it is even more likely that you will have some pretty beat up the legs and feet.
I’ve experienced this first and second hand. I’ve broken a foot from a parking lot tipover (note to self: remove disc lock before flight, dumbass) and tore my ACL (it’s in the knee) from a dirt biking tipover. And Caroline broke her foot falling over in gravel on (or should I say “off”) the racetrack.
This is why I wear armored boots and riding pants with knee armor. I guess most other riders in the U.S. have not heard this fact, because very few I see wear more than sneakers and jeans with the occasional person of questionable intelligence wearing flip-flops and shorts.

Really?
Really?

Leg Protection

As a person who promotes track days, I often get questions about what riding gear is acceptable when riding on the track. Most serious riders have riding jackets that are decent enough to pass tech at some track days, like Tony’s Track Days. So, that usually isn’t a problem. But, invariably when I ask about what riding pants they have, they look puzzled and say “None. I ride in jeans”. Oops.
I get it. I didn’t begin wearing riding pants until after I had been riding for about 15 years. That’s when I started thinking more about the risks of riding. Back then, there weren’t a lot of riding pants to choose from.
I discovered that Motoport gave a discount to MSF instructors, so I bought an Ultra II overpant that I wore for several seasons. It provided years of comfort and protection. And from the looks I got from the ladies, it looked good, too. OK. there were no ladies, but I can dream, can’t I?
I digress. Today, there are tons of options in protective pants that are not expensive and offer pretty good protection from at least minor leg injuries.

Lookin' good in my Motoport Riding pants.
Lookin’ good in my Motoport Riding pants.

Now, I always wear leg protection when I ride, usually my high-dollar MotoPort Ultra II stretch Kevlar zip-on uber-pants. I know these look good because I’ve been told so (by my wife, but she counts, right?) These are undoubtedly the most comfortable and protective pants I’ve seen, except when it gets to be over 85 F.
But now I have another option. Jeannine just bought me my first pair of Kevlar jeans (with knee armor). I was quite surprised at how well they fit and looked (maybe the ladies will notice me now). I haven’t worn them yet, but I like having the option of wearing protective pants that look “normal” when I walk into a store.
Twisted Throttle (and others) sell armored mesh pants that offer great ventilation and enough protection for one small-to-medium sized crash. That’s enough to make them well worth their relatively inexpensive cost.
Do yourself, your knees and your legs a favor and wear protective pants.
touring boots are comfortable with good protection.
Touring boots are comfortable with decent protection.

Foot Fetish

Caroline and my foot injuries happened even though we were both wearing motorcycle boots, which just goes to show you that not all boots are equal. Had I been wearing my Sidi race boots at the time I may have avoided the broken foot…maybe.
But, I was on a street ride where I was doing a fair amount of walking, so I was wearing my touring boots. These are good, but are a compromise between protection and comfort. I’m in the market for new street boots and will be selecting one that leans a bit more toward protection than my current boots.
Believe it or not, even with my history of foot injuries, I do ride wearing work boots from time to time. Convenience and practicality sometimes trump maximum protection.

race boots aren't made for walkin'
race boots aren’t made for walkin’

What injuries have you suffered? Is the pie chart in line with your experiences?


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5 Bad Habits You Must Fix, NOW!

Crash-SignNo matter how “good” a rider you are, it’s likely that you have at least a few bad habits and attitudes. Poor habits and dangerous perceptions can develop over time without us even knowing it. That is, until we experience a close call or crash. Let’s take a look at a few bad habits that many riders possess.

1. Believing You’re a Better Rider than you Are

A lot of RITZ blog readers would be considered “experienced” riders. But, the truth is that experience alone does not make you a proficient rider. I can’t begin to count how many so-called experienced riders I’ve encountered who demonstrate a significant lack of proficiency. Unfortunately, unless the rider admits that he or she has a problem and asks for advice, their poor riding will continue indefinitely and ultimately lead to a mishap.
Unsolicited advice usually is not appreciated, so knowledgeable riders are reluctant to share their wisdom to the riders who need it most. Attempts to enlighten the problem rider often results in exclamations about how many years of riding experience they have and that they know all they need to know to get by…never really knowing the danger they are in.
The solution? First, take a good look in the mirror. What skills are you lacking? (I’m sure there are many, but let’s stick with motorcycle-related skills for now). Next, get the knowledge and training you need to bring all of your skills up to snuff. Thirdly, remind yourself that what skills you have are perishable and need to be kept fresh.
Promise yourself that you will purposefully practice braking, turning, and swerving. It doesn’t have to take a lot of effort to keep skills sharp. Learn about proper cornering technique and then practice it on your Sunday rides. And be sure to learn about all the ways to keep yourself safe in traffic and practice on your way to work every day. Over time, you just might become as good as you think you are.

Always remember that you are vulnerable...and hard to see.
Always remember that you are vulnerable…and hard to see.

2. Forgetting You Are Vulnerable

Experience can often lead to complacency. If you ride many miles without an incident, you are at risk of thinking that riding a motorcycle is not as dangerous as it’s made out to be. This perception leads to many crashes and fatalities. Complacency and overconfidence can occur when you don’t recognize subtle signals that indicate just how close you are to catastrophe.
Get into the habit of recognizing clues that should alert you to threats. Make a concerted effort to scan the landscape and roadway for anything that can turn into a hazard, such as a reflection on the windshield of a car that is rolling toward you. Ask yourself whether the driver sees you and what are the chances that he will accelerate in front of you.
Evaluate each clue to determine whether you can reliably read what is being communicated. For instance, direct eye contact with the driver may indicate that the he sees you, but don’t count on it!

What's around that corner?
What’s around that corner?

3. Assuming the Coast is Clear

You know what they say about making assumptions, right? “They make an ASS out of U and ME”.
One of the most problematic situations is when a motorcycle is approaching an intersection with other drivers waiting to turn left across the rider’s lane. Part of the problem is that the approach speed of a narrow vehicle is much harder to judge compared to a wide vehicle. This is why motorcyclists experience drivers “cutting them off”.
The drivers aren’t necessarily out to get you; they more likely misjudged your approach speed and thought that they had plenty of time to make the turn. The message is to never assume that a driver who appears to see you will not cut in front of you. See “The Top 2 Survival Tips That Will Save Your Life” for more on this topic.
A lot of riders also assume the coast is clear around corners. Depending on the region you ride in, many, or even most corners you encounter do not provide a clear view of the corner exit. Hillsides, vegetation and roadside structures all conspire to block your vision.
Too many riders approach corners at a speed that does not allow the time and space to stop or maneuver if a mid-corner hazard were present. It’s a good idea to enter blind turns slow enough so you can confidently avoid a hidden hazard. If no hazard exists, then you can roll on the throttle and accelerate safely though the turn with no drama.

Caroline
Caroline wears ATGATT

No Gear=Greater Risk of injury
No Gear=Greater Risk of injury

4. Not Wearing ATGATT

ATGATT is an acronym that stands for “All The Gear, All The Time”.  MY definition of “All the gear” means helmet, appropriate eye protection, jacket and pants with protective armor, gloves, and over-the-ankle boots. The obvious reason for buying and wearing all this gear is for protection in the event of a crash. Since motorcycle riders don’t have bumpers, airbags, crumple zones and safety glass surrounding us, we must wear our protection.
Unfortunately, way too many motorcyclists choose not to wear full protective gear. In states where helmet laws are enforced, riders are compelled to wear this most important piece of protective gear, but helmet choice states leave the option of helmet use to the rider. Whether you agree with helmet laws or not, it’s hard to dispute the benefits of having a helmet strapped to your head when you and your bike separate at speed.
Currently, no states require any other protective gear to be worn, with the exception of eye protection. This means that you can ride legally in a tank top, shorts and sandals. Good luck with that.
The reasons why riders do not wear protective gear often include image, peer pressure (you gotta look cool), and cost. But, there is plenty of inexpensive protective gear that meet most rider’s fashion sensibilities while providing decent protection (at least for a single crash).

Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.
Both speed and lack of visibility caused this crash.

5. Being an Idiot

This topic can cover a lot of ground, but let’s focus on your attitude when you ride. This pretty much means riding with your head securely screwed onto your neck. Letting destructive influences like ego, peer pressure, intoxication, and distraction make decisions for you will eventually lead to a hospital visit. So, just say no to stupidity. ’nuff said.
What would you add to this list of bad habits?
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"Why We Ride" Movie Review

My wife hates it when I dissect a movie after seeing it. She would say, “Can’t you just enjoy what it has to offer?”. Well, at the risk of alienating my RITZ blog readers who really want to like the “Why We Ride” movie, I will now poop on your parade.
Speaking of poop, please take my opinion as what it is. You know what they say about opinions? No? They say, “Opinions are like ***holes: everyone has one, and most stink”. Well, hold your nose because here is my opinion.
Before I give you my review, take a look at the trailer:

Pretty good, huh? Let’s see what it’s really like…

Beautiful Videography
Beautiful Videography

Video Craftsmanship: A-

The trailer gives a good impression of the visual quality of the film, which is very, very good. The videography is beautiful and inspirational. But, what is up with all the slow-mo?
I love super-slow motion footage, especially the shots of Moto GP racers dragging elbow. And the footage of the rubber-mounted Harley Davidson XR1200 race bike engines rocking in their frames at idle made me LOL.
But, there is a thing called “too much of a good thing”. The slow motion stuff was cool for about half the film, but unfortunately, it went on and on and on and on.
And why on earth would you show only slow motion footage of race bikes on the high banks of Daytona and never show how it really feels at over 170 mph? I know plenty of friends who could have provided some awesome on-bike video that would have driven home the craziness of the Daytona banking at speed. All they needed was one or two trackside shots of a bike flying by to paint a better picture.
I’ll admit that the super-slow stuff is fun to watch, but it kinda distanced me from what riding is really like. I get that the director was wanting to set a tone of romance and wonder, but for an enthusiast, I was a bit bored toward the middle of the film, partly because the action wasn’t really engaging at slow motion. It comes off more as a parlor trick.

Music: C-

The sappy music department worked overtime on this film. Again, I get what they were trying to do, and I’m sure the violin music hit a sentimental chord (ha, ha) with a lot of viewers, but it tried too hard. Mix it up with some raunchy head smacking tunes now and again to represent the vigor that many of us experience when riding. I can understand why they might not want to represent motorcyclists as people who relate to AC/DC (or whatever floats your boat), but everyone knows that motorcycle riders aren’t typical people who gaze with soft-focus at our bikes with violin virtuosos playing quietly in the background. My iPod tends to stream tunes that are a bit less somniatic (It means “puts me to sleep”… and I know it’s not a real word, I looked it up).

The message is all about family, fun and adventure.
The message is all about family, fun and adventure.

Overall Message: B+

The message this film delivers is “riding a motorcycle is fun”. Duh! I am reminded of the introductory video shown to new MSF students at the beginning of their first classroom session. It’s a lovely little diddy about the joy of riding a motorcycle. It includes many of the same things “Why We Ride” has, including fun action shots (at full speed) and interviews with interesting people. But, the message is delivered in about 5 minutes. “Why We Ride” took one point five hours to deliver the same basic message.
Granted, the film is intended to deliver more than a message, it is also about entertainment (maybe more so). So, in that regard it is worth the extra hour and 25 minutes.
Here is the Motorcycle Safety Foundation “Welcome to the Ride” video:

Is “Why We Ride” worth Seeing?: A

Yes. The fun shots of the families and kids are priceless, as are the interviews with some of my motorcycling heros, which makes the film well worth seeing.
I was totally loving the film during the first third and then they unmercifully started beating the poor dead horse. I get it, I get it. Riding is awesome and people who DO NOT ride are missing out on life. I couldn’t agree more.
It’s a movie that you will want your family and friends to see as an attempt to convey just why you ride a motorcycle. They still might think you’re nuts, but it’s worth a shot.
Both enthusiasts and regular people will like this film, as long as you don’t expect a groundbreaking classic here. For that, rent “On Any Sunday” , or if you love roadracing try “Faster” and the sequel “Fastest” (see trailers below).
But,  that’s just my opinion…what is that smell?

My Movie Picks:

On any Sunday:

Faster:

Fastest:

How about buying a book?

How about buying a t-shirt for yourself or a loved one, or maybe a coffee mug?

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Ask Me How I Know- Epoisode 1: Tire Terror

I can imagine that a lot of fellow riders who know me may have a hard time imagining me screwing up. This is because unless you’ve actually seen me screw up, you’re left with a somewhat unreal impression of me as a competent, knowledgeable motorcycle rider who does no wrong. After all, I can talk about advanced riding concepts with a tone of confidence and I ride well enough to back up the impression that I know what I’m talking about.
Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant (am I too late?), I do think I have earned a place at the table with some accomplished motorcycle riding pros. I’m not the fastest guy or the most eloquent, but I have a knack for communicating practical knowledge, both in print and in person.
But, the fact is that a lot of my knowledge has come from some epic screw ups. Let’s step into the way-back machine and re-experience a near-death experience when I was 16 years old.

Don't let this happen to you.
Don’t let this happen to you.

Tire Terror

It was 1976 and I was riding my 1973 Yamaha TX650 behind some friends in their car. Being a teen whose awesomeness was never fully recognized, I took the opportunity to show my four-wheeled friends what coolness looks like, so I accelerated past them to an indicated 100mph. Just before I reached the end of the straight, the Yamaha started wobbling and weaving so violently that I couldn’t make the right-hand turn that was inconveniently placed at the end the straightaway.
What happened next is a bit of a blur, but I somehow stayed upright in a drainage ditch, threaded between a row of telephone poles and trees, and landing upright on someone’s driveway with my heart pounding out from under my Sears windbreaker. My friends drove up and stopped with mouths wide open. With a “I meant to do that” swagger, I rode home at under the speed limit. Later, I asked my brother what could have caused the problem. After a little investigation we determined that  my bald no-name rear tire was likely to blame.
The Lesson: When you ride on a bald rear tire, keep it under 100 mph. Naw, just kidding. How about, always have new tires so you can go 100 mph anytime you want. Wait, that’s not quite right either. I know! Replace your tires before they reach the tread wear indicators so they don’t cause you to have a near death experience. We’ll go with that.


Stay Tuned for Part 2 for more fun when I reveal how being a good Samaritan exposed me to another near death experience.
Learn from my experiences by ordering the book.


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