Sunday, April 29, 2012

Get real about rider safety

EDIT: Please visit this petition and add your name to the list.  We need to band together to get TAC to start approaching Motorcycle Safety more effectively.

Hi, my name is Ross, and I ride a motorcycle.  I've been riding for 3 years.

2011 was a pretty bad year for me, injury wise.  About half way through the year I had a pretty nasty fall and managed to break a bone in my foot.

A few weeks off riding for that one.

Only a few months after that, I had another nasty accident that resulted in me ripping a flap open in my scalp.  I probably should have gone to hospital for that one, but I didn't.  I was pretty lucky on that occasion, it could have been much worse.

Since I started riding in 2009 I have covered more than 50,000 kilometres on my bike, mostly commuting in city traffic in and out of Melbourne.  I have riden at all times of day and night, in all kinds of weather, all year round.  And I have not had a single accident on the bike.

The injuries above have both happened around the house.  I managed to trip over (actually, into) a baby gate and fall down the stairs, braking my foot; and I attempted to scalp myself by standing up into a sheet of corrugated iron roofing while transporting a cubby house for my daughters.  By all accounts I am safer out on my motorbike than I am being left to my own devices at home.

Being safe on the motorbike is not a matter of luck; there are many things that I do every time I ride to ensure that I am as safe as I can possibly be.  These things range from the protective gear that I wear through to choosing the time of day that I ride, which lane I travel in on the freeway, and where I position myself in my lane at any given point in time. If motorcycle safety was as simple as "don't speed" then I could relax and I would have a lot less to worry about, but the reality is that it is a lot more complicated than that.

I know several riders who have had accidents or incidents and come off their bikes.  Some have been injured, most have gotten up and dusted themselves off.  One friend got knocked off their bike on the freeway, and walked away with only a bruise or two.  One friend lost control of their bike, ran off the road, and died.

Do you know how many of those accidents and incidents were caused by exceeding the speed limit, and would have been prevented if only the rider had travelled at the posted speed?

None.  Not a single one.

In one case the rider was travelling too fast; not that they were speeding, they were not exceeding the speed limit, but they were riding faster than they were capable of, and they lacked the skills to control the bike.  They lacked experience on the bike they were riding, lacked the judgement to realise that they were riding beyond their abilities, and it cost them their life.  In the other cases, the riders fell victim to some of the other hazards we confront every day: target fixation, gravel on the roads, cars changing lanes without checking their mirrors or blind spot.  How many of these accidents could have been avoided if the riders had seen the latest TAC campaign on motorcycle safety?


Wake up TAC.  The time has come to get real about rider safety.  Most of us riders are already playing our part - how about you do yours?

EDIT: Please visit this petition and add your name to the list.  We need to band together to get TAC to start approaching Motorcycle Safety more effectively.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Impact zones

Next time you're going shopping for gear, take a moment to watch the following video.  Apart from being an excellent illustration of a high side, it shows with great clarity the different parts of your gear that take the impact of this sort of crash... or the different parts of your body that will absorb the impact if your gear doesn't.

Take a moment to reflect on what shape this guy would be in if he wasn't wearing decent gear.  And a huge thumbs up to the Brissy Riders Club who uploaded - and presumably filmed - this little gem.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Salvage Operation

Dear TAC,

Do not lose heart, all is not lost.  Here are a couple of ways that you can salvage some of my money that you have wasted on that appalling advert.

Next time, I suggest you do what you said you were going to do last time after you released an offensive and counter-productive TV ad about motorcycling: consult with motorcyclists first.  My consulting rates are very reasonable compared to the money you've already wasted on this.

Sexing it up

Nothing to do with motorcycling but I wanted to vent my spleen nevertheless.

Headline from the front page of The Age:

Three women held over pokie armed robberies

Headline from the article itself:

Three women, man held over armed robberies

How has it become so acceptable, so commonplace for supposedly reputable newspapers to sex up their headlines in order to drive click-thrus?  It makes me both very angry and very sad to see this going on.  Very very sad.

Kawasaki ZXR400 prototype spotted

A few milestones

A few milestones have ticked over in the last few days that are worth commemorating:

Firstly on Anzac Day Andrew and I made it out for a little ride to Daylesford and back.  Some lovely roads out that way, and the weather was much kinder to us than it was to those who attended a dawn service!

Also on Anzac Day I ticked over 15,000 kilometres on the ninja.  At an average of 1,150ks per month I am riding this bike the least of the 3 bikes I have owned (1,200k/month on the Suzuki, 1,400k/month on the Z750) which surprises me, especially since I done far more touring rides and pleasure rides on the ninja than I did on either of the previous bikes.  The flipside of course is that I am commuting less, working one day per week from home on a regular basis (not to mention the dreaded broken toe incident which put me off the bike for a number of weeks).

Today maks the first day that Andrew has ridden his bike in to the city to work - so he is now officially a motorcycle commuter!  I met him at the Calder Park BP so he could have some company on the stretch in through the city traffic, which was pleasant but completely unnecessary.  Andrews competence (and I trust confidence) on the bike is growing daily and he was able to navigate the joys of Melbourne city traffic with ease.   (I note with displeasure that the headlight on his 650 is noticably brighter than that on my ninja; I may have to get myself an after market HID light kit after all!)

Finally it appears that my beloved bluetooth headset is giving up the ghost.  It had great trouble pairing with my phone last night, and this morning has been in the habit of turning itself off whenever it pleases.  I don't hold it against the poor little thing though, I have had 3 years of faithful service out of it and it was worth its weight in gold.  So its time to start sifting through my collection of spare parts to see if I have another working unit that I can replace it with... otherwise back to eBay I go :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Fear over facts

TAC has launched a new campaign targeting motorcyclists - or more likely, their families - today.  Please note I don't say "safety campaign" because it actually contributes nothing to the complex issues of motorcyclist safety.

TAC's accident data for 2011 is as follows:
Of the 49 motorcyclists killed in 2011:
  • 94% were male,
  • 57% occurred in rural Victoria,
  • 47% were involved in crashes between the hours of 10am and 6pm, and
  • 39% of deaths occurred on roads sign posted at 100km/h or more.
  • 53% were involved in single vehicle crashes, 20% were invlolved in head on or overtaking crashes and 14% were involved in crashes with another vehicle at an intersection
To summarise: more than half of motorcycle fatalities happened on rural roads, between 6pm and 10am, were single vehicle accidents, and almost half happened in 100km/h zones. 

Their response to this?  "Speed kills, so slow down in a 60 zone"  I cannot find words to express my disappointment and disgust at the juvenile oversimplification evident in this video.

Other factors to note are that the 5 year average of motorcycling fatalities is 44.8, with a noteable dip in 2009 when the summer was horrendous and bushfires ravaged many areas frequented by riders. Also worth noting is that the number of motorcycles registered in victoria grew from 100,000 in 2003 to over 160,000 in 2007, an increase of over 60% over that time, while nationally motorcycle registrations grew at an average of 8.2% from 2006 to 2011.  In short there are approximately 60,000 more riders now than there were in 2006, and the fatality rate remains roughly the same - 48 in 2006, 49 in 2011.  Of all the possible conclusions and areas to focus on that this data suggests, the message driven home in this video addresses none of them.  TAC I want my motorcycle safety levy back.

Great Roads: Eildon-Jamieson Road

Not for the faint-hearted, the Eildon-Jamieson Road is one of the most intense, spectacular and challenging roads I have ever ridden.

60 kilometres from town to town, the road is sealed from end to end, two lanes the entire length, and the longest straight would be no more than a kilometre or two.

You are met with stunning scenery for the entire journey, climbing and falling along the edges of, and through the heart of native forest.  It also has a beautiful atmosphere of isolation and serenity, and sees very little traffic based on my experience of the road.  It's also the only place I have visited recently when my Telstra phone was unable to offer me any reception at all.  My first trip down this road was solo and rather impromptu, but it occurs to me now that the combination of very little traffic and some challenging decreasing-radius turns and hairpins means you'd be wise to either travel the road with company, or at least let a friend know when you're departing, and drop them an SMS when you safely reach the other end.

Oh and just to state the obvious, there is no fuel on this road, so if in doubt, fill up before you start off.  There's premium unleaded available in Buxton and Jamieson - I didn't fill up in Eildon so I'm not sure what's on offer there.

This is not a road I'd recommend to a beginner rider - at least not if they are trying to work on their cornering technique.  It has plenty of surprises to throw at you, from leaf litter on the road to gravel shoulders that will spread stones across the bitumen when people have pulled over at the lookouts.  The corners are fantastic but there's not a great room for error if you are coming in too hot, and there's many a sheer drop of cliff face for you to target fixate upon if you're nervous.  But if you've got some riding under your belt, and especially if you have a friend or two to ride with, it's hard not to fall in love with this road.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cobb & Co Corners

Just a few corners...

Great Roads: Toolangi (Chum Creek Road)

The road through Toolangi State Forest has everything that a motorcyclist could ever dream of: breathtaking beauty, plenty of twists and turns, enough challenge to keep you focused and on your toes, and minimal traffic to come at you on the wrong side of the road.

From its high point up at Kinglake, this road descends down through the forest and open countryside until you arrive at the hamlet of Chum Creek, just a short burst away from Healesville.  In fact I have never taken the road south to north but I intend to do so at the next opportunity; I prefer travelling uphill to going down.

This road is seared into my memory for another reason also.  It was travelling down through the forest back on my Kawasaki Z750 that I felt I was coming into a left hander too hot, and applied enough rear brake to lock the back wheel.  Needless to say this did nothing to assist me in slowing down and making a more dignified turn, and though there were no serious consequences other than slightly shaken nerves and bruised pride, it was the one definitive moment that convinced me of the value of ABS brakes.  As a result I traded in my faithful Z750 on my beloved Ninja 1000, whose power, agility, and ABS brakes I have come to adore and be most grateful for over the last year of riding.  I find it difficult to overstate the confidence it engenders in the rider to be able to apply rear brake to tighten up a turn without fear of a rear end lock up.  So Toolangi has a very special place in my rider's heart for this as well.

Oh and did I mention how absolutely, awe inspiringly beautiful it is?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cobb & Co Road

Thanks Ali for the pic :)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bike Essentials: Rescue Tape

I'm starting to compile a little list of essential items to keep under your seat when you go riding, and the most important item on that list is Rescue Tape.

After an unfortunate and untimely separation of the toe of a gear pedal from the rest of the pedal, my comrade was considering the possibility of riding 50 kilometres to the nearest town in first gear, then having the bike towed back to Melbourne.  Then we remembered the rescue tape under his seat, and with the addition of a thin spanner from my toolkit to act as a splint, we elevated motorcycle first aid to a new plane, and the McGuyver Gear Pedal was born.

The goal was to be able to get access to a couple more gears on the move and make the trip back to Melbourne both possible and more comfortable than being stuck in one gear.  When we stopped for a break part way back however, I asked how The McGuyver was holding up, and it turns out that it felt so solid and normal that he had at times forgotten that he was riding with a repair job holding the gear pedal together!  An impressive result for Rescue Tape I must say!

I had heard vaguely of rescue tape before now, and thinking that it was just a fancy name for ordinary tape threw a role of gaffa tape under my seat.  I see now how wrong that assumption was.  The Rescue Tape comes in a roll lined with plastic, much like the self-seal envelopes have the wax paper cover over the adhesive that you have to rip off to seal the envelope.  And the reason for this plastic layer is the same - the Rescue Tape bonds to itself when it comes into contact with more Rescue Tape.  This allows you to create "bandages" of rescue tape far stronger bond than is capable with ordinary gaffa tape.

So do yourself a favour... find your old pocket knife that you haven't carried around with you for years, and pop it under your seat along with a roll of Rescue Tape.  You can buy it online (ebay works for me) which is what I'm about to do myself.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Great Roads: Old Healesville Road

A little jaunt yesterday took me down Old Healesville Road.  It's a great stretch of tarmac - quick, free flowing, with gorgeous views and some fun bends.

Traffic is light and visibility is good if you're not riding in the fog, so next time you're making a pilgrimage to the spurs, consider heading up through the Christmas Hills and down this little gem of a road.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ducati - sold

What did the Italian say to the German?  That will be $1.1 billion, please!

Yup it's true.  Audi, the proud owners of Bugatti and Lamborghini, have added Ducati to their stable of boutique motoring companies.  Let's hope this means that we'll see Ducati staying at the top of their game.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rainbird Jacket of Sexy

 With the demise of daylight savings, it's time to start thinking about visibility.  This winter I've decided to give Rainbird a go.

 I picked up this quilted fluro vest from Aussie Disposals for $40, though I think that was reduced from $50.  It's a robust little number, with a waterproof exterior, a quilted lining, a soft lined collar, and a nice strong zip.  It has a pocket on each side, and generous lashings of reflective tape to aid with visibility.

I'm a large lad, and this 2XL vest does up over the top of my leathers.  To be fair, I would probably prefer a 3XL just to have a little more room, but the 2XL is doing the job.

The collar of the vest is quite high - if I zip it up all the way it comes to the base of my helmet.  It's the first time since I started riding that I haven't had a cold neck on the frosty mornings.

Did I mention that this vest is hot?  And I don't mean in a Kath 'n Kim sense either - this vest is very, very warm.  For those like myself who come with natural insulation, this is more likely to be a winter vest rather than a 4 seasons vest.  In the 5 degree mornings I'm appreciating it, but in the 18 degree evenings it's a bit too warm to have zipped up all the way.

If you're struggling with the cold temperatures on the other hand, something like this could be just what the doctor ordered.  It's very effective at blocking out wind, and I reckon it will do a fine job of keeping the rain off in the event of passing showers and persistent drizzle.  It's no substitute for a storm jacket, but I've only worn one of those maybe twice in my riding life, whereas this vest I'm wearing every commute.

While the wind-proof, water-proof qualities of this vest are a definite bonus, at the end of the day it's the extra visibility in traffic that's the clincher for me.  If you're not convinced, compare these photos below, both shot in the low-beam headlight of my Ninja 1000.  As much as I hate to admit it, if it weren't for the tail light on the bike I would be invisible in my leathers after dark.  The Rainbird Vest makes all the difference in the world; and given that difference is potentially the difference between the car behind me seeing me and not, I'm pretty satisfied with this purchase.

App Review: iLean for iPhone

 Next app up for review is iLean.  Again this app is lean angle oriented, but iLean uses accelerometer data to measure bike lean as you go, which arguably should give a very accurate reading of how far over the bike is getting.

Alas my morning commute is not the ideal time to test an app like this, since I get bogged down in much more traffic on the way in; also due to the time I left this morning the freeway was too congested for me to be able to cut across to Yarra Boulevard, so there were no really tasty twisties for me to give the app a workout and see what it could do.  Nevertheless, trying it out this morning gave me ample opportunity to sample iLean's strengths and weaknesses.

First order of business is to calibrate the app such that it knows which direction represents forward motion.  Since I was "mounting" the phone in the pocket on top of a tank bag again, I was pleased to see that I was able to specify the phone's Y axis as the direction of travel.

Once that is set up, the app gives you a period of time (1 minute, 2 minutes etc) to mount the phone onto your bike before it starts recording the journey.  This is probably a very nice feature if you are mounting the phone somewhere that can't be easily reached from your normal riding position.  Another nice feature of this app is that it claims to be multi-tasking capable - that is, you can run it in the background and it will continue to capture the telemetry of your journey - something that not many of the apps I've seen are capable of.  This would allow you to use the camera of the phone to film your ride while iLean captures the data.

Alas, that's where the good stuff of this app ran out for me.  Having recorded my journey in to work, I found that my review options were limited to an animated simulation of the ride or a map review.

The animated review shows you a clear picture of what your lean might have looked like.  However whereas BikeTrip breaks your journey up into detected "bends", iLean doesn't.
 Instead, iLean gives you a "movie" of the animation, which you can watch in real time or quick time.  Personally I would prefer to be able to jump straight to a certain bend and check out the stats, but that certainly isn't possible from the animation view.

It might be possible from the map view, I simply don't know.  When I tried to access the map view I got a screen with a great big question mark, and that was all I ever saw, whether on 3G or on a full wireless network.  At this point I find myself uninstalling the app; and unless you have the patience of a saint or a zombie, I'd recommend saving yourself the trouble and simply not installing it in the first place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

App Review: BikeTrip for iPhone

I've decided to take a look at some of the apps that are available on the iPhone for riders, so tonight I gave BikeTrip a test run.

BikeTrip is free for the first 20 trips, after which time you need to buy the full app via in-app purchase.  At the moment it's priced at US$1.99 which, based on my experience on the ride home this evening, I will be spending without any hesitation.

First up, this application is battery hungry.  In fact it isn't the app itself, but rather the GPS chip that chews the battery, and if you want to poll the GPS system often for accurate readings, you're going to pay for it in juice.  I consumed approximately 30% battery in the one hour trip home.  I think that using this app on a long trip requires the ability to plug your iPhone into your bike to charge as you ride, but I anticipate that any app in this genre is going to have this same limitation.  I'm looking at a waterproof case for the phone with a mount and charging kit on eBay for about $100, and I'll review it if/when I get my hands on it.

 Without a doubt, BikeTrip is all about the bends.  Yes it tracks your distance, elevation and ascent, but what we really want to know is how fast / how far over did we go around that corner?  And BikeTrip comes to the party, albeit in a slightly cumbersome way.

In addition to showing you the map plot of your route, it lists all the bends that it detected in your trip, along with the lean angle, speed, and turn duration in degrees. 

From this list of bends (which can be sorted either in chronological or lean angle order) you can then click through to see that bend on the map.

For this test run I "mounted" the iPhone in the pocket on top of my tank bag.  Some of the apps I have previously looked at wanted to be calibrated in terms of the direction of movement it should expect, presumably due to a heavy reliance on the device's accelerometers to determine or measure lean angles.  There was none of that with BikeTrip, it just appeared to work.  Whether that is because the accelerometer information has improved (I think the last time I was using an iPhone 3, I am now on a 4) or whether it is because BikeTrip is more heavily reliant upon the information from the GPS and less on the accelerometers I don't know, but it was certainly nice to just slip it into the little pocket on top the tank bag and watch it do its thing, and come out with angles that on the face of it seem pretty reasonable.  Certainly the tightest leans that it recorded (31 and 27 degrees respectively) correspond to 2 of my favourite corners.  I'll review this data when I have the phone mounted to the bike just to confirm it is consistent.

Two features I would like would be the ability to export the data, and the ability to step through the bends in the map view rather than selecting the corner from the list to see it on the map, then click back to select the next one.  It would be ideal to have a previous & next button available to walk through the bends, so to speak.  But for the current price of US$1.99 I am delighted with what this app delivers, and I'll be very surprised if any of the other contenders convince me not to pony up for this little gem.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bike Camping Gear

I haven't tried it all out yet, but I thought I'd throw up a list of what I've got for camping trips on the bike, just for the sheer pleasure of it.

Tent - High Country "Dargo" Hike Tent
Sleeping bag - Roman Palm IV
Sleeping mat - Thermarest ProLite
Cooking - JetBoil

I can fit all this in my tank bag, if I expand it to its maximum size, and still have a little room to spare.  That said, I can no longer see the speedo over the top of the bag!  But compromises must be made... I'm working on a solution for keeping an eye on the speedo.

That leaves me my tail bag for clothes and food.  If I ever go on a longer trip I will invest in some panniers to complement the tail bag and allow me to take a bit more stuff.

Once I've tried it out, I'll let you know how it goes!  But my sleeping bag is only a 2-3 season affair so it will probably not be until spring that I get to go camping.

Another what not to do

Speaks for itself, but if you want to, you can read some commentary.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

throttle control

The slow motion replay on this should be required viewing for anyone wanting to avoid lowsiding in the twisties.  Keep an eye on his right (throttle) wrist from about 0:13 onwards, and then repeat to yourself "I will be smooth on the throttle" a few hundred times.

It's worth watching this in a larger window or full screen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Easter bike blitz

According to The Age, Victoria Police will be out blitzing motorcyclists for our own safety this Easter.
Police will have a strong presence at camping and holiday areas including Mansfield, Noojee, Erica, Walhalla, Kinglake, Toolangi and Tallarook.
Promoting safe riding is obviously a passion of mine, so I'm in sympathy with the aim of allowing motorcyclists to pursue their hobby (passion, addiction) safely and free from impediments.  Nevertheless I get concerned when police announce that they will be targeting a group of road users in exactly the same way they announce that they are targeting speeding, drink-driving, or other driving offenses.

Still, apart from tomorrow the weather is looking pretty crap for the easter weekend so I'm guessing that it won't affect many people anyway.  :-/

Bike of the year

Just wanted to gloat share that Motorcyclist Magazine declared my beloved Ninja 1000 as their bike of the year for 2011.  I'm pleased but not overly surprised to find that this bike has received the acclaim that it deserves... it is an excellent all-rounder that is a hoot to ride.  I would love to see it come out with selectable traction control modes - I was about to say that selectable power modes would be nice too, but I actually don't think the bike needs it, its power is so user friendly that I'm not sure I'd bother with the power modes - but their kick-arse traction control system off the ZX-10R would just round this bike off perfectly in my opinion.

Thus far it appears that Kawasaki have been listening to what today's riders want... let's see what they throw in for the 2013 model of the N1K.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What not to do

I'm in the practice of watching motorcycle crash videos (and listening to crash stories / keeping abreast of accidents in the news) so that I can analyse what went wrong and attempt to identify what I would do differently to prevent that outcome from happening to me.

Sometimes this is a very sobering passtime, when accidents happen that I struggle to see a safe path to avoiding.  The recent tragedy at Kinglake is one such incident that has spurred me to look at booking in for advanced rider training again, since I believe one would need to have been at the very top of one's game to be able to handle or minimise the risk to life of that particular situation.

Then there are the times that I come across videos like this one, which reinforce my acceptance of Darwin's work.  I'll let you draw your own conclusions and lessons from it!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ninja 650L

I got to ride my brother Andrew's 2012 Ninja 650L last night.  Given the Ninja 1000 is my daily ride, I was very keen to see what they'd done to little brother ninja, and I wasn't disappointed!

The first thing I noticed was how low it is!  It's not a small bike, and given it handled my 5"9'ish height without a hassle I reckon that even those who are pushing over 6" will find this bike comfortable to ride, but the seat is quite low, and the chassis is quite narrow, which means that it's a breeze to put both your feet flat on the ground - an attribute not to be undervalued on your first bike!  It also feels very light - at least compared to my Ninja - and I suspect that many riders could catch and hold the bike up with their leg muscles in the event of a stationary drop or side-stand mistake.

The 2 cylinder engine has a nice rumble to it, and while it won't tear your arms out of their sockets it is prepared to get a bit of a wriggle on when you give it some juice; again, I think it's hit the mark perfectly for a learner bike.

I found the little "eco" light that displays on the clocks when you're not accelerating fast enough to be a questionable use of dashboard real estate, especially when Kawasaki could have put a gear indicator there which arguably would have been much more useful for a beginner rider.  But everything about the bike comes across as well finished, and even a little refined, such as the adjustable clutch and brake levers (which is more than the brand new Z1000 boasts).

It has a much more tactile ride than my old Suzuki GS500 offered, though perhaps I'm a better rider now than I was when I had the GS and so I can appreciate such qualities more now, but it happily tipped into the corners without fuss or feeling at all unsettled, and it stopped quite smartly and predictably without any dramas at all.  Oh and it comes with ABS as standard, so no rear lock-ups on this bike.

For those who don't like paying for new fairings after a character-building experience, I believe that the ER-6nL is for all intents and purposes the same bike in naked guise, but to be honest I think the Ninja is much more attractive that the cyclopsian nose of the naked, and if you're thinking of commuting on it I reckon the wind protection is worth its weight in thermals.  Still it's horses for courses, but with 650ccs of power and ABS to help you rein it in, I reckon the Kawasaki Ninja 650L is going to be hard to beat for LAMS bikes this year.  If you're thinking of taking up riding, this is one bike to put on your list to check out.