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THE ZEN OF MOTORCYCLE RIDING
"Excellence is never an accident; it is always the result of high
intention, determined effort, and skilled execution. The gem cannot be
polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials."
JOHN LEE: "Does the current government emphasis on waging a
drunk-driving and a 'drink-driving' war divert attention from the real
causes of injury and death, such as uncrashworthy vehicles" [and
driver/rider skid-recovery skills]?
FREE VIDEO DOWNLOAD: American Autobahn
CURES FOR CRASHES:
Millions of Americans love motorcycling, and over 300,000 new motorbikes are purchased every year, at an investment of up to $40,000 each—a lot of money for a "mood" vehicle. Women as well as men love to ride, and women (who compose 52% of the population) are expected to eventually command 50% of the bike market. Used motorbikes can be rescued for as little as $100, and with the help of a repair manual and basic tools, can make this sport accessible to almost everyone (find an ex-rider who has scared himself silly after looking into the abyss of ignorance one time too many). A 1998 exhibition at New York's Guggenheim Museum, titled "The Art of the Motorcycle," was the single most popular exhibition in the museum's 61-year history. What other category of American motorist is willing to wave at every fellow traveler he passes on the highway? (Is this friendliness or loneliness?)
Out of ignorance and jealousy, motorcyclists are often stereotyped as "outlaws" by government and media bureaucrats. (Of course, many bikers love this cliché.) Some brainless government agencies actually tear up perfectly good highways and replace them with surprise sections of bumpy ("grooved") road surfaces that are intentionally unsafe for citizens who travel by motorcycle (and are also unsafe for four-wheel transportation as well). Other government bureaucrats propose making it illegal for taxpayers to park their motorcycles in their cities (even though it would cure the parking shortage if more commuters rode motorbikes). Many downtown parking areas are controlled by corporations that charge a fee for daily or monthly parking, and automatically ban all citizens who ride motorcycles. A snooty reporter for The New York Observer whinged about the "noisy, nasty nuisance of motorcycles on the road" when critiquing the Guggenheim art exhibit. Ever since Peter Fonda and Jack Nicolson acted in the Hollywood fantasy film Easy Rider thirty years ago, "bikers" have gotten a bum rap (among those who have not yet seen the movie). Never mind that only wealthy people can afford to purchase Harley-Davidsons these days, such as Peter Fonda and Jack Nicolson—and such celebrities have raised millions of dollars for charities with their participation in bike runs). It's like the old cliché that nobody likes a showoff, i.e., a motorcyclist, especially when the nobodies can't do it themselves.
Just because a weekend biker wears sunglasses and black leather doesn't mean he (or she) doesn't wear business attire and carry a briefcase to work on Monday. This misperception (allegedly) trickles down to the general public (although most people I know aspire to someday get their hands on a 'bike if they don't have one already). A byproduct of this slander is a presumption that motorcycle crash victims deserve whatever they get. It's like when a race driver gets injured or killed: "No big deal. Serves him right. That's what he gets for playing with fire." Police routinely hold such opinions, which tends to handicap police from bothering to rescue victims of crashes, or impairs them from filling out a crash report--or testifying in a trial--in a competent manner.
For example, one motorcyclist was run off the road by a spaced-out driver, causing $500 damage to his bike. The crash was observed by a female cop, who berated the injured rider for attempting to notify the female driver of her liability. The cop refused to fill out an accident report, absurdly alleging the woman's rental car insurance would never pay a claim.
In a similar crash, a rider was run off the road by a carload of drunks. When the rider got irate (signifying his "number 1 status" to the offending driver), the drunks exited their car and identified themselves as Ft. Lauderdale police officers, and threatened the rider with retaliation if he attempted to file an accident report.
A third example of discrimination occurred when local doctor was arrested while responding to an emergency call to the hospital while riding the Dragon. His "crime" was to wearing safety leathers, and he was stopped by police illegally using profiling to arrest bikers using safety gear. The elderly, leather-clad doc was locked in the back seat of a police car, in which a Blount County cop had intentionally turned on the heater (apparently a common cop tactic). Since it was a boiling-hot summer day, one can only presume this was intended as physical torture. The two emergency room patients were forced to go into surgery without the specialty that only this doctor could perform. After investing $1,000 in an attorney to prove the cop had made an illegal traffic stop, the doctor had a clear arrest record. Had the two hospital patients died—or if the doctor had died—as a result of the unlawful police intervention, the corrupt cops would have certainly faced civil and/or criminal prosecution. This doctor owned over a dozen motorcycles, so he was fortunate to be able easily produce a nonrefundable insurance bond and hire competent legal representation, something few American citizens can afford. His "speeding ticket" was eventually deemed by the court to have been issued illegally.
Just to drive the point home, another large-scale incident occurred in Fontana, North Carolina at a 1997 rally for owners of BMW motorcycles. This is also a Dragon tale. Most people with common sense will realize that BMW afficianados tend to be conservative, sedate and elderly. They are certainly not bikers in the same vein as Harley Davidson party goers at Speedweek in Daytona Beach. One citizen who attended this BMW event described the overwhelming police presence as something he hadn't seen since his military tour of Vietnam, with a hundred cops wearing camoflaged uniforms and brandishing man-killing automatic weapons. While tourists slept in their tents and cabins, police helicopters hovered overhead broadcasting the theme to the T.V. propaganda show Cops: "Bad boys, bad boys. What'cha gonna do when they come for you?" Illegal road blocks were enforced against motorcyclists only, stopping all bikers entering or leaving the public campground. Many of the tourists who had their bikes seized were later able to win their cases in court, but only after purchasing expensive legal representation.
This ignorant and discriminatory attitude, typical of people who have never ridden a motorcycle, may influence society (and government) to ignore scientific advances in motorcycle safety. The government is too busy harassing and taxing citizens to care about saving lives. In 1997, a pair of police roadblocks in Connecticut stopped more than 1,200 motorcyclists attending a hobbyist convention, while ignoring all other motorists (an illegal act). Nearly 100 motorcycles were stolen by the government, leaving out-of-state citizens to find their own way home. Isn't there a better way for a government to behave? Fortunately, thanks to the legal and political efforts of thousands of wealthy motorcyclists, new laws are being passed and court decisions are being issued that outlaw discrimination against citizens who travel via two wheels. There is still much work to be done in this area of civil rights.
According to a government study, virtually 100% of motorcycle crashes involve riders who are not aware that two-wheeled vehicles must be steered in the opposite direction from an intended turn. This same government study found that only 12% of crashes "involved" alcohol. Allowing for false estimates of BAC at the time of a crash, perhaps only 1% of these non-fatal crashes truly involved alcohol as a major contributor to the loss of control. Even government statistics admit that only one percent of crashes that are fatal have anything to do with (alleged) alcohol use. Yet the government focuses practically 100% of its (law enforcement) attention on "solving" 1% of this public safety (medical) problem, while censoring the rider training that would cure virtually 100% of crashes, injuries and fatalities -- as well as literally outlawing workable medical treatments for alcoholism.
One of the hardest things I noticed about learning how to drive a racing car was that a driver must break down and analyze many parts of his performance. Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply drive around enjoying oneself, unless of course a driver enjoys losing and crashing. In fact, it quickly becomes apparent to an aspiring racer that it is not very fun to be less educated than his rivals. Learning the "boring" technical details can improve a driver's performance so that he can go out and play with the big boys. This is "real" fun. It's like an aspiring artist who must first study the technical details of drawing and painting before he graduates to creating art. Paradoxically, self-discipline leads to freedom.
Many curious people fear motorcycles because they have never been given the opportunity to learn about them. Their minds are limited by their lack of education, perhaps squelching their desire to possess a motorbike of their very own. Experienced riders are often of the opinion that "real men" don't need schoolin', especially when it comes to the testosterone-pumping thrill of straddling a hurtlin' hunk of machinery (note that women have plenty of testosterone, too). These guys spend infinitely more time "detailing" their bike's paint and polish than they invest in discovering new riding skills. Learning how to avoid becoming a crash victim is one of the best ways to avoid being prosecuted by the government for DWI—one study revealed 12% of motorcycle crashes resulted in DWI arrests. It is certainly desirable to avoid unnecessary suffering and expense.
Less than 50% of fatal motorcycle crashes allegedly involve riders who had consumed alcohol, according to government estimates (another 5% allegedly involved prohibited drugs). Only a third of these fatalities allegedly involved riders over the legal limit for blood alcohol. Only 3.5% of (reportable) crashes are fatal. Thus only one-percent of crashes are fatal due to (alleged) alcohol, according to government statistics. (3,500 divided by 100,000 times 100 equals 3.5%. 3.5% divided by 2 equals 1.75%.) The government chooses to use the number 50% instead of 1% when it describes the alleged danger of alcohol and the need for Prohibition — I wonder why? This is the government's official justification for its War on Drink Driving, propagated to the public through the corporate media. Even these numbers are disputable, as explained in the chapter on "Crash Statistics."
Since the government has given itself authority to regulate motorcycle riders through its licensing program, taking the riders' money through fees and taxes, the government bears the blame for any defects in rider instruction. This one-sided spin control—by a government under the influence of the insurance industry, and a media under the influence of advertising profits—defeats efforts to improve public safety through improving rider (and driver) training. There is no government War on Ignorance (although it does use censorship to wage War on Knowledge).
THE GENIUS' GUIDE TO MOTORCYCLING:
Riding a motorcycle requires even more skill than driving a car, and requires much more skill than riding a bicycle, due to all the extra controls to operate and the faster speeds involved. This is part of the appeal, that a motorcycle demands absolute attention from its rider. Over 90% of riders have never received professional training in how to do it correctly. This situation would be like sending prospective pilots up into the wild blue yonder without the benefit of training (as many older-generation pilots were forced to learn to fly. My father owned his first plane—and crashed it—before getting a license. Now he has more experience than most airline pilots, including jet time, though no one voluntarily flies with him.) Perhaps that is why (official) motorcycle crash statistics are twenty times higher per mile traveled than for automobile drivers. Perhaps that's also why motorcycles are so "exciting." It's like teenage sex between two people who are uneducated, unprepared and unskilled—exciting but dangerous (emotionally, financially, legally and health-wise). There is no risk of reducing that excitement once the mysteries are revealed, since a whole new universe can be opened up—like sex between people who are educated, prepared and competently skilled (although the government still outlaws most sexual relations, even between married couples). Just as a prophylactic is cheaper than a baby, knowledge is cheaper than a crash.
Most riding occurs in urban and suburban areas on sunny days, and this is where 90% of crashes occur. If cars were driven exclusively under these risk-intensive circumstances, their accident rates would also apparently skyrocket. When a rider does not really understand how his machine works, he is only playing Russian Roulette with highway obstacles, and the more miles he rides the greater the odds stack up against him. By this I mean that the rider needs to know how the motorcycle functions as a moving object on an asphalt surface. Knowing how an internal combustion engine or hydraulic system works does not do a rider the slightest bit of good once he leaves the repair facility and pulls out onto the open road. It is not an assault on one's ego to learn how his engine works, nor need it bruise his ego to become expert in riding skills.
Besides the fact that most riders are not trained, motorcycles are rarely used for commuting to work or for long trips. This fact influences crash statistics. Most riders are part-time riders who don't get much practice. Motorcycles can become extremely uncomfortable when riders are exposed to gusty wind, heat, cold, wind-chill (-30 degrees) and rain-chill (hypothermia), wind-dehydration, sunburn and high-speed raindrops, rocks, bug-strikes and flaming cigarettes. Bikes are not as comfortable as cars, and it is difficult to remain in the saddle for long (unless one develops an "iron butt"). Cleaning and rust prevention must be performed on a motorcycle after almost every ride, and is about as exciting as detailing a greasy car engine. And you don't have to worry about your car tipping over in a parking lot ("capsize mode," as the mechanical engineers call it). Motorcycle riding is more sport than transport. You have to love it to do it (love is blind, isn't it?). Fortunately, riding a motorcycle, at least in good weather, is infinitely more interesting than driving a car. The sexual metaphor is useful once again: riding is like sex, since most people reserve it for special occasions. A lack of practice can lead to a crash, especially for uneducated riders.
Only 2% of crashes occur on wet roads, probably since 98% of riders steer clear of rainy days. Although wet asphalt has only 1/3 the grip of dry asphalt, there is still plenty of tire grip available to the rider who understands how his machine works. Unfortunately, this wet grip is lowered to 1/3 for motorcycles compared to cars, since bikes turn using "camber thrust" (described below). Conversely, wet riding can be excessively risky for any rider who is clueless. For a clued-in rider, wet asphalt teaches smoothness and an appreciation for the grip provided by dry pavement. Wet-weather safety can be improved by riding in the tire tracks of preceeding vehicles (this will also keep him out of the center grease strip) and staying off the painted lines. Visor (and eyeglasses') fogging can be prevented by washing with liquid soap (an old racers' trick), and the soap can also help raindrops to bead-up on the exterior as well. Turning one's helmet left/right can make use of the wind as a windshield wiper. Creative use of duct tape can help redirect airflow to fight fogging, cold and wind noise. Low-cost accessories are also available, as are affordable helmets with heated visors.
Unlike a car crash, where the driver is somewhat protected, 98% of motorcycle riders are injured (half of them severely). However, unlike car crashes, I suspect at least half of motorcycle crashes go unreported, skewing the government's data—perhaps only 25% of riders are severely injured. Most American riders do not invest in racing-thickness leather suits with Kevlar reinforcing and carbon-fiber armor (available from supplers in motorcycle magazines and from local motorcycle dealers). The ventilated leather suits are cooler than one might think (30 degree wind-chill factor), and are the only hope for preventing "road rash" during a body-slide on gritty pavement. Maybe one-in-a-hundred riders truly takes his safety seriously. (Europe is a different story, where racing competiton has never been discouraged by government—in fact, governments there own many race tracks and race teams, and allow races on public roads.) It is best to purchase a less expensive bike, reserving funds for expensive safety apparel (which can also be financed by the banks), which is still cheaper than hospital expenses and/or insurance deductibles. A leather suit for motorcyclists serves an equivalent purpose to automobile drivers and passengers using crash belts. Leathers are not a luxury item; they are a safety item, every bit as important as crash belts are for automobile drivers. For government police to arrest riders for wearing safety gear is insanity.
Full-face helmets with extra-thickness eye shields offer maximum impact protection for a pretty face. Once I hit a pigeon at Interstate speed—it exploded, but my head didn't. An investment in ultrasonic animal whistles is perhaps a wise move. It is best to point your eyes where you want to go—as required in stick-and-ball sports—rather than staring at what you want to miss. "Target fixation" can make one hit what he wishes to avoid. That's a great habit for playing stick-and-ball sports, but can prove deadly in motorsports. Potholes and sewer covers are common hazards: practice the skill of avoidance by forcing yourself to look 12 inches to the side so that your brain can steer you towards safety. For those riders who exercise their right to not wear protective gear (especially helmets), in the interest of looking and feeling cool, expert riding skill becomes even more critical.
The popular myth is that most of these crashes occur because automobile drivers don't see itsy-bitsy 1,000 lb. motorcycles with their headlights on and thus pull out in front of them. Never mind that a narrow motorcycle has a more concentrated crash-impact than a wide car, and can easily cut a car nearly in half and kill all its passengers. Much effort is expended trying to improve the "visibility" of motorcycles—such as the NHTSA's 1979 study on comparing drivers' decisions to go or no-go when turning: "Effects of Motorcycle and Motorcyclists' Conspicuity on Driver Behavior." This government study suggested a rider flash his headlight's high/low beam so that drivers will not turn in front of the motorcycle. However, this is a universal signal used by drivers to encourage an oncoming driver to go ahead and turn in front of him, so flashing headlights ought to be used only for that purpose. (Simply leaving the daytime headlight(s) on high-beam would be a safer solution to this problem.) "Swerving" (described later)--even when not needed for avoidance—can help an oncoming driver pick a motorcycle out of the visual clutter, and will give him a stereoscopic idea of the bike's distance. Using other vehicles as "blockers" when approaching busy intersections can ensure visibility from inattentive drivers (i.e., if a car pulls out it will be hit by the blocker instead of the bike). The government recommends a rider pump his brakes to flash the brake light to drivers behind (which is impossible to do in an emergency situation). An electronically pulsed brake light is a better idea that the government says is illegal in many states. (Brake-light flasher relays may be ordered from J.C. Whitney Co., 1-312-431-6102. Extra-bright headlight and tail-light bulbs can be purchased from both Whitney and Dennis Kirk for about $10--such headlights are not just for $50,000 luxury cars.)
Electronics can also improve rider safety, just as with drivers of other vehicles. Radar detectors not only protect against illegal speed traps but help keep a rider alert, and anything that keeps a rider alert improves his safety. Radar detectors with Safety Warning System (SWS) technology also warns riders of 100 impending types of road hazards. A scientific test by Motorcyclist magazine proved that police radar, on a straight and deserted desert highway, gives motorcyclists an 1/8th-mile to ¼-mile more time to slow down than for car and minivan owners. Maximum detection range (without a radar scrambler) was 800 feet, using a four-cylinder bike. A V-twin might be half that. Detectors also warn of road hazards through the Safety Warning System intelligent-highway program. Few detectors offer ear-jack connections, but these can be easily invented with $15-worth of supplies at Radio Shack. Likewise, C.B. radios and weather station receivers are helpful. All of these devices are proven to increase a driver's safety and reduce his risk of a crash. Rig wiring harnesses to easily disconnect at the waist in the event of a crash.
It is true that 3/4ths of motorcycle crashes involve collisions with cars, yet cars also routinely pull out in front of not-so-invisible cars, trucks and trains (30% of all crashes), probably because car drivers generally do not get competent training from the government, either. Yet a properly ridden motorcycle is extremely maneuverable—experts say it is even more maneuverable than a car—and ought to be capable of squeezing past most any vehicle that might pull in front of it. A properly ridden modern motorcycle has 20% superior braking performance compared to any car. Slowing just 10 miles per hour when approaching cars at busy intersections can cut decelleration distance almost in half, and resting a hand on the brake lever can reduce reaction time. Staying alert is critical. Rapid visual scanning of potential intersections can prevent surprises.
The government does a poor job of instructing motorcycle riders in the skills needed for safe operation of their vehicles. In fact, the government actually censors critical information from the public. Over 100,000 reportable crashes and 2,000 deaths are the annual result (fortunately, these numbers are falling due to superior education). In a California study, where rider instruction was taken seriously by the government for the first time in history, crashes and deaths were cut by 88%. This is an incredible improvement in public safety, especially considering that 20% of riders did not participate in the schooling. Perhaps success at crash elimination would have approached 100% had 100% of citizens participated in the training. No cops, no tickets, no DWI arrests, no prisons required. Millions of tax dollars saved. Actually, responsibility for training was taken away from the government and turned over to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, a non-profit corporation created by Japanese and European motorcycle manufacturers. This experiment occurred nearly twenty years ago. Why his its lesson not been learned by the government? Why does the corporate media not pounce on such a news story? Why are riders being denied this life-saving information?
These manufacturers are intimately involved in world class motorsports competition, and train their senior engineers at the racetrack. They realized that the quality and quantity of knowledge that can be passed down to the general public from the experts needed to become more than a mere trickle. The safer riders are, the less fear is generated in potential customers, the better "image" that their industry attains, and the more motorcycles can be produced and sold. It's just good business. Everybody wins, even the government, since more sales taxes are generated and more licenses and registrations are sold—and the police have more targets for their illegal government quotas.
However, in this state, the government's editors of its Motorcycle Operator Manual treat citizens as if they are morons, by "editing"/censoring much critical information needed for safe use of their vehicles (less printing equals more profit for the government). Information that is volunteered to the government from the experts at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. (It ought to also be included in owner manuals and on vehicle warning labels, fulfilling the legal "duty to warn.") Censoring this lifesaving information from the public, allegedly because Americans are too stupid to figure it out, is about as intelligent as censoring contraceptive information to keep adults "safe" from sex (which a hypocritical Uncle Sam has also been doing for nearly 150 years). Just as learning the censored facts of life about contraception can improve the quality (and longevity—so to speak) of one's love life, learning the censored facts of motorcycle physics can improve the quality and longevity of one's life on the road.
The number one skill needed for safe riding is proper steering control. The number two skill required is proper braking control. Accident studies confirm that virtually all motorcycle crashes involve an absence of these skills, such as the NHTSA's 1981 project, "Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures," by Dr. Harry Hurt (the "Hurt Report"). Out of this state government's 50 page motorcycle license test booklet, which supplements the 95 page Driver Handbook, only a total of two small pages are allocated to "teaching" citizens these life-saving techniques. In America, over 25 million motorcycle riders are deficient in these necessary skills, even if they pass a license test by the government.
Most riders do not choose to purchase a motorcycle license from the government (many assume their four-wheeler license is all they "really" need), probably because they don't plan to ride every day, or perhaps because they do not feel they would get anything of value for their investment (the government's investment in each small copy of the Motorcycle Operator Manual is a mere 31 cents). An extra 5 cents worth of paper could provide a wealth of useful information, saving tens of thousands of lives. Perhaps citizens feel there couldn't possibly be anything else for them to learn, since they already "know" how to ride a bicycle, or how to shift a manual transmission. In America, "learning" is not as glamorous as "owning"; the former is discouraged by the government while the latter is endlessly propagandized in the corporate media—however, the reality is that learning is much more glamorous than surgery or prison life. Much of the so-called riding information in the two brief pages of the government's "training" guide is defective and/or incomplete, and these defects must be pointed out in order to prevent so-called accidents. If the government were to do a competent job in its licensing program, it could easily "sell" the use of such a book and test to the public.
But first, let's take a look at the correct way to ride a single-track, tandem-wheeled vehicle. For 100 years, this is how pedal- and motor-driven bicycles have mysteriously worked. Engineering experts have long enjoyed insight into this phenomenon. It's time for the American public to learn this valuable secret, too.
Knowledge of countersteering has been around for a very long time. Mr. Code discovered it for himself literally before I was a twinkle in my father's eye. He was able to parlay his "secret" into an exciting and successful career. Once the engineers publically confirmed his observations, he became the first to start teaching it to the general public. I felt cheated that I had to experience 20 years of falls and close calls before I ever heard the word countersteering. (This antique word is not yet defined in Webster's dictionary.)
Almost a hundred years ago, two enterprising American bicycle manufacturers decided to invent the first engine-driven airplane. These two engineers were not only geniuses of aviation, but were equally insightful regarding their first love. In his book, The Wright Brothers, F.C. Kelly (Ballentine, 1966) writes about the discoverers of countersteering: ". . . Wilbur used for illustration what a man thinks happens when riding a bicycle. 'I have asked dozens of bicycle riders,' said Wilbur, 'how they turn a bicycle to the left. I have never found a single person who stated all the facts correctly when first asked. . . . I have never found a non-scientific bicycle rider who had particularly noticed it and spoke of it from his own conscious observation and initiative.'" Just ask any of your friends who own bicycles or motorbikes if they know what countersteering is. You will probably be just as disappointed as Wilbur—and your friends will give you funny looks (just give them a copy of this chapter to shut them up—what are friends for?).
The only riders I've met who recognized the word countersteering were either racers or had been required to attend an MSF school, such as military personnel who were forced to go to school in order to get a base permit. Even many motorcycle sales professionals have never heard of it, and do not recognize the need to attend a local MSF riding school to learn it. A rider does not need to understand countersteering to be a good rider—until he finds himself in a panic situation or desires to improve his performance.
Note that when a rider keeps his arms stiff under braking he finds it impossible to countersteer into a corner, leading to a sudden self-made emergency. He feels as if he has entered the turn "too fast," since the bike has suddenly "forgotten" how to turn. Entering a curve while applying the brakes is (almost) never a good idea anyway, since inertia makes the bike want to "highside," while the machine needs to lean. Car drivers commonly make this mistake, since what works on a "flat" car does not work on a leaning bike. "Stiff-arming" the handlebars literally prevents the bike from steering. A rider must keep his arms relaxed at all times, even when reaching for the "panic button." The handlebars are not for support, they are for making steering inputs and for operating the levers and switches. A rider's legs are stronger than his arms, and do not adversely affect the steering when used for support. The stationary gas tank is much more stable for holding onto than the movable handlebars.
In decreasing-radius turns, bad habits are especially tricky. In decreasing-radius turns, the rider must slow down continuously while in the turn. This decelleration means that centrifugal force wants to make the bike go vertical. To compensate, the rider must countersteer to keep the bike leaned over, and perhaps to increase his lean angle. However, the bike is already leaned over the majority of its lean angle, so the handlebars and front wheel never completely point in the opposite direction. This can confuse the unwary and uneducated rider. What this sensation feels like is a "counterforce" on the handlebars, resisting the natural tendency of the bike to want to stand up under decelleration. When a rider unexpectedly comes upon a decreasing-radius curve, ignorance of countersteering can lead to a fright at the very least. A similar sensation is experienced in an off-camber turn, since the bike is also decellerating.
(illustration c/s decreasing radius turn)
Attempting to steer a motorcycle "normally" using "common sense" is about as effective as jumping out of an airplane and flapping one's arms as a bird "normally" flaps its wings, instead of making intelligent use of a scientifically proven parachute. In reality, common sense ought to warn a rider that cars and bikes are significantly different. I guess that's why true common sense is less-than-common.
(fig 2 = copy MSF illustration) #add 2x "Second countersteer: in-track"
In other words, countersteering allows the rider to "scoot" the bike's wheels sideways out from under him, causing the bike to initially fall over into the curve thanks to centrifugal force. Since the bike is vertical, centrifugal force has a maximum effect. He does not have to throw himself over the side to lean the heavy bike, or to shift his weight in any way in an attempt to "balance." Since the bike is vertical, weight-shifting has a minimal effect. This basic component of countersteering works at all speeds on every type of motorcycle. This is the first of the two components that makes countersteering work.
Note that countersteering only begins the turn, by leaning the bike over to its correct lean angle. If the rider were to continue to countersteer, centrifugal force and gravity would tip the bike over until it hit the ground. Releasing the handlebars instantly stabilizes the lean angle. Once the bike has reached its maximum lean angle and has settled down in the turn, the handlebars automatically turn themselves to track the arc of the turn depending upon the lean angle and the speed, due to "steering trail" (the castor effect). Unlike a car, a motorcycle will actually steer itself around a curve (provided the rider does not interfere).
(diagram steering trail and castor effect) #
In the 1976 scientific study, "The Photographic Analysis of Motorcycle Operator Control Responses," performed by the National Public Services Research Institute, initial countersteering in "normal" turns was measured to last only 0.500 seconds. Gentle turns might require only 0.125 seconds of countersteer, while sharper turns might require 1.000 seconds. This is how long it takes for the bike to begin to lean. A rider may only need to apply 5 degrees of countersteer (2 degrees of lean) for a corner that requires 25 degrees of regular "steering" in the middle of the turn (35 degrees of lean). Obviously, this short duration of slight steering could easily be overlooked by a typical rider unfamiliar with countersteer.
This study, which only tested low-speed turning at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour—simulating a typical intersection turn—found that only half of the turns produced an initial countersteer, but all turns required "reverse countersteer" to exit the turn (turn left to end a left-hand turn and start leaning back to the right). In the 50% of slow turns that the rider did not countersteer, he did hold the steering wheel straight ahead a fraction longer than "required," giving what I call a "pseudo-countersteer" input, allowing centrifugal force to tip the bike (but at a slower rate).
(illustration data acquisition chart = copy govt MSF)
None of the turns were made by initially steering towards the curve. All turns required "counter" steering inputs to "balance" the bike throughout the turn, rather than weightshifting. In fact, after the first half-second of leaning toward the turn, the rider always maintained about 1/3rd less lean angle than the bike, proving that weight-shifting was not a factor. A second countersteer was needed to raise the bike vertical.
Several movie cameras recorded the rider's performance in 1/18th-second photographs, and 14 different measurements were taken of control movements. The study concluded that: "The motorcycle operator's body lean was not a significant factor in leaning the motorcycle."
Ninety-five percent of riders presume that weightshifting is how a motorcycle is forced to lean into a curve (and they have never heard the term countersteering, nor figured out for themselves how it works). Yet these riders do not even comprehend what weight shifting really is. This is truly a sad reflection on the (wasted) analytic abilities that most people apply to intellectual understanding of "sport" (and a sad reflection on the government's ability to educate citizens).
When a (non-countersteering) rider wants to lean his motorcycle into a curve, he leans slightly in the same direction of the curve. This lasts approximately one-half second—coincidentally the same time that countersteering takes place. In the government's report on the photographic analysis of countersteering, this "weightshift" was discussed: "The role of this lean is difficult to determine. It is hard to believe that such a small lean angle [2.5 degrees] could have much effect upon the motorcycle. It may simply reflect the operator's anticipation of a [35 degree] lean to the left." After this initial half-second lean into the curve, the rider actually leans away from the motorcycle's lean angle. The report states: "Body lean lags behind that of the motorcycle and reaches a maximum of approximately two-thirds that of the motorcycle."
A motorcycle does not have the "benefit" of four wheels to "stabilize" it during weight-shifts by a rider. This means a rider is sitting on a "tightrope," and any movement he makes will cause the tightrope to move in the opposite direction. If he moves to the left, the tightrope moves to the right, and vice versa. A motorcycle works exactly the same way. A rider can prove this to himself by leaning to the side while traveling on a straight road. When he leans left, the bike leans to the right. When he leans to the right, the bike leans to the left. Whenever a bike leans, steering trail and castor effect kick in and force the bike to turn slowly in the direction of lean. In other words, when a (non-countersteering) rider initially leans into a corner, the bike initially leans away from the corner. This has exactly the same effect as countersteering, and the bike steers itself away from the curve (steering trail and castor effect). As the bike countersteers itself away from the curve, the rider's weight then has something to "lean against," and this pulls the bike over into the curve. One might call this phenomenon "counterweightshifting."
(diagram m/c "counterweightshifting") or photo
It is true that the front wheel must follow the arc of the road, due to steering trail, but the steering angle is reduced by the angle of lean. In other words, the greater the lean angle, the longer the effective turn radius (like an inverted cone), the less the handlebars will need to turn, and the more centered the handlebars will appear. A 45-degree lean angle can reduce steering angle by approximately 30%.
The motorcycle's arc through a particular curve in the road depends on its lean angle to offset the centrifugal force trying to tip it over, which requires more angle at higher speeds. Lean angle is changed by countersteering. If he had a cruise control, and enough open space, he could take his hands off the handlebars and circle round and round in the same arc until he ran out of gas.
????HERE??? When countersteering, the general rule is to sit upright relative to the bike and to lean with the bike's lean angle. Novice and insecure passengers who fear motorcycles usually violate this rule by trying to stay vertical, forcing the pilot to lean the machine even more to compensate. (Explaining to the passenger that you have to lean the machine even more to compensate for such behavior can help correct the problem.) A possible exception occurs with heavy, poor-handling bikes. Staying vertical during corner entry while countersteering and "pushing" the bike down first in "motocross style" can help reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, helping the bike to turn in quicker. (Although light weight, motocrossers have high C.G.s and large caster angles, which make them harder to turn.) Once it begins to lean, the rider can then "catch up" to it and lean with it for the remainder of the corner. This is merely a quick fix, and is not conducive when riding a modern sport bike.
When riding a pedal-driven bicycle without touching the handlebars, turning is accomplished by leaning the body (counterweightshifting). This is easier on a pedal bike since the rider's body weighs many times more than the bike, and speeds are so much lower. At cruising speed, the handlebars will initially countersteer all by themselves, then follow the arc in the middle of the curve once the bike is leaned over (thanks to steering trail and castor effect). Beginning riders will panic and grab the handlebars when it begins to countersteer. Experienced riders will ignore it without understanding it. Many riders experience difficulty when riding a "new" motorcycle for the first time. Different bikes have different steering geometries, which confuses the uneducated rider. It takes time for the subconscious mind to overrule the conscious mind. "I can't make it turn," is the common complaint made by a rider who attempts weightshifting and stiff-arming instead of countersteering. Bad riding habits are magnified by switching machines.
THE PRICE OF CENSORSHIP:
THE PETER PRINCIPLE:
CONTROLLING SLIDES AND TANK-SLAPPERS:
As mentioned previously, crashes are reduced 88% when riders receive mandatory training in countersteering and braking skills from the MSF. And this was with only 80% of riders attending the school. The state of California estimated that 2,374 crashes were prevented in one year, 117 lives were saved, and $117 million in annual savings was realized, a 10,000% return on investment. The only downside was that the government empowered itself to impound citizens' motorcycles if they were not licensed, requiring them to waste hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. Most of the training cost was paid for with recycled driver's license renewal fees, with a one-time investment of less than the cost of a single speeding ticket. Not only were citizens spared an increase in their insurance premiums, but they received a mandatory 10% discount. (I bet the insurance companies didn't care for that.) Another downside is that government bureaucrats are infiltrating the MSF school system, diluting the talent that is required for proper instruction of complicated topics. As a result, less and less essential information is reaching the public (such as regarding countersteering), rather than improving upon a good thing. Although the school system is still competant, though its curriculum is relatively stagnant, bureaucrats are squeezing the MSF out of organization and management. The government editors of the motorcycle license test books are actually censoring more information on countersteering today than they did five years ago, instead of giving citizens additional clarification that is desperately needed. In this state, motorcycle riders are not even given a proper road test. Either the police testers waiver the test, or they conduct minimal "supervision."
In this state, thousands of motorcycle crashes result in the victim being arrested for DWI, assuming he is still alive. Government figures place this statistic at approximately 12%. Avoiding crashes is one of the best methods of avoiding a DWI arrest and subsequent financial disaster. The more a citizen knows about the complexity of riding, as opposed to blissful ignorance of that complexity, the better his judgment will be when it comes time to choose whether he is fit to ride or not. And knowing the secrets makes riding a lot more fun.
ZEN OF THE DAY
Throw away holiness and wisdom,
The law embodies an invincible
rationale: 'He had an accident; therefore he violated the law.' No
distinction is made between responsibility for the accident and
responsibility for the injury due to unsafe vehicle design or
construction. Manslaughter charges are filed routinely against drivers;
there is yet to be recorded any similar charges against the manufacturers
for vehicle defects.... A typical police traffic accident report has a
list of 'contributing circumstances' which the officer is to check off:
'Speed too fast; failed to yield right of way; drove left of center;
improper overtaking; passed stop sign; ran traffic signal; improper
lights; had been drinking; and other improper driving.' ...Thus the driver
is heir to all the dangers created by the automobile designers, not only
in terms of bodily injury but also in terms of legal exposure. The result
of this drastic imbalance in the law is the very poor quality of accident
investigation in this country.... Consequently, enforcement of the law
brings no pressure on the car makers to increase the safety of their
JOKE OF THE DAY
Tennessee Motorcycle Operator's Handbook
CAN YOU SURVIVE 636 TURNS IN 22 MILE LAP ON US129?
John Lee, Winners Web Design and Pirate News TV