Friday, December 31, 2004

More Pontificating About Protective Gear!

WARNING: I'm about to take off on a personal rant about one of my biggest peeves - motorcyclists who ride without the necessary protective gear. If you're one of these idiots, than you might want to go read something else right now if you're the type to get offended easily!

[Stepping on soapbox]

I recently got into a heated argument with a fellow motorcyclist regarding the use of full-riding gear on "short trips around town". His point of vue was that getting "suited-up" in riding jacket and pants just to go down the street to the convenience store was, well, inconvenient and thus defeated the purpose. He also went on to claim things like "the odds of having an accident at low speeds is small anyway" or "too much gear is uncomfortable and therefore distracts my attention when riding". To which I replied "Bullshit" and "You're full of it", respectively.

Granted, to rebuttle in any debate with such low-brow answers probably wouldn't win me any points, so I had to follow up with some cold, hard facts. In 1981, William Hurt led a group of researchers in a study of what has become the ultimate reference regarding motorcycle accidents: the (properly named) "Hurt Report". Among the conclusions, I'd like to highlight the following two:

  • The median pre-crash speed was 29.8 mph, and the median crash speed was 21.5 mph, and the one-in-a-thousand crash speed is approximately 86 mph.
  • Most motorcycle accidents involve a short trip associated with shopping, errands, friends, entertainment or recreation, and the accident is likely to happen in a very short time close to the trip origin.
This affirmation effectively defeats my fellow rider's claim about low-speed accidents. Regarding his statement that a riding jacket and pants were uncomfortable: "Get a more comfortable one!". One of the main problem with many riders today is that they get into motorcycling for the look; in other words, it's just a fashion accessory. They go to the local motorcycle shop and check out the leathers; put on a jacket and pants and strut their stuff in front of a mirror admiring how the firm support of the cowhide holds up their sagging rear-end. Problem is, they don't try it on while sitting on a bike! My riding jacket is the most uncomfortable thing to wear when standing up or walking around, because that's not what it was designed for. Once I sit on my bike, then it makes sense. It offers support in the lower back and bends just right at the elbows and shoulders.

Luckily, we didn't get into the whole "Helmet" issue as you're legally obligated to wear one in all Canadian Provinces (thank God)! This is a heated issue down in the States where some claim that laws that force them to wear a helmet enfringes upon their personal liberties... So what! If tainting your little bit of personal freedom means that you might make it home alive at the end of the day; so be it!

Again, here are a few of the conclusions from the Hurt Report regarding gear and helmet use:
  • Seventy-three percent of the accident-involved motorcycle riders used no eye protection, and it is likely that the wind on the unprotected eyes contributed in impairment of vision which delayed hazard detection.
  • Approximately 50% of the motorcycle riders in traffic were using safety helmets but only 40% of the accident-involved motorcycle riders were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.
  • Voluntary safety helmet use by those accident-involved motorcycle riders was lowest for untrained, uneducated, young motorcycle riders on hot days and short trips.
  • The most deadly injuries to the accident victims were injuries to the chest and head.
  • The use of the safety helmet is the single critical factor in the prevention of reduction of head injury; the safety helmet which complies with FMVSS 218 is a significantly effective injury countermeasure.
  • Safety helmet use caused no attenuation of critical traffic sounds, no limitation of precrash visual field, and no fatigue or loss of attention; no element of accident causation was related to helmet use.
  • FMVSS 218 provides a high level of protection in traffic accidents, and needs modification only to increase coverage at the back of the head and demonstrate impact protection of the front of full facial coverage helmets, and insure all adult sizes for traffic use are covered by the standard.
  • Helmeted riders and passengers showed significantly lower head and neck injury for all types of injury, at all levels of injury severity.
  • The increased coverage of the full facial coverage helmet increases protection, and significantly reduces face injuries.
  • There is no liability for neck injury by wearing a safety helmet; helmeted riders had less neck injuries than unhelmeted riders. Only four minor injuries were attributable to helmet use, and in each case the helmet prevented possible critical or fatal head injury.
  • Sixty percent of the motorcyclists were not wearing safety helmets at the time of the accident. Of this group, 26% said they did not wear helmets because they were uncomfortable and inconvenient, and 53% simply had no expectation of accident involvement.

One of the scariest causes of motorcycle accidents is alcohol use. Almost half of all fatal motorcycle accidents show alcohol involvement. And all indicators seem to show that this will get much worse in the years to come. Why? Because, as mentioned above, many of the people that are now getting into motorcycling are doing it because it's "cool". It's an image thing more than anything else, and as such they aren't really interested in riding at all. So they don't take the time to read up about it, and they don't follow any appropriate training. Most of them are quite content in simply adding as much aftermarket chrome to their machine then riding it down to the local watering hole to show it off. After having discussed the merits of chrome polish vs. wax over a few pitchers of brew, they hop on their strait-piped chrome horse and (try to) ride home. In 50% of motorcycle deaths, they are the ones who end up as a statistic.

Since I'm sure that this rant will fall upon a bunch of deaf ears, I'd like to at least try to get the following message through to ALL motorcyclists out there: Try to wear at least minimal protection when riding. This would include helmet, jacket and gloves. And as a second request, try to get some professional training. A motorcycle is a powerful and dangerous machine, don't expect that "Uncle Bob" can teach you simply because he's been riding for a few years. Another grim conclusion from the Hurt Report:

  • The motorcycle riders involved in accidents are essentially without training; 92% were self-taught or learned from family or friends. Motorcycle rider training experience reduces accident involvement and is related to reduced injuries in the event of accidents.

Ride smart, ride safe!

Bikers on the Information Highway...

An odd thing I've noticed since I started riding motorcycles - some of the best biking buddies aren't the ones you see on the road; they're on the net!

I've met and communicated with people over the Internet that share the same passion for motorcycling that I do. Being in a rather "niche" crowd - I don't ride cruisers or crotch-rockets - the Internet has proven to be a great tool for meeting motorcyclists that have similar interests and riding styles. The riders I've met in forums and newsgroups are from as close as my own hometown, or as far as Singapore! Needless to say that I probably never would have met most of these people otherwise. Doesn't that speak volumes about the ability of the Internet to draw people together?

It's a shame that we often focus on the "negatives" when talking about the Internet: fraud, dot-com busts, SPAM, viruses, tasteless content... Truth is, there's alot of really good stuff out there too!

I'm a member of countless forums that are moderated by like-minded individuals that simply do a great job at it. Among them, I'd like to mention which is targeted to owners of the Suzuki V-Strom line of adventure-touring bikes, and also Sport-Touring Net for those who simply like to travel in a, ahem, "quick and efficient" way.

Moral of this post: if you ever feel alone, check out the 'Net... Chances are, you're not!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Progress Steamrolls On!

Remember the eighties? Sure you do - you're just in denial. I personally embrace the decade of excess because that period in my life was the most defining. I grew up in the eighties and as such I was fortunate enough to witness first-hand the great many changes that integrated circuits (or “microchips”) brought about.

Those of you who know me also know about my passions in life: motorcycling, photography and music. All three of these interests greatly evolved in the mid to late eighties thanks to contributions by modern technology. Motorcycles became lighter thanks to modern alloys and started using more efficient fuel-injection systems rather than antiquated carburetors. Music went from scratchy vinyl and noisy audio cassettes to pristine digital audio on CD’s. This wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition; many audiophiles and purists held on to vinyl as being “warmer” and having a smoother “compression ratio”, etc. Audio cassettes didn’t have any defenders however, ‘cause they really sounded like crap! You’ve got to keep in mind that cassettes were originally designed for taking verbal notes – not recording music. So what happened to these purists, you ask? They gave up and gave in: they’re listening to CD’s now.

The same thing is happening in photography right now. A few years ago digital cameras were nothing more than technological gadgets for the few geeks out there who enjoyed that kind of thing (Mea Culpa, I'm guilty as charged). Nobody would have ever taken a digicam over a film-based camera because there was such a large gap in quality. The first digicams were also incredibly expensive. On top of that, you had to go to pro-quality photo labs to get the things printed (that’s if they actually offered the service at all).

Back then purist photographers kept saying that they would “never” switch to digital. Again, they argued the “softness” and “purity” of silver-based films rather than the “pixelated” and “noisy” images of digital. Then something wonderful happened: technology progressed! A few well known pro-photographers started doing digital – and bragging about it. One word: WILDFIRE! Now the photographers that are still using film-based photography are being left behind and the ones that have converted to digital are leading the way.

In photography, as with music in the eighties, it all comes down to economics. Digital is cheaper and more accessible than analog. Entire recording studios can now be carried around in a laptop (ex. Latin pop-star Ricky Martin’s self titled 1999 hit album was entirely tracked, mixed and mastered on a Mac G4 tower, not in a multi-million dollar studio). A photographer in the “digital darkroom” can now retouch images on the fly and in a fraction of the time that it used to take. Not to mention that if they mess up, there’s an “undo” button! No more complex chemical baths, darkrooms or tricky airbrush techniques.

So what’s the next big thing? I’d be willing to predict that within the next 10 years cinematic production will go entirely to digital – no more Panaflex cameras. Small high resolution video cameras will feed directly into a mainframe computer and the splicing will be done digitally.

Here’s to progress!


OK. I don't want to preach or whine, but I got to get this one off my chest. If you're gonna ride a motorbike - please wear the appropriate gear. I've had it up to here (picture my index finger hovering about 6 inches over my head) with these biker dudes who ride around wearing a beanie helmet and t-shirt. And I'm not just talking about cruisers; you crotch-rocket riders out there in shorts and t-shirts (or even shirtless) aren't cutting it either. Funny thing about crotch-rocket riders is that they usually ride around with a $500 Shoei racing helmet, but somehow forget to protect the rest of their body! Then again, the helmet is probably worn as a fashion accessory rather than protective gear.

I mean really - isn't your life worth the price of a freakin' riding jacket? Talk to someone who's gotten road rashed once and they'll tell you how much fun it is. And about the beanie helmets - my riding instructor once called them brain bowls and I find the term quite fitting. I wear a full-face helmet all the time because most motorcycle head injuries happen at the jaw. Ain't no beanie gonna help you there! Not to mention that I've got enough sense in my brain to want to protect it. By my current calculations, I'm still gonna be paying my student loans for another 12 years - that's alot of money to invest in your cranium! Oh well, it's as they say: "If you think you're smart enough not to need a helmet, you're probably right!"

Oh and here's one last item you should think about - gloves! Now please people, show enough sense to buy some riding gloves that offer protection; not the cheap-leather-open-finger ones. Think about it, if you fall from the bike, even at very low speeds, the first thing to touch the ground will probably be your hands.

I bring this up because I find it unfair that the majority of motorcycle enthusiasts are safe drivers who respect the sport; yet they always get a bad rep because of stupid bikers.

ATGATT - All The Gear All The Time

2 Wheels & 1 Motor

Here's a wake-up call for all you custom-cruiser-expensive-chopper-mod-supersport-riders out there: no matter how much you customize, modify, glitter or add "bling" to your ride, it's still just two wheels and a motor! Not that there's anything wrong with "personalizing" your bike; I think it's a great way to express your personal tastes not to mention that it's simply fun. The problem is (IMHO) when people start taking it too seriously and start forgetting why they got into motorcycling to begin with.

The first indication that you may be taking this "custom" thing too seriously is when you stop riding the bike! If you're reading this and a few bells are going off right now here's my advice to you: go out into the temperature-humidity-controlled garage you built specifically for storing your precious custom bike, disarm the laser-guided missile burglar intrusion system, start the bike and put a few hundred miles on it. Yes, I truly am implying that you should actually ride the damn thing, after all, that is the point of owning a vehicle, isn't it?

I've always enjoyed observing society and how everybody tries to fit in. At a bike rally last summer in my hometown of Caraquet, New Brunswick (for you geophites - that's in Canada) I got a kick out of studying the wide range of motorcyclists that attend. This particular event isn't limited to specific styles of motorcycles (as, unfortunately, most other rallies are) so it was interesting to see a crotch-rocket sharing a parking space with a low-rider! What really made me laugh though, was the number of so-called "bikers" that would drive to the rally in a truck or van, towing their precious ride in a covered trailer... GET A LIFE!!! I mean seriously, why enter a marathon if you're going to drive the whole thing in your car with your sneakers in a box!

There are exceptions to every rule, and here are the two I admire: Ratbikes and true Choppers! Ratbikes are simply motorcycles that should have been left for dead a long time ago! They're usually identified by the amount of rust and duct tape or chicken wire holding the thing together. I find these to be ingenious in much the same way as the old American cars rolling the streets in Cuba. The modern day mechanics that keep these beasts running simply use whatever is available to them and make it fit... Truly ingenious! However, I don't think these should be street-legal... But then again, neither should half the 18-wheelers I see on the highway. And which is likely to cause more damage in an accident: ratbike or 18-wheeler?

I use the term Chopper in the truest sense; the following is a brief history that I found on the Net:

"After soldiers returned home from World War II, they seemed dissatisfied with the motorcycles that were available to them from Harley-Davidson and Indian. They remembered the machines they had seen in Europe that were lighter in weight and seemed to have more excitement. The soldiers started to hang out with their motorcycle buddies to regain some of the camaraderie they had felt in the service. These groups of buddies soon decided that their motorcycles needed changes.

First, they either removed or shortened (bobbed) the fenders on their bikes. This reduced the weight and made the bikes look better in their eyes. These bikes began to be called bobbers. Changes kept occurring but it wasn't until the late 60's and early 70's that the bobbers gave way to the choppers. After release of the seminal movie Easy Rider in 1969, a whole new movement began. Riders wanted a bike like the one ridden by Peter Fonda in the movie. They wanted a chopper.

Just what is a chopper? Like the bobber, the chopper is created by removing or chopping off unnecessary components from the bike. Who needs a windshield, front fenders, big headlights, crash bars, big seats, etc? Chop them off and make the bike lighter. Bikers started raking the front end so the angle of the fork to the ground began decreasing allowing for a greatly increased wheelbase. Handlebars were raised high and called ape hangers. The front tire was made small and the rear tire was made fat. Some bikers even removed the battery and used a magneto to reduce weight. The gas tank became small as was the headlight. Anything deemed to be unnecessary was removed."

So to all you guys out there riding Choppers, refer to the above definition. Chopping is meant to simplify the bike - not make it a rolling piece of chrome art! When bikers first started "chopping" their bikes, it was to make them ride better. Somehow along the way, this definition got distorted. When I look at these TV shows that glorify "custom" bike builders, I wonder how many new motorcyclists out there are actually getting into it to ride? Truthfully, for most of them it's just "bling".

Maybe I just don't get it - but I'm usually much more impressed by people who travel great distances ON their bike; instead of going great lengths to SHOW their bike. Here are some motorcycle travellers that have impressed me:

  • Ted Simon: The original adventure biker. This guy went around the world on a Triumph and chronicled the entire journey in "Jupiter's Travels", one of the most interesting travel diaries ever written. Just imagine: four years, 54 countries, and 63,000 miles. Simon's writing style is at times serious, and at others light and humourous. If you only intend on reading one motorcycle-oriented book in your lifetime, make it this one.
  • Neil Peart: This guy really understands what motorcycling is all about - he gets it! After going through two traumatic losses in his life (both daughter and wife) Neil didn't feel like he had anything left to live for. Usually this type of mindset can only lead to darker times, but Neil found one thing that still made him feel better (or, at least, kept his mind off other things): his BMW R1100GS. So he hopped on and started out on a journey that lead him through just about all of North and Central America. It goes a long way to show people that rock stars are human too (Neil Peart is the drummer/lyricist for rock supergroup Rush). His excellent book "Ghost Rider" chronicles his journey on what he chose to call the "healing road". I had always admired Neil for his musical talent, I now hold him in even higher regard as a great person. Highly recommended reading.
  • Christopher P. Baker: "Mi Moto Fidel", Chris Baker's intriguing account of his three-month ride through Cuba on a fire-engine red Beemer is perhaps the most thorough portrait of this faded Communist country to date. Baker effectively captures the essence of the Cuban people - primarily their generosity and resilient spirit - and his various dalliances with beautiful habaneras will pique readers' interest (men's more than women's, understandably). By the time Baker winds up back in Havana he has covered some 7,000 miles. This book will make you want to head out somewhere looking for adventure.
  • Keith Kimber & Tania Brown: If you look up "Motorcycle Adventurer" in any dictionary, these two are THE definition. In 1983 they purchased a used Honda CX500 for $1400 with the intention of touring the world for a year or two... They're still going - on the same 1983 CX500! They've been around the world a few times, never stopping very long. Their story (the bits and pieces I've managed to find) is truly amazing. I'm actually thinking of starting a petition to have their bike put in the Smithsonian. As a journalist for Motorcyclist magazine recently put it: "Imagine how far these two would have gone if they'd had a BMW R1200GS - the moon?"
To sum it up, let's quote the late Freddie Mercury, lead singer of rock group Queen from the song "Fat Bottomed Girls" (no political correctness in that title!):

"Get on your bikes and ride!"

Who am I?

If you're trying to get an idea of what this post's about by reading the title: don't worry... This isn't some long-winded philosophical rambling about personal identity and purpose. I figure life is too short to waste time figuring out the "Who's" and "Why's". By the time you start making sense of it, your time's up! Personally, my philosophy is more centered around the concept of "Why not?".

I'm just a typical Joe. Nothing interesting to report, really. I take pleasure in simple things, and take offense at certain things. All in all, I consider myself to be a very tolerant and semi-well-adjusted individual (if there actually is such a thing).

So why start blogging? I forgot to mention that I'm also a very opinionated bugger! This being said, I'll also be the first to admit when I'm wrong. So I guess you could say that I'm "moderately" opinionated. Like other bloggers, I've got things to say and I want to share them with the world and get feedback from others, whether they agree or not.

To give you guys an idea of what this blog's about, let me share some of my "likes" and "dislikes" with you. The "likes" are the things that I enjoy in life, or that interest me in a certain way. It doesn't mean I'm an expert in any of them; but given the time and motivation, I could easily become one!

The first "like" that comes to mind is motorcycling. I'm a newbie at it (only been riding for 2 years), but I have to admit that I'm hooked. Before you start imagining me as some leather-clad tattooed dude with a beergut riding around on a over-chromed Harley with an exhaust that makes more noise than an F-14 at takeoff, let me clear a few things up. I enjoy touring and discovering roads that most people will never see, which pigeonholes me in the "Adventure Touring" category. For non-motorcyclists out there, think "BMW" rather than "Harley-Davidson". As a general rule of thumb, I don't like "Cruiser" motorcycles or the lifestyle generally associated with it. Now before I get the local Hell's Angels knocking at my door let me just state that this is a personal choice; if you enjoy it, go ahead! More power to you.

Another "like" is photography. This, I've been doing for a little while now; about 8 years. Started with a Pentax Super-ME 35mm semi-automatic SLR and have been through numerous models and technologies ever since. I'm not a purist, so I won't go on ranting on the purity of film cameras vs. digital. Truth be told, I'm a big advocate of digital photography because it makes the art more accessible to the masses.

A few other "likes" worth mentioning are music (Studied classical music in university for 4 years), technology and computers (I've got a post-graduate diploma in Information Technology Management), and ecology.

The "dislikes"? I suppose I could easily condense this to one simple definition: "I generally dislike ideas and concepts that simply don't measure-up to common sense". Need an example? How about motorcyclists who claim that wearing a helmet actually increases your chances of injury in a crash. These are usually the "hidden agenda" types that try to come up with arguments for defending a point or idea, because they simply don't have the guts to tell the truth.

Anyhow, that's "who I am" in a nutshell. Ever look in the mirror and wonder who you are?