Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Motorcyclists: Our own worst enemy!

Read a great article by David Hough in Motorcycle Consumer News last weekend regarding the use of "Straight Pipes" on motorcycles. To my surprise and delight, Hough took the whole "Straight Pipes Save Lives" theory and flushed it down the can! How refreshing it was to finally hear a true motorcyclist (i.e. someone who rides for reasons other than image) speak up against the lies and propaganda being touted by certain interest groups.

For years many motorcyclists have been singing the praises of loud pipes (that is, if you can *hear* them singing), claiming that they force car drivers to take notice of motorcycles. Others even claim that the loud rumbling of exhaust pipes gives a menacing tone which makes other drivers think twice before messing with you! Obviously the rumbling tone has also affected their ability to think.

The truth is, loud pipes are dangerous. A motorcyclist must above all be aware of everything going on around him or her. If you can't hear that SUV's horn coming up too fast behind you because your chrome beast makes more noise than a 747 at take-off: you're roadkill! Hough also raised more scientific proof, like the fact that exhaust noise is comprised mostly of low frequency content, thus making it omni-directional. In a nutshell, this is the same theory as a subwoofer for your home theatre system. No matter where you install the subwoofer, the sound will propagate omnidirectionally and make itself heard throughout the room. This makes it difficult to pinpoint the location from which the sound is emanating. So in other words, although a car driver may hear the rumble of straight pipes coming, they won't be able to dicern from which direction the sound is coming.

Many independant studies have shown that straight pipes do little to nothing to prevent accidents. The latest of which being the MAIDS study in Europe. There is, however, undeniable proof that loud pipes are having a negative effect on all motorcyclist's rights and privileges. Many towns and cities have adopted laws that either limit or prohibit the use of all motorcycles during certain hours and/or on certain streets.

There's also the whole issue of outside perception. The bikers who claim that loud pipes make them seem more menacing are absolutely right! Which just adds fuel to the fire for any group that is pushing to implement restrictions on motorcyclists.

Let's face it: as motorcyclists we are greatly outnumbered on our roads and highways, and the majority rules. If we keep being a nuisance to other motorists, we're just our own worst enemy.

A word of advice to motorcyclists out there who are thinking of getting loud pipes to ensure that they get noticed - paint your bike hot pink with flashing purple lights instead; I guarantee that more people will notice you than you would care for!

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Long, Cold Winter...

So now its official: winter is here. The new year is here and it's brought a suitcase full of snow in the guise of a blizzard. This time of year always conjures up a bagful of mixed feelings. On one hand, I’m happy to see the holidays are here. It’s a great time of year to get together with family and friends, reflect on the year gone by and simply have fun. There are, of course, the gifts under the tree and the massive turkey dinner prepared with love by the family matriarch (which, invariably, leaves grandpa snoozing in the easy-chair from over-exertion at the table). There’s also a feeling of general brotherhood; goodwill towards men and all that. People seem to smile more often and shake hands more willingly. That is, of course, if you stay away from the dreaded shopping malls; or as I tend to call them “Hell in a shopping basket”!

Winter also has a flipside for many of us; the other side of the coin, so to speak. For a great number of men & women around the world, winter means “No Motorcycling”. Now to all you four-wheeled commuters out there who have never seen the sunrise over a set of handlebars: don’t try to understand what I’m talking about, you simply can’t. I won’t try to make this an overly ideal or romantic affair, like the lone-biker-down-a-desert-highway image that manufacturers over-use in their ads, because it isn’t.

Motorcycles and their riders have a constant love/hate relationship: it doesn’t idle right, or the seat’s too high, or the windshield’s at the wrong angle, or the pegs are too far back, and so on and so on... But the funny thing is that they keep coming back for more! No matter how burnt-out a motorcyclist might be from working on their ride and spinning wrenches in the shop their smile goes from ear to ear when they press that small red button and bring the two-wheeled beast to life. Which is precisely why winter can be so darn depressing for some of us living North of the snowbelt. Ever look at a motorcyclist’s face when he or she is prepping their bike for a long winter’s nap? It’s a mixture of pride and sadness; proud of another great riding season, and sad to see that it’s coming to an end.

The advent of the Internet and the online motorcycle communities has helped ease the burden of hibernating for some bikers, but it’s also added salt to the wounds of others. Who really wants to hear about a biker in sunny Florida riding around in tropical temperatures when you can’t even stand to look out the window because the frost and snow is too depressing? Winter can also be quite costly for motorcyclists as it gives them plenty of idle time to think-up new ways to “accessorize” their bikes. A great man once said that “We must use time as a tool, not as a crutch”, and many snow-bogged motorcyclists do just that!

There is an upside to hibernation though: the incredible feeling of childhood joy you get come spring when you can finally take out the bike and go for that first ride. You meet up with your riding buddies, show off any new toys you may have added over the winter, and bitch about how your bike isn’t quite right yet! “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” they say, and I tend to agree. It’s almost like having two holiday seasons! Come to think of it, I’ll keep the snow and bitching: it only makes me appreciate Spring that much more when it finally comes around.

“Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart!” – V. Hugo