July 19, 2009

Cellphone Cagers–drunk on the sound of their own voice

Filed under: Motorcycle awareness,Motorcycle safety — wmoon @ 3:34 pm

There’s an excellent article , Drivers and Legislators Dismiss Cellphone Risks, on the NY Times website. Not only does it have links to research on the dangers of distracted driving and cellphone use but it addresses one of the issues that trouble me the most:

“A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

Device makers and auto companies acknowledge the risks of multitasking behind the wheel, but they aggressively develop and market gadgets that cause distractions.

Police in almost half of all states make no attempt to gather data on the problem. They are not required to ask drivers who cause accidents whether they were distracted by a phone or other device. Even when officers do ask, some drivers are not forthcoming.

The federal government warns against talking on a cellphone while driving, but no state legislature has banned it. This year, state legislators introduced about 170 bills to address distracted driving, but passed fewer than 10.”

Imo, this is hypocritical–and what intrigues me the most are those drivers who rail against drinking and driving and yet get on their cellphones as soon as they get in their cars and not just to talk but to text or check a website on the Internet. Because even talking on a hands-free cellphone while driving is as dangerous as being drunk enough to get a DUI:

“Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated.”

Cagers who use such devices are actually worse, imo, than riders who drink and ride–at least riders do it rarely while some of these brain-dead drivers can’t seem to drive a mile without getting on their phones.

The article goes on to say, “[police officers] are not required to ask drivers who cause accidents whether they were distracted by a phone or other device. Even when officers do ask, some drivers are not forthcoming.” That, however is something easy enough to check by asking to see their phone and checking if it was in use at the time, isn’t it?

We riders know all too well the dangers of distracted riders–though I have to say it’s incredibly hypocritical for riders to use cellphones via ear buds/bluetooth while riding themselves.

If the motorcycle rights groups want to do something actually useful to the whole of riders and not just their helmet-obsessed members, I suggest they work to change the laws on distracted driving.  At least it seems if they really do care if riders are safer on the roads, a requirement that police at least ask–if not require them to check–if a cellphone or other device was in effect in crashes is something that seems easy enough.

I’m generally against anything mandatory and categorical bans–however, I do think that laws that would require similar penalties to DUI for distracted driving is not only fair but just.


May 28, 2009

Pilot training like rider training?

Filed under: Uncategorized — wmoon @ 8:45 pm

There’s an entry I’ve been meaning to write for months now. I try and delete and try again and delete again—one of these days the words will come.  Meanwhile, I’ve been working intensely on a project I’m not ready to discuss and, of course, been taking a closer look at various states. All that was on my mind this morning when a story on CNN this morning got my attention, “Florida’s Pilot Factory”.

And it fit so neatly into this whole rider ed/motorcycle safety thing—and, hell, life itself these days—that I looked into it a little more and I thought I’d share it with you all:

On February 12, 2009, pilot Captain Marvin Renslow, and co-pilot Rebecca Shaw, were flirting and chatting as they approached Buffalo, NY in deteriorating weather conditions. Minutes from the airport, they noticed how much ice was on the wings of the Bombardier Q400. Shaw confessed her total inexperience with icing and deicing and her nervousness, “I don’t want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I’dve freaked out. I’dve have like seen this much ice and thought, `Oh my gosh, we were going to crash.’ ”

Renslow responded, “I would’ve been fine. I would have survived it. There wasn’t, we never had to make decisions that I wouldn’t have been able to make but … now I’m more comfortable.”

As it turned out, Shaw was wrong about the reason but right about the effect and Renslow was wrong all around:

Moments later the turboprop stalled out on approach to Buffalo NY and the plane dropped straight down on a house. Renslow’s last words were, “Gear up. Oh (expletive).

All 49 on board and someone in the house were killed.

The National Transportation Safety Board found several problems when it investigated but they could be summed up as pilot error or “poor airmanship.”  And poor airmanship, experts believe, is often the result of poor training.

In fact, Renslow did exactly the opposite of what pilots are trained to do in those circumstances: he yanked the nose of the plane up and slowed down the plane even more.

In all regional airline crashes, “The one thing that ties them all together is poor airmanship,” said Captain Jack Casey, Chief Operating Officer of Safety Operating System, an aviation consulting firm. “You cannot build sophisticated airline pilot skills on top of a soft foundation.”

Training itself and allowing poor students to proceed to licensure may have played a very large role in the crash of Flight 3407. Pilots go through far more extensive training than motorcyclists do:

They are first learn to fly a small plane, then go to flight school to learn to fly commercial planes and then are trained by the airline that hires them. Unlike motorcycles, those in aviation don’t think all airplanes are basically alike—pilots have to be trained on each kind of plane they fly. They also have to pass written tests and FAA “check flights” which are basic proficiency tests.

Renslow, it turned out, had flunked five of them though he was able to pass each one when he retook it—iow, he failed then passed then failed then passed then failed then passed then failed then passed then failed then passed over the span of his training and career—yet Colgan Air said his skills were “adequate” and claim they didn’t know about two of three of the failures that occurred prior to his employment. However, two of the failed check flights happened while he was employed by Colgan Air—the last occurring 16 months before the deadly flight to Buffalo.  In the weeks following the crash, at least two of its senior management pilots—those responsible for those flight checks—are not longer employed in that capacity.

It’s almost as if Colgan Air had told its instructors that they shouldn’t consider themselves to be gatekeepers to the business of flying… And it makes me wonder about that policy of not counseling out often and early. And it makes me really wonder—given the rise in passing rates and the drop in fail rates in two of the three states we’ve examined so far and the subsequent rise in fatalities if there isn’t a connection after all.

Does it matter if Renslow failed so many times if he passed ultimately? Does training matter?

So let’s walk back through Renslow the five-time failure’s training:

Colgan Air’s FAQ on Flight 3407 strenuously defended it’s training program:

Its training is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and crew training programs “meet or exceed all regulatory requirements for all major airlines” requiring “double the amount of flight training time prior to flying this type of aircraft” than the FAA demands and has the pilot observe crews operating that kind of aircraft. And they use simulators and have a quality control program and their program “thoroughly address emergency situations” and their crews are prepared to handle them.

Colgan also said that Renslow had 3,379 total flight experience though only 109 on that particular plane as captain. He had a 172 hours of formal training including classroom and flight simulator) for a total of 261 hours. Ironically, five minutes before the plane fell out of the sky, Renslow himself told Shaw that he had only flown for 625 hours total before he was hired by Colgan—and referred, as we’ll see, to how many of those hours were flown in commercial flight school.

In contrast, Shaw also spoke of her experience totally unaware she would be dead in a less than six minutes. She had far more experience with the Q400 than Renslow–772 hours total—and she had 1,600 hours flight experience when she was hired and 2,220 total flight experience at that point.

At the hearing, Colgan rushed to blame Renslow and Shaw who, they claimed, had been well-trained and just hadn’t done what they were supposed to do. It wasn’t Colgan’s fault. It wasn’t the training’s fault.

And doesn’t that remind me of rider instructors and MSF! It’s not their fault—it’s the rider’s fault. Whatever happens to them once they left the range—it’s on them.

However, a Chicago Tribune article stated, “The board also released documents showing that safety investigators were told by one training instructor that Renslow “was slow learning” the Dash 8 at the start but his abilities “picked up at the end.” The training instructor said Renslow struggled to learn the Dash 8’s flight management system, a critical computer, and–had difficulty learning switch positions which were opposite from the throws he had been used to on another aircraft. This instructor described the captain’s decision-making abilities as very good.”

Renslow’s dead wrong reaction when the plane stalled out may have happened, the NTSB hearing discovered, because Colgan Air showed its pilots a video of an unusual kind of icing and how to deal with it by pulling up the nose and slowing the plane—even though the particular plane wasn’t susceptible to that kind of problem.

And in a parallel with many aspects of MSF’s training including the failure to adequately address ABS brakes and how to properly use them:

Both Fox News and USA Today reported that Colgan does not train pilots on an important safety device known as a “stick pusher” which would’ve pointed the nose down so the plane would speed up and disaster have been averted.

But the parallel doesn’t end there: When it activated by itself  Renslow overrode it and kept the nose of the plane up. So much for that good judgment that Renslow’s instructor at Colgan—and Renslow himself—claimed he had.

One of the ways the BRC has been dumbed down according to many rider educators is that much of the material on hazards and street strategies has been removed or weakened including the switch from SIPDE (Scan, Interpret, Predict, Decide, Execute) to SEE (Search, Evaluate, Execute). Students, many rider educators—and more and more motorcyclists—believe are less likely to exhibit good judgment as a result.

I have to wonder if MSF curriculum was subjected to as an intensive investigation as Calgon by the NTSB if what so many expert instructors have been saying for years that the public wouldn’t be as appalled as they have been over the revelations about regional airlines.

Renslaw had worked for another regional airline, Gulfstream International, that also flew regional flights in Florida and the Bahamas for Continental Connections as did Calgon Air. Gulfstream International is legally related to Gulfstream Academy, a flight school in Florida.

And that’s where Renslow had been trained to fly commercial planes. He graduated in 2005 and went to work for Colgan Air. There’s been at least four crashes involving pilots trained at Gulfstream Academy and/or who flew for Gulfstream International.

In a parallel with the inter-relationships between the motorcycle industry and motorcycle training—and the deaths in training—at least one of those other crashes involved a plane owned by Pinnacle Airlines, Corp. In that crash, two pilots who both had gained experience at Gulfstream and gone on to work for Pinnacle took a jet for a joyride, flew it too high and ended up in the same ultimate problem Flight 3407—an aerodynamic stall. Colgan Air, Renslow’s employer is a subsidiary of Pinnacle. Colgan Air was quick to deny there was anything similar between the two crashes in its FAQ—the circumstances were “vastly different” and that “any speculation” would suggest that the NTSB and Colgan knew what caused the crash and they couldn’t comment further because the investigation was ongoing.

Of course, we’ve already learned vastly more about what happened on that icy night in Buffalo, NY three months ago than we have about even the first deadly crash in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania back in 1998. In fact, it sounds like Colgan Air’s FAQ was written by the same folks who write MSF’s responses to the NTSB.

In the Gulfstream Academy First Officer program, amateur pilots who have 300 hours of flying time act can pay 30,000 and put in 12 weeks of school and then they’re paid as co-pilots for Gulfstream International flying Beech 1900 aircraft. Gulfstream International is the carrier for Continental Connections flights in Florida and the Bahamas. Incidentally, the Wall Street Journal reported that Renslow had failed the flight check on the Beech 1900 after coming to work for Colgan Air.

And then they can go off as a full-fledged commercial pilot for an airline—usually regional airlines like Colgan Air or Pinnacle.

According to another article in the WSJ,

“Mr. Hackett [chief executive of the airline’s parent company, Gulfstream International Group Inc.] said Capt. Renslow’s record at Gulfstream was uneventful and he passed all his simulator proficiency tests and check rides.” Except he had failed three before he was hired by Colgan Air.

Iow, Renslow had to have 300 hours flight experience prior to entering Gulfstream Training Academy, then 250 at the academy—and Renslow says he had a total of 625 when he was hired by Colgan Air. You do the math.

In contrast, CNN reports, “Most major airlines require co-pilots to have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time. That’s three to five times the amount of some students entering Gulfstream’s First Officer program.” A quick check of other flight schools that train commercial domestic pilots show that training alone is from 12-24 months. Many programs require their students to act as flight instructors as way of really learning by teaching.

Many pilots have little respect for private flight schools like Gulfstream Academy—they say it’s “buying [flight] time” and essentially buying the right hand seat in the cockpit without getting any real training or life experience. Paying a lot of money to get through faster doesn’t make you better—in fact, it’s the opposite. Gulfstream—and other schools like it—appear to be, as the CNN article says, a pilot factory.

But it’s not really any different from rider training as the United States knows it.  Every version of MSF’s basic training has gotten shorter and shorter and less and less skills are taught. From two full weekends, it’s become a one-day course in at T3RG. And if MSF has it’s way, the classroom will shrink down to a couple hours on-line.

The second WSJ article afforded another parallel to rider training:  It concludes with a note about liability: “In filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company indicates that other airlines employ pilots trained by its training affiliate, called Gulfstream Training Academy. “In the event of an accident caused by an academy graduate, it is possible the academy could be named as a defendant in any lawsuit,” according to one recent filing. “There are no assurances our insurance policy will adequately cover potential losses from such claims.”

And what does that remind us of given MSF changing its RERP contract to remove itself from liability—even for its own negligence?

It took one crash and 50 deaths for the sub-par training for commercial pilots to come out in a NTSB hearing. We’re up to 7 confirmed deaths, several critical injuries in training and God and MSF only knows how many we don’t know about—and who knows how many deaths of sub-par trained riders on the road….how many will it take before the link between training and road crashes is officially investigated?

April 27, 2009

Flow is the lifeblood of motorcycling

Filed under: personal essay,Uncategorized — wmoon @ 5:45 am

“Without adequate acceleration, a two-wheeled bike simply falls over on its side and remains inert. For reasons of basic physics, speed is the lifeblood of motorcycling. Thus, there can be no motorcycling without speed.” ~Mark C. Taylor and Josè Márquez “Cycles of Paradox”

But while speed is the lifeblood of motorcycling, thrill is the lifeblood of the motorcyclist.

Just as a motorcycle needs speed to balance, it must become temporarily unbalanced and fall partway to be able to change direction. For reasons of basic physics, it needs a controlled, incomplete fall to turn. And both speed and leaning into the turn are thrilling.

The thrill of speed

Thrill, according to Frank Rickabaugh Arnold in his dissertation, “Ordinary Motorcycle Thrills: The Circulation of Motorcycle Meanings in American Film and Popular Culture”, is the core experience in motorcycling. Thrill, as an intransitive verb, refers to the involuntary “shiver of emotion” as well as to the physiological reactions to that emotion. As a noun, it refers both to that sensate experience and to the cause of that emotion.

The most ordinary experience of thrill is falling, which kicks in at falling speed—38 feet/second squared—and consists of two things: sudden, abrupt acceleration and the sense there is no ground beneath us.

We experience thrill in our brains. Physiologically, the systems that control our balance and tell our brains where and how our bodies are located in space are immediately and overwhelmingly flooded with data. Within nanoseconds, the limbic system is triggered: our heart rate speeds up; our muscles tense; and our physical senses are heightened and sensitive. That’s why we delight in the downhill side of a roller coasters rather than the uphill climb. It’s why some of us love whoop-de-dos and others love sky-diving, bungee or base jumping. And it’s one of the main reasons we love motorcycling.

Sudden acceleration arouses us in similar physiological ways as we are by sex. And, just like orgasm, thrill releases endorphins that flood our system with a sense of well-being. Thrilling activities make us keenly aware of our surroundings and that we are very much alive. Far from being a death-wish, then, riding a motorcycle is very much a life wish.

The thrill of horizontal falling

Acceleration, Arnold points out, is a “special case of falling”. The same forces act on our bodies, the same sensations are experienced, the same heightened brain activity that happens in a vertical fall happens horizontally.

As we learned in high school physics, Force = Mass * Acceleration. The faster the acceleration—or deceleration—the more forces acts upon the human body. Once we’ve achieved that acceleration though and are traveling at constant speed, there’s no forces related to that movement that act upon the body, and we do not feel we’re traveling at the speed we are. The flood of data slows down, there’s no longer a sense of heightened sensory input—it feels normal. For example, you don’t even feel in motion in a plane that’s at cruising altitude.

In all activities that involve speed, then, it’s not the constant rate of travel itself that brings us the most pleasure; it’s the acceleration and controlled but rapid deceleration. In activities that involve falling—sky-diving, bungee or base jumping—it’s linear and short in duration: one acceleration and one deceleration. It’s also the acceleration that’s most prized. Other activities like driving, water or snow skiing, and motorcycling offer repeated experiences of acceleration and deceleration—and that’s what’s most prized by their adherents. Riding on an empty freeway for hours at the exact same speed may be pleasurable, may be comforting, may be peaceful—but it’s not thrilling. That’s found on twisty roads that require the two special cases of falling essential to motorcycling—acceleration and lean.

Finding flow

Arousal, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi points out in Finding Flow, is that state where we feel “mentally focused, active and in control” and it’s one of the two components we must feel to experience flow. Flow is a mental state when we’re so immersed and absorbed in what we are doing that the sense of time and space disappear—hours pass like minutes, space shrinks or expands in inexplicable ways. Csikszentmihalyi says it “tends to occur when a person’s skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable. Optimal experiences usually involve a fine balance between one’s ability to act and the available opportunities for action.”

If we’re adept but the task is too easy—there’s no sense of flow; we become relaxed and then quickly become bored. If we’re adept and the challenge is too hard—no flow; we experience frustration and stress and then anxiety. Flow only occurs when we’re at the edge of our ability to do something and the challenge of what we are doing; flow is found on the edge.

Activities that provide immediate feedback as to how well one is doing are more prone to triggering flow. When “goals are clear, feedback relevant, and challenges and skills are in balance” our attention becomes focused, we become invested in the outcome and flow ensues.

In the state of flow, Csikszentmihalyi says, we’re so focused that we’re hard to distract. We feel energized, we lose self-consciousness and forget irrelevant feelings, we feel competent and self-assured. In the state of flow, our sense of who we are merges with what we’re doing: we feel most alive and most who we really are as we’re doing the activity. And we feel powerful because we feel that what we’re doing is important and we feel in control and we feel in charge of our own destiny.

When the challenge is high and the skills are high we become both mentally aroused and feel we’re in control and then we experience flow. Both arousal and control, he says, are very important states for learning and “flow experience acts as a magnet for learning—that is, for developing new levels of challenges and skills” (at some point I hope to come back to this in terms of rider training).

But activity is the key to the activity that will produce flow, Csikszentmihalyi says. Ones that require action and socializing are demanding and almost always produce moments of stress and anxiety. Passive activities are more relaxing but, oddly enough, research shows that they are experienced as less enjoyable. The higher and more demanding the level of skill and challenge, the greater likelihood of flow—and thus long-term satisfaction with one’s life in other areas as well.

People find that nexus of skill and challenge in a variety of activities and some of them very sedentary—chess and video games, for example and some rather slow like gardening, carpentry and working on cars/motorcycles. Any activity that involves in frequent change in the balance of skill to challenge in the form of obstacles, conditions and so forth usually require greater control and usually involve both mental and physical skills. Activities like these then intrinsically supply abundant opportunities to experience flow.

However, extreme sports and particularly those involving speed and/or lean is where many seek that edge where flow can be found. Because, of course, activities that involve speed are ones that particularly require both high skill and high challenge—and that challenge is in part so high because of the potentially high consequences. Activities that involve speed and rapid reactions also require absorbed and attentive focus, the feedback is immediate and intense, the goal is clear and have multiple levels that require increasing skill matched with increasing challenge. Video games supply all that to those too young to participate in other activities that would accomplish the same thing.

Absorption and attentive focus quiet the mind even as its energized and operating at peak performance, which is why motorcycling, for example, is experienced as simultaneously both exhilarating and yet relaxing. Motorcycling, then, with its constantly changing literal balance and orientation in space in the act of leaning triggers physical arousal. It also triggers mental arousal—and its constantly changing degree of challenge and the increased level of control it requires is especially positioned to provide opportunities to experience flow.

Not risk-seekers but flow-seekers?

Popular culture sees motorcyclists as risk-seekers on the hunt for that thrill. However, research has found that young motorcyclists aren’t any more risk-takers than young drivers are. It could be, then, that those who are drawn to motorcycling are those who have a higher need to experience flow.

While happiness is not the same thing as flow, Csikszentmihalyi’s research found that happiness and motivation was highest involved in active leisure, talking with people and when eating. Talking, he says, results in flow and personal growth when it’s with those who you find have “interesting opinions and whose conversations are stimulating”. While “superficial conversations…can stave off depression” but don’t result in flow. Concentration is highest when working/studying, when driving and in active leisure—the parts of our lives that require the most mental effort. These are also the things that provide the most opportunity for flow.

It could be, then, that rather than having thrill-seeking or risk-taking personalities, riders have a higher need for flow.

April 22, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Filed under: personal — wmoon @ 2:39 pm

Time for a shout-out to Mr. James R. Davis, co-partner in the Motorcycle Tips and Techniques site–and particularly the All Things Motorcycle forums. I’ve learned alot by (mostly) lurking on the forum site from the good folk that post there.

Few of you may know, but Jim offered to host a re-do of Moonrider after Journalspace went down–an offer I very much appreciated, but, by the time I found out, I had found wordpress.com and had begun again. Though he and I agree to disagree on some things, Jim is a great fellow whose words matches his actions and he’s a force for true motorcycle safety.

At any rate, it’s his birthday today and he‘s mumblety-mumble years old today. Happy birthday to a fellow who’s growing younger every year.

April 16, 2009

This machine has no brain


April 5, 2009

To the incredible and wonderful lifesavers in my life

Filed under: personal — wmoon @ 1:34 pm

There are men—and some women—who are so wonderful and supportive, generous and giving and thoughtful that it touches my heart and brings tears to my eyes. Those who are true to their principles, believe in greater causes and believe in me. Men who have never deceived me, often challenged me, and have had a profound influence on this work I do. They have respected me and never expected me to lower my principles and, indeed, encourage me to be who I am and do what I do best. They have never and would never ask me to be less than I am or lied to further their interess. Indeed—and in deed, they help me stay strong and more than I am and do it better. I cannot express how grateful I am for these rare and exceptional people.

They have been a major support, inspiration and motivation for me in this work and have always been there when I needed them. And they make me laugh and they give me perspective on those who aren’t honest and put profit about what makes life truly worth living.

And among them there are a very few that are simply outstanding. Without them, I would’ve given up. And without them, there would’ve been no way forward, no hope that truth and love for what we share would be one day victorious. Because of these amazing men, I have hope.

They have been true lifesavers for me—and I thank them. You know who you are.


March 29, 2009


Last week I suddenly realized it’s been almost five years ago since I began investigating this rider ed issue, and I was astonished.

So many thoughts have been going through my mind lately and came to a head as I was IMing with my friend V. She has digestive problems and her stress level has increased lately and it’s so bad now she can hardly eat at all. She’s been seeing a homeopath by the Hollywood Bowl for a while. “I don’t know why,” she wrote, “I’m spending all this money on therapies and products that don’t work.” She’s thinking about making a major change in her life.

I’m thinking she’ll do something like move out from her mother’s house, get a job she doesn’t hate or at least get some real physical exercise. Instead she tells me her facialist told her about a new homeopath who has a “new method/technique/approach” and is cheaper than her old homeopath.

Which reminded of the New York DMV who believed it was time for a change and believed MSF’s hype about it’s great track record running state programs and was the lowest bidder, too.

Change is the new buzz word: Things can change. People can change. We can change. Things will be better if only this happens. We just have to change this one thing and everything will be better.

So what has changed in five years?

Back then the Motorcycle Safety Foundation presented itself as a charity safety and educational foundation instead of what it really was—a trade group controlled by the manufacturers to promote its self-interests and protect them from government regulation.

  • Five years ago MSF was plotting to take over states and taking them over and is still plotting and taking over states today.
  • Back then MSF was becoming more dictatorial and secretive and is even more so today.
  • Five years ago the manufacturers were cynically using rider training as marketing—and they still are today.
  • Back then deaths and severe injuries were occurring with student-centered/adult-learning instructing approach and they’re still are occurring today.
  • Five years ago the manufacturers were greedily seeking maximum profits no matter what the physical costs to riders—and they still are only they’re greedily seeking to lower their costs at the expense of independent providers.

A lot has happened in those five years.

But not a lot has changed.

So I’d really like to believe that V will find the change she can believe in with her new homeopath and the leopard can change its spots for all the NY training providers Joe the Instructors and Joe the Administrators in the nation. For some reason I keep humming The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”:

… For I know that the hypnotized never lie

Do ya? …

There’s nothing in the streets

Looks any different to me

And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye…

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

Then I’ll get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again

Don’t get fooled again

No, no, no no, no!

Don’t get fooled again.


Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss.

March 19, 2009

Rest in peace, Jim

Filed under: personal essay — wmoon @ 6:16 pm

A friend of mine died yesterday when he fell down the stairs and broke his neck. Jim Balaja was a good man, an honest man and a good, dedicated instructor in the Illinois State Motorcycle Program. He will be missed by all. He’s the third friend in rider ed to die in just over a year. Life is short.

I met Jim when I spoke at a rider trainer’s end-of-year banquet back in the fall of 2005. Over the years he’s stayed in touch with what’s going on in his life and in training in his area. I didn’t know him well but I well knew what was important to him—and that was the best of what makes us human.

And Jim knew what love was worth—If there was only one thing someone would know about Jim, it had to be his love for his wife MJ and how much he enjoyed being with her, how important she was to his happiness. And riding—he did love to ride. And teach people how to ride. And pizza. Life is too short to forget what really gives life meaning.

Jim never knew how much it helped me that I knew they were there believing in what I did, calling me a friend, joking with me and inviting me up to visit them. Now Jim will never know how much their kindness meant to me. I wish I would’ve told him. I can still tell MJ and will.

One of the last communications with Jim was when he sent me a drinking request on Facebook. I tend to ignore them because lead to all these annoying screens. But I finally “took” the drink this morning—a tall clear glass of something. A glass of water? A gin and tonic? I wish I had responded when it came in. Here’s to, you, Jim, I thought as I raised that virtual drink in his honor.

My grandfather on my mother’s side died from falling down stairs. My grandmother had just come home from the hospital after an illness and he had shut the curtains in the bathroom, which was next to the stairs—and the stairs were opposite their bedroom. It was a loving thing—he didn’t want to disturb her healing sleep. That night, he had gotten up to use the toilet and mistook the stairs for the bathroom door. I only have one recollection of the man I called “Gwampy”. I suppose it’s ironic that I remember him carrying me down those very same stairs. Life was too short for me to know him.

And I suppose it’s ironic that Jim died from a fall—but not one on a motorcycle. Who would ever have predicted that would happen? I think of all those people who are not riders, who are cagers at heart because they are so afraid that they may fall—and yet, like Jim and my grandfather, the fall can happen anyways.

It startles me how his death has affected me—perhaps because it recalls happier times when I believed that the truth would eventually make a difference, that my faith was not misplaced, that love made a difference and believing that good people would not, could not allow the manipulative and greedy to win. Jim will never know now how much it helped me to keep on simply because he believed in what I was doing. Believed that change was possible. Life is too short not to dare to ride, to struggle to achieve good for the many, to love, to hope beyond hope.

Jim, ride the shining roads and eat heavenly pizza. I wish I had known you better.

The Brits have done it again

Filed under: Motorcycle awareness,Motorcycle safety — wmoon @ 11:46 am

Here‘s  a new Transport for London commercial on the British MCN site that’s meant to raise motorcycle awareness. This one is about the size arrival effect. Like other British mc awareness commericials it packs a wallop up until the last second.

March 9, 2009

Lucky me, unlucky students

I just posted a little while ago on Moonrider Redux about a legal settlement in yet another crash that happened during training. In this case, it was an 82-year old woman who was simply putting packages in her car . She was hit by an out-of-control rider who had already crashed during the course. The elderly  woman’s hip was broken and the settlement was almost a million dollars.

I literally stumbled upon the article while searching a database for studies about something completely different. In fact, I was momentarily irritated that a news article had come up instead of a weighty academic study.

But, lucky, it did come up because when I went and searched for the same article–or any other mention of the suit at Google and Yahoo nothing came up. The only thing I could find was the Missouri Lawyers Weekly site–and I couldn’t find the article there either.

Iow, had I not stumbled upon it by pure luck in a database where no one would’ve thought of looking for it, I may never have found out about the crash or the settlement. And neither would you.

Of course, I only found out about the death and near-paralysis crashes in Pennsylvania in late 2007 because someone accidentally overheard others talking about it and he told me. No public record of that crash exists either. And I only knew about the bystander crashes because someone thought it was curious and forwarded it to me. That document was never intended to be seen by anyone outside the PMSP.

And I had believed it when Harley-Davidson said that a man had died from a heart attack and oh, btw, he had been participating in a Rider’s Edge class at Uke’s in Kenosha, WI but then a student in that class had stumbled on my old blog and revealed that Harley had failed to mention the failure to make a turn, grabbing a fistful of throttle and running head first into a concrete wall–and hadn’t had a heart attack because the paramedics didn’t begin CPR when they arrived. Now that crash had been in the newspaper–but the Kenosha News doesn’t put it’s content on the Internet.

And I only knew about the near-fatality at the Rider’s Edge in FL because someone stumbled upon an injury report. That one didn’t make the papers either.

And I only knew about the near-fatality in West Virginia because I was talking to someone from that state about something completely different and it just came up. And I couldn’t find any public report on that either.

And it was only because I knew someone who happened to mention to me rumors he had heard from someone he knew that I found out about the Valley Forge crash and that’s how I heard about the Colorado Springs crash, too.

In fact, there’s only three deaths in rider ed that were reported in the newspaper: the first two Rider’s Edge deaths–and there’s only one article still available on that on the Internet–and the death of an instructor in Valencia, CA.

Mr. Inappropriate told me about the first Rider Edge death because he thought it was funny–the article he read and then forwarded to me described the woman being lauched into one of those huge garbage bins. That article disappeared from the Internet. Because of it was odd that another death occurred and so soon, he forwarded me the link on the second death a couple weeks later. Had he not had a macabre sense of humor, I wouldn’t have known about them and then remembered they had occurred several years as I worked on the BRC vs RSS article.

Had someone not copied what Ray Ochs wrote on the old msfcurriculum list and put it on another forum, that record would have dissappeared as well.

In each case, it was a matter of luck or happenstance or pbopel who knew peopel who had heard something that set me off to confirming that it did, indeed, happen–and then link them together. Oh, yeah, after the initial luck there were many, many hours, sometimes months of hard work tracking the information down and confirming it before revealing it.

And it occured to me today that, if not for my luck, no part of the motorycling community would know about the deadly picture that’s developing in rider ed. Though, I have to say few still do. Not the SMRO activists, not the rider ed community, not riders. Not even people who should know at NHTSA knew about them all. And no one, apparently knows at the NTSB. Oh, some may have vague recollections of the first Rider’s Edge deaths and may have heard a rumor about one or another of them–but no one knew that all these had occurred or the details–such as we have–or in what short a span of time.

So I’m wondering–do I have the luck of the Irish or luck of the Dark One (for other Robert Jordan fans) or what?

And so I ask you: am I so incredibly lucky that I’ve stumbled, one way or another, on all the serious injures and deaths and all the lawsuits with six figure awards? Or are there more out there somewhere mentioned where no one would think of looking or in a newspaper that doesn’t share its content? Are there people who do know but don’t know who to tell or have decided to keep quiet?Just how lucky am I?

And how many more crashes, injuries and deaths in training have to occur before motorcyclists, SMRO activists, rider educators or, god forbid, NHTSA and the NTSB do something about those students–and bystanders–whose luck ran out?

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