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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hard Truths and Sacred Cows*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
August 8, 2010
as "Hard Truths, Sacred Cows"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

In our lives, we have come to accept some ideas as irrefutable truths. Some are ideas that have stood the test of time and research; others are accepted for no other reason than they “feel right.” Sometimes, a sacred cow has only remained sacred because nobody has studied it carefully.

For motorcyclists, one of those sacred cows is the idea that if a car turns left in front of a biker, then the car’s driver is completely, totally, 100% at fault.

Well, maybe not.

While doing some research for a column on motorcycle safety, I stumbled on a very interesting website. “Motorcycle Tips and Techniques”  is a site run out of Houston, Texas by James R. Davis and Attorney Elaine Cash Anthony. Together, they run the Master Strategy Group.

Their accomplishments are many, varied, and impressive. Ms. Anthony, in addition to being an accomplished practitioner of the law is also a producer, author, actor, and poet. Mr. Davis is now retired but has been a senior executive in both the securities and IT industries. He is also a court-recognized expert in the area of motorcycles, riding, and the scientific dynamics of both, having been an expert witness in numerous court cases, as well as the author of over 260 articles.

Both Ms. Anthony and Mr. Davis are passionate motorcycle riders. James, in particular, has been riding for over 50 years, logging a half-million miles. Out of that mutual interest arose a suite of websites that has scored with some 17 million readers.

What got my attention was Mr. Davis’ assertion that, in a failure-to-yield accident, the motorcyclist was not entirely blameless. Now, I’ve only been riding for half his miles and years, but I was certain that when a car turns in front of us, that’s a judgment of responsibility that qualifies as a “no-brainer.” I instituted an exchange of emails with him, which at one point turned a bit testy (my fault). But after reading his replies, and perusing the case studies, I was forced to change my mind.

A sacred cow has been cut from the herd.

Their website reveals that too many motorcyclists are woefully ignorant of proper braking technique. Excessive speed and impaired riding also contribute greatly to the self-imposition of unnecessary risk, but knowing the difference between an emergency stop and panic braking is crucial to street survival.

In a car, emergency braking and panic braking are pretty much the same application. Stomp on the brake pedal and try to push it through the firewall, relying on traction control and ABS to keep the vehicle upright. On a bike, that approach leads to disaster. Emergency stopping technique is not clamping down the brake handle with a life-or-death grip, but a controlled stop through a quick, but steady squeeze.
Of the front brake.

I am astonished at the number of riders who only use the rear brake. I had conversations with some of the 220,000 Thunder in the Valley attendees, and a disturbing number of them were rear brake devotees. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation, in their Rider Safety Courses, teach the use of the front brake as the primary stopping method. The front brake provides 70% (some now say 90%) of a bike’s stopping power. You see, when a bike’s brakes are activated, the weight balance shifts forward, removing pressure and frictional coefficient from the rear tire, which means the bike skids much farther.

In one case in particular, although the original judgment was against the car’s driver, that damage award was reduced by about $400,000 because the court ruled that faulty braking technique by the motorcycle rider contributed to the accident. Extensive expert technical testimony showed that if the rider had employed MSF-taught front braking technique, the bike would have stopped short of the turning car and therefore, the collision never would have taken place.

This was a harsh truth to swallow, but upon further reflection, a good truth. More than anything else, it underscores the desperate need for intermediate rider training, especially in braking technique and accident avoidance.

There will always be the threat of someone turning in front of you. And inside a certain distance and above a certain speed, only the hand of God can stay you from disaster. That’s one of the risks we riders accept.

I urge you to go to their website. Read those case studies and the tips and techniques. The knowledge contained therein will make you a better and wiser rider.

It might even save your life.
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