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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.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The New Allstate Motorcycle Insurance Ad

Copyright © 2012 by Ralph Couey
In the process of relocating, one can expect some disruptions to the even tenor of our lives, the mail being one of them.  As a result, I just recently received my June RoadRunner magazine.  For me, this has been the perfect motorcycle periodical.  I am a “go-far” rider, more content with long rides, the chief characteristic being a Zen-like communion with the world around. RR’s presentation of road trips allow me to live those journeys vicariously through the vivid photography and expressive prose.  There are bike reviews, but they are almost exclusively the kind of machines that are built for doing three states per day, rather than three-digit speeds down the local freeways.  

The issue was great, as usual. But it was the ad on the back cover that really got my attention and my dander all aflutter.

Since the day I threw a leg over my first bike, I’ve been very focused on riding safe and sane, a philosophy reinforced by three accidents over the last 20 years.  I took the Beginning Riders Course back in 1992, and to this day I can remember the instructors steady pounding of the mantra, “Use the FRONT brake!”  It was hard at first to remember.  After all, that’s how I brought my trusty Schwin 1-speed to a halt.  But as they repeatedly pointed out, there are physical forces involved in stopping a 600-plus-pound motorcycle that just don’t apply to their non-motored kin.  For example, when a rider executes an emergency stop, the weight shifts to the front wheel.  The rear tire now has far less weight, causing a corresponding reduction in frictional coefficient. Since the rear tire now has less grip on the pavement, it's going to take a lot more distance to bring the bike to a safe halt.  In addition, a likely outcome of a rear-wheel skid is a catastrophic loss of control as the the rear of the bike slides out from underneath the rider. 

The Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) maintains that the front brake provides, according to recent testing, 90% of a motorcycle’s stopping capability.  With the weight shifted forward, the frictional coefficient of the front tire is increased dramatically.  This means that, properly done, a front wheel emergency stop does not have to end up as a long skid.  The increased grip can slow the bike much quicker, while still keeping the bike under control. 

Despite that proven knowledge, there are far too many riders who rely solely on the rear brake to stop the bike.  James R. Davis, a recognized courtoom expert in motorcycle accident forensics continually points out the fallacy of that habit.  On his website he carries several case studies of accidents, one of which caught my eye.

A rider was killed when a car driver jetted out from a shopping center driveway across her path, causing her to T-bone the car.  The driver was charged, and one would think that this would be about as perfect an open-and-shut case as you could ever want.  But during the civil trial, the defense attorney presented the case that, in the impact itself, the motorcycle rider was at least partially responsible.  He pointed out that the investigation proved that the rider had used only her rear brake to try to stop the bike.  Using MSF’s own figures, he showed that if the rider had employed the recommended front braking technique, then the stopping distance would have been substantially reduced  The collision would then never have happened.  

The driver was still found responsible, but as a result of the defense presented, the damage award to the rider’s family was cut nearly in half.

This can only be characterized as a sobering lesson.

Safe operation of a motorcycle on streets and highways is dependent on many things, not the least of which is proper braking technique.  Everyone with any kind of professional expertise knows this.  Lest you think me overly parochial, remember that when you push the brake pedal on your car, you're activating only...the front brake

So, imagine my surprise and disappointment at RoadRunner’s back cover ad for Allstate motorcycle insurance. 

The image portrays every rider’s worst nightmare, a car entering an intersection crossing the bike’s path.  The driver has done the stupid thing, slamming on the brakes instead of continuing on, getting out of the way.  The rear end is raised and the nose of the car is almost down on the pavement, like a pig snuffling for truffles.

We can't see the rider's face, but it's safe to assume that his eyes are saucer wide and his heart rate and blood pressure have just taken a precipitous leap upwards.  He has begun to react to the hazard before him. 

The first thing I noticed is the skid mark under the rear wheel, and under the rear wheel only.  His right foot is clamped down on the rear brake pedal.  My eyes went next to the right hand grip.  Yep, just as I thought.  The hand brake is hanging out at full extension.  The rider’s fingers aren’t even on the brake handle, much less using it.  As almost always happens when you skid the rear wheel, the bike has already begun to slide out to the right, preparatory to a harsh face-to-face with ol’ Mr. Asphalt, that is if he doesn’t slam into the driver’s side door before he hits the pavement.

Now, if this had been a tutorial in how not to execute an emergency evasion/stop, that would have been fine.  But there are so many things wrong with this picture, all of which go against the hard-won prevailing wisdom of motorcycling.  

This is an ad for a motorcycle insurance company that claims to understand riders and the hazards we face on a daily basis.

I want to be clear that I understand that this is Allstate’s ad, the production of which RoadRunner had no role.  Also that this was probably not actually photographed in real life.  The content of the ad was most likely stitched together digitally.  

But…come on.

I’m willing to bet there wasn’t a single properly-trained and experienced rider involved in the planning or production of this ad.  I can’t believe that any rider worth their salt would deliberately include a rear-wheel skid mark, a boot panic-clamped on the rear brake and a non-fingered front brake handle in an ad even peripherally concerning rider safety.

As far as I'm concerned, this ad doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in Allstate’s corporate knowledge about riding or it's attitude towards the riding community.  And if you're serious about earning my business, you'd better be up to snuff on both accounts.

So for the time being, Flo notwithstanding, I’ll stay with Progressive.
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