Dear awesome regular readers and accidental acquaintances,
I am in the process of starting my new series of educational articles aimed at the beginning street motorcycle rider and those who are thinking about it, but aren’t sure if they should. I will be covering issues related to skill development, smart riding techniques, safety gear, and basic motorcycle maintenance.
This series will be different from what I’ve done so far. It will feature diverse media, such as videos, podcasts, and standard written articles with plenty of photos, as is appropriate for the subject being covered. I will publish weekly, every Friday morning, so you have the weekend to play on two wheels and put the new info to work, if you choose to do so.
I need your help, though. If you’ve been riding for a while and can think of something that you wish somebody had told you when you first started learning but didn’t because you never knew to ask the question in the first place, please let me know.
If you are a beginning rider, please email me your nagging question and I will work hard to answer it and also publish it in this series so others may benefit.
This is going to be fun! So, please help a chica out and email your questions, suggestions and ideas to email@example.com.
Please also share this with your friends who ride or are thinking about learning to ride. The more people I can get involved helping me with ideas and asking questions the better this is going to be.
I want to thank all my readers for their help and want to let you know that I appreciate all the encouragement I have already gotten on this project.
Ride hard. Ride safe.
Em Alicia aka “Miss Busa”
P.S. You can also leave your ideas and questions in the comment section of this blog post, if you wish.
Aren’t you afraid? That’s a question I get asked by a lot of people, especially women when the subject of motorcycles comes up. The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no would do the question justice. But trying to explain this to someone who has never been on a motorcycle or has never raced one around a track is not easy. The answer (in its oversimplified form) is usually along the lines of “I was scared to death when I first learned and almost gave up a few times. You just have to work through it if you want to keep riding. It gets easier with time.”
I have met a lot of people on and off the bike who have told me that the only thing holding them back is their fears, that they would love to learn to ride. I tell them to buy used and go for it. And of course to take a formal beginner’s course to learn the basics and assuage their fears to a more manageable level.
Those of you who know me personally, or have known me online for some time, or have read this blog front to back know: I have an almost crippling fear of public embarrassment. Add to that, an almost intolerable case of “performance anxiety” aka stage fright. I’m alright as long as I am by myself, but add an observer with a clip board or a crowd of people for an audience and I freak the hell out, internally. I have learned to cope with these fears. Motorcycling helped me a lot to overcome the “social phobia” aspects of my fear spectrum. It’s made me more confident overall. I don’t know why. Probably because it takes a certain level of cockiness to keep one’s riding confidence up even when something bad happens or almost happens. Another thing experienced riders know: Loss of confidence leads to more mistakes and ramps up the risk; alternatively overconfidence can also garner disastrous results.
Short and simple: Fear can kill. Especially if your instincts kick in. Many of the higher skilled riders know this. And it isn’t something that is a matter of brawn or testicular fortitude or a lack of life-preservation on the individual’s part. “(S)he’s fucking nuts.” isn’t the explanation. Not really. Not for riders who consistently ride on the edge and manage to keep their machines shiny side up. The nut jobs or crazies, the “fearless”, are separated by the skilled by the wrecks-per-mile-ridden ratio, add to that equation: average speed maintained. Simplified (overly), but true in essence.
Crashing is part of the high-speed game. We are human, we will screw up; our machines may experience mechanical failures at the worst possible moment; somebody else’s crash may entangle and cause loss of control. Every time you ease the clutch out you are putting your life on the line. This risk is compounded on the street. The track, even with sometimes insane corner speeds and massive lean angles, is still the safer place to be with less risk of a wreck causing loss of life; also the severity of injuries sustained is usually less than those incurred on the street. It’s a controlled environment, everyone’s going the same direction, there are “rules of engagement”, there are people watching and informing the riders of hazards, and the entire racing surface and surrounding areas are designed and built to minimize risk to rider and machine. Yes, riders still die. Yes, riders still get severely injured. However, more often than not they walk away with nothing but a few bruises and a hurt ego. Different game on the street altogether. But that stuff really is for another blog post.
Let’s refocus on fear. Aren’t you afraid? Yes, sometimes. When I first started learning I was so nauseous every time I put on my gear to ride, I was on the verge of vomiting. My whole body felt like it was shaking on the inside and I seemed to be slightly short of breath. But I managed. I had to work through it, because I had to get to work and the motorcycle was my ticket. I had no excuse to chicken out and take the car. Not a luxury I had at my disposal. And I’m glad for it, because I probably would have quit on several occasions had the bike been just a choice. Eventually my skills progressed through constant education and skill training that the fear became less and less until one day I noticed that I wasn’t afraid at all anymore. Riding had become like driving was for me. Nothing but a thing, until something happened, of course. And that’s where all that skill practice paid off, in emergency situations. Yes, I had to pull over after some close call and calm my after-incidence nerves and racing heart to be able to safely continue on my way a few minutes later, after my blood pressure normalized. Now, I don’t even stop anymore. I process and deal with the aftermath of close calls as I keep on going down the road. I am now usually more angry than I am afraid. Sometimes, especially when riding fast or practicing cornering, trying something new or screwing something up which I then have to correct, I still feel the bile of fear rising inside, but I suppress it. I know I can’t afford to lock up. I postpone it until later. That is something I have learned from my own crash. Instead of being more afraid to ride, I am actually more in control of my natural responses that come with fear. I can recognize it sooner and halt the process before my brain tells my body to do something stupid, like getting on the brakes hard while leaned over in a corner already close to the edges of my traction envelope; or snapping the throttle shut, or staring at the very thing that I’d like to avoid. All these are normal human reactions to the stress caused by imminent danger (perceived or real). Our survival instincts kick in and our brain wants to do what it thinks will preserve our life, running purely on instinct; but on a motorcycle all those intuitive reactions are mostly wrong.
Overcoming fear and doing the right thing to keep the motorcycle from crashing is an acquired skill. It is learned behavior. It is muscle memory and applicable knowledge overriding our fears to enable us to give the machine what it needs to do its thing to keep us out of trouble. It takes knowledge in the physics involved in the sport and it takes repetitive training to overcome our natural impulses to save our skin.
My husband once told me, after seeing me run through some twisties on my Hayabusa in northern Georgia, that I make it look so easy and that this is the very fact that scares the hell out of him. He said I looked fearless. He said that sometimes I was leaning so hard he thought I’d drag tailpipe (a sign of things to come?) He said I was so fast he couldn’t even comprehend it and he’d been riding for seven years. I laughed and told him that I almost crapped myself on several occasions when I screwed something up or thought I was going in too fast, was too hard on the brakes, going off line, or forgetting to look through the turn, or simply fixating on one of my reference markers for far too long.
Fear is inevitable in motorcycling. To one degree or another we all experience it on more or less frequent occasion. The only thing you can do to combat your fears and minimize the effect they have on the probability to get yourself out of trouble unharmed: Work through them, armed with knowledge and application of skill. There are plenty of good books on the subject and formal skill training is also available for different skill levels.
Fear should not be crippling, fear should be a tool you use to gauge your progress, pinpoint your weaknesses, and let it be the governor to modulate the inherent human tendency to engage in squidly (unsafe, ill-advised but oh-so-fun) behaviors. Does “let’s see what she can do?” sound familiar? Fear can lead to a definite savings in road rash and touch-up paint if you can manage it properly and use it to your advantage.
POSTED BY REQUEST of a dear friend:
Some may wonder why the Road Guardian Program was created. Last summer, out of the blue, I got an e-mail from someone in California who asked me a simple question, “In your opinion, how come Wisconsin has such a low fatality rate while California has such high rate?” He asked me not to cite statistics or other people’s opinions but to give my personal opinion. I told him that I’d need a couple days to think about this and that I’d get back to him. I knew that behind his question was another issue. How come a state that allows a biker the right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet can have such a low fatality rate while a state that requires helmet use has such a high fatality rate?
My answer was that in my opinion, Wisconsin is not single focused where motorcycle safety is concerned. We do many things for motorcycle safety. In addition to rider education we also have programs that deal with impaired riding programs, motorist awareness activities like share the road programs, awareness rallies, yard signs, enhanced penalties for right of way violations, support to families whose loved ones were killed due to negligent motor vehicle operators and accident scene management (ASMI) education. In my opinion, all of these things together have lowered our fatality rate.
I started wondering if other states have this same kind of aggressive approach and have to say that it was really hard to find information on the web. Have you ever googled “motorcycle safety”? Try it sometime. 17 million hits came back. ASMI’s BOD were talking about how to better market Accident Scene Management because the name is often negative and you don’t get past the word Accident before people have their defenses up. We have a new business officer, a former ASMI student from Minnesota, Chris Hawver. Chris is amazing and has a Masters degree in marketing. He is a tremendous asset to ASMI with a background in technology and he gets joy out of assisting businesses with start up and proficiency. We worked together to create a program of Resources, Rewards and Recognition to encourage people to want to be trained. We also intentionally created a program that brought ASMI into motorcycle safety.
More background: ASMI was created in 1996 after a similar program was highlighted in Wisconsin. ABATE of Wisconsin invited Slider Gilmore to present his Two Wheel Trauma program (ABATE paid for him and two other presenters) at the Governor’s Conference on Highway Safety. As a nurse I was inspired by the information I learned and was grateful that Slider was willing to talk about helmet removal and other motorcycle specific information. I called Slider one week later and asked if he would allow me to use the information I learned in his class to put together a class for my friends. Little did I know that this would lead to what Accident Scene Management is today; 16,000 students trained and 130 instructors in 26 states.
After two years of training using DOT 402 funds it was time to be on our own and I was forced to start charging for the program. We were also starting to get requests from other states to bring the program to them and people were asking if I would teach them to be instructors. With 18 million motorcyclists in the United States it was obvious that this was a job too big for just me and a few friends or even too big for Slider alone. I had lunch with Slider and talked with him about my desire to take the program nationwide and train instructors to teach. He told me that a project like this would require a lot of energy so if I wanted to do it I should go for it.
Using the American Heart Association’s (AHA) CPR & First Aid as a model, I began to create an organization that would be to motorcycle trauma what AHA is to Heart Attack. An ASMI student who was a Certified Public Accountant offered to help me apply for 501(c)3 non-profit status and even paid for the filing. Michael Hupy offered to help keep the cost of classes low by subsidizing $10 per student. ABATE of Wisconsin helped advertise classes and later donated money each year to our fundraiser to help the program grow. Through the years we used evaluations from students to improve the program and grow professionally.
Funding for operational expenses continued to be an issue since we simply were not eligible for grants and because we were not a children’s charity or a disease, we were not well funded by biker efforts either. A fundraiser based upon Tommy Thompson’s Ride was created to help fund ASMI called Women in Motion. A number of my female friends who rode motorcycles did what the guys would typically do, road guard intersections.
By 2003 the ride had grown to 300 people. This ride was important in allowing us to create better materials, trademarks, develop a solid BOD and do more promotional travel. It also allowed me to move the office out of our home in 2001. Funding for the organization also came from Tony and me teaching classes. Unlike other instructors, when we taught our instructor fees were donated back to ASMI. The demand for administrative time was exhausting since not only was I administering, teaching, developing and coordinating things but was also I dealt with all of the fundraising that needed to be done to keep the business alive.
As ASMI grew so did the expenses and the demand for more time than I was able to give while working at the hospital. Through the years I continued to cut my hours until I now work only one day a week to keep my foot in the door. Currently I donate about 40-60 hours a week to Accident Scene Management as a volunteer. It’s hard for people to believe that I would do such a thing because they would not volunteer 40-60 hours week. They would not give up a good career with benefits to be of service to the motorcycling community. I have not felt that I needed to explain this or make a big deal about it. Only my Board of Directors and close friends know that I do all of this without compensation. I never felt I had to explain until now. There are rumors and e-mails circulating that I am in this for “the money”. There are rumors that say that ASMI must have “rolled over” and is somehow in bed with “the enemy” for some mysterious government grant or ulterior motive. Rumors say that I am in this for the glory and not to help bikers. Rumors are especially painful when they untrue and vindictive. I can tell you for a fact that I have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly even a comfortable retirement because I believe in my heart that ASMI is an important part of motorcycle safety and needs to be recognized as an important partner in motorcycle safety. The stories of the good that has been done are so rewarding that I find it odd the people who benefit most from this training are having such a hard time supporting these efforts. While rider education is charging up to $300.00 for one day of training on your own bike, ASMI charges only $55.00 for a full day of training with materials provided. That is less than First Aid and CPR.
Finally I want to discuss the Biker’s Betterment Conference (BBC) controversy. The BBC is a resource initiative from the Road Guardian program. It is open to any and all bikers. Through the years I have had the good fortune of meeting many people who are interested in motorcycle safety. All of them are passionate about what they do. I don’t agree with all of them but they have a right to their opinion. As long as their opinion is just that, I am not affected. If they try to force their opinion on me then I will fight back, but as I was thinking about the “multipronged” approach of ABATE of Wisconsin, my thoughts were, let’s invite the safety community, including MSF and NHSTA, and let’s compare our programs and records with theirs. Let’s show them that what we do works and that we are in control of our own reduction of injuries and fatalities.
I invited ABATE of Wisconsin to speak about their programs and I invited Hardtail, president of the Motorcycle Riders Foundation, to speak about getting involved in motorcycling by getting involved in rights organizations. Even though the BBC is in Illinois, I did not ask A.B.A.T.E. of Illinois to speak about any of their programs because there was nothing they did that was unique (they offer MSF Rider Education classes and Share the Road). As a National Conference I was working at getting recognized National Guest Speakers and unique programs.
The line up for the conference is phenomenal, a star studded cast, but unfortunately the suspicions and innuendos mentioned above have led to a cancerous effect within some rights groups. The MRF BOD refused to allow Hardtail to speak at the conference citing Michael Hupy’s involvement as the reason. Hardtail went to the ABATE of Wisconsin BOD and suggested that they should not attend, send speakers or support the event because by attending they were supposedly subscribing to the thinking and opinions of the speakers who did not share Rights Activist’s opinions.
Though this conference is meant to be purely educational and not political at all, Hardtail was concerned that attendees were asked not to use the conference to turn guest speaker’s presentations into a debate. He complained that there are no “bikers” presenting there (funny how the bikers pulled out then complained that they are not there). It was also suggested that ASMI must have accepted a government grant and must have been involved in planning the event with NHTSA. Hardtail poisoned the ABATE board’s rationale by saying that ASMI must have been working with NHTSA for at least 6 months to have been able to get them to participate. This is simply not true. I presented our initiative to Michael Jordan, NHTSA, after we launched the program January 7, 2010 and asked at that time if he would like to attend. I suggested he relate what studies NHTSA is involved in and what free resources are available to bikers through the DOT.
To set the record straight ASMI has not accepted any government money for this conference or for any part of the Road Guardian Program. The conference is completely self funding and no speakers are being paid. Most conference presenters are even paying their own way (including Michael Jordan) to show support for this new safety initiative that broadens our concept of motorcycle safety and brings people together to present topics that may be of interest to bikers so that they can be safer riders.
I would like to ask cyclists out there to think for themselves. Do you really believe it’s your right to choose? Wouldn’t you like to know the difference between DOT and Snell standards for helmets? What free resources are available to you though the DOT? What’s the difference between ABS and regular brakes? How did the military reduce fatalities by 75% in one year? Why would rights groups be so concerned about being seen at a motorcycle safety conference? Do you believe in Education not Legislation? Who is the Totalitarian in this situation? Is it the person who comes on their own dime to share their knowledge or the person who tells you that you can’t attend?
I challenge you to make up your own mind.
Vicki Sanfelipo, RN/EMT – Executive Director ASMI
Co-founder, Road Guardians
Life Member, ABATE of Wisconsin
Member, MRF, AMA