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Old 11-21-2008, 05:38 PM   #1
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Good Speed / Bad Speed

In the recent thread Skill is Overrated I wondered what, if anything, the motorcycling community can do to promote good riding judgment. Urging fellow riders to wear protective gear and get trained is one thing. But trying to describe the observations, thought processes, and decisions that support a sense of when/where/how to ride to keep risk at an acceptable level is much more difficult.

As tzrider wrote in that thread: "It may not be possible to articulate a single, one-size-fits-all standard for judgment. Riders need to be able to honestly look at what they're trying to get from the experience of riding and what they're willing to risk to get it. They need to understand when they're risking more than they really want to." But in one aspect of riding judgment--managing speed--I think there are some simple rules riders of all skill levels can take advantage of. Following rules may not be the same as exercising good judgment, but judgment can develop as one comes to understand why the rules are necessary.

Eventually in this thread I'd like to brainstorm ideas about how speed on public roads causes crashes and speed-management strategies that go along with good judgment. But first I want to explore the pathological thinking about speed that is common in the sportbike community.


Many motorcycle crashes (though hardly all) are due to excessive speed. By excessive I don't mean "over the posted limit." I mean that the rider is unable to keep the motorcycle under control or that speed is so far beyond the prevailing flow of traffic that other motorists don't perceive the motorcycle as a threat and can't avoid a collision. How do riders get themselves into situations like that? Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we don't think about speed in ways that support good decision-making.

Our training in speed judgment can be summed up in two words: speed limits. Obey the speed limit and you'll be OK. Exceed it and you're taking your life in your hands. That's what we're told, beginning in driver education and continuing in rider education. No need for further discussion, and subtleties be damned. But that message falls apart in about a week as we find that we can often get away with exceeding the limit, and the only potential consequence is a ticket. With the loss of our only speed judgment standard, lame as it was, we no longer have any basis to distinguish between safe and unsafe speed because we never learned how to make the necessary observations and decisions. In addition we come to disdain speed limits because they don't seem to serve any purpose except for generating public revenue, even though they are often necessary and appropriate.

On a motorcycle, the machine itself encourages imprudent thinking about speed. It's easy to go fast on a sportbike. With its racing heritage and the technology it incorporates, speed is in its very DNA. And it's not just the horsepower. The machine's small size and effortless maneuverability make it possible to get beyond traffic to a place where the power can be used. The ease of speed is deceiving though, because it evolved on the track, not the street. On public roads thick with traffic, a sportbike has no significant safety advantage over a Harley or a Vespa.

Sportbike culture, too, fosters poor thinking about speed. Everyone speeds. If you don't speed, why do you have a sportbike? Rationalizations like these come up often. The fatal flaw (sometimes literally fatal) is a failure to acknowledge that safe speed depends entirely on the situation. Equating triple-digit speed on an empty road through farmland with miles of visibility to the same speed on an urban freeway or suburban thoroughfare reveals the pathological thinking about speed embedded in the culture.


What kinds of thinking about speed have you seen in your career as a motorcyclist?

How has your own thinking evolved?

How can ineffective modes of thinking be countered?
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Old 11-21-2008, 05:45 PM   #2
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When I started riding, I wanted to go fast.

When I started racing, I wanted to go faster than everyone else.

Now, it's more where I go, who I go with, as well as the "flow".

Sorta like music. The goal isn't to play the piece the fastest - it's to make it sound good
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Old 11-21-2008, 05:50 PM   #3
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These debates are often interesting, because everyone is different. It's a touchy subject, hard to get the point across because lots of people hate being lectured. Even though they know the message is true.

For me it has been *incredibly* simple: take it to the track. Suppress the Go Fast Juices during the street rides, don't eliminate them, just save'em up. Then let'em out at the track.

Because if you're gonna be constantly touching pavement and guardrails, you may as well get a job at CalTrans.
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Old 11-21-2008, 05:54 PM   #4
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A little long but much better then your previous post Data Dan. I would say speed is a big problem for sportbike riders, not so much for cruisers, as alcohol seems to be a big problem with them. I remember a chp officer tell us at one of or meeting, that when your lane sharing, don't you just love that word, anyway if you can't glance down at your speedo when your sharing, then your going to fast.
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Old 11-21-2008, 05:54 PM   #5
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As far as discouraging ineffective modes of thinking goes, I think that's where mentors and positive role models play their part. People who can show new riders the ropes, promoting the idea that faster is not necessarily better, and that taking chances is not acceptable.

And if speed is the goal, they can show them the proper venue to pursue it.
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Old 11-21-2008, 07:13 PM   #6
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Speed is entirely related to conditions. What's way too fast under some conditions is too slow under others.

Finding the right speed is part of good judgment - weighing the risks and rewards of going too quickly or too slowly (and a ticket is one of the lesser risks), given all aspects of the conditions - the type of road, the traffic, in what form people or animals might be on the road, what the traction will be like, etc.

(Part of the enjoyment of very tight, dirty/broken/gravelly twisties (motard roads, goat trails) is being able to push things a bit without going fast in an absolute sense.)
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Old 11-21-2008, 07:21 PM   #7
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there's always going to be hazards on public roads...I just maintain a pace I'm comfortable with that leaves me a good safety cushion to take proper actions so I can keep control of the scenario...

edit: the hardest part wasn't learning how to ride...the challenge was putting aside my ego before it got me into trouble...
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Old 11-21-2008, 07:39 PM   #8
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A little long but much better then your previous post Data Dan.
What I find interesting about this discussion is how threatened some people are by the suggestion that their "skill" is not going to save them from an accident. I think that some of us have rationalized the risk of motorcycling away by telling ourselves that our skill is going to save us from serious injury or death. When DataDan titled his post "Skill is Overrated" he waved a red flag in the face of this rationalization.

Don't kill me here, but I've been curious about this for a while. What role does the motorcycle industry play in increasing motorcycle fatalities by promoting motorcycles that are built for one purpose...that of going extremely fast?

I just sold a GSXR750 because I couldn't ride it slowly. It just didn't feel right to putt-putt a bike like that around town or do the speed limit in Redwood Rd. The problem with that bike is that it's capacity for speed and handling greatly surpassed the road design and condition. To even scratch the surface of it's potential I would have to override my sight lines around blind corners and hope that no road hazards were in my way.

I'm not suggesting that bike manufacturers should produce slower bikes. As mentioned in a thread started by Rel a while back, maybe new riders shouldn't be steered in the direction of those bike until their experience and judgment have developed to the point that they can actually handle them?

You're always going to have people ride motorcycles fast. It's not just part of motorcycling culture, it is endemic to it. After all, who would want ride a slow motorcycle? And, who always rides a motorcycle slowly?

The question is how do people learn to judge what a safe speed is in a given situation? The way I learned was by crashing and realizing that I'm not invincible. I have pretty much learned to expect things to go wrong. If I'm going around a blind turn, I remind myself that a car could be flipping a U-turn 50 ft in front of me. If there is a straight stretch of road with shrubs on one side, before I crack the throttle wide open I assume that there is a deer waiting to jump out in front of me.

I didn't used to ride like this, but that's how I ride now. I can still easily exceed the speed limit and have a blast in the twisites, but I don't push my limits or the limits of my bike. I've learned that my bikes handling and my skills exceed the capacity of the roads I ride. Under ideal conditions I could take a turn at 50 mph, but how do I know that road conditions are ideal? How do I know there isn't diesel on the road, or gravel? I take the turn at 35 or 40 because at those speeds I have a better chance of reacting to those unexpected circumstances that are the norm.
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Old 11-21-2008, 07:50 PM   #9
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amen brutha....amen...

same reason I ride a 919 today...
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Old 11-21-2008, 09:06 PM   #10
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What I find interesting about this discussion is how threatened some people are by the suggestion that their "skill" is not going to save them from an accident. I think that some of us have rationalized the risk of motorcycling away by telling ourselves that our skill is going to save us from serious injury or death. When DataDan titled his post "Skill is Overrated" he waved a red flag in the face of this rationalization.

Don't kill me here, but I've been curious about this for a while. What role does the motorcycle industry play in increasing motorcycle fatalities by promoting motorcycles that are built for one purpose...that of going extremely fast?

I just sold a GSXR750 because I couldn't ride it slowly. It just didn't feel right to putt-putt a bike like that around town or do the speed limit in Redwood Rd. The problem with that bike is that it's capacity for speed and handling greatly surpassed the road design and condition. To even scratch the surface of it's potential I would have to override my sight lines around blind corners and hope that no road hazards were in my way.

I'm not suggesting that bike manufacturers should produce slower bikes. As mentioned in a thread started by Rel a while back, maybe new riders shouldn't be steered in the direction of those bike until their experience and judgment have developed to the point that they can actually handle them?

You're always going to have people ride motorcycles fast. It's not just part of motorcycling culture, it is endemic to it. After all, who would want ride a slow motorcycle? And, who always rides a motorcycle slowly?

The question is how do people learn to judge what a safe speed is in a given situation? The way I learned was by crashing and realizing that I'm not invincible. I have pretty much learned to expect things to go wrong. If I'm going around a blind turn, I remind myself that a car could be flipping a U-turn 50 ft in front of me. If there is a straight stretch of road with shrubs on one side, before I crack the throttle wide open I assume that there is a deer waiting to jump out in front of me.

I didn't used to ride like this, but that's how I ride now. I can still easily exceed the speed limit and have a blast in the twisites, but I don't push my limits or the limits of my bike. I've learned that my bikes handling and my skills exceed the capacity of the roads I ride. Under ideal conditions I could take a turn at 50 mph, but how do I know that road conditions are ideal? How do I know there isn't diesel on the road, or gravel? I take the turn at 35 or 40 because at those speeds I have a better chance of reacting to those unexpected circumstances that are the norm.
Thanks for your little sermon there Mr joe saftey.
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Old 11-21-2008, 09:08 PM   #11
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Thanks for your little sermon there Mr joe saftey.
That's Father Joe Safety to you! I'm also available for weddings and Barmitvahs.

Like I said...some people get a little bit threatened.
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Old 11-21-2008, 09:10 PM   #12
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That's Father Joe Safety to you! I'm also available for weddings and Barmitvahs.

Like I said...some people get a little bit threatened.
Yea RIGHT.
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Old 11-22-2008, 12:43 AM   #13
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Yea RIGHT.
So, what was it about his post that bothered you?
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Old 11-22-2008, 01:33 AM   #14
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The biggest problem I see is that ... well, DataDan might be able to fill in the void here better than I, but it seems to me that a largest percentage of the fatal crashes are by unlicensed drivers. There's really not a lot you can do about it when someone buys a bike and just starts riding. They already have issues if they don't bother to get legal before riding. There's not much you can do about it. I hate to sound pessimistic about it, but it's just one of those things. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

I will even admit, that when I was younger, if I hadn't already gotten it in my head that "I want my MC" (Indiana equivalent of the M1) if someone "preached" at me to get it, then I would have been all the more determined to say "screw you" and not get it. Those are exactly the kind of people you're trying to reach. How do you reach them when they cut your hand off? I mean, PLEASE, if you have an idea I'd love to bounce thoughts around but... I'm trying to be realistic about it too, ya know?

for the record, I've been known to tell people that I know aren't licensed to go home, they aren't riding with me/us. But that just ticks them off and makes them go out and try to prove themselves. The last time I said that to someone he ended up in the hospital for 3 months. I still feel kind of guilty about that. How do you work with something like that? That's an honest but yet, somewhat rhetorical question.
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Old 11-22-2008, 02:40 AM   #15
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