Saturday, March 28, 2015

Local TV, for once, gets a motorcycle fatality right

In the days after Dane Westby's untimely death, local Tulsa television showed conspicuous care and judgement in the way they covered the story. That included balanced, sensitive, and non-sensational coverage of his funeral. - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |
I don't know whether credit for this should go to News on 6 news director (I believe that's Scott Thompson, a much awarded, very experienced journalist) or whether it reflects the fact that the Westby family is long-established and respected in the community—there's a 'Westby Hall' at University of Tulsa.

Whatever the reason, though, I was pleased to see such respectful coverage of an event that would usually have been reported with a macabre, schadenfreude-laden "another motorcycle death" spin.

So thanks, News on 6.

Although I didn't know him, I'd say his death is a large loss to the nascent MotoAmerica series. Not only was he fast and destined for on-track stardom, but he was real person—not a characterless sponsor-thanking robot, raised from birth to be a racer with no other life experience. As such, he was the kind of guy who could appeal to a new generation of fans, who take an ironic view of sponsorship and value authenticity.

There's still no explanation for Westby's street bike crash. It happened on a commercial strip, and there would surely have been witnesses, if he'd been riding like an asshole. So, I think it's safe to assume he was riding responsibly. But something happened, he ended up running up on a curb and hitting a pole.

If there's a lesson in this, it's a lesson for the most skilled street riders who feel that the rest of the motorcycling public desperately need better machine control skills.

The skilled guys, rightly, point out that almost every motorcycle crash—especially single-vehicle crashes, as Westby's may have been—could be avoided if only the (usually) newb/drunk/reckless rider had been able to brake harder or change direction faster. The skilled guys, who are racers and track-day riders, who train on dirt bikes, etc., often derive a sense of security from the knowledge that they're in the skilled minority.

The lesson is: Even Dane Westby—a national-caliber racer at the height of his powers—got into a situation that he couldn't ride out of. If it can happen to him, it can happen to you.

It's spring. In the midwest and across the northern tier, car drivers who don't see us at the best of times are now unused to seeing us at all. And the sides of the road are still covered with gravel, salt dust, and a winter's worth of detritus. You're almost certainly a little rusty, too. If you have to take evasive action out of the main travel lane, there's a good chance you will not be able to make that second change of direction that will keep you on the road.

So pay extra attention and increase your following distance. Because if you kill yourself, your local TV station won't pay you the same respect.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lane-splitting in the mainstream? Here's a two-step program to get those laws passed

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a neutral-to-pro-motorcycle story about lane splitting, noting that several states are at least considering legislation that would make it legal for motorcyclists to travel between lanes of stopped or slow-moving cars (at least, when certain conditions are met.) That would actually give lane splitting a status it doesn't have in California, where I believe it's merely "not illegal", as opposed to specifically permitted by statute.

Duh! In most European countries, you have to prove you can competently "filter" (aka lane split) in order to get a motorcycle license.

The ability to keep moving when cars are stuck in stop-and-go traffic is the killer app for motorcycles and motorcycle sales. And the motorcycle lobby (as fractured as it is) has finally done a decent job of convincing legislators across the U.S. that it can be done "safely". The challenge is that a significant number of drivers (read: most voters) are still against it.

When surveyed, uninformed drivers cite "danger" as the reason they're opposed. They also claim they're frequently startled by motorcycle traveling between lanes (solution: pay attention) and, less frequently, claim it's unfair that motorcycles can get through stalled traffic when cars can't.

In my work in the ad industry, I've organized many consumer surveys, and I can tell you that even anonymous respondents tell interviewers what they think is the best answer, not necessarily what they really feel.

The primary opposition to lane splitting is that rarely-mentioned issue of fairness, or its corollary, cage-drivers' territoriality. So if the people lobbying for lane splitting want laws to pass, the argument they need to make is, allowing motorcycles to filter helps everyone get to where they're going faster.

Every vehicle that moves out of the traffic column (and into the interstitial space between lanes) speeds the flow of the column, not just the flow of motorcycles. And traffic engineers can prove that sometimes even changing the number of cars/hour by a few percent can make the difference between flowing and stop-and-go traffic patterns. By allowing lane splitting, legislators will

  • improve traffic flows for cars, as well as motorcycles
  • improve the economy and sales tax revenues by encouraging motorcycle sales
  • increase the number of commuters who choose motorcycles
  • free up parking spaces
  • reduce the production of CO2 and hence, reduce global warming

To recap: the way you get lane splitting laws passed is, by making it clear that lane splitting will improve traffic  and parking congestion for cars.

As for safety, you can easily protect motorcyclists in the long term by writing a proviso into laws that lane spitting is only legal when motorcyclists wear helmets, and by specifying that if states with mandatory helmet laws repeal those laws, that the right to lane split is automatically also repealed.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Friction between "AMA" and "AMA Pro Racing"

The other day, DMG-slash-AMA Pro Racing—in the guise of Fan's Choice—issued a press release saying that as part of the run up to the season opening GNC short track races down in Daytona, they'd broadcast the "DAYTONA Flat Track Amateur Championship".

When that phrase showed up on my monitor, I thought, Hmm it's a little early in the season for the Amateur Championship. But, I chalked it up to promoter hubris. After all, although the press release put the amateur races in the context of the AMA Pro Racing season opener, the claim was only that it was the 'Daytona' championship, not an AMA or national championship.

But within a day, the AMA issued a pissy clarification.

Through the purchase of specific professional racing assets from the AMA in 2008, the Daytona Motorsports Group acquired the right to use the AMA Pro Racing name in conjunction with specific professional motorcycle racing disciplines. Daytona Motorsports Group's use of the d/b/a "AMA Pro Racing" frequently causes confusion between Daytona Motorsports Group and the AMA, the not-for-profit 91-year-old membership association and sanctioning body. Daytona Motorsports Group is an independent for-profit company and is not governed by the AMA.  

Daytona Motorsports Group's issuance of a statement as AMA Pro Racing stating that an amateur flat track event held just prior to a professional flat track event they are promoting conveys the apparent authority to grant amateur championship status. Daytona Motorsports Group has no authority over any amateur racing activity, nor does it have the authority to designate an event an amateur championship.

I can't say that I can remember any recent incidence of such a detailed, passive-aggressive clarification of the admittedly confusing AMA-has-nothing-to-do-with-AMA-Pro-Racing arrangement. And, I was surprised when AMA Pro didn't immediately pull down the release or issue a retraction of its own.

Expect more of this kind of thing, now that the AMA is back in the pro racing sanctioning business, courtesy of MotoAmerica. Don't be mislead by the fact that MotoAmerica is asphalt-only (for now) and AMA Pro Racing is dirt only; the two are competitors for fans, sponsors, and status. And although we're all told in no uncertain terms that the deal for the Daytona 200 has nothing to do with DMG/AMA Pro, the people who own the Speedway control DMG. You can be sure this year's '200' is a burr under the MotoAmerica saddle.

One thing DMG should do, to eliminate this confusion, is drop 'AMA Pro Racing', which is a less-than-worthless trademark anyway, considering the bad memories associated with it. The only flat track trademark worth anything is 'Grand National Championship'.

The GNC is the real American motorcycle racing championship, and DMG needs to firmly re-establish it, if it's to have any hope of maintaining or improving its status. Those aren't footsteps DMG hears behind them, that's the sound of MotoAmerica's engines warming up.