If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Safer motorbikes? Well ...

First off, apologies for the break in posting. I've been busy with RL stuff, that's all.

Anyway, back to motorcycle safety, and that article that I mentioned a few days ago. Of course, I mentioned that it had caught my attention, and then everything I was going to say was said in the comments before I got round to posting. But here's a flavour of the article:
Motorbikes could soon be sporting collision detection and other safety features more usually found on cars.

Research is testing ways to put these systems on motor bikes and how best to alert riders to dangers on the road.

The systems tested include warnings about speed limits, the tightness of road bends and information about other vehicles to aid lane-changing.
It. Won't. Work. As an exercise in misunderstanding your subject and barking so far up the wrong tree that you are getting your goolies caught on its topmost branches, it couldn't be better. These ideas stand no chance of being accepted by motorcyclists, even (and perhaps especially) by the 'less experienced' riders they are hoping to help. The whole thing is a total non-starter.

To any regular rider, this doesn't need explaining, but to those who are not in the grip of a motorcycling addiction, I shall try to describe why. The first, and most obvious, point is to ask: why would anyone object to something being made safer? The modifications proposed would be more likely, in my view, to be distracting and anything but safe, but if we go along with the idea for a moment ...
"Saferider takes the driver safety systems that are becoming standard on cars
and tries to adapt them to the unique needs of motorcyclists," said Jonathan
Moore, an ITS consultant at Mira, involved in the Saferider project.
Here you have the key: Moore is an IT specialist, not a rider. He sees solutions in silicon and automation; riders see solutions in skill and experience.

Modern cars are wonderful things. Warm, dry, safe, they start with a press of a button and stop with the aid of brakes that can't get you in a skid. They tell you when you are low on fuel, they tell you when you have left your lights on, they tell you when a door is slightly open. Some cars nowadays will even park themselves. Driving a car has never been easier, and the way things are going you won't need any skill at all. Jump in, set the climate control, put your destination into the satnav, and the car will take you there. Radar will steer for you and keep you from getting too close to the car in front, the satnav will manage the engine and keep you from going too fast, and cruise control will keep you at the approved speed for as long as it takes. It will be a bit like going on the train, but without the drunks (unless you supply your own).

And this opens motoring to everyone. No need to develop any skills or extra knowledge, just jump in and go. Motoring for the microwaved ready-meal generation. This may be a good thing, but for some of us it removes any sense of enjoyment from the experience. Classic cars (ones with proper gearboxes, and chokes, and engines you have to do things to) have never been more popular, and I wonder why.

The whole deal with riding a bike is that it is you that are doing the riding. You are sitting on top of a collection of metal parts that, given the right kind of inputs from the operator, can get you where you want to be quicker than anything else, or can land you in hospital. Give you the experience that brightens your whole day, or give you a broken leg. Thrill you, or kill you.

And that is the point. You are in charge. You decide. You make the moves, not a computer. When you ride a bike, you are living on your wits, and yours alone. Whether it all turns out well or badly is up to you. There aren't many areas of life left to us where you can say that. I could go so far as to say that a motorbike is the ultimate Libertarian device: your actions all have consequences, and whether they are good or bad ones is up to you. There is no Nanny to 'guide' you into correct behaviour or protect you from yourself, and thank God for that.

So any attempt to make bikes more like cars is doomed to failure. You might as well ride a roller-coaster, if you want thrills devoid of any responsibility for the outcome. Or drive a car with (daringly) all the windows open. And if you give new riders all these 'safety' features, how will they ever learn to ride without them? I suppose that's the point. They won't. And then that will be yet another area of life where we have lost the ability to act for ourselves and take the consequences.

Come to think of it, I'm surprised thay haven't banned bikes already. I'm sure they will - either just before or just after they ban mountaineering.

Thanks to Joe Public for the excellent image above, and to Smoking Hot for the link to the original article.


  1. Motor cyclists tend to be more road-aware than motorists, because you can't fall off a car.

  2. True, although drivers of the early Suzuki jeeps might beg to differ!

  3. It strikes me that awareness of what is happening around you is the single most important factor in staying safe.

    Just as they do in cars, I suspect that these toys will both distract with constant little lights and bells, and reassure that something else is looking after you so you don't need to.

    ESP-type devices in cars are wonderful things for a certain type of driver - i.e. the one who will never use it deliberately, the one who never intends to push the car towards its limits. In short, Grandma. For the rest, it just gives them an extra layer of perceived protection, allowing them to take bigger risks so that when something does go wrong, it goes wrong big-time.

    And how many Grandmas do you see on a bike?

  4. Totaly agree - risk homeostasis and all that.

    The big difference between a bike and a car is that on a bike you are using your whole body to control it. Driving an old car is a physical thing, and a new one less so, but the difference is a matter of degree. Removing the physical aspect of riding a bike would be removing the whole thing. Might as well get the bus.

  5. "It strikes me that awareness of what is happening around you is the single most important factor in staying safe."

    Which is why this idea is absurd. And why most car drivers NEED all the extra protection surrounding them...

    I hate driving my fathers Honda Jazz - for a start the thick pillars greatly reduce my all round vision, then the feel-less steering gives little indication of road conditions. Thanks to CVT automatic transmission it sounds exactly the same at 70mph as at 40mph. Now multiply this by millions and it's little wonder that motorcyclists get wiped out by the "Sorry, didn't see you" brigade.

    Remove the safety nets from cars, then they wouldn't be proposed for motorcycles...

    Is it odd that I've managed nearly half a million miles on a combination of 2 & 4 wheels, without killing myself or anyone else? And without any smart-arsed electronic gizmo's to help me....

  6. I do feel comfortable with the GPS showing the road ahead and seeing around corners(especially in thick fog.....joke) and the reassurance of ABS brakes...and I suppose that I might benefit from a back up system to my nose that detects diesel splls.

    But a lot of this MIRA stuff is to solve problems that don't exist and keep engineers employed (that may be a good thing?).

    Arguable the last really great leap forward in car technology was the self starter.

  7. I'm agnostic on ABS, but as far as GPS and your mythical diesel-sensor, they would be aids to the rider, rather then taking control away - crucial difference. I would happily use them both. In the world of MIRA, the diesel sensor would then retard the ignition, apply the brakes, put out a hydraulic stabiliser on each side and then transmit your location to a call centre, who would ring you up and offer counselling.

    I wouldn't have said this 20 years ago, but I'd agree with the self-starter thing for bikes too. Stalling a high-compression single in traffic, nightmare.

  8. You should read up on the history of the Viggen "fly by wire" control system - the poor SAAB chief test pilot crashed twice.

    The first crash - the software did not want to land conventionally and he cart wheeled along the runway. The second time V2.0 software thought that it would be cool to land in centre of Stockholm in a flat spin jsut like a helicopter!

  9. He's a lucky chap, then. Serious point, though - if the avionics software is as crash-prone as commercial PC software, then it's not safe to fly. On the other hand, if avionics can develop software that is safe to control an aircraft in flight, what's stopping Microsoft from copying some of the ideas and giving us reliable computers? The knowledge must be there.


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