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CASE STUDY
Honda 1800 Goldwing Runaway



Defeatist Attitudes and Lack of Knowledge


Presumably you came here looking for information about the alleged defect being reported by some owners of the 2003 Honda 1800 GoldWing in which it, without any rider input, can sometimes suddenly begin to race its engine and, thus, be ENTIRELY responsible for various accidents.

While I will indeed document such an allegation here in hopes that if it is true Honda will fix the problem immediately, I will also do my best to strip away the defeatist attitudes and lack of understandings that actually were more responsible for a particular accident than an alleged runaway engine.

For those of you interested in viewing first hand the 'news' site in which allegations of Honda's responsibility for and ignorance of this problem are made, and for a demonstration of how to excuse riders of any and all responsibility for controlling their motorcycles, you might want to go to the Wings On The Internet (WOTI) site by clicking here.

Please be prepared to encounter an elitist group that doesn't like guests, or facts - that is, be sure to be wearing your best flame retardant materials. [This article was written in early 2004. More recent (March 2005 and January 2007) experiences show that there are several thoughtful and courteous members there along with the same old 'attack dogs'.]


Here are the facts as reported by the husband of the 'victim':

The wife mounts her motorcycle (a 2003 GoldWing 1800cc beauty) while in her driveway. It is pointing towards the street. She is wearing safety gear including a helmet. She is experienced and has recently attended an MSF class, apparently not for the first time. She plans to ride the bike to the end of the driveway and make a turn into the street at the end. Her husband also has a 2003 GoldWing 1800 and has started his bike just before wife and completed the drive out onto the street where he waits for her to join him.

Something goes wrong. Just as she starts to move the engine begins to race as if the throttle is fully open. The bike moves 58 feet before it hits the curb on the other side of the street throwing the rider off itself and becomes a total loss as far as the insurance company is concerned. The woman is only bruised and buys a new motorcycle with insurance proceeds. According to the policeman who investigated the accident, says the husband, she was traveling at about 40 MPH when she hit the curb.

It should be pointed out that BOTH the husband and wife reported having experienced their motorcycles behave in this way previously. That is, both of their bikes have, after a brief ride and shut down then restart of their engines, experienced a sudden and unexpected 'racing' of their engines. They claim to have reported this problem to their motorcycle dealership and were told there is no known problem with the GoldWing such as they describe. So, of course, according to the husband, neither of them could possibly have expected that the problem might happen again. Further, neither of them could possibly be expected to be prepared to remain in control of their motorcycles if the problem did happen again because if it did it would be totally unexpected and if it took any corrective action on the part of the rider (such as use of the clutch) within a period of two seconds that would be entirely too little time to recognize that something was wrong and do anything other than 'hold on'.

This actually happened recently. (Both the accident described and the denial of ANY responsibility.) There may actually be a serious electrical problem on the newest GoldWing 1800 that causes it to behave this way. It was said that Honda now admits that there is such a problem on their GoldWing and they have instructed their dealerships on how to correct it. I hope that's true because this couple elected not to preserve the 'evidence' so the GoldWing that was a 'runaway' is no longer available to Honda to see what might have been wrong with it.

It may be possible that Honda does not know the problem could be as severe as it was in this situation and believes that the GoldWings merely have a tendency to 'surge'. Or it's possible that no other Honda 1800 GoldWings have experienced the problem as severely as did the two which happened to be owned by the husband and wife that reported it on the WOTI ("the World's Leading Internet Motorcycle Touring organization") news site.



Everybody has 'attitude', including this author. When I hear about or witness a motorcycle accident my attitude includes concern for the parties involved and a desire to LEARN something from it in hopes that *I* might be spared a similar experience.

The attitude of the vocal regulars on the WOTI list includes:
  • The wife did NOTHING WRONG - the accident was ENTIRELY the fault of Honda's GoldWing design.
This author concludes that she actually didn't do ANYTHING (right OR wrong) other than hold on until she was thrown off the bike. Because she KNEW, based on prior experience, that her engine seemed to sometimes 'runaway' by itself, and because she did NOTHING to try to regain control of her motorcycle, it is simply not credible that the 'accident' was 'entirely' the fault of the equipment. However, the 'blame game' is best reserved for the courts.

  • Nobody has the right to suggest that she might have contributed to the accident since they were not there so 'shut the Hell up!'
I believe that EVERYBODY, including myself, is STUPID when on an adrenalin high and that such times are not when they should be expected to LEARN anything. It is after the fact that the rider learns, if they want to, and before the fact is the best time for everyone else. That learning necessarily involves knowing and thinking about what actually happened - and that, in turn, requires asking questions and, not incidentally, credibility on the part of the 'witness.'

  • The accident happened too fast for anyone to have been able to prevent it. Indeed, it was stated that from beginning to end it took a 'split second' (implying 'a blink of an eye'.)
Absurd and defeatist thinking. The accident took between two and three seconds from the time the bike started moving until it hit the curb 58 feet away. If the policeman's estimate was accurate (it was too high, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt) then she was traveling at 40 MPH when she hit the curb. For any vehicle to accelerate to a speed of 40 MPH in 58 feet requires that it do so at a rate of approximately 30 feet per second per second. (That's almost ONE G and beyond the capability of a GoldWing.) Further, that means, assuming a constant rate of acceleration, she averaged 20 MPH during that 58 feet and was traveling at a speed of 20 MPH at the end of the first second.

(20 MPH is just over 29 feet per second. For the first second of travel she was averaging 10 MPH meaning she traveled approximately 15 feet and had an additional 43 feet to go before the crash. During the second second she averaged a speed of 30 MPH which means she traveled 44 feet for a total of 59 feet which is close enough to 58 feet to be convincing.)

Two seconds is a LONG TIME! It is NOT a 'blink of the eye'. It should be recognized by any experienced group rider that there is a golden rule about following distance: TWO SECONDS between yourself and the bike immediately ahead of you. It's a coincidence, but that just happens to be how long the wife had before she ended up thrown off the bike. It is, in other words, exactly the same amount of time deemed to be 'safe' when following another bike because it gives you time to recognize and react to virtually any emergency situation and remain in control of your motorcycle.

The lady had at least two full seconds and probably more like three to do SOMETHING to try to regain control of her bike.

  • Unexpected emergencies usually cause a rider to 'hold on' (tighten their grip) and the wife was 'busy' doing that so she couldn't do anything else.
Yep, holding on is probably what most people do when their bikes go weird. But, that 'explanation' for why the wife couldn't do anything to regain control of her bike ignores the fact that in order for that to have FAILED to get the bike back under control (at least to stop accelerating) means that she did not have hold of her clutch lever. In fact, in order for the GoldWing to have max accelerated for the entire 58 means - with absolute certainty - that she had abandoned both her clutch lever and her brakes for the duration of the ride.

Any experienced motorcycle rider knows, particularly one who has attended more than one MSF class, that starting out from a dead stop involves using the clutch lever and putting it into its 'friction zone.' Had this woman begun her ride without 'popping her clutch' (or letting go of it when the adrenalin rush hit her) despite the engine attaining high revolutions the bike cannot run away from her. Further, had she simply 'squeezed both levers' no matter what kind of emergency presented itself so long as she was moving in a straight line she would have regained control of her motorcycle. She used neither clutch lever or either brake - she was 'frozen' for at least two seconds.

  • In order to reach 40 MPH within 58 feet the GoldWing had to have accelerated at the rate of several G's. That can happen when you have a bike as powerful as the 1800.
In truth NO MOTORCYCLE that uses its tires to transmit engine power to the ground can accelerate faster than about 1G as it takes traction in order to deliver engine power to the ground and stock rubber tires begin to skid at about 1.1 G on cement.

  • The 'point of no return' was reached in about one second so she was already certain to hit the curb if she hadn't begun to slow it down by then. In other words, two seconds is not enough time to react to a motorcycle problem.
As demonstrated above, her bike had moved not more than 15 feet in the first second and it was traveling at no more than 20 MPH. In even a beginner MSF class it is required that students, even those who have never been on a motorcycle before, stop a motorcycle traveling 20 MPH within 23 feet and this lady still had more than 40 feet to do so. It demonstrates a defeatist attitude and an unhelpful attempt to excuse the lady's lack of doing anything to regain control of her bike. The 'point of no return' (by which *I* mean the time at which it doesn't matter if you try then or not) was the instant the bike hit the curb, more than two seconds after it began moving. If nothing else she could have applied her brakes or pulled in her clutch before hitting the curb and that would have reduced the final impact speed even if it might not have prevented her hitting it.

No matter how you look at this 'accident' you cannot conclude that Honda's GoldWing was solely responsible for this accident. Had the rider merely REMAINED in control rather than give it away by letting go of her clutch lever there would not have been an accident. For those that would argue that the runaway engine 'caused' the accident because it happened first - might it not be just as appropriate to think that because she knew first hand that her bike had a tendency to demonstrate unexplained engine runaway that the FIRST MISTAKE was that she was willing to ignore that fact and ride the bike at all?



If not blame then what?

It might seem to you that despite my having claimed not to be interested in the 'blame game' I have done exactly that in pointing out that the rider did NOTHING (right or wrong) other than hold on until the bike crashed. In other words, by whatever name I might chose to call it I was actually blaming the rider for the accident.

But as I said earlier, under an adrenalin high we are all stupid and that learning while under the influence of adrenalin should not be expected. Instead of blaming the rider in this case I would merely say 'So what?' - that was history and mistakes were made and the result was an accident. How does it help you or me in any way whether the rider was to blame or not? It is the lessons learned that matter now, not what mistakes were made but that mistakes WERE made and what those mistakes were. I maintain that no accident would have happened at all had the rider done even the simplest of things - like squeeze her clutch lever - and that, thus, the accident was not 'entirely' the fault of Honda equipment malfunctioning. If there is a need to ascertain blame I suggest that be taken up in the justice system.

As learning is not best done DURING an accident then it should be done before the accident in order to minimize the odds that an accident will occur at all. There is a need to do some things correctly before an accident as well as during it - things that have already been learned. For example, you should cover your clutch and leave it in the friction zone while beginning to move from a dead stop. Or such as understanding, in advance, that no matter what happens ONE THING you can do to regain control of a motorcycle (if it's moving in a straight line) is to squeeze both levers - maybe not the ideal solution to a problem but one which can be done by anyone with any level of experience and skill. Or like practicing the things that are difficult, not just the things that are fun, in order to build some muscle memory that allows you to react without thought or having to learn while in the middle of a crisis.

There is one more thing you can do - you can wear a full-face helmet when you ride and depend on it to 'save your face' so that after an accident you don't waste everybody's time trying to do so by being defensive and denying reality. Save your defensiveness and lack of courtesy for the courtroom (though that attitude won't get you very far there, either) but if you exhibit a lack of integrity or credibility there you will only hurt yourself. If you do either or both in response to people who are trying to learn something from you that might save their lives the cost could be greater than you can handle.

[I am not an attorney and am not giving 'legal advice' here. If the facts were correct it would be possible, I suppose, to win in a court of law with the claim that the alleged defect was the 'proximate cause' of the accident. I would think that an expert would have had to have inspected the motorcycle and rendered an opinion that supports the claim or that there has been a documented history of such 'runaways' to rely upon. It would be, however, hard to prove that the rider didn't simply pop her clutch and roll on the throttle then freeze that way as she headed for the curb - but that's what attorneys are for.]

And if you belittle and challenge the integrity of your guests in your efforts to be 'one of the guys' or, worse, to further your misrepresentation of the facts of an accident, and you do so within a public forum hosted by an otherwise fine organization, you can be sure that you are sullying the reputation of that organization as well as your own in the process and just maybe a few of your members won't be quite so proud to belong to it any longer.



Two 'strikes' is probably one too many.

In April of 2005 (one year after her bike did a 'runaway') that same lady and her husband were returning home from a WOTI event in San Antonio when she was involved in another single-vehicle accident in which she totaled the new GoldWing 1800 she received following her first single-vehicle accident. Again they both claimed it was not her fault. Anyone, I suppose, can go wide in a turn in the rain and end up in a ditch. It was reported that after she recovered from her injuries she was going to get a third GoldWing 1800.

Strike three should be reserved for baseball.

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