St. Louis, MO
Posted - 02/05/2011 : 10:39 AM
I keep coming back to the run-offs. Because, logically, it seems to me that's the essential reason why the crash occurs. If a student didn't run off the range out of control, it wouldn't matter if there was a wall or a half shell or a Buell involved. It wouldn't matter how old the student was.
But run-offs happen and they have always happened in training. There are some hilarious stories I've heard about students that ran off ranges. Of course, they are only funny because the student wasn't hurt. But now students are dying as a result.
It seems to me that this is an issue that needs to be explored in depth by the rider education community: why do run-offs occur; what can be done to stop them; in what exercises are they more likely to occur; and have run-offs changed in frequency, speed, etc.?
No administrator I have spoken to collects statistics or data on run-offs nor ever has. No one I know knows if there are more or less today than in the past. No one knows exactly what exercises they happen in more frequently though everyone has a guess. Almost all the deadly/near fatal run-offs have happened because a student failed to make a turn. But not all of them. So what is the essential reason run-offs happen at all?
Because stop the run-offs, it seems to me, you stop the deaths regardless of walls or fences or half shell helmets. Which may seem to be both obvious and impossible. So maybe that answer is too simple but just because it is simple, doesn't mean it's wrong. It needs serious examination by rider educators.
What happens in a run-off, as I understand it, seems pretty straight forward: the student pops the clutch, the bike leaps forward, the student is thrown backwards. As that happens, they roll on the throttle as they grab the hand grips tightly.
To stop the run-off and gain control, they have to roll off the throttle and pull in both the clutch and brake levers (without grabbing the front brake).
No matter what the curriculum, no matter if it's on the range or on the street that's what happens and what they have to do to stop it.
Chances are, then, (most) run-offs begin with popping the clutch. To me, then, that's the first issue: how much practice do the students have with the friction zone? If that is much less in the BRC than in prior iterations, that could be a factor. And, it seems to me, when they learn to shift to 2nd is also a factor since, necessarily, speeds are higher in 2nd. Does the BRC have as much riding time (and therefore practice) in 1st gear before moving on to 2nd gear as the RSS?
That's easy to answer no. In the RSS, students learned to shift to 2nd gear 135 mins into range exercises (2.25 hrs). According to the BRC and RSS range cards, in the BRC they first shift to 2nd gear 75 mins into the course (1.15 hrs). How important, then, was that extra 1.10 hours of practice in 1st gear? Very? Somewhat? Not at all?
The next question is: When do the majority of run-offs and all of them, not just deadly ones occur (what exercises)? Do more happen when the rider is downshifting or upshifting? Which gears (and shift direction) are involved? Is there a difference in the speed or outcome of run offs in terms of exercise and shift direction? How would any of these things affect the potential deadliness of the run off?
Then there's this I suggest as important as the popped clutch is to a run-off, it's the throwback that makes it a run-off rather than a stalled bike/drop. If the bike is in motion, the upper body (and head) is always thrown back to some extent. That's how the laws of motion work. That's inevitable. That is, if a popped clutch surprises the rider.
As a result of the throwback not the popped clutch, the throttle is almost inevitably rolled on as a consequence to the throw back the hands grip as the torso is flung backwards and the throttle grip rotates with the movement. Especially if the bike is in motion already. Throwback is a result of inertia.
So, if that one thing didn't happen the throw back it seems the student would be able to get control and do it more quickly. To stop the run-off, the upper body must return to proper riding position in order for the hands to relax their grip not pull backwards on the grips and that allows the fingers move forward to pull in the levers.
How much torque the bike has, then, would necessarily make a huge difference: there would be a physical and measurable relationship to that forward leap and backwards torso thrust (G force on the body). So that's one thing and the Blast has more torque than other training bikes.
While it's clear that the BRC has less practice in 1st gear, are there any other changes no matter how small that could be affecting the throwback? Yes. Imo, there does seem to be a tiny change in the BRC curriculum that could go a long way in accounting for more throwbacks when popping the clutch.
What follows is just an observation based on the range cards for the RSS and the BRC but that's the official document of the M$F curriculum so it's valid to use them no matter how individual instructors or state programs deviate from them.
Students learn the basic controls in the first few exercises and when they are compared one to another, there's some differences between the two iterations as we see:
use both brakes.
1. "Keeps head up and eyes up, looking well ahead."
2. "Keeps head up and eyes up, looking well ahead." "Keep knees on tank."
(FINE-C) Start stop
2."Keep the clutch in."
"Roll off the throttle and squeeze clutch lever. The clutch lever is never fully released."
Evaluation: "Head and eyes up, looking well ahead." "Back and shoulders relaxed."
"Knees against tank." "Sits far enough forward to rotate handlebar freely."
"Right hand in wrist down position."
"Four fingers covering clutch."
"Right foot covering brake pedal."
"Stops (using both brakes)."
Perimeter ride large circles
Evaluation: "Head and eyes up, looking well ahead."
"Knees against tank." "Covers clutch." "Uses both brakes to slow."
"With wrist down, roll on..."
"To be able to use friction zone with control"
1. "Do not release clutch fully. Use minimal throttle."
"During Part 1... Ensure all riders have good friction zone control before moving to Power Walking"
2. "using front brake smoothly, shift to neutral (releasing clutch very slowly to be sure)" "Repeat as signaled"
3. "Use both brakes to stop"
"Keep right wrist down and use steady throttle"
"Keep clutch lever covered"
"Keep knees against tank"
"Don't cover front brake lever while using throttle"
"with precision and control."
"Keep head and eyes up" "Coordinate clutch/throttle use" "Use both brakes to stop"
"To be able to shift gears and stop smoothly"
Shifting to 2nd gear
Down shifting to 1st gear to a stop.
"Keep eyes up"
"Shift smoothly and precisely" "Stop smoothly using both brakes at the designated point"
"Do not release clutch after downshifting"
Adjust speed smooth turns/negotiate weaves
"Do not squeeze clutch when slowing" "Slow with both brakes before corners (no clutch squeeze)" "Use throttle smoothly" "Keep right wrist down without covering front brake"
As I studied the two, I noticed "knees against tank" in several RSS exercises and I remembered how that was emphasized in the training course I took years ago. In the first 5 exercises in the RSS, "keep knees against tank" is emphasized three times (twice in bold in the text) and covering the clutch is emphasized twice and covering the rear brake once. In subsequent exercises, instructors are continuously urged to make sure the rider is in proper riding position and the evaluations continuously emphasize not only keeping the head and eyes up and looking far ahead but include "knees on tank" as part of the evaluation and twice (in Exercise 16 and 24) warn instructors about students releasing clutch too quickly.
However, in the BRC, I noticed students are only "officially" told once to keep knees against the tank and then are never reminded again for the rest of the course. But they are told, more often than RSS students, to keep their right wrist down.
So what is the reason why proper riding position and "knees against tank" used to be emphasized? Major Bill, at least, made it clear that it helped us with stability on the bike and, we were told, if we felt nervous or tension in our arms and hands, to squeeze the tank with our knees. That would automatically relax our upper body, arms and hands. And it worked just like he said it would. And, truth be told, it's almost magical how well it works. It's like...well...fairy dust for a tense rider on or off the range.
Because, of course, it's physics at work. Tension contracts and stiffens muscles making shifting weight to lean and controlling handlebars and levers more difficult, less nuanced and slower. When throwback occurs, the muscles in the arms and hands tighten even more to hang on. It seems to be, if the knees aren't against the tank, the rider has to use their arms and upper body strength to haul themselves forward and then relax that effort in order to move their hands forward. This adds critical milliseconds if accomplished at all.
However, if the knees are against the tank and, especially if the student has been trained to squeeze the tank when nervous the knees are Newton's third law of motion in action: they can function as the equal and opposite force. The brute force required to haul oneself forward is removed from the torso and arms and placed in the lower body allowing the arms and hands to do what must be done to stop the run off releasing the throttle and applying the levers.
"Knees against tank" is a small but critical component to maintaining control at least as you're learning. Afterwards depending on the bike it may be impossible or too uncomfortable to do. On my Sporty, for example, I can't the air box is not only in the way but it's too damned hot to do. But that's not all: On my VFR, I not only can but must do. And why must I do it? To take the weight off my wrists and enable effective lean. So it occurs to me that it's not just run-offs that the absence of this safety component affects but perhaps some of the difficulties students are experiencing in cornering.
And, since so many of these deadly run-offs entailed missing a turn there just may be a connection.
It seems to me, then, that this tiny change not stressing knees against tank might be more important than anyone suspected.
As I said, run-offs happened in all iterations of the M$F course and we don't know if they happen more often. However, we can simply look at the range cards and see that students are only told "knees against tank" once. Is that once enough?
I expect many instructors would say that they go beyond what's in the range cards and stress it even though it's no longer there. My guess is that, if they do, they had taught the RSS for years. It's also my guess that state administrators and instructors hadn't even noticed the absence of the "knees against tank" in the BRC. And, if they hadn't, my guess is that instructor training in their state hasn't added it back in as something the instructors need to stress repeatedly to the students.
Its easy enough to try: the next course you teach, emphasize "knees against tank" if you haven't been and see if it has an effect on control, skill attainment and comfort level of the students.
Another change is that students are not told to cover the clutch except in BRC Exercise 2. And that, I'm sure, people could argue either way. Yet I'm wondering if that would help stop run-offs if the students were told to do so?
And, finally, as I pointed out a year ago and again above, the BRC has students shifting to 2nd gear far earlier than in the RSS. Meaning higher speeds earlier, despite what the M$F says. And they are doing so without as much practice in 1st gear and without as much practice with the friction zone. In fact, in Exercise 3 the BRC given its philosophy says to move on to the next exercise when the students "demonstrate control". But in the RSS Exercise 4 "Riding in a straight line", students are to repeat the friction zone part 10 times. Does this make a difference? Why not try it and see extend that part -
These small changes need to be discussed by the rider ed community to what degree could they be affecting run-offs? Because, to me, that's the critical need here: stop the run offs, stop the deaths.
If not these tiny things then what? What causes the run-offs and what can stop them?