All posts for the month February, 2016

Whoa! Ducati Party!

Ducati of Detroit hosted a Ladies’ Moto Night this week and it was fun! Started with registration, snacks (oooo, very Italian, too!), wine, and socializing. Things then really kicked off with an intro from staff and presenters.

The first station (there were five) was intro to different types of bikes. They had three Scramblers, a Panigale, two Monsters, and a Diavel to sit on. The Hypermotard was sold out and the Multistrada was in the back somewhere. Lots of discussion on seat heights, no surprise.

The second station featured different types of gear and the Arai guy. Good for me, I’ve never been able to try on Arai’s long oval fit helmets. They definitely would work, but I’ll likely stay with HJC for now. The staff had an array of different materials to choose from for jackets and boots, and stressed the importance of CE armoring. Nice!

The third station was the crazy one. How to pick up your bike. The staff had a dry Scrambler with frame sliders and every lady was given the opportunity to practice picking it up. We did the back it up with your butt method. I learned that I’ve been putting my butt too low on the seat all this time, and that’s why I struggle with the GS. The Derpa? No prob. But my damn GS…. Anyway, I feel a lot more confident about that now. The other BMW rider in my group and I were just staring at each other like “OMG, we finally get it!” and all of the ladies were carrying on about butt position. Honestly, it sounded like a maternity ward – “Move your butt!” “Spread your feet out more!” “Now you got it, PUSH! PUSH! Keep pushing!” “YAY!! You did it!!”

The fourth station – wow – was an old Monster 620 on their dyno. The shop does sport bike tuning, focusing on Ducati (of course). They welcome all makes to the dyno, but readily admit that they really don’t know much about other EFI systems. I giggled and took that sucker all the way up to the redline in top gear, it really does go 140mph standing still. A few bangs off the rev limiter and I let it back down. It shifts like a GS (bang bang bang), but smoothly. That would be a fun track bike!

The last station was basic bike maintenance. As the night was winding down and all of the ladies in my group were riders with some experience, we mostly just talked about tyre pressure and then BSed about bikes with the senior tech and builder. He showed us two project bikes that they are working on, a race bike and a Scrambler. Seems like everyone is working on Scrambler builds, which is awesome mostly because I am tired of chopper and bobber builds.

We wrapped up with some swag bags and super cute tshirts. The team at Ducati Detroit definitely pulled out all of the stops for this event and it showed. I was very impressed at the thoroughness of the presentations – appropriate for all levels of experience – and the completeness of the event – covering so many aspects of riding. The dyno and the tipped over Scrambler were definitely highlights for me as I’ve never been on a bike dyno (many many car dynos, but no bikes) and getting coached on how to pick up a downed bike was incredibly helpful.

This past weekend marked the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death in a violent racing crash at Daytona Speedway. Earnhardt’s death was due to a basal skull fracture in which his skull separated from his spine. The impact tore his harness and his body was further injured by impact to the steering wheel. To this day, no single person has made a greater or more significant impact on automotive safety. Earnhardt’s death shined a spotlight on the available safety gear and structural limits of vehicles that was far brighter than Nader’s dim bulb – millions of people watched their hero refuse to don a full face helmet and HANS device due to the restrictions they would impose, and avoid an antisubmarining harness for the same reasons. That freedom of movement cost him his life.

Today even the lowest levels of club racing require extensive safety gear, all more than Earnhardt chose, and participants wear it as a badge of honor. The day you have to upgrade to a HANS to keep racing is a big day. Automakers worked with suppliers to redesign seat belts and airbags, and the old standby – the crumple zone – got a remake in process, too. I spent some time with one of GM’s NASCAR safety engineers, who said that in the months after the accident, they spent most of their time meeting with safety teams from the “regular” car lines, all who wanted to upgrade wherever they could, because people were dying. It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact Earnhardt’s death had on passenger safety.

Coming back to my title, who will be the Dale Earnhardt of motorcycling? Who will be the person who is so well-known and respected that everyone follows? Who will shine a bright light on our safety issues, make the world turn around and notice? The adventure and dirt bike crowds seem to spend enough time picking themselves up that gear is not a question for them. Brittany Morrow has done an excellent job advocating for more gear, and by and large, the sportbike crowd is slowly coming around. People like one of my old coworkers, though, aren’t. In one sentence, he explained that even a 3/4 helmet was too limiting to his hearing and visual field while bemoaning the deaths of two of his riding crew buddies who were hit while processing through a red light to keep the group together. Motorcycling is a club, but it is a club of clubs, with no unifying center. Unlike NASCAR and the automotive world, there is no one person everyone recognizes, no one who can impact the entire group.

Our chrome-and-black-leather colleagues (and certainly many of our friends in the power rangers) have a lot in common with Mr Earnhardt when it comes to choice. Safety gear is limiting – it restricts you in some ways and takes a while to get comfortable in. Choosing which gear to wear is a privilege, and I understand that people want that privilege. The AMA continues to give lip service to the notion that wearing gear so basic as a helmet is a choice. As a senior driver on the NASCAR circuit, Mr Earnhardt used his privilege of choice to avoid the single most effective piece of gear the safety guys had to offer that year – the HANS device – and paid with his life for it. No doubt, the crash would have put him out of racing for a while anyway due to the failure of his harness. But he likely would have lived to tell the tale. Riders without helmets don’t.

It’s time for motorcycling to catch up with our four-wheeled friends on the safety front. I’m hoping that we don’t need our own Dale Earnhardt to make the case for stronger equipment rules. And if we do, who would it be, anyway?

It’s on the bike! A few notes….

One. The plastic bit that comes up at the back is a bit annoying. My butt is going to have to acclimate to that.

Two. I sit closer to the “tank” than on the other seats. This is ergonomically weird, but kind of cool. I can see the top of my windshield for the first time ever.

Three. The height is perfect. My feet graze the ground nicely. I can get them down plenty, all the way, actually. One foot down is super comfy.

I’m happy.