Friday, February 20

Bike School Student Again

MSF Course includes Reference Text Like LAB, but Unlike CS. Material is Also Available on Line
The Bike League requests that its instructors periodically take educational material related to bikes in order to keep "fresh" in bike ed. The principle is exactly correct and ought to be followed by all; ESPECIALLY by instructors. Recently, I took advantage of an opportunity to become a bike school student all over again through a Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) course offered near my home in North Texas. There is an obvious (to me) synergy between how to safely ride and control a bicycle with how to do the same thing on a heavier and more powerful two-wheel vehicle. Indeed, I found MANY things that cross over directly, and it was fascinating to see the similarities and differences between the Bike League (LAB) and Cycling Savvy (CS) bicycling programs.

MSF Instructor Has a Pole to Help Cone Placement, With Marks on the Lot, Unlike Either LAB or CS
ALL Riding was Done in this Parking Lot
General Observations
The MSF course takes two FULL days, and there is at least one added follow-on course. Thus it is longer than either of the cycling programs. In addition, in many states, taking and passing the test obviates the requirement to take the state skills riding test in order to win a motorcycle endorsement to one's driving license. On both days, the course started with some classroom work that consisted of going through the MSF handbook and watching relevant videos. Late each morning, we'd go over to the parking lot for various drills. Unlike EITHER the CS or LAB programs, there was no on-street riding and, as you can see below, the school-provided motorcycles do not have licenses or turn signals installed on them, making them not street-legal. My own class was probably unusual because one of the three students already had his motorcycle endorsement, was a deputy sheriff, and was taking the class in preparation to become an instructor. The second student was taking the course to get his motorcycle endorsement and did not have much more motorcycle experience than myself. The third student was me. While my bike handling skills were probably better than most, I last rode a motorcycle more than 30 years ago. Fortunately, the course does NOT assume you know how to do things such as starting the motorcycle nor shutting it down.

Our Class Had Only Three Students, Like Many LAB and CS Classes. Instructors Only Double-Up With Larger Courses
Motorcyles ARE Different (in some ways)
The first, and obvious difference is that motorcycles are big, heavy, and fast compared to bikes. Our training motorcycles were Suzuki 250 models which are tiny by current motorcycle standards but even they seemed heavy and clumsy to me. The second difference is that rider compliance is NOT considered "optional" by the larger society and the education programs are specifically backed by major manufacturers. A corollary is that instruction recognizes that motorcycles are vulnerable road users, but also starts with the presumption that crashes are usually multi-cause events in which the motorcyclist is actively seeking a balance between risk and safety. That is a refreshing change from bicycles, where advocates often seem obsessed with distinguishing between which crashes are the fault of the motorist and which are the fault of the cyclist. The MSF course knows that if you crash, it will HURT. This being said, there is a LOT of crossover in principles with bikes, even though the motorcycle people use different terms for many of their principles. ONE OTHER THING - Motorcyles ALL "backwards brake."

For the rest of this post, I'll cover topics I found interesting that either differ from bicycle teaching, match bicycle teaching, or fill in blanks for me.

Ear Protection
One thing I found fascinating was the subject of earplugs, due to my past bike school experience. Gail, here, started this and I have made other posts on the subject, here and here. In the case of the MSF, hearing protection is STRONGLY advocated even for those with quiet motorcycles and full-face helmets. One reason why, which tracks with my own bike experience, is that outside noise is a problem. The MSF cites wind noise in particular. In addition, traffic noise adds to the fatigue aspects. The MSF instructor discounted engine noise as a reason for the earplugs and was unaware that some jurisdictions outlaw their use. I also found that some motorcycle helmets have built-in provisions for listening to things like music while riding. Myself, I think this is a situation where "it depends" is a guiding factor. If you are riding slowly, in a quiet locale, ear protection is probably extraneous. That's a major reason I do not wear earphones in Ocean Shores. OTOH, if you are going to be listening to loud and engaging music, earphones are probably NOT a good idea since the music itself, in addition to being distracting, can add to hearing loss.

In the past, I've been somewhat dubious about the incremental benefits of wearing "high vis" since much cycling (and motorcycling) clothing is basic black and because the first line of defense is to have good lights and to ride where people WILL see you before it is too late. However, I have to admit the MSF makes good points that being visible adds incremental safety. As they note about motorcycles (and could equally be noted about bikes), "...are smaller and not as prevalent as cars and trucks, so they are more difficult to pick out in traffic and their speed may be difficult for others to judge." We should keep in mind that many emergency vehicles are rear-ended on roads, despite being covered with high vis and despite "move over" legislation. 'Nuf sed.

Lane Positions
The MSF teaching on this is simple, and virtually identical to what is taught as "best practice" in cycling. The "line of sweetness" rules! In an interesting difference of terminology, the MSF describes the "line of sweetness" as the "presentation position."

The "Line of Sweetness!" Also Endorsed by the MSF

I don't recall much material from bike school about dealing with dogs, and DEFINITELY not about how to deal with larger animals such as the deer that abound in Ocean Shores. The MSF recommendation follows: "Once an approaching dog is spotted, a good rider response is to slow, including a downshift, then accelerate past the point of interception. Don't kick at the dog, because it will make controlling the motorcycle difficult."

Crash Chain
Two things that are talked about in bike ed, are "the danger is ahead" and ACE (which stands for Ability, Conditions, and Equipment). This is complemented by the "ABC Quick Check" which is more equivalent to something the MSF refers to as TCLOCS. The Crash Chain is an excellent way to view all the elements of ACE. With apologies to Preston Tyree, he ought to consider adapting the graphic view of the Crash Chain as it wraps together all the elements of ACE, though it separates "conditions" into "road and environment," and "other traffic."

Crash Chain Graphic PERFECTLY Illustrates the LAB "ACE" Concept
REMOVE Crash Causes to BREAK the Chain Between You and Crashes
As noted  here and other places, I feel the CS program does too little testing (this is only bad because it means less feedback to students) while the LAB program spends too high a portion of its course time in testing (better student feedback, but too much time spent on tests relative to the length of the course). I do not know to what degree the MSF course approach to testing is dictated by state licensing requirements, but I found that its written test wasn't much less of a PIA than the LAB test, and its riding test was "pass/fail" since a "pass" is required to eliminate the state riding skills test. Overall, I wasn't impressed with the MSF testing, since feedback was only offered upon request. In this way it was effectively somewhere in between the two cycling programs.

Turning and Braking
I think I've blathered on for almost too much here, so I'll end with turning and braking. The principles of turning on a motorcycle are the same as on a bicycle. I found it interesting that the instructor never used the term "countersteer," though he taught us the principles. The MSF Handbook mentions it once in the context of "Press" where you press forward on the motorcycle grip in the direction of the turn. Still, this is an area in which my past bike experience with "instant turns" and such allowed me to control the motorcycle more accurately than the other students.

Another difference in emphasis is braking. In bike school, we try quick stops with the rear, with the front, and with both brakes to illustrate things. In motorcycle school, we are simply taught to apply both brakes smoothly and there is less emphasis on letting up on one or the other brake should skidding begin. Principles are the same, but perhaps the difference is because it would be difficult to spot for someone on a heavy motorcycle.

All in all, it was a good learning experience and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in improving his/her cycling abilities. Since I've done it, I also guess I ought to go ahead and get a motorcycle endorsement. After all, "you never know..."

Wednesday, January 21

Car Crazy in New Orleans

I'm really not sure how to characterize cycling in New Orleans. Unlike newer southern cities, there's a lot of it going on. It has its fair share of brain-damaged, door zone bike lanes, one of which makes a star appearance in one of this post's videos. The standard of how people ride is generally no better than elsewhere, with wrong-way sidewalk riding abounding, even when bad bike lanes adjoin the sidewalk.

Today, however, I'm going to talk about a small subset of cycling and car culture in New Orleans, namely the French Quarter. The French Quarter was the original part of New Orleans and was mostly built up in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the Americans came around, it expanded greatly, with places like the Garden District.

Sharrows seem to be the fashion statement as you enter the French Quarter. Note that there is car parking on both sides of the street.

One thing that really struck me was the way bicycles were attached to just about anything that made sense, and that cars were parked everywhere. I do not recall, however, a single purpose-built bike rack. What's more, almost all of the car parking was paid parking, even on the street. There were some private lots, and parking there was about $10 for two hours. Doing a little math, with on-street parking costing $1.50 per hour and five or six bikes (average) in a car parking spot, the city would have to charge about a quarter an hour to break even. Can anyone say "bike share?"

There did appear to sort of be a designated bike route of some sort, though I saw no evidence that any of the local cyclists paid any mind to it. Given a sign on the same street, I don't imagine cyclist safety was a high priority in route selection.

Crescent Corridor Sign

In the area around Jackson Square, bicycles were not so welcome. In the Square itself, I'm not sure a person walking a bike would be allowed. Even dogs are forbidden and you might be tasered for feeding a bird.

Despite all this, the French Quarter shows why people ride their bikes everywhere in places like the Netherlands, and why I entitled this post "car crazy in New Orleans." As you may see from the photo below, the purple zone is the French Quarter and there are cars parked all the way along almost every street. What's more, as the videos show, there are cars parked in the traffic lanes of many of the streets.

Four Blocks Stroll from a Parking Garage to the middle of the French Quarter
Now, for notes on the videos. In the first one, shot on Decatur Street on the side with a bike lane, you see a pair of people using the bike lane. While I'm not sure the bike lane does any more than make people feel better about passing on the right, it IS the fastest route along the street. Later in the video, you'll see a guy come the wrong way down the bike lane. Right before he appears, the traffic signals turn red so he's actually riding through a red light on the wrong side of the road. Still, he doesn't appear to be in overly much danger. The first video is 27 seconds long. The light turns red about ten seconds in and the "Gulf Salmon" shows up about 5 seconds later.

In the second video, you can see how the lack of a bike lane distorts things. That skateboarder would have not been allowed had a bike lane been present, and the SUV would not have tried to make a U turn either. BTW, as I recall, someone making a U turn is supposed to yield to all other road users. The second video is 29 seconds long. Originally, the skateboarder was one clip and the SUV was another until I merged them together. You can tell from the music that they were shot one after another.

IMO, this location almost CRIES to be a "nearly motor vehicle free" zone. Sure, delivery trucks need windows to deliver. There are people who have garages on private property who should be accommodated, and parking garages would have to be erected to get all those cars OFF the French Quarter street, but we need to give all those high-falutin' urban planners SOME sort of challenge. Heck, maybe they could put in some streetcars with all those parked cars gone and a bike lane would take on a WHOLE new meaning. How, one might ask, do you protect cyclists from pedestrians? I guess that's one reason they mostly ride slow in Dutch cities...

Looking East along Decatur Street

Looking West along Decatur Street

They Still Love Andy in New Orleans

As can be seen, people in New Orleans still have a fondness for Jackson. These wreaths were seen on January 18 in Jackson Square. The inscription on the base; "The Union Must and Shall be Preserved" was added by Union General Benjamin Butler shortly after Butler's Union troops occupied the city early in the Civil War. Butler was a Jacksonian Democrat. Many in New Orleans called him "spoons" for short.

One last photo before we depart Andy. Actually, it doesn't have much to do with Andy other than both statues are on Decatur Street. The statue below is of Joan of Arc. It was a gift of the people of France. Originally, it was gifted in 1958, but New Orleans could not afford the $35,000 to have it erected, so it sat in a warehouse for eight years. Luckily, DeGaulle came to town and got people to raise money and it was finally erected at the Place de France in 1972. BUT WAIT, there's more! Joan became unwanted at her original locale when a big casino went in there, so she was moved her to her current location on Decatur Street a couple of blocks east of the cathedral. The statue is a duplicate of the one in Paris. I do not know if the casino paid for the relocation or not. Certainly, it was moved without DeGaulle's intervention. Presumably, they didn't rename "Place de France" to "Place de Harrah" or "Place de Monte Carlo."

Saturday, January 17


It was 200 years today that the last British shells were lobbed at Fort St Philip. While most think that the Battle of New Orleans was a quick affair on January 8th, fighting began on December 14th of 1814 and ended when the British packed their gear after the 17th of January. Most also think the battle didn't matter since the treaty was signed in December 1814, but the treaty did not take place until BOTH countries ratified it, which didn't happen until February 1815. What's more, the Brits thought the Americans might not ratify and New Orleans would certainly increase their motivation.

To make a long story short Jackson led very well and was also lucky. Before too long, he became our first Democrat President. Less uplifting is that to this day, some Indians will not carry $20 bills. BTW, I'll have observations on NOLA cycling after I get back.

Friday, January 9

Passing of an Era

Thomas Victor Jones, with YF-17 Model before it Evolved into the F-18
As is always the case, the end of a year is marked by news agencies summarizing notable people who passed away during the year. Among these articles reviewing 2014, there is at least one giant name missing; Thomas Victor Jones. You see, Tom Jones was the last of a breed in the aerospace industry that we are not likely to see again in our time. Some might not think that a bad thing, but it also probably means less future innovation in that same industry. The photo, above, comes from the LA Times Obituary. Perhaps it is ironic that Ralph Vartebedian wrote it - Ralph was a thorn in Jones's side for many years.

Northrop F-5 at Boeing Museum
In the first half century of aviation, most companies funded a major portion of new aircraft from their own resources. Northrop Corporation was one such. When I started work there, Jack Northrop was still alive, though frail. The CEO was Tom Jones. He made his name by pushing for the T-38 and F-5, aircraft that are still in service today more than 50 years later. He also pushed to get Northrop into the unmanned aircraft business. The mostly Northrop-funded YF-17 later developed into the F/A-18 on his watch and is still being built. It was a point of pride at Northrop that almost ALL the company facilities were company owned. More commonly, the US Government owned large aircraft facilities. Northrop was different under Jones. We purchased license plate holders that said: "Northrop Aircraft Division, a Good Place to Work" at the company store.

Less well known is that Northrop, again under Tom’s watch, played a major role in funding and supporting Boeing (his son just passed away as noted HERE) in the development of the original 747. I’ve been told that Northrop built and owned many of the original tools for that aircraft until Boeing later purchased them back. Certainly, Jones’s support of stealth research and guidance systems directly led to Northrop’s B-2, Peacekeeper missile and YF-23, and there is much more.

It was the F-20 that truly showed him as having the spirit of a Mississippi river boat gambler. It also led to his downfall. For those not familiar with the F-20, it started life as the “F-5G.” The F-5G was Northrop’s response to a Carter Administration initiative to have US companies privately develop fighters for export to friendly countries that were outside the NATO/Israel umbrella. Well, to make a long story short, Northrop spent $1.25 billion of its own money only to find its potential market completely undercut by that same US Government. It then got to spend hundreds of millions more on the ATF competition. Jones went away from Northrop and the last Mississippi river boat gambler was gone by 1990. You can read the whole, sordid story, HERE. Not long after he left, the City of Hawthorne renamed "Thomas Victor Jones Park" to "Holly Park." Sheesh.

Unlike Jack Northrop, who was pretty much despondent when the US killed off his flying wings and ordered them cut up, Tom Jones went into an elegant retirement. He founded Moraga Vineyards around his mansion in Bel Air, California. Moraga is the most expensive vineyard property on the planet. In 2013, he sold the place to Rupert Murdoch (yes, THAT Murdoch) and remained in the house itself until his death in early 2014. We will not see his like again soon. Perhaps it is fitting that the Moraga property once belonged to Victor Fleming who directed “Gone With the Wind.” Maybe Jones was a bit inspired by Rhett Butler.

From the Moraga site, a Low Key Note of Tom's