Saturday, November 6, 2010

More information emerges as SIU clears officer in passenger fatality

A few (very few) more details have been released by police about the Aug. 27 death of 40-year-old Ioana Bocunescu, the passenger who fell from a motorcycle as the rider fled police on the 401 in Whitby. In saying the officer who tried to pull the rider over has been cleared of any wrongdoing, police investigators said that when a marked cruiser tried to pull the rider over, the rider instead "entered the westbound paved centre median, and accelerated out of sight." If you look at a Google satellite view, the only thing that could be a "paved centre median" would be the left-side shoulder next to the cement highway divider. Here's an aerial view from Google and here's an eye-level view.

So, police are saying the rider evaded being pulled over by police by riding around traffic on the left shoulder? And then made several lane changes, which is when Bocunescu fell and was run over by traffic. Rashid Soujah, 37, has been charged with manslaughter. No word yet on a trial date.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Manslaughter charges in death of passenger

A North York man has been charged with manslaughter in the death of his motorcycle passenger after he fled police three weeks ago on the 401 in Whitby. Rashid Soujah, 37, is in custody. Ioana Bocunescu, 40, was the victim. You can leave condolences for her family on an online guest book.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gnashing of teeth into the dark of the night

The past few days have been rough on riders of motorcycles in the greater Toronto area.

It started in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with a shocking report about a rider who ran from police in Whitby. The rider wasn't alone; there was a passenger on the back of the bike. When the rider cranked the throttle to escape police, the passenger fell off. And was immediately hit by more than one car; Whitby's only 10 minutes east of Toronto and the 401 is busy, even at that time of night. One witness's account of seeing body parts strewn across the 401 in the aftermath was so horrible I won't dare repeat any of it. Death must have come quickly, but before shock set in the pain would have been unimaginable.

Horribly, that's not the most shocking part: THE RIDER KEPT GOING. Left the passenger to be crushed and dismembered in traffic, without a look back. As did the cars who ran over her. No one stopped.

Let me repeat that: NO ONE STOPPED.

This is reminiscent of the murder of Kitty Genovese, who was stabbed to death near her home in the Kew Gardens section of Queens, New York on March 13, 1964, in full view of dozens of her neighbours. Some reportedly called police, but her attacker had time to leave and come back to finish the job. No one intervened.

How can that happen? There, then? Here, now?

Not many facts about Friday's gruesome event have been made public. Why didn't motorists stop? Did those who ran over the passenger's body think that they'd hit a deer? How could the rider - regardless of WHY he (or she - police haven't released the gender) was running from police - leave a passenger to die, alone?

These are troubling questions, and unlikely to be answered until the police find the rider and charge him or her, since it's clear they're holding their cards close to their collective chest until their investigation is ready to close in.

But this sordid tale has caused many a GTA motorcyclist several sleepless nights. There were 30 pages of posts in a discussion of the event on by Saturday night. Almost everyone expressed shock and disbelief at the rider's unconscionably cavalier disregard for his passenger's life. A few implied that the guilty party was a member of the board well-known for speeding irresponsibly, often with passengers riding without protective gear. A small but vocal group was throwing out accusations that the draconian Ontario highway code that convicts speeders on the spot by confiscating vehicles was responsible for the rider running. That forums where riders discuss why they might run because of the new law might have influenced the rider.

That's ludicrous. Let me make this clear: why the rider ran is irrelevant. I, and the majority of riders -- THE MAJORITY OF HUMAN BEINGS -- don't care a whit WHY he or she ran. We want to know HOW anyone could do such a thing. Leave another human being to that passenger's fate. Fail to stop once it was evident the passenger was gone.

How motorists, subsequently, could fail to stop.

How have we come to live in a society where any of these things are even possible?

Riders are a group hardened by the harsh reality of the danger of the sport. The passenger's death isn't the only one being discussed this week.

A funeral will be held Wednesday for a rider well-loved by many on the board after his bike piled into a car stalled at Eglington and Albina last Thursday. Another rider I know and respect is recovering from multiple broken ribs and internal injuries sustained when a moose jumped out in front of his bike three weeks ago on Highway 11 near Thunder Bay. Another friend may never be able to use one of his arms again after a horrible crash in North Carolina last summer.

An 18-year-old novice died earlier this month when she lost control of her motorcycle in Clarington. Another rider lost her life on Highway 507 near Gooderham yesterday, mere minutes from where a good friend of mine was hit by a pickup truck last October, shattering both her wrists, an eye socket, a knee, and inflicting many other excruciatingly serious injuries, some of which she may never completely recover from.

The "Rider Down" thread on gets far too many posts each season, and each year as I meet more riders I personally know more of the riders who go down. As riders, we know the risks. Most of us wear as much protective gear as we can, knowing that it can happen to anyone, at any time, even when we're vigilant, alert, and road conditions are perfect.

Motorists who have never ridden on two wheels are oblivious to how vulnerable riders are out there. This is evidenced by how closely they tailgate motorcycles in stop and go traffic. Tapping the bumper of a car scratches the paint. Tapping a motorcycle with your bumper puts that motorcycle down and INJURES the motorcyclist. Cutting off another car in traffic results in a fender bender. Cutting off a motorcycle in traffic can kill or permanently maim the motorcyclist. I really wish everyone had to ride a motorcycle in Toronto traffic, just for a day, before being issued a driver's licence. Maybe they'd drive a bit more carefully.

But it's clear that some motorists consider all motorcyclists a menace. I was stunned by the vitriolic comments some readers made on news sites where the story was posted, passing judgment on everyone who uses two wheels for transportation, based on this one rider's actions. It's disheartening to read that someone can hate you, without knowing anything about you, based on your mode of transportation.

But the hardest of all this week's bad news was hearing that 13-year-old Peter Lenz was killed on Sunday after getting run over by another motorcycle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during warm-up laps before his race.

Track is the safest place you can ride: the skills and focus of those on the track are light-years ahead of those of the average commuter. Although racing pushes the limits, track fatalities occur so rarely that any death on a track is shocking. But when the victim is only 13 years old and someone with such amazing talent that we were all watching, waiting, and hoping he would be the next Valentino Rossi... it doesn't get much worse than that.

All these deaths make my heart ache. Peter's broke it.

Please ride carefully, my friends. I'm not sure I can take much more of this kind of news.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bikes tested at Canada's 1st International Women Riders Congress and Festival

It took some doing, given the workload I'm juggling right now, but I managed to get to Canada's 1st International Women Riders Congress and Festival in Huntsville Thursday, a day after it started. After getting there I ended up spending all day Friday writing a Chick Cars Every Guy Should Try feature for Sympatico's Autos channel, a follow-up to Chick Cars Ain't What They Used to Be that I wrote last week.

Made up for missing Friday by spending all day Saturday doing test rides of bikes at the Huntsville air strip. Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki were conspicuously absent and I missed Harley, which had been there Friday but had another demo ride to run elsewhere on Saturday. But Honda, BMW, the CanAm folks and Ducati were there.

Apologies that I don't have photos of any of these bikes. Typically I take a lot of photos every time I go to a bike event, but because I was feeling overextended with work I decided against trying to document the weekend, as I'd normally do - just didn't have the energy to spare.

This is the first demo ride I've attended where litre bikes were available. I was quite eager to take advantage of that, as dealers don't usually like letting customers test ride the litre bikes. I was dumbfounded that there weren't lineups for the Ducati demo rides. Harley dealers and dealers of most of the Japanese bikes regularly hold demo rides, but Ducati demo days are less frequent. Consequently, this was the first opportunity I'd had to test ride a Ducati. I'd sat on them at bike shows, but never ridden one.

Ducati Monster 796

I knew from the bike shows that I could flat-foot a Monster 796, so that's the first one I tried. I've never ridden a sport twin before and had been told to expect the throttle to be on or off without much gradation between. They weren't kidding. The 796 throttle was very twitchy and she wasn't happy if you weren't revving high. That would be OK for city riding and, in fairness, with no fairing that's what the original naked sport bike is for. I didn't really care for the twitchiness and asked if the Monster 1100 was any smoother; the answer was a qualified 'yes,' but I decided to try a supersport next.

Ducati 848 supersport

The 848 was MUCH smoother, and an easy ride all round. The ergonomics weren't as aggressive as on my ZX7-R, which may have the lowest bars of all the supersports. My Ninja snaps nicely into corners but you definitely have to push or tug her bars; the 848 didn't really require much pressure or pull to lean into the corners. It was a demo ride so I never got past 3rd gear, and didn't get to see how she'd react to a real boot. But with 140hp and 72.3lb-ft of torque at 9,750rpm, she certainly felt like she had a lot more to offer, given the opportunity. The main surprise was the racket produced by that liquid cooled L-Twin engine. I'm used to inline fours and these twins are incredibly *busy* compared to inline fours. Loudly so. You definitely need ear plugs if you want to ride one of these and keep your hearing. The the 32.6-inch seat height was a bit of a challenge for my 27-inch inseam - kept me en pointe. But on a bike that weighs only 370 pounds (dry) it wasn't too bad - the only time I was worried about tipping was when there was a lot of gravel or sand under foot.

Ducati 1198 supersport

Next, I tried the 1198 supersport. Handling and ergonomics were quite similar to the 848 and the throttle was smoother yet. She was only seven pounds heavier than her smaller cousin and the seat height was half an inch shorter than the 848 - but that didn't make much difference. She was even noisier, too, which I wouldn't have thought possible. But I have to say that this is the first time in a long time a bike surprised me: with 170hp and 97lb-ft torque at 8000rpm, the bottom torque is *SOMETHING ELSE* and that rear tire had major authority. I felt like asking if they could clear the airstrip so I could see how fast she could go! Not sure I'd want to tour on her, but she'd be awesome on the track.

I wanted to try the hypermotard too, but had time to test only three other bikes that day so I moved on to see what BMW and Honda had to offer.

A note about Ducati mirrors: even the best of them suck at letting you see what's behind you. The short, low-profile ones they had on the Monster - I think they're called performance mirrors (less to break if the bike falls, I guess) were entirely useless. The stock ones on the supersport were a bit better, but not even as good as the ones on my ZX7-R, which are pretty bad.

BMW K13000S supersport

Over at BMW I hopped on the K1300S supersport, which, as I expected, was as well-behaved as her baby sister, the K1200S, which I'd tested for the first time four years ago. BMW may have taken its time moving away from the boxer engines (which are reliable as hell but entirely uninspiring) but its foray into inline fours is damn near perfect. The engine puts out 175 hp with 103 lb-ft of torque at 8,250 rpm and, given the opportunity, she would certainly haul ass. Yet at sedate speeds she purred like a kitten and was almost impossible to accidentally over-throttle. And, even though at 503 pounds she's almost 80 pounds heavier than my ZX7-R, she feels lighter because of the ingenious way they've canted the engine forward in the frame, lowering the centre of gravity.

Any track junkie would love her yet she's still suitable for lackadaisical Sunday rides for riders less performance conscious. And you have to love a bike with electronic suspension control - there's a toggle that lets you choose a suspension setting for one rider, a rider plus passenger, in sport, normal or "comfort" mode. Her mirrors gave the best rear view of any of the bikes I tried Saturday, too.

Anticipating short inseams at the women's congress she was fitted with the low seat (BMW offers thin seats for most of its bikes for the height challenged), giving her a seat height of 31.1, which allowed me to plant the balls of my feet pretty sturdily on both sides. But she felt so light I would have still been OK with the stock seat.

I lusted after the S1000RR, which was initially made to compete in the 2009 Superbike World Championship, but since it's unlikely I'd be able to afford it (or the K13000S, for that matter) in the near future, I moved on to Honda, which had a CBR1000 I might be able to afford somewhat sooner, and I will have to consider replacing my Ninja eventually. She had 6,300 kilometers on her when I bought her used in a private sale in the spring of 2007 and she started this season with 60,000 kilometres on her odometer. I don't really know how much longer she's going to last, although I've heard of ZX7 engines lasting well past the 100,000 kilometer mark. And I'm religious about maintenance, particularly frequent oil changes. But I know I'm going to have to replace her within the next three years. So, since Kawasaki wasn't there, I made a beeline for Honda.

Honda CBF1000

I've tried recent iterations of Suzuki's 600 GXS-R, Yamaha's R6 and Kawasaki's ZX6-R at dealer demo days in the last three years, but you don't typically get to try out litre bikes at dealer demo days. So when I saw Honda had a CBR1000 there, I headed straight for it. It was already booked for that session, unfortunately, so they suggested I try the CBF1000, which was the same engine but with more relaxed gearing and more upright seating ergonomics. I was disappointed, but the CBR was available for the next ride, so I figured this was an opportunity to check out this engine in its two configurations. I actually like the aggressive ergononmics on my Ninja, the bars are so low and my torso and arms are so short that I'm almost in tuck by default. I've gotten so used to it that a more upright, relaxed riding position usually feels really weird to me.

But the CBF1000 ergonomics were entirely comfortable, even though the seat was wider than the CBR1000 and splayed my legs out more, so that the 31.3-inch seat height put me on my toes. That did feel a bit challenging because at 502.7 pounds dry weight, she felt much heavier than the K1300S. For touring, I like a bit of extra weight, though - it makes passing transport trucks less scary. I had to be very careful about smooth braking and stops because any jerk at all would tip us over; on the tips of my toes I'd not have enough leverage to keep almost 503 pounds from going down. There was no lack of power with 96.55hp and 71.5 ft.lbs of torque at 6500rpm. She felt very smooth and very well-behaved - was so easy to ride she damn near drove herself. This is a great introduction to a sportbike engine for someone who'd like to try a sportbike but is weirded out by the supersport seating. The pegs are still rear-set so you can shift weight onto them in the turns, and you still lean forward but not aggressively so. I wouldn't mind touring on her, although I'd shave some of the foam off the seat to get more of my feet down at stops. I almost regretted relinquishing her at the end of the ride to try the CBR1000.

Honda CBR1000RR supersport

The CBR1000 was pretty much what I'd expected. At 461.0 pounds dry weight she was considerably lighter - and even more spry than the CBF1000. The 32.3-inch seat height was higher, but felt lower because the seat profile has been shaved so your legs don't lose as much height to splaying. Ergonomics are quite aggressive, I wasn't in tuck by default but it certainly felt more natural to lean over the tank than sit upright. She handled beautifully. Power galore, natch, with 178hp (that difference in gearing is critical to how much power gets delivered to the wheel) and the 82.6 lb-ft torque at 8500rpm was spread out quite nicely throughout the range.

I'd prefer her for a long day ride over the 1198, I think.

But the big surprise of the day was that I found myself thinking that of all the bikes I tried the CBF1000 would be my choice for a ride that lasted more than a day. Sure, the gearing makes her a less than ideal bike for racing, but, damn, she was comfortable. And had more power than you'd ever likely need on the street, for quite sporty touring.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why Internet users should ride motorcycles

When an article in the June issue of Wired based on a book by Nicholas Carr first started me thinking about this topic, I intended to post my thoughts on my Media Gleaner blog. Adapted from Carr's book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, which was released this month, at first blush, the article appeared to belong in the category of media.

By the time I finished thinking about it and started to write about it, I realized it also belonged here on my Moto-Mojo blog, because my conclusions apply to both topics. And the process of thinking about it and coming to that conclusion also proved Carr's thesis.

That probably sounds crazy, so, please allow me a digression.

I read a novel in 1984 by William Gibson that introduced the word cyberspace for the first time. Neuromancer instilled in me such a longing for the universe it described that I couldn't believe my luck when in 1989 I became one of the first editors in Canada to work in online media. A scant few years later, the Internet boom was upon us. It may not have provided the neural interface in the same way that Gibson's characters "jacked in" to cyberspace, but for all practical intents and purposes that universe was now ours. I became an evangelist for it, spent two decades working in it, and looked upon it as the promise of Neuromancer delivered.

A long-time fan of speculative fiction, I am used to thinking of new technology with skepticism, because advantages are often accompanied by disadvantages. Nuclear power is a good example. It provides clean energy without polluting, unlike coal, fossil fuel, or even hydro power, which results in diverting waterways and drowning vast numbers of acres of vegetation. Yet it also provides the ticklish problem of what to do with all those spent radioactive rods. It takes millennia for them to cease to be a danger to biological life forms, including us.

In retrospect, it's curious that I didn't apply that skepticism to the technology underlying the Internet. After reading this article on Wired by Nicholas Carr, I may now have a clue why. Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian pioneer who introduced the concept of how the nature of a medium changes how we perceive it, would have delighted to observe the way the Internet had rewired my brain.

Carr has pulled together a fascinating collection of research on how using the Internet affects our brains, and even causes us to want and need it.

Here's the part I found shocking: According to one well-documented study, it takes only five hours of Web use to rewire a human brain to read faster and solve problems faster. The Internet teaches us to pick up on patterns in data to allow that to happen.

Access to so much information can make us feel smarter. That doesn't mean it's making us smarter. It just means we're using our brains differently. Studies show that when we read online, we also read less thoroughly because the number of links distracts us and breaks our focus. Even deciding not to click on a link is a distraction that disrupts the cognitive process we use to transfer information from short term to long term memory. Research has now shown that heavy multitaskers are more easily distracted, have less control over working memory, and are less able to concentrate on a task than those who habitually concentrate on a single task. Multitasking is no longer considered the most efficient way to accomplish things.

So the Web may be altering our ability to think deeply and with complexity. This is not good news. Yet it has become so integral to keeping us informed that we willingly accept this loss of focus. We don't want to feel out of touch or socially isolated, Carr points out.

What to do? Well, for one, we can ride motorcycles. Allow me to explain.

I've long noticed that when I'm concentrating, really concentrating, on a single task, whether it's reading a book, writing, editing, drawing, painting, or making music, my brain enters a state that I really like. It's almost like an inebriation of sorts, minus the negatives such as loss of coordination and verbal slurring.

According to this research, that state is exactly the opposite of the state my brain is in when I'm surfing the Web. Concentrating on a single task makes me notice details only insofar as they apply to how they can be used on the task at hand, while multi-tasking has me juggling the details without applying them to any deeper thought process.

The state my brain enters when I'm creating, focusing and concentrating also happens when I'm riding a motorcycle. When I'm riding, my eyes have to collect a massive amount of data that my brain then has to sort into information that is immediately relevant and that which isn't. It's exhilarating. It also inexplicably relaxes me, even though I'm hurtling down the road on a machine that can reach a speed approaching 300 kph. But the important thing is that, every time I get on a bike, within a few minutes it has cleared out the cobwebs in my brain. And allows me to take walks inside my head that the fast pace of modern society doesn't often provide time for. I do some of my best thinking while riding.

The remedy, clearly, is to continue to read things off line and to indulge in activities that require us to focus -- such as art, music, or making or building something. And ride motorcycles. These are the things that will allow us to benefit from what the Internet offers, while maintaining the wiring that allows us to focus, and analyze complex issues.

It's another reason to ride my Ninja. I love it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

When the shiny side doesn't stay up

Most motorcycle accidents are single-vehicle accidents. It's the nature of the beast: when you're rolling on only two wheels, things happen and you sometimes fall over. Those who haven't learned the ins and outs of push steering for cornering, particularly, often end up in ditches or worse.

But in accidents between a motorcycle and a car, statistically it was the car driver's error the majority of the time. We know we put ourselves in harm's way every time we suit up. Smart riders work on their skills and emergency maneuvers.

Yet that isn't always enough. Cagers (those who drive cars) can be oblivious to anything smaller than their cars. Every motorist who hits a motorcyclist says: "I didn't see him."

They don't see us because they're not looking for us, in part because there aren't as many motorcycles as there are cars. In Europe, where the ratio of motorcycles to cars is much higher, motorcycle fatalities and accidents are lower.

And I have to say from my personal experience, when I was hit, the drivers were not only oblivious to my motorcycle but to traffic in general. And both had callous disregard for the fact they almost ended another human's life. The guy in the Pathfinder who sideswiped me looked at the side of his van before he checked to find out if I was still alive. Then yelled at me for not getting out of his way. He failed to show up for his court date and still got fined only $200.

The woman who hit me and ran felt pretty entitled to leave. Her fine, $400, pretty much validated her opinion. Not much happens to you when you hit and run in Ontario.

It's easy to get angry about the low fines, especially when our system provides no legal recourse for pain and suffering. I was told by a lawyer that if you weren't injured badly enough to keep you from working, there's no point in suing in civil court in Canada. Every day of the four weeks it takes for a broken rib to stop hurting every time you breathe in and out you get a sharp reminder of your powerlessness. As I said, it's easy to get angry about that.

But I'm more interested in the attitudes. And I don't think higher fines would be much more effective at deterring hit and runs or improving driver behaviour.

That would benefit more from better driver education, with dramatic reminders that we're driving 2,000 pound weapons down the road. Driving is a privilege, not a right. Yet the way we train drivers doesn't pound that home. And what we focus on in our laws doesn't either.

The law adopted in Ontario prohibiting the use of cellphones behind the wheel went into force last January. But it has not resulted in people putting down their cell phones. Just this week alone, I narrowly avoided being hit three times by drivers with phones glued to their ears.

And that will continue as long as people remain convinced they're the exception to the rule. According to a study done by the University of Utah, only 2.5 percent of the population are good enough at multi-tasking to drive and talk on the phone at the same time. And the ones who say they can do it are precisely the ones who can't. Those who don't think they can do it are more likely to be able to do it.

I participated in a distracted driving test last January that was organized by Shuan de Jager, founder of, with the help of Scott Marshall, director of training for Young Drivers of Canada. They had us drive go-carts around a track while trying to talk and text on our phones: I drove into a wall trying to text a four-word message.

The National Safety Council in the United States says that drivers are four times more likely to be in a crash if they use cell phones behind the wheel, while drivers who text increase their risk 8 to 23 times.

The source of most of the English public service videos I've found on YouTube that dramatize the repercussions of killing or maiming someone on a motorcycle, whether because of cellphone use or excess speeed, seems to be Australia and the U.K. Both spend money on educating people about the dangers of distracted driving and both have taken what some consider to be shocking approaches. One video that went viral showed ghostly figures watching grieving parents in very graphic accident scene recreations. One of the most popular shows motorcyclists riding their bikes in the buff, with the caption: "Do you see me now?"

Canada doesn't spend federal money on those kinds of ads and I don't recall seeing any produced by a province. Down south, a few states have bankrolled a few.

And 25 out of 50 states have banned using cell phones behind the wheel without the aid of a hands-free device. A few, including Vermont and Illinois, have been cited for launching innovative education programs that teach young drivers, who are particularly at risk because of less experience behind the wheel, of the real dangers of texting while driving. The Associated Press reported that Vermont and Illinois have launched programs that put teens in golf carts and ask them to text while driving the carts. Their experience is very similar to mine.

Such driver awareness exercises really drive home the fallacy of "it can't happen to me" thinking.

Friday, May 7, 2010

2010 International Female Ride Day

Blustery wind, bouts of torrential rain, thunder and a lightning show didn't keep women from showing up for the Toronto Rally for the Ride Home for the 2010 International Female Ride Day tonight.

The rally was organized and hosted by International Female Ride Day founder, Vicki Gray, aka Motoress, at the Keating Channel Pub on Villiers St. in Toronto. A former racer, instructor, coach, and writer, the Ontario native was sponsored by the likes of World Championship team Ten Kate Honda and Ducati during her racing years.

Gray’s now teaching at Canadian National Superbike Champion Michel Mercier’s FAST Riding School in Shannonville and has been tirelessly promoting the sport to women, working with local dealers to host women's bike nights and other events.

Since inaugurating International Female Ride Day in 2007, Gray has been encouraging women to ride their motorcycles to work on this day. Here in Toronto, the skies have poured on us three out of those four years but women keep showing up on two wheels.

I've braved the rain on my bike every year until this one, when I (and a few others) wussed out and caged it to the celebration of the day.

But Vicki rode in, as did many other women, including one who rode all the way from Hamilton Ontario, which is almost an hour and a half away.

In previous years, women met in front of Princes Gates downtown before work, which made it difficult for some people to make it.

Because the celebration was after work today instead, this year probably would have been a huge gathering, had it not been for the weather.

Before drawing tickets for prizes being raffled off, Gray read us messages from women around the world who are now using this day every year to promote solidarity among other women who ride.

When I bought my first bike (a 1977 Honda CB125) in Montreal in 1979, I knew only one other woman in the city who rode: the wife of a British bike repair shop who happily rode a Triumph around town.

People kept telling me about another woman, who was (they said at the time) in her fifties and had been riding most of her life, but I never met her and always wondered if she was an urban legend.

So it's been pretty amazing to witness the number of women who have joined the sport in recent years.

A women's rider social group that started off with 20 members on, Toronto's largest chat board for motorcyclists, at the end of the last riding season grew to 80 strong over the winter.

We may still be only 13 percent of riders on two wheels, but we're making inroads and are forming a community both locally in the GTA and online. I've been invited to join no fewer than 20 Facebook groups of women riders in the last year alone.

And I've met a growing number of women tearing up the track in the last few years, one of whom has started racing and another who's gotten good enough we're encouraging her to race. I used to celebrate the racing achievements of women I've never met and may never get to meet. Now I'm celebrating the racing achievements of women I run across in my own community.

Ride on, sisters!

Friday, April 16, 2010

'Supertaskers' who can drive and talk are rare

Think you can safely drive and talk on your cell phone at the same time? Then you probably can't. A new study shows that 'Supertaskers' who can drive and talk on phone are rare - only 2.5% of population can do it. Even more interesting, the people who *think* they can do it safely are usually the very ones who can't, the study says:

This supports the results of the Driving Distraction experiment that organized in January. Click here to read an article I wrote about that for Yahoo! Canada.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Driver behaviour and how we share the road

This poor blog has been neglected over the last year. Not because I've lost interest in the sport (far from it) but because I've been getting somewhat involved in covering our four-wheeled cousins. I spent nine months editing the Autos Channel at Yahoo! Canada, and was fascinated by the many ways the two interests intersect. Particularly when it comes to trying to predict and understand driver behaviour.

The latter, in particular, has become a keen area of study for me. After being hit twice two years ago, I was stunned at the attitudes of both motorists who hit me. The first, a man in a Pathfinder who sideswiped me in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, got out and carefully examined the side of his van before yelling at me (while I was still lying in the road) for not getting out of his way. He had, after all, signalled. Even in my stunned state (came perilously close to fracturing my pelvis that time- the hip pads in my gear saved me), I almost laughed at his sense of entitledness. And wondered where it came from. The driver in the car behind me, who was alert enough not to run me over, stopped his car and made sure I was OK before starting to direct traffic around us until the EMTs could arrive.

The second time, a woman zoomed out of a parking lot in downtown Toronto to dart across three lanes to cut me off. She took off without stopping. Miraculously, the fellow in the pickup truck behind me not only didn't run over me when I went down, but chased after her and stopped her at the next red light to tell her she had to come back and give her insurance information. He said she told him "No I don't," before taking off again. He wrote down her plate number, came back to give it to me (along with his cell number) and asked if I wanted him to wait for police with me. I thought I was fine, so just thanked him (profusely!) and sent my white knight on his way. Found out later I'd broken a rib and a thumb.

Both times perfect strangers in cars behind me came to my rescue. And both times the person who'd hit me could have cared less that he or she (no gender divide, here) had almost ended another human being's life. I will be writing more about that, and the possible underlying causes, later. Will also be writing about Ontario's peculiar justice system, which seems to depend on insurance companies to penalize people for dangerous driving.

The penalties certainly aren't a deterrent. The man in the Pathfinder was fined $200 for an illegal lane change. The woman who hit me and ran was fined $500 for leaving the scene of an accident.

Think about that. $200 and $500. And compare it to fines for speeding that endanger other drivers but don't directly impact them.

Clearly, I have thoughts on that subject.

Stay tuned!