Showing posts sorted by relevance for query motorcycle insurance. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query motorcycle insurance. Sort by date Show all posts

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Is Ontario Anti-Motorcycle?

Motorcycle insurance in Ontario has always thrown me for a loop.  To emphasize that strangeness the Toronto Star recently printed a searing indictment of Ontario's motorcycle insurance policies.   In it a rider who has been out west (California and B.C.) comes back to Ontario to experience the disastrous way Ontario does things.  He suddenly finds his $2-300 a year insurance rates multiply by ten to well over two thousand dollars a year, for the same bike!

In breaking down Ontario insurance he discovers some discrepencies that appear to be practically criminal:

"My motorcycle was assessed as if it was new — $20,000. But if I have a crash and the 12-year-old bike is destroyed, will I receive $20,000? Of course not. The payout would be more like $4,000 or $5,000. For the insurance companies in Ontario, this must the gift that keeps on giving."

So, you're insured on a new bike no matter what, but you're only paid as little as possible on the back end.  That's the kind of quality fairness that exemplifies Ontario's approach to insuring motorcycles.

When I called in to see what a second bike would cost to insure I was told that another bike would essentially double my insurance.  I pointed out that I could only ride one at a time and having two would mean both would have fewer kilometres than a single bike.  They just smiled and said that's the way it is.  If you read that Toronto Star article you have to be asking yourself, "why is this the way it is?"

Last year we went out to B.C. and discovered that my wife could easily rent a scooter with a G license and go for a ride around Victoria.  We had a fantastic time and she came closer to considering two wheels as a mode of transport, but not in Ontario.

To ride a scooter in Ontario you need to take courses and work your way through the graduated motorcycle license.  Ontario is determined to keep people off two wheels even if it is a much more efficient way of getting around.

The block is systemic, from insurance practices that are out of sync with the rest of North America (and the planet) to governmental regulations that are more focused on milking citizens for license money than they are on offering access to an environmentally friendly, efficient and exciting way to get around.  Ontario couldn't help but become more efficient with more people hoping on scooters and motorbikes to get where they're going, but that isn't the vision.  Ontario isn't about environmental consideration, efficiency or excitement.

Free parking, but Ontario makes riding
so difficult to access that it's empty.
How un-bike focused is Toronto?  On my recent trip down there I could use HOV lanes and park for free downtown, but the bike parking area was virtually empty.

After reading that Star article I'm thinking that Ontario is anti-motorcycle.  The government supports an insurance industry out of whack with the rest of the world and throws as many blocks as it can at riding.  Ontario may be the most over licensed and expensive place to insure a bike in the world.

Below I looked up costs randomly in the US and the UK and Ontario is way out of whack with the the results.  If I lived five hundred kilometres south of here in urban Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (instead of in rural Ontario), I'd be paying about $295 Canadian for my insurance this year (that's with equivalent policy).  I currently pay almost $900 a year on a twenty year old bike that I bought for eight hundred bucks.  A second bike in PA would cost me an additional hundred bucks, so I'd be paying about $400 a year for both.  In Ontario I'm paying three times that.

When I first started riding I considered a new bike for safety reasons.  When I requested a quote on a new Suzuki Gladius (a 650cc, mid sized, standard motorbike), I was quoted at about $3000, but most insurers just refused to offer coverage - this on a guy in his forties, married with auto and home insurance and a family.  Had I been in England I could have quickly been insured with equivalent coverage AND road support and bike transport in a breakdown for about $950 Canadian in my first year of riding.

Considering the blocks to access on basic scooters and the insurance madness, Ontario isn't maybe anti-motorcycle, it's systemically anti-motorcycle.

Inside Motorcycles had a good article on the benefits of integrating motorcycles and scooters into a coherent traffic plan.
It would be nice if Ontario followed the research and encouraged more people onto two wheels.
My buddy in Japan got back to me - he pays $161 a year in motorcycle insurance... in Japan, one of the most expensive places to live in the world!


Just to torture myself I got a quote from Progressive as if I lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania - my stats, my bike.  The cost for basic insurance was $75 a year.  To get Ontario equivalent insurance it went up to $226 a year.

Are you feeling the love yet?

£467 works out to about  $950 Canadian
Think it's expensive to live in the U.K.?  Not if you're insuring a motorbike.  MCN's site has a listing of new motorbike insurance costs (on the right).  A new Gladius in Ontario will cost you well north of three grand to insure new if you're a new rider and assuming you can find someone to insure you at all.  The quote on the right is full insurance with more bells and whistles than the Ontario minimum including road side assistance and bike return in case of a breakdown.

What is the average cost of motorcycle insurance?

"Drivers above the age of 25 with a good driving record usually qualify for good prices. Combine those factors with liability only coverage and a touring bike and you are looking at $200 to $500 a year"  - Ha!  Not in Ontario

"You can reduce your rate further by purchasing motorcycle insurance through your auto insurance carrier, owning a home, having good credit, and taking a motorcycle safety course." - I have all those things (auto, house, good record, good credit, a safety course) and my auto insurer wouldn't touch me. They said to come back after I'd been riding for a few years.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Motorcycle Insurance

I've been frustrated with motorcycle insurance and the blanket approach it takes to covering a bike, even one you're not riding.  When I'm paying the same for a new car as I am for a seven year old bike that I use for only a few thousand kilometres a year, usually in very good road conditions, it strikes me as unfair.  The car does about five times as many kilometres and can do much more damage in a crash.  It also has to drive through snow storms and the other perils of winter driving while my bike sits in the garage undergoing a full maintenance overhaul.

Maintained to within an inch of its life and spending
the most dangerous driving time of the year in a garage.
Speaking of maintenance, the bike sees a heck of a lot more of it that the car does, especially in the winter.  The bike is checked before each ride and sees weekly maintenance and checks on a larger scale.  The bike is a cherished tool of self expression, the car is an appliance.

When I called up the insurance company I've been with for over twenty years and asked for a quote they said they wouldn't even consider me, but told me to come back in a few years.  Nice, eh?

I finally got in touch with RidersPlus, who specialize in bikes.  It wasn't cheap, but they got me sorted out quickly.  My first bike isn't a big cc monster, I tried to be 
One of these things is not like
the other, though both are the
same in the eyes of insurance
sensible with my first ride and only considered mid-displacement machines.  Having insured a lot of cars, I knew what could happen between a Mustang and a Crown Vic, yet in motorcycle terms these two vehicles would be considered equal simply because they have the same displacement.  

I was on the verge of getting a KLR (a big, single cylinder on/off road bike) when I came across the Ninja.  It has almost identical displacement though almost nothing else in common with the KLR.  One is a sport bike for the road, the other is an all terrain bike that rides on the road when needed.  The Ninja is fast and agile, the KLR sturdy and stable.  With such different intentions and abilities, I expected the Ninja to be a much more expensive option, but was shocked to be quoted the same price.

What is at the bottom of my insurance despair is that a second bike costs me pretty much the same as the first. At the Toronto Motorcycle Show last weekend I stopped by RidersPlus again and had a chat.  The guy there confirmed that your insurance does in fact drop quite significantly over the first few years of riding and by my forth or fifth year I'd be able to insure two bikes for basically what I'm paying for one now.

Honda CB500X, a nice fit, multi-purpose
machine that is easy on insurance
In the short term if I want to minimize insurance costs while I'm learning to ride, a low displacement bike is the key.  I sat on the Honda CB500X at the show.  A nice, tall bike that could handle a wider range of duties than the road focused Ninja.  I'd be giving up a bit of power, but even a 500cc bike still has a much better power to weight ratio than most cars.

Another option is to dig up an older enduro bike, like the Suzuki DRZ-400.  This would be a go-anywhere bike that I'd get used and not worry about tipping over occasionally.  Being an even lower cc bike, it would be even cheaper on insurance.


Some interesting Stats-Canada vehicle collision statistics - very easy to look through.  It shows a downward trend in accidents, injuries and deaths over the past twenty years.  Glad to see my insurance is coming down with it.

Forbes Article: The most dangerous time to drive - A Saturday in August in an urban environment.  It turns out the most dangerous places to drive are where there are a lot of other people - places most bikers avoid like the plague.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Motorcycle Insurance Money Grabs and a Lean Motorbike Stable

The greatest single downward pressure on the infamous motorcycle equation is the way you're worked over by insurance for them, especially in Ontario.  If you own one bike you're likely to be paying about $700 a year if you're an experienced rider.  If you're new you can pretty much double that.  

If you buy a second bike, against all logic you're basically doubling your insurance.  Even though two bikes mean you're only spending half as much time on each, you get nothing back for that.

If the motorcycle industry wanted to sell more bikes, pressuring the Ontario government to make fair insurance premiums would be a good way to do it.  If you're paying $700 a year to ride a bike, it should be less than half that to insure a second bike, not double that.  Since you can't be on both bikes at once your chances of needing insurance drop dramatically.  What would be fair would be only applying the stationary insurance (theft, fire, etc) to a second bike, and perhaps a small fee for the paperwork.  Owning two bikes does not mean double the liability, which is the lion's share of an insurance premium.

I'd happily budget $1000 a year instead of the $600 I pay for insurance and triple the number of bikes I've got licensed.  That's three times as many vehicles paying road and license plate tax - which helps out the government, and the insurance company themselves would be making more with no increase in liability.  If only they could get past the short term money-grab philosophy they currently run with.  As it stands the ROI on a $2000 a year insurance bill makes it not worth pursuing.

What would that expanded motorcycle stable look like?  Canada's short riding season means you need to have machine turn-key ready for the few days you can get out and enjoy the weather without it trying to kill you.  I'm currently riding a fourteen year old Triumph Tiger as my go-to bike.  It has been great, but depending on a bike that old isn't really fair to it.  At The Forks of the Credit last weekend we had the oldest bike there by a decade.  I get a great deal of pride out of that, but I don't want to start hating on the Triumph if it suddenly develops a fault.  That happened with the KLX and it was gone shortly thereafter.

A new bike would definitely be in the cards.  I've long had a crush on Honda VFRs, and they make a great all rounder.  A sporty bike that can also cover distances, and when I sat on one they felt quality, almost jewel like.  As an it'll-always-be-ready-to-run, dependable bike, it's a solid choice.  The website is saying this is a $15,000 proposition, but I'm sure I just saw them on sale for a touch over $10,000.

On a naked choice for a new bike I still tend toward the Kawasaki Z bikes.  The Z1000 with its cat like robotic stance has long scratched an anime aesthetic itch for me, but the new Z900 does too.  With the taller comfort seat it would fit me well.  The bike is under $10k and looks fantastic.  A new Kawasaki, like a new Honda, would be bullet proof and a good choice for an always-ready dependable motorbike.  Both the Honda & the Z could also handle track days.

The Tiger does a good job of two up riding (it's a big bike), but sometimes I miss the road focused athleticism of the Concours.  The new one looks spectacular in Candy Imperial Blue.  As a two up tourer it approaches the Goldwing and other dedicated touring machines, but it retains its sports bike heritage, evaporating weight and feeling more like a Ninja in the corners.  It's a big bike, but I'm a big guy and I look like I fit on it.  With a dedicated long distance road tool like this, perhaps the Tiger would become more adventury in purpose.

With the Tiger and one of the above on hand, in a more insurance friendly situation I'd also have a third bike that would let me focus on the off-road aspects of riding.  

I learned that a 240lb guy on a KLX250 does not add up, so I'd be looking for a 300+cc off roader so that I could keep up with traffic when on the road.  

The DRZ-400 Suzuki has long looked like the bike of choice.  They come up occasionally online.  If insurance weren't killing it, I'd already own one.  With some frame guards and good sump protection, this would be the bike I'd trail ride and explore farm tracks on without worrying about a traffic line up behind me when I'm on the road.

The Tiger is dependable and a good two up ride, so I suspect I'd pass on the Concours.  Today the three bike stable would be the Tiger, the VFR and the DR-Z 400; a Triumph, a Honda and a Suzuki, but in other circumstances it could be a Kawasaki heavy garage.  If the Tiger weren't the brick house that it is, I'd have a Concours, a Z900 and maybe even a KTM in the stable... if only I could pay fair insurance rates on them.

We lose tax and hurt many industries that support motorcycle sales, repair and accessories.
Only one industry benefits from how we do this.
Why Ontario drivers pay the highest insurance rates
Insurance profits in the billions
Ten most expensive cities to get insurance in Ontario
Baffled Americans talk frankly about Ontario insurance

Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Motorcycle Industry is in Real Trouble

Google 'biker' and you get a lot of pictures of old white guys.
Good luck selling them bikes in 20 years.
The other day a fellow rider on twitter shared a link to this article on how the motorcycle industry is in real trouble.  Among the litany of problems was the hyper conservative nature of the industry and its habitual focus on old white guys.  The biker image is a bastion of pre-Twenty First Century prejudices; women (unless they're pillions and dressed like dolls) and non-white riders need not apply.  Groups like Bikers for Trump continue to find a comfortable place to operate within these old-school prejudices.  I'd suggest that an industry that wants to cling to this dying sense of privilege deserves to be in big trouble.

Of a less cut and dried nature (unless you're clinging to colonial, white guy privilege) was the piece about how young people aren't riding motorcycles or even driving cars as much any more.  I'd argue this is a larger and more difficult problem to solve.  I struggle daily with getting young people to engage with and master real world technical problems (it's my day job).  I wasn't at all surprised to see this as a conclusion from the research:

"...many millennial consumers were “bubble-wrapped for safety in their youth” or raised by overprotective parents who discouraged risk-taking"

A few years ago I suggested we start a motorcycle club at our school.  Some of our students go out and get their licenses and begin to ride and others dirt bike, so there would be interest.  We could use the experience and expertise of our teacher-riders to help students more safely and effectively take to two wheels.  The skills learned in maintaining and repairing motorcycles in our shop would mean safer vehicles for our students to use and an increase in technical skill.  They all sounds like good ideas, right?  It was nixed immediately: a hard no.  We run rugby teams and downhill ski race teams and go camping in bear country, but riding a motorcycle?  Way too dangerous.  I suggested that was exactly why we should do it, but still a hard no.

There is, no doubt, a danger halo around motorcycling that is a big part of its mystique, but the operation of a motorcycle isn't dangerous in and of itself.  Many riders like to play to this mystique, making it seem more edgy because that's the image they want to convey, but it isn't helping the sport.  That focus is also used to hyper masculinize the image of a motorcycle rider and plays to the conservatism that plagues the industry.  

It's always a relief when someone subverts that tired, old stereotype...

Enjoy having your assumptions subverted, it's good for you.

Apart from the prejudices and mythology around motorcycling, we also have a new generation of people who aren't taking up the sport, but then they aren't taking up vehicle operation in general.

"For 16- through 44-year-olds, there was a continuous decrease in the percentage of persons with a driver’s license for the years examined. For example, the percentages for 20- to 24-year-olds in 1983, 2008, 2011, and 2014 were 91.8%, 82.0%, 79.7%, and 76.7%, respectively."

There are a lot of social reasons for this to be happening.  More of us live in cities than ever before and driving in cities is misery.  Many jurisdictions don't acknowledge the advantages of riding a bike in an urban environment either, making riding an even dimmer proposition than driving.  The independence afforded by vehicle operation that used to define coming of age as a teen has become increasingly expensive even as wealth has been concentrated in a smaller and smaller class of people; fewer rich get richer while more poor get poorer.  With money slipping out of the hands of a vanishing middle class, the idea of buying into the independence of operating your own vehicle becomes increasingly impossible for many youngsters, especially with systemic economic discrimination like insurance forcing them off the road.

There is a final piece to this perfect storm diminishing the motorcycle industry that I haven't seen as much about.  Last night I watched Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, and like every other film I've seen in the past few years, it's a few moments of acting tied together by ludicrous computer generated imaging.  When I was young I stumbled upon a Bruce Lee marathon late one night and got really fired up about it.  Watching Bruce do his thing was inspiring.  I'd make the argument that a generation brought up on fake, computer generated action wouldn't feel that kind of inspiration to get out in the world and do things like kung fu or ride a motorbike.

Marketing is happy to pick up this idea of showing you cars doing things they can't actually do because you're buying an idea.  How the car makes you feel is what makes it valuable, not what you can actually do with it.  Whether it's Nissan pretending their cars are in Star Wars or Chevy pretending their cars are skateboards, the marketing and special effects departments are more than happy to sell you on an idea rather than engineering.  I won't even get into Kia selling you on a car that will drive for you because you'd rather be daydreaming.

In this digital dream-time we're all immersed in, you can you see why something as unforgiving and physically challenging as motorcycling might be one of the first casualties.  It's going to be a long time if ever before we see accident avoidance on something as elemental as a motorbike.  For all those young drivers who expect their car to drive for them when they can't be bothered to pay attention, this moves motorcycles even further away from the realm of possibility.  Coupled with the danger mythology many riders are guilty of promoting, it's little wonder that motorcycles increasingly seem like something from another time and place.

We need to bring back the kind of inclusive advertising
that worked for Honda so well over forty years ago.
Forgetting the old white guy thing for a minute (it's going to go away on its own anyway), how can the industry get people back on motorcycles again?  The obvious first step is to make your advertising plausible and inclusive.  Don't digitally animate anything.  Show riders of all types enjoying the elemental freedom of riding.  This doesn't need to include jumping canyons or putting knees down; the joy of riding is a simple, accessible pleasure.  Show people commuting, going out on a date and otherwise living their lives.  Minimize the costuming, especially the pirate thing, emphasize how effective modern safety gear is.  

Honda had this figured out decades ago and it prompted a renaissance in riding.  There is no reason why we couldn't do it again.

Build bikes that appeal to all sorts of riders.  Smaller, easier to handle bikes for beginners that push technology to create something so efficient that it makes snooty hybrid car drivers look like diesel pigs.  A 100mpg bike is an immediate possibility.  A hybrid touring bike that gets mega mileage but can still move two up easily?  An all electric bike?  Self leveling suspension, anti-lock brakes, fuel injection and the myriad of over things that make modern bikes dependable and safe?  These things should be what define modern motorcycling and should be moved on aggressively in marketing them.  The safety and dependability of a modern motorcycle is a marvelous thing.

When coupled with a campaign to emphasize how efficient bikes can be at moving people around, especially in cities, it would play to the urbanization of our population instead of against it.  Motorized bikes are capable of moving people more effectively and efficiently
Governments ignore a lot of research that clearly
demonstrates how efficient motorcycling can be,
especially in an urban environment.
than just about any other form of transportation, if we let it.  Pressuring governments to recognize this and encourage two wheeling instead of vilifying it would be a great step forward.  Can you imagine how many people would flock to a motorcycle industry couched in marketing around environmentalism, dependability, modern safety technology and the elemental thrill of riding as an escape from the digital miasma?  Escape the Matrix indeed.

Ontario offers thousands in incentives for people driving environmentally questionable hybrids.  What would happen if you got thousands back in incentives for buying a motorcycle that gets better mileage than a Prius?  There are a lot of them - my fourteen year old 955cc Tiger gets better mileage than the Toyota green flag waving hybrid and was way less damaging to manufacture.  Can you imagine how many more people would ride these environmentally minimalist machines in cities if they could lane split and move quickly to where they needed to be, reducing traffic and improving the flow for everyone?

Why not do one better and apply those incentives to emphasizing the power and importance of the rider?  Instead of advertising about how your car will drive for you because you're too much of a drip to do it yourself, maybe motorcycling could emphasize the importance of the rider and include them in any upgrade.  How about training being automatically included when you buy a bike?  This would immediately result in lower accident rates and better insurance costs.  If you're a beginner you get the training as a part of the purchase because you are immediately recognized as a vital part of the riding equation.  If you're already experienced then an advanced riding course in the area of your choice (off-road, track, road) is included to continue your advancement in pursuit of mastery.  Motorcycle training courses blossom and grow and sales are encouraged.  How about industry and government formerly recognize the importance of the rider and collaborating to make riding the life-long learning opportunity that it should be; motorcycles become paradigms of skill, self-discovery and mastery.

Shows like Ride with Norman Reedus are gender and race
inclusive and celebratory of motorcycle culture in its many
forms.  We should be encouraging more shows like it.
De-snootying motorcycle culture, especially where it's at its snootiest (North America) isn't something to wonder about, it's a marketing imperative.  Anyone out in the wind, even if they aren't on a cruiser, is a part of the culture.  Scooters and three wheelers aren't for losers, they're a part of the sport that needs to be embraced and included.  Three wheels mean older riders and those less physically able can still enjoy being out in the wind, how is that a bad thing?  Next time someone gives you a wave from a trike, don't be a jerk, wave back.

If the current motorcycling industry is unwilling to embrace the Twenty-First Century maybe they should be in real trouble.  There are always smaller concerns in the shadows waiting to step in and make changes where the established, conservative powers are not.  Business as usual is clearly not working.  Hopefully the industry that feeds our hobby will realize that and stop coddling Twentieth Century prejudices.  A brave new world of opportunities awaits them if they do.


No easy ride: Motorcycle industry is in deep trouble and needs help fast, panel agrees

The Decline of the Driver's License
Fewer people of all ages are getting them, and it’s not quite clear why.

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Stunt Riding is Easier Than You Think in Ontario (and everywhere else evidently)

We were at SMART Adventures Off-road Training last week.  You should go, same price as a day out watching professional sports-ball, but you're the athlete and what you learn there will raise your bikecraft to another level.  While there I got an opportunity to go out for a ride on the new BMW 1250GS with the legendary Clinton Smout.  The new GS is a thing of beauty and a very capable machine, but what struck me most about it was how high the handlebars are set; the bike is very easy to ride while standing on the pegs, which is one of the 'command' positions when riding a dual sport or adventure bike.  I'm a tall guy (6'3") and often have to bend too much to operate a bike from the pegs, but not on that GS. 

We switched to the big bikes after a couple of hours riding trials bikes, which don't have seats at all.  Standing up for that long on these super light weight, powerful and very twitchy machines pretty much wiped me out, so a chance to ride BMW's latest evolution of the legendary GS was a nice change.  It was a blisteringly hot day well into the mid-thirties Celsius and I was drenched after the trials gymnastics, so I did what I usually do and stand up on the pegs once we got moving to air out a bit and get a feel for how the bike moves.

Clinton doing pre-flight checks on the
BMW - it's a digital machine.
When we stopped for a coffee Clinton said something that surprised me.  A friend of his was charged with "stunt riding" for standing on his pegs while riding.  He wasn't doing anything silly or speeding, he just stood up on the pegs on a bike designed to help you control it that way.  This charge is an officer's discretion situation and the OPP officer who pulled him over who may very well have no understanding of motorcycling or this kind of dual purpose machine made the decision that this was stunting.  He fought it in court, but the judge told him if he wanted to stretch he should just pull over to the side of the highway and stretch, which is the kind of advice that'll get you killed.  Along with that bad advice he got whacked with a crippling stunt driving charge.  I can't imagine what this does on your driving record for insurance, let alone the fines and possible jail time.  This is the same charge as doing over 150 kms/hr on a public road!

I've frequently stood up on the pegs while riding in order to maintain a level of comfort by cooling off or stretching that would allow me to ride with better focus.  I've only done this on adventure bikes designed for it and there is no intention of stunting in this.  At other times I've done it to navigate particularly gnarly pavement and construction or provide greater situational awareness by better seeing what's ahead.  The types of bikes I ride are designed to use this variation in rider position to actually enhance control of the vehicle.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but ignorance of riding dynamics and best safety practices are evidently par for the course.

The only place 'motorcycle' is mentioned in the law is around wheelies,
otherwise generalizations about cars are all we get.
There was a recent local news article that talked about all the stunt driving going on in the area.  One of the infractions listed in from the Ontario Traffic Act where it looks at the definition of stunt driving is driving while not in the driver's seat.  The intent there is obviously aimed at a car, but Ontario likes to cast a wide net so it can charge citizens and tax them with fines without question, so the vagueness is left in there intentionally and it cost Clinton's buddy big.  This once again reminds me of just how aggressively Ontario pillories motorcyclists.

I'm very conscious of how physically challenging motorcycle riding is and consider it a priority to retain maximum focus and control of these potentially dangerous vehicles.  In Ontario, where riders can't split traffic and filter, and where temperatures in the summer can easily hit danger levels, the unprotected motorcyclist under the baking sun is forced to sit in stationary traffic and fumes and isn't even allowed to stand up to get some air when things move?  It's like Ontario wants to kill people who ride.

I've gone on rides at various times where road conditions are such that standing on the pegs actually helps me navigate circumstances and manage road hazards more safely.  Standing on the pegs can, as CycleWorld describes it, turn "you into a dynamic part of your bike" and "an active part of the suspension."  Thanks to Ontario's vague laws and officious police force and judiciary I can get had up for stunt riding when I stand up to correctly navigate terrible road surfaces (of which Ontario has many), road construction (of which Ontario has lots) or if I simply need a better look at what is happening ahead.  Situation awareness is just another one of the many benefits of standing on your pegs, but Ontario is more interested in charging citizens with harsh, non-specific generalizations that can financially cripple them than it is with focusing motorcyclists on safe operation.

The general advice online is if you need to stand just lift your butt a bit so you can make the argument that you aren't standing - you are and you're breaking the law, but at least you're putting your life at risk doing it wrong so it looks legal.  This doesn't offer you optimal control, but safe operation of a motorcycle isn't what we're going after anymore, is it?  The other way out is to have a nice, amiable chat with the officer and assure them that what you're doing is pertinent to the nature of the multi-disciplinary machine you're on.  You might not be able to make that argument with sports bikes or cruisers, but if your bike has any off road pretensions, standing on the pegs is something it was designed for that actually helps a rider manage difficult terrain while offering real benefits in situational awareness.

Next time I'm on an atrocious Ontario road getting my teeth knocked out by a loose and dangerous surface I imagine I'll do the safe thing and stand up to better manage it, but I better keep an eye out for the law while I do it.  Wouldn't it be something is safe vehicle operation was what drove our laws instead of vagaries that allow officious cops to make criminals of otherwise law abiding citizens?

Ontario's Traffic Act in relation to 'stunt driving'
"Under the Highway Traffic Act, those convicted of stunt driving or street racing could face a fine ranging from $2,000 to $10,000, a prison term of six months and a driving suspension."
"Standing while riding does more than make you look cool and allow you to stretch your legs – it will keep you balanced and in control of your motorcycle."  Marisa McInturff, Motorcycle Safety Foundation
"your feet are crucial points of contact with and control of the bike. Standing up on the pegs turns you into a dynamic part of your bike rather than just dead weight. It makes you an active part of the suspension."
Ontario isn't the only jurisdiction where the law is out of whack with vehicle dynamics and common sense.
More insanity, this time from BC, where the majority of roads aren't paved by you can't stand up and provide better control and safety while riding!  "a majority of BC’s roads are unpaved and by the letter this law does endanger, if not make outlaws of, responsible dual sport, & adventure riders."
"You want to be standing up straight, but with a slight bend in your knees and elbows, in order to keep good control over the bike’s movement."
"because of the physics of a motorcycle and the percentage of the weight of the bike the rider makes up, leaning off the bike in a turn has a huge effect on the bike’s handling" - in Ontario (and elsewhere) making effective use of that high percentage of control your body mass affords you on a motorbike is illegal.
"Conspicuity of the motorcycle is a critical factor in the multiple vehicle accidents" - I hadn't thought of that, but standing up does make you more conspicuous.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The Third Way

I was at Skills Canada's National Competition in New Brunswick last weekend and had a rainy Sunday morning in Moncton to listen to Michael Enright on the Sunday Edition on CBC radio.  His piece on bicycles versus cars stressed the enormous gap between coddled, cocky cagers and the noble, spiritually empowered bicyclist.

As someone who doesn't live only a bicycle ride away from everything I need (because I live in the country), I felt somewhat excluded from this urban (urbane?) discussion.  As someone who stays out of cars whenever possible and doesn't ride a bicycle, how can I possible survive?  I've found a third way ignored by both cagers and the messianic bicyclist.

What is this magical third way?  It's the motorcycle of course.  You enjoy that feeling of flying that the bicyclist on the radio refers to, but you do it without forcing a third lane of traffic everywhere you're going.  Motorcycles actually reduce congestion and improve traffic flow and do so without demanding bike lanes in already overcrowded urban centres.  You don't see motorcyclists riding into opening car doors like you see bicyclists.  Though they thrive in that environment, motorbikes aren't only suitable for urban use.  People in suburbs and rural areas can still use them to cover useful distances quickly.  You don't produce the spontaneous righteous indignation that bicyclists seem to be able to generate at will, but you also don't show up to work smelling like sweat and spandex.

For less than the price of an economy car
you can buy a Yamaha R1 that accelerates
faster than anything you're ever likely to
meet and still gets better than 40 mpg.
Cutting edge Italian style can be yours in a
Vespa that costs about what a fancy road
bicycle does but can run at highway speeds
while getting 100 miles to the gallon. 
You aren't suffering for choice when it comes to two-wheeled motorized transportation.  Want to buy a Canadian built, Canadian owned company's bike?  The Can-Am Spyder offers older riders a stable, efficient platform to enjoy being out in the world.  Love Italian exotica?  Italy has more than a dozen current manufacturers of motorcycles producing everything from race ready Ducatis to stylish Vespas.  The Japanese produce an astounding range of bikes from the ground-breaking super-charged Kawasaki H2r to the futuristic Honda NV4 which manages to look like the off-spring of the batmobile and a stealth fighter while still getting better than 60mpg.

If you like the traditional look you can find modernized classic Triumphs and evolutionary Harley Davidsons that all use fuel injection, have anti-lock brakes and are both dependable and efficient ways of getting there in style.  There is a motorbike for every taste from subtle to gross.

The third way means you are paying road taxes to help build and maintain the roads you're using (bicyclists don't), and you're not asking for your own lanes because you have no trouble flowing with normal traffic.  You never see a motorcyclist take to the sidewalk and abuse pedestrian space like you will with bicyclists because motorcyclists consider themselves road going vehicles all the time and not just when it suits them.  That kind of responsibility happens when you're paying for the infrastructure you're using.

The police officer redirecting traffic just told me to pull into
the full parking lot - you can fit bikes in without needing new
infrastructure to fit them.  All those unused triangles suddenly

have a function.
The third way means that, like bicyclists, you have to share the road with distracted, idiotic cagers who barely pay attention to what happens beyond the air conditioned box they find themselves in, all while they burn copious amounts of gasoline moving themselves, four empty seats and a couple of tonnes of vehicle around with them.  It's a dangerous business sharing space with these vain-glorious, self obsessed tools.

What do you get in return for that vulnerability?  You are present in the places you pass through, alive in the world.  You smell every smell, feel the sun on your back and arrive feeling like to you travelled through the world to get there instead of feeling isolated, superior and more than a little clueless.  The first time you lean into a series of corners and feel like you and your bike are one is a magical experience.  You can't take on the spandex righteousness of bicyclists, but you can take comfort in knowing that you're using way less of everything to get where the cars are going, and you're doing it with a much bigger smile on your face.

The kind of defensive riding you learn on a motorbike (who is at fault doesn't matter, you need to be responsible for the ineptitude of those around you) can't help but make you a better car driver.  I've been unable to squeeze the statistics out of the Ontario MoT, but I'll bet you a coffee and donut that if you compare any age group with G class car licenses and G and M (car+motorcycle) licenses, you'll see a significant drop in collisions when they drive four wheelers.  You can't help but internalize that kind of defensive mindset if you're going to ride motorbikes for any length of time.  Bicycling isn't a parallel to driving a car because you aren't held firm by the same traffic flow and right of way issues, so bicyclist paranoia doesn't translate to driving like motorcycle paranoia does.
For most who can't afford the excess
that is the automobile, the motorcycle
offers real mobility.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more democratic vehicle than the motorcycle.  As a means of economic, efficient transportation, there is nothing better.  If you don't believe me, look at any developing country.  The motorcycle is what allows many people who can't luxuriate in the first world isolationism of the automobile a chance at mobility in the modern sense.

While urban cyclists find god and battle the soulless commuting automobilists on The Sunday Edition, I'll enjoy my third way.  I only wish it was a consideration in the misery that is most urban commutes.  Rather than chasing utopian dreams of bicycle lanes in a car free city, why not consider a compromise that lets us immediately reduce gridlock?  Ontario could start by following the examples of more motorcycle friendly jurisdictions by allowing filtering, reducing insurance, offering more parking (easily done in unused areas of parking lots designed for three ton SUVs) and easing access into motorized two wheeling by supporting and encouraging training.  We'd see an immediate uptick in the efficiency of the roads we have now.

Commuting by Motorbike is Better for Everyone
Mega-Mileage Scooters

Sunday, 5 January 2014

North American International Motorcycle Show

Hey NAIMS, you coulda had my wife there... a master's degree,
great job, but you're not appealing to her demographic...
My son and I went down on Friday morning in -25°C  temperatures for our first ever motorcycle show at the International Centre in Mississauga.  My wife didn't come because the advertising on the website (which also had a complete lack of social media) put her off.  I suspect you'll get a better class of customer with more in their pocket if you appeal to educated women interested in the sport.  I'm not sure who you cater to with the twinkies, but I suspect they aren't great customers.  You'd also bring in many more younger riders (I think the average age at the show was about 50) if you embraced social media.

Old white guys & twinkies, it's a weird,
backwards, and kinda creepy
dynamic, time to change it up
Since it was my first time at a show like this I was a bit worried that I was bringing my son to a de-tuned strip club, but I was pleasantly surprised.  There were a few other families there and the crowd represented a typical Canadian cross section.  With the bike clubs on hand, the variety of bikes on show and the various supporting retailers, this wasn't a biker bar scene at all - it's a shame that the advertising doesn't show this for what it is.

There were little herds of Harley aficionados trying too hard in their leathers and badges, but they were a minority.  On our way in from the parking lot an older fellow we were walking in with gave us a discount coupon, and the people in the show were encouraging, accessible and not at all snobby (which is nice when you're a n00b).

We spent the better part of four hours walking around and missed an entire hall.  The amount of material was prolific, from the gear to the bikes themselves.  Two brands really stood out for me and the others were generally a disappointment.

You'd normally be hard pressed to get me interested in a
Harley, but they make it easy to like them, and what a
good looking bike!
I'm the furthest thing from a Harley Fan, but Harley Davidson Canada put on a great show.  They took a good chunk of floor space, had a lot of room to try out bikes and were more than willing to focus on developing a relationship with their customers rather than leaving it to dealers who are only interested in moving units.

Having dealers take care of your brand loyalty is like have the tigers at the zoo do the job of the zookeepers.  If they can drum up any customer relationship building at all they're only pretending, all they really want to do is feed themselves a sale.

I ended up throwing a leg over a bunch of Harleys and I'm much more curious now than I was before, well done HD.

Shows like NAIMS are an ideal opportunity for manufacturers to develop a relationship with their customers, and I was surprised that so few did.  I want to be a Triumph fan, I'm from the UK, I love their bikes from a design point of view, but they were only there through a local dealer who parked the bikes so close together that it was impossible to sit on many of them (which was no doubt the idea).  The special 'deal' on Triumph t-shirts had them on 'sale' for $60... for a t-shirt.  Between the inaccessible bikes, the over-priced merch and the dealers rolling their eyes whenever your kid wants to try and sit on a bike, we didn't spend much time in Triumph land.

After the show I'm reconsidering how and why I might become attached to a specific make, or even whether I should (though motorcycling seems particularly intense in its tribal approach to brand).

Beautiful naked bike, the Z1000... it's got me
Another manufacturer who didn't take my loyalty for granted was Kawasaki.  My first bike was supposed to be a Honda or a Suzuki and it ended up being a Ninja. It's been a great first bike and the KLR has long been on my mind as an alternate/multi-purpose bike (though the insurance chat later is making that unlikely).  Kawasaki has been good to me so far, and the show only made me more of a fan.

Like Harley, Kawasaki showed up instead of only being there through dealers.  The reps they had on hand were friendly, helpful and approachable.  The bikes were displayed in a way that encouraged you to try them out, and Kawi also brought the bling (which I immediately put up in the garage).  

Kawasaki was never on my bike lust list when I was younger (I was all about Interceptors and Gixers), but as an adult buyer they have my attention.  Well done Kawasaki!

The rest of the bike show was a whirlwind of gear and meet and greets.  Two Wheel Motorsport was there, and I had a quick chat with my motorcycle course instructor (while getting a great deal on a Bell Helmet for my son - I'm all about Bell helmets since seeing Rush).

I had a chat with Riders Plus Insurance.  They insured me in my first year of riding and were helpful and efficient.  This time round I was curious about how insuring multiple bikes work.  They told me that buying a second bike means you're doubling your insurance payments.  This doesn't make a lot of sense to me as I can only ride one bike at a time.  I expected something like you're insured at the rate of whatever the highest cost bike is plus 10% for the paperwork on the other bike.  What I was told was that you get a 10% discount on your second bike and pay another full set of insurance on it... which makes owning multiple bikes not really financially viable, so that dream goes down the toilet.

I was looking for Motorcycle Mojo as we wandered about since I've been emailing with the publisher, but couldn't find them!  This show really is huge.  But I did find The Widow's Sons.  After a round of secret handshakes I got some contact information.  A number of guys in my lodge have bikes but don't ride with others.  I'm wondering if I can start a local chapter, or perhaps join the Grand River Chapter.

My son and I both really enjoyed the show.  It let us throw our legs over a lot of bikes and talk with a wide variety of people in the sport.  It was a wonderful thing to get excited about riding again even as the temperature outside turned truly arctic.  Kawasaki & Harley both get nods as my favourite manufacturers of the show.  Their stand up showing has me questioning brand loyalty based on some weird sense of belonging rather than a manufacturer's interest in genuinely developing a relationship with their customer.  As a new rider I'm looking to be wooed.  Harley & Kawi both did some quality wooing.

My suggestion?  Get yourself out to the North American Motorcycle Show and bring your family along, they'll have a great time and maybe even get a sense of why you love riding like you do.  

I hope the show will reconsider the marketing angle and get away from the twinkie/biker thing on the website and embrace social media next year.  If they do, maybe I can convince my wife to come along with us.

Some pictures from the show.