Lawrence Hacking’s Overland Adventure Rally

This isn’t the type of thing I usually cover but this could quite possibly be  the best adventure event of the year. Lawrence Hacking, a guy who’s been racing off-road motorcycles since he was 16 and was the first Canadian to complete the famous Dakar Rally back in 2001, has created the Overland Adventure Rally. The event is July 12-14, 2013 and is being held in Campbellville, Ontario.

So what right? Off-road rally’s are held all over the world right? Sure…but not like this one. This one has a class for just about everyone…including cars! This is all about just having fun regardless of what you show up with. Got a vintage bike or car? There’s a class for that. Got a bike from India, Taiwan or China? They have a class for that too. There is also a paved route for the cars or bikes that are really not suited to slippy, bumpy roads which is about 200km long. The more challenging off-road route is 230km and is mostly gravel and dirt roads with a few more challenging sections. Obviously the more challenging bits can’t be too rough or the sidecar class wouldn’t be able to get through. I’m banking on that actually because I will be riding a 2009 Russian Ural with a sidecar loaded with a passenger. For my passenger, aka Monkey (as sidecar passengers are known), aka Navi-guesser…ahem, navigator, this will be her first rally like this. Well…truth be told…it will be my first off-road race too but I have done rally style events before. At least I have some previous experience off-roading in both cars/trucks and motorcycles. Now at the time of writing this, Lawrence tells me that there is only one other bike entered in the sidecar class. I guess that means I’m looking at a 2nd place trophy! LOL

Simon Pavey - Overland Adventure Rally

Simon Pavey

What also makes this event interesting is that thanks to BMW Canada, the rather well known Simon Pavey (7-time Dakar finisher and UK-based BMW GS Training instructor) will be one of the guest speakers. You may also remember him from “The Race to Dakar” documentary which covered the challenges surrounding the Dakar Rally as actor & world motorcycle adventurer Charley Boorman attempted to tackle the race for the first time.

Rene Cormier - Overland Adventure Rally

Rene Cormier

Another guest speaker is less well known globally but his accomplishes are vast as another who crossed the world (in nearly every direction) on a motorcycle. Perhaps he will tell about the times he was shot at  while sleeping under his motorcycle in the USA (he woke to the sound of gun shots and gas pouring on him thanks to a bullet piercing his fuel tank) and the time he took gun fire from shady guards at a check point in Africa. Ya…really!

If you’re interested in a copy of the flyer, just click this link.

If you want the full details of the event, click here.

Actually…just register by clicking here.

Safe Driving is No Accident!

Crash

It’s that time of year again folks…more lovely weather and  more crashes on our roads. Cars, trucks, motorcyclists, cyclists and pedestrians are all seeing a dramatic increase in crashes. Some injuries are quite serious, some are life-threatening…some are fatal.

We are all ‘road users’ regardless of our chosen form of travel and we all have a responsibility to be safe out there. Even if you’re a pedestrian, its your responsibility to make sure that no vehicles are coming before stepping out onto the street. Stop texting while you walk folks…you’re putting yourself at risk of being hit by a car, motorcycle, truck or bicycle. You can control that by paying attention and looking looking around for traffic.

Motorcycle crashes are once again spiking right now and that seems to happen every Spring. However, that doesn’t make it acceptable just because it happens every year. More bikes equals more crashes. Drivers just aren’t used to seeing motorcycles yet. Lets face it, they haven’t seen many during the winter months and every time a driver hits a motorcycle, they always say the same thing…“I didn’t see them”. Did you even look? Sorry drivers, but when a car and a motorcycle collide at intersections, the driver is at fault 90% of the time. Open your eyes and look twice in each direction before entering an intersection or when turning from one road to another. Take a look at the first video below and you will see a car pulling out in front of me while I was riding.

Now before you think I’m placing all the blame for motorcycle crashes on hapless drivers, riders have a huge responsibility for their own lives and to ride safely. Most motorcycle crashes are single vehicle crashes…just them and in those cases, it’s 100% their own fault and mostly from taking corners too quickly. Keep in mind riders, you haven’t been out on your bike for many months and you need to clear the cobwebs out and it’s almost like you have to ‘re-learn’ how to ride again. Your riding skills are rusty and so is your ability to recognize dangerous situations. There is also a lot of sand and salt on the roads left over from winter snow clearing leaving the roads rather slippery.

You’re essentially invisible out there and you need to ride accordingly. Drivers have a hard time seeing motorcyclists (partially because they don’t bother to look twice and partially due to the design of their vehicles) and to make things worse, the human eye has a hard time gauging your closing speed. Please…slow down and ride smart. I know your itching to take your bike for a rip but there are race tracks you can go to, when you really want to ride fast and hard. Public roads are not the place for spirited riding. Of course the same needs to be said to drivers who can finally put their sports cars back on the road. Take it to the track!

Driver & Rider Training Courses or Private Instruction

Regardless of how long you’ve been riding or driving, it’s a good idea to take some refresher courses every now and then. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or think you are, you can learn more and be even better. Over time we forget stuff and become complacent. We forget that driving a car or riding a motorcycle is the one thing we do every day that can get us killed. So take some responsibility and hone your skills every once in a while. For a few hundred dollars, you’re investing in yourself and your own safety. If you’re in Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, touch base with me (www.shaundejager.com). I would be happy to provide some additional driver training and help you become a safer driver. If you’re a rider, please check out LearningCurves.ca and tell them I sent you.


^ Nearly hit by turning car


^ Driver runs red light

 

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Tire Talk – Running Away from Run Flats?

RunFlat - Self Supporting

Self Supporting Run Flat

Run Flat Tires (RFT’s) aren’t exactly new. In fact they’ve been around since the mid 1930’s when Michelin introduced a “semi-bullet proof” tire for the military. Although it performed as advertised, it was far too expensive to be considered for regular consumers. Over the decades, various types of RFT’s have been developed but they didn’t really take off until the last decade or so. Although, their popularity has dropped off somewhat of late, mostly because the perceived benefits are out-weighed by their very real downfalls.

Auxiliary Support Ring

Auxiliary Support Ring

There are two basic types of Run-Flat Tires; self supporting with thicker sidewalls and the auxiliary support setup, which had a special wheel equipped with an inner support ring that took the weight of the car if you got a flat.

The inner support ring took a lot of abuse though and if you got a flat you had to replace everything…the wheel and the tire. Most of these setups have become obsolete mostly because of the insanely high replacement costs. As such, the self supporting run-flat has become the most popular. Now I say “popular” rather loosely because Run Flat Tires only make up 1% of the entire market place.

From a consumer point of view, not having your trunk space wasted by a spare tire was a real bonus (especially since the likelihood of having a flat tire is pretty rare for most drivers). Most automotive manufactures though who adopted run-flats advertised them as a safety feature. Lets face it though, if a car company wants their consumers to adopt a new technology or feature of any kind, the best way to do is to market it as a safety feature. There are a couple ways that you could say it is a safety feature though in that if you get a puncture, and for whatever reason don’t realize it, the tire is less likely to fall apart, which could lead to difficulty controlling your vehicle. It also reduces the chance of you being stuck on the ride of the highway having to either change your tire or wait for your auto club to come get you. Being stuck on the side of the road certainly isn’t safe and regardless of if you change the flat tire yourself or wait for help, you’re going to be there for a while.

The downside though is that if you do lose air pressure in your Run Flat Tire, they have a limited range of about 50miles (or 80km) and must be driven at limited speeds of about 50mph (80km/hr) just like a good ole regular spare tire. Exceeding those limits could result in even more costly damage. This is why vehicles equipped with RFT’s needed to be equipped with air pressure warning sensors or the driver may not be aware that they had a flat (by design, it was rather hard to tell visually if your RFT was actually flat). Low tire pressure is actually pretty dangerous and that’s why all new cars are regulated to have an air pressure warning system equipped by the manufacturer.

This doesn’t sound all that bad though really. The tire will last a while so you can get off the road and to a service centre, you’re less likely to lose control of your car, and you have much more precious trunk space. But there is more to consider…they generally wear out faster and therefore need to be replaced far more often. This was such a problem that Honda and BMW had to settle out some class action lawsuits. They are very expensive to replace (30% or more expensive than regular tires) and they are also more stiff, often more noisy at highway speed, more prone to premature failures (in some cases anyway) and provide less fuel economy (again in some cases).

Ok…to me, this is starting to sound like more of a hassle. Honda seems to think so too and has stopped equipping their cars with Run Flat Tires altogether. Owners of Acura’s RL, and the Honda Odysseys claimed unreasonably low tire life and unexpectedly high tire replacement costs. This is becoming a common complaint especially for BMW and MINI owners because now all their cars come with RFT’s and ONLY RFT’s. They don’t even give you a choice anymore. Well, there is still a choice and that’s to not buy their vehicles unless they start offering the model you want with regular tires.

StrandedNow most people don’t drive too far outside of the city but I do and sometimes I end up much father away from a suitable tire centre than the limited range of a run-flat will allow for me to reach. So now I need an auto club membership. Sure most new cars come with roadside assistance but most of those only allow you to be towed to the nearest dealership. Well that could be hundreds of miles away and would totally destroy my road trip. It’s not like I can just drive to a Ma & Pa garage because they aren’t trained to handle a flat RFT. You can’t just fix them (for about $20 like a normal tire), you have to replace them (for about $500) and odds are, no small town service centre is going to be able to assist. Trip over…end of story.

Lots of consumers are way beyond fed up with the high replacement costs and premature wear of their run-flats and are looking to replace them with regular tires. Sure this can be done but in some cases, like those with BMW’s and MINI’s, the company claims that the suspension has been adjusted to compensate for the stiffer RFT’s and changing them to normal tires will void your warranty. It’s also important to note that if you lease your car which is equipped with run-flats, you are expected to return it with run-flats installed. However, many people who’s warranty has expired, and aren’t leasing, have changed them over to ‘normal’ tires and many have reported improved handling, performance, less road noise and more comfort. Nobody that I’ve heard about has stated that they’ve had any negative effects flipping over to none run-flat tires.

So why the hell is BMW insisting that ONLY run-flats be equipped on all their new cars? Because it’s more convenient for them…not you. Sure they say it’s safer and because you don’t have to carry a spare tire, that you save some weight. Yet they don’t tell you that RFT’s by design are heavier and decrease your fuel economy by 1% to 2%. Not all BMW’s come with only Run Flat Tires though, the exception is the “M” badged performance cars. Why? Simply because regular tires perform better.

As a long time BMW owner, I can’t say I’m happy about the direction that they’ve taken. I guess it will be a while before I buy a new 3-series…or I’ll have to save up so I can afford a new M3 🙂

Click here for more Tire Talk articles and drive safe out there.

Sharing the Road with Trucks

Have you ever heard the saying “If you bought it…a truck brought it”? Well it’s true and like it or not, massive trucks are out there and you’re going to have to learn to share the road with them. Yes YOU! Most drivers have a pretty low opinion of truckers and much of that comes from fear and simply not understanding them. By them I mean not only the truckers but trucks themselves. We’ve all heard the horror stories of wheels flying off, drivers falling asleep thanks to the long hours they drive each day and how they fake their log books. Sure there are some bad apples out there and I can’t blame you for not respecting those ones but they are the exceptions, not the rule. Not every trucker is faking their logbooks, nor do they all fall asleep at the wheel and contrary to what you might think, they are not out to run you off the road. You fear the few. You don’t understand any of them though and it’s not everyday that a trucker puts you in harms way. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Every day, every trucker out there is put in harms way by someone driving a car and by doing so, the car driver puts themselves in harms way too without even knowing it. Oh just so we’re clear…most truckers don’t like most car drivers. Here’s a simple truth, all truckers drive smaller vehicles too, just like you, but most car drivers have never even sat in a big truck, let alone driven one. How could you possibly know what it’s like to drive a mile in their shoes? Truth is, you can’t but you really do need to know a few things about large trucks and truckers would like you to know them too. Before writing this article, I reached out to an online truckers forum so that I could hear some of their concerns about drivers.

So lets start off with the obvious…they are incredibly massive machines. Unlike your car, which may weigh a few thousand pounds, a fully loaded tractor trailer can weigh over 80,000 pounds. That’s a lot of mass to handle and they can’t maneuver nearly as well as you can. Nor can they stop on a dime. Saying they have the agility of a lethargic hippo wouldn’t be too far from the truth. At 65mph (104km/hr) their stopping distance is about the length of a football field. Something to keep in mind is the air brakes that trucks use. Unlike hydraulic brakes used on passenger vehicles, which engage almost immediately when you stomp on the brake pedal, air brakes have a short lag time. Its about one second. Lets do some basic math – at 65mph, you are traveling at about 95ft per second. Average human reaction time can be anywhere from 0.5-1.5sec. Lets take the lower number but that means when a trucker reacts to a situation and slams on the brakes, he’s already traveled about 142ft before the brakes actually start engaging. Now add on about 455ft for the truck to actually come to a stop and overall it’s a whopping 597ft (182m). The average car can stop in less than half that distance. New braking systems are currently being developed to shorten the stopping distance of large trucks but they will never stop as quickly as a car.

The moral here is that you should never lag around in front of a large truck. Ok ok, nobody likes sitting behind trucks, you can’t see past them and they can’t see you either (more about that later), so you want to pass them. Go for it but once you do, don’t just pull in front of them leaving only a couple car lengths between you and the front of the truck. You’re putting yourself in harms way and for the love of all that you hold dear, do NOT dive in front of a truck and then hit the brakes! You’re just begging to end up as paint on their grill. Oh and just so you know folks, if you dive in front of a truck and slam your brakes, and you get hit as a result, you will probably be charged with Careless Driving for having caused that crash (and it really pisses them off when drivers do that). Now before you think that you will just be able to talk your way out of causing that crash, many truckers now have digital dash-cams mounted on their windshields to capture video evidence of what really happened in a crash.

Now lets talk about blind spots. Once again, they are absolutely massive and odds are, you have no idea just how big they are, where they are, or how to spot them. Unlike the average car, a large truck has four large blind spots. As you can see from the diagram below, any one of these blind spots can hide at least one vehicle in it. In efforts to educate drivers about them, they are being called “No Zones”, places around the truck where you should not be hanging out.

"No Zones"

“No Zones”

Once you enter one of these large blind spots, you no longer exist in the truckers consciousness. As you can see, the most dangerous places to be is either beside of or in front of a large truck. The real sneaky one is the blind spot on the right side. Look closely and you will notice that if you are directly beside the cab or just slightly forward of the front of the truck in the lane to the right, you are invisible. Now some trucks have windows in the passenger side door so they can look down and through it to see if someone is there but that’s a small window and the driver may still not see you. Some trucks also have a blind spot mirror mounted on or near the front fenders to open up that blind area. It’s important to note though that not all trucks have those mirrors or those little windows in the doors. You have to look for them. So keep in mind that if you are behind a  large truck and want to pass them, you are basically going from one blind spot into another, into another.

Another trucker asked me to extend a warning to those of you who like to toddle along in the middle lane directly beside a truck or directly in front of one. The middle lane is a truckers “passing lane” and also used to make a safe space for others who are trying to merge on to the highway. By law all drivers must slow down and change lanes away from emergency vehicles who are on the shoulder. Truckers also do this for any vehicle on the shoulder to make things safer for whomever is stuck there. Cabs and trailers all have turn indicator lights on them and there is no excuse for a driver to not see that a truck needs to change lanes. Unlike many car drivers, truckers don’t change lanes without good reason. There’s no joy in it for them. If their signal is on, they need to move over…sometimes quite urgently. Get out from beside them and do so quickly (either slow down and let them in or speed up and get past them). If you just sit there and that truck is forced to move over, you risk getting side-swiped by the cab or crushed under the trailer or the trailer wheels. For those of you who are trying to merge on the highway, wondering why that massive truck won’t move the hell over and let you in, it’s probably because someone is driving beside them in the other lane and the truck is now pinned in that right lane.

When I realize that a truck needs to change lanes, I  get out of their way, period.  Sure I could just arrogantly sit there and think “This is MY spot” but I risk being the meaty ingredient in a mangled metal sandwich. Additionally, if I’m behind a truck and I see that nobody is letting the trucker change lanes, I will move over to the lane they want to get into, slow down just a little and make a hole for them. Kinda like a blocker, ensuring they can change lanes safely.

Much of this just comes down to being a courteous driver but it also comes down to self preservation. When you drive near large trucks and hang out in their blind spots, you are putting yourself and others at risk. It’s a matter of “right of weight” really, not “right of way” and there is no point being dead right now is there. So please drivers, give these truckers a lot of space. They work damn hard to deliver all the stuff you need or want to buy in life.

If you’re a trucker reading this…remember that most cagers have no idea about any of this stuff. Understand also that despite how it may look at times, car drivers aren’t really suicidal. They just don’t know any better. If you forward this on though, hopefully less drivers will blindly hang out in your blind spots or put you (and themselves) at risk.

Tire Talk – Beware of Your Spare

Time and time again, tow truck drivers are called to change someone’s flat tire.

Now you wouldn’t think this is a big deal and it really isn’t…but some tow truck drivers see some potential safety and liability issues with that, especially when on the side of the highway and when your spare tire is a ‘space saver’ tire or ‘doughnut’ as opposed to a full sized one.

Flat TireNow most vehicles come with a spare tire of some sort, unless you are sporting “run-flats”, which I will talk about in another article. Some vehicles have a full sized spare but most only have a space saver tire, which is really just for emergency use only. There are a few things you should understand about your spare tire, especially the space savers.

1. They aren’t designed for highway use. The space saver tires are only rated for 80 km/h so taking them up to normal highway speeds could result in the tire overheating and failing. If that happened, you would once again be stranded on the side of the highway but this time you wouldn’t have a spare to lean on.

2. Space saver tires have a limited range of 80km to 150km depending on the manufacturer. Trying to drive it longer could result in another tire failure.

3. They have a much lower load capacity. The spare space saver tire should only ever be used on the rear of a vehicle. Most of your vehicle’s weight is in the front and because the spare tire is inflated to +/- 60psi, they can’t handle major impacts from dips in the road or potholes. They also aren’t very good at handling high lateral loads (hard cornering). This could result in the bead failing and a rapid loss of tire pressure.

By using a spare on the front, you could once again be risking a serious blowout and some manufacturers recommend that you NOT use the space saver tire on the front. Ideally, if you have a flat front tire, you should install the spare on the rear and move the good rear tire to the front to replace the flat. Not exactly practical because this would take you an hour or so to do and it would certainly not be safe to do this on the side of a highway.

4. It’s probably expired. Most people don’t realize that tires do in fact have a shelf life, which is about three to five years. This holds true not only for your spare but also your normal tires, too. Each tire has a four digit stamp on it indicating the week and year that the tire was manufactured. For example a stamp reading “0405” would mean that the tire was made in fourth week of 2005. Once a tire passes three years of age (used or not), the rubber begins to harden. Not only does the tread wear out significantly faster but once again, the tire is at risk of suffering tread separation. If the tire is old enough were cracks can be seen on the sidewall, it’s junk and far too old to safely use.

Tread seperation - Tow TruckIt’s for these reasons that I wouldn’t bother to change a flat tire with the spare that their vehicle came with. If I know the spare tire is old, or if it’s a flat front tire requiring replacement, it would be irresponsible and dangerous to put the spare tire on.

Instead, I would just call my auto club and get towed to a local tire replacement/repair centre.

Click here for more Tire Talk articles and drive safe out there.

Tire Talk – Winter Tires

The single most highly engineered part of your vehicle may surprise you…it’s your tires! No seriously…it is. Considering the season, I’m continuing my “Tire Talk” series with Winter Tires. The most common three questions I get asked all the time about winter tires are “How can I tell a Winter Tire from a regular one?”, “Do I really need them?” and “What’s the difference?”.

 

Winter Tire Symbol

Firstly, a dedicated Winter Tire must have a special marking on the side which is an industry standard indicating that the tire conforms to certain guidelines for winter driving. The sidewall of the tire will have a mountain with a snowflake in the middle like the one shown here. If it’s only the mountain and does not have the snowflake, it’s an All-Terrain or Off-Road tire and not suitable for winter conditions.

To answer the second question, it depends on where you live. If you live in North America, south of the 40th Parallel and at lower altitudes, you probably don’t need winter tires. However, if you live in a place that regularly gets snow or temperatures of below 10C (50F) you should seriously consider getting them as soon as the temps consistently drop to that level. There is a sort of ‘go-no go’ threshold of +7C (44F), which is when winter tires start out performing All-Season tires (also known as ‘no-season’ tires because by design, they are a compromise tire). People expect All-Season tires to perform in temperatures ranging from -30C to +55C (-22F to +130F) which is unrealistic. Don’t get caught up in a false sense of security provided by TV marketing that says All-Season tires can perform perfectly in all conditions. It’s also important to note that winter tires should not be used year round. In warmer temperatures, they become too soft and they will now provide less grip than a dedicated summer tire.

Click for larger image

Hankook Optimo 4S

To make things more confusing for consumers, there is a new tire on the market called an “All-Weather” tire. This, like the All-Season tire, is a compromise tire. Although it bears the Winter Tire Symbol, only the inside half of the tread is winter rated. The outside tread is a summer compound. This is NOT a tire I would consider putting on a vehicle I own anymore than I would consider All-Seasons.

Now to answer the third question; I could simply say that they are designed differently, however how they are designed differently is far from simple. Not only is the tread of the tire very different (I’ll get to that later) but the compound of the rubber is designed differently and is engineered to actually grip ice. They even grip a dry, cold road better than an All-Season tire because they are designed to stay soft at colder temperatures. Lets talk about basic physics for a minute to explain how this works. It basically comes down to heat, friction and pressure and how molecules react to each. When molecules get colder, they slow down and get closer together and become hard. Just think about water turning into ice as the temperature passes below the freezing point of zero Celsius (32F). This is a physical reaction as elements pass from gas to liquid to solid.

Okay, before you get bored with the physics lessons, the same thing happens to rubber. If you heat up rubber too much, it melts (think skid marks on the road when the rubber melts and is left on the ground). If rubber gets too cold, it becomes incredibly hard (think hockey pucks). One of the reasons that hockey pucks are so hard is so that they can slide freely across the ice and so that they don’t deform from the impact of the all-mighty slap-shot. The last thing you want is a tire that becomes so hard that it slides across the ice on the road and can’t conform to the subtle irregularities of the road surface. This is what a winter tire is designed to do and to do that they add more silica to the rubber compound. This keeps the rubber soft so that it can grip not only cold road surfaces but also ice. Believe it or not, ice actually has a lot of grip – when it’s colder than -15C (5F). Ask any hockey player or figure skater and they will tell you they hate skating on ice that is too cold.

Goodyear Ultra Ice WRT

The reason ‘warmer’ ice gets slippery is again a matter of physics – pressure and heat. When molecules are compressed, they heat up, and at a molecular level a very fine layer of water is formed on top of the ice when you walk or drive on it. It’s this fine layer of water that makes ice seem slippery. This is where the tread design of winter tire shines. Winter tires are comprised of lots of tiny little slits in the tread blocks called ‘sipes’ and it’s these little slits (clearly seen in the picture on the right) that wick water up into the tire allowing the tread blocks to grip the solid ice underneath. These sipes also increase the flexibility of the treads so that they can grip the road and ice better.

Winter tires are also broken down into two groups; Winter radial and Snow radial. The main difference is that a ‘snow radial’ has wider spaces between the tread blocks to help cut through deep snow (it resembles an off-road tire). The Goodyear tire shown here is indeed a winter tire but perhaps not ideal for those living in areas with a lot of very deep snow. Please don’t confuse a Mud & Snow tire as a Winter Radial though. Mud and Snow tires have a “M+S” marking on the sidewall. This is basically still an All-Season tire with deep tread to cut into mud and snow but in winter temperatures, the tire still becomes rock hard, unless it also bears the mountain and snowflake symbol.

Important note: Installing only two winter tires is dangerous! Regardless if your car is front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all-wheel drive, you should always install FOUR winter tires. Installing only two on the front of the vehicle will greatly increase the chance of fishtailing (over-steer), where the rear end of the car has no traction and tries to ‘pass’ the front. Installing them only on the rear of the car reduces your ability to steer. You are more likely to experience under-steer (when you turn the wheel but the car keeps going straight) and slide right off the road in a corner or on a highway ramp.

Yes this may be a lot to digest but a good tire shop, who sells all brands and types of tires, will be able to assist you in purchasing a winter tire that suits your needs. Depending on where you live, you may also be allowed to install metal studs into your winter tires (the holes for them are already there on some models).

Stopping distances from 50km/hr from MTO Website

The reality is that the worst performing winter tire on the market will out perform the best All-Season tire in winter conditions and provide better stopping performance. Winter tires provide up to 40% more grip in winter conditions than an All-Season tire and that could be difference between losing control of your vehicle and making it home safely.

In the late winter of 2012, I was asked to assist the ILR Winter Car Control School perform some practical testing and comparison between winter tires and all-season tires. In this video you can clearly see how winter tires out performs all-season tires, even against a high-tech BMW all-wheel drive SUV.

So when the temps start falling and the snow hits the fan, you can bet your bumper that I will be driving with winter tires on and so should you.

Click here for more Tire Talk articles and drive safe out there.

EDIT: M+S is actually a ‘wear rating’. We’ve been told is means Mud & Snow but it has nothing to do with a tires ability to handle either mud or snow. It’s just something we’ve become used to seeing on the sidewall of our tires so most manufacturers just leave it there. When you see high performance, low profile tires on a sports car with a tread pattern that wouldn’t even be good in the rain, the M+S stamped on the side is just for marketing.

 

Vital ID Could Save Your Life

Dec. 10th, 2012
By: Shaun de Jager

Every once in a while, someone asks me to review or promote their product and it’s not often that I do. Although every once in a while, something comes across my desk that is worth more than it costs and in this case it’s the Vital ID Motorcycle kit and Medical ID bracelet.

Medical ID bracelets aren’t new, in fact they have been around for decades but they’ve usually been some bland piece of metal worn as a bracelet or necklace. They’ve never been aesthetically pleasing and often got snagged or caught on things, which meant they weren’t practical to wear and often people wouldn’t bother, thus defeating the point of even having one.

Recently I was contacted by someone affiliated from VitalID.ca asking me to help spread the word about their products and after looking at their wide range of products online, I wanted to learn more and see how practical this stuff really was. They sent me some of their Medical ID bracelets and a couple of their Motorcycle Rider ID kits and I must say they are amazing.

As a motorcyclist, I know full well that if I get involved in a crash, the odds of me being injured are much higher than if I was involved in a crash while in a vehicle. Let’s face it…no safety cage, airbags or crumple zones. Paramedic’s first priority is to assess and stabilize your injuries. Looking for your wallet is also a priority (which is why I always keep it in my jacket pocket and not in a tank bag) but this wastes precious time and doesn’t usually contain any information about you medically.

When a rider crashes, getting the helmet off is a two person job and once done, the helmet goes along with the patient in the ambulance so that it can be looked at by the trauma team in the ER (it often provides clues as to where head injuries may be and how bad). With the Rider ID kit attached to your helmet, they can easily pull the info card out of the reflective sleeve and not only find out basic information about you, but also learn if you have any medical conditions, other than the obvious injuries from your crash, that may assist them in how they treat you clinically. For example, if you are taking blood thinners, the risk of you dying from excessive blood loss is quite high, however if that information is on your Rider ID card, they would know to give you a Vitamin K shot (the ‘antidote’ for Warfarin), which would quickly coagulate your blood and improve your odds. It would also be good for them to know if you have any allergies to drugs.

The Rider ID kit comes with a reflective sleeve that sticks to your helmet with a tri-fold card that you put all your information on and folds up and is stored in the sleeve. Both the reflective sleeve and tri-fold insert are waterproof – just be sure to use a waterproof marker when filling it out. It also comes with a wallet card which can contain the same information along with other important details, like who to contact in the event of an emergency.

If you aren’t a motorcyclist, the Medical ID bracelet accomplishes the same goal and can be used by anybody. It’s a Velcro arm band with a sleeve that again contains a tri-fold information card with all your important medical information. It clearly states right on it what it is for and paramedics and trauma staff are trained to look for such items. Again the arm band and information card is water proof and you can also easily attach a wrist watch to it making it practical for everyday use.

I’ve shown both products to various people in the medical and first responder community and they all agree that these products could save your life and they wish that people who need them, wear them. Some further went on to say that even if you don’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, using products like this could save time should you need medical attention and make it easier to contact your family should you end up in hospital and unable to speak or communicate in someway.

Many trauma victims can spend days in critical care as “John/Jane Doe” because their wallet/purse could not be located at the scene. Think about the stress your family would experience, not knowing where you are for several days. Calling around to hospitals would be useless because they would be asking for you by name and since they don’t know your name, they would say “No…he/she’s not here”. Then what? They would have to call the police and file a ‘Missing Person’ report followed by days of waiting as they call to hospitals asking for unidentified patients fitting your description.

VitalID.ca provides an impressive selection of products and I would suggest you check them out. Their products are indeed worth far more than they cost.

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Always use your parking brake!

Driving isn’t over until it’s over and requires our full attention even for something as simple as parking your car. We’ve all had momentary lapses in concentration. We’ve all had moments driving when our thoughts have been focused on something else (what to make for dinner, a sick family member, or stresses over work or relationships). But when our thoughts are on something other than driving, we make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are harmless but sometimes those mistakes can result in bent fenders or worse, a fatality.

Recently a friend of mine made such a mistake. To protect the identity of the embarrassed and ashamed, I will call her Anna. She drives a BMW 5-series that is a few years old with a manual transmission. She pulled into her driveway but her mind wasn’t on the tasks at hand – probably hadn’t been for her whole drive home. She parked her car like she had a thousand times before but this time was different. Her mind was focused on something else and in her haste to exit the car, she grabbed her purse and jumped out of the car. What she didn’t realize was that her purse banged against the shifter popping it into neutral. After slamming the door closed…the car began to roll backward. Try as she may to get back into the car, she couldn’t. She tripped, fell and nearly got run over by her own car. She thought her driveway was flat and level, but she was wrong. She hadn’t set the parking brake (something that every driver should do, every time they park, regardless of if it’s an automatic or a manual transmission).

Backward the car rolled down her driveway, across the street, and crashed into the side of a car parked opposite her driveway. The driver of the other car had just gotten out and was a few short steps away. Her car suffered no damage, the other car suffered some bent metal on the door and she suffered some nasty bruises and damaged her pride. She got lucky.

Now we play the ‘what-if’ game. What the driver of that car hadn’t gotten out until a few seconds later? He could have been crushed just as he was leaving his car. He certainly wouldn’t have expected a car to roll into him just then. What if there had been pedestrians walking past just then? What if another car had been coming along at speed? Your job as a driver isn’t over the moment you park your car. You still have to ensure you follow your standard shut-down procedures and that includes setting your parking brake (regardless of what type of vehicle it is) and you need to be sure you don’t upset anything when you exit the vehicle.

I would hazard a guess that at least 95% of people who drive a car with an automatic transmission never set their parking brake. This is a huge mistake. On many automatics, “P” is basically the same as “N” but a parking pawl (a pin) is engaged to secure the car from rolling. Although if your car is hit from the front or behind while say parked on the street, that pin can snap and there is nothing stopping the car from rolling away. Additionally, the constant use of only the parking pawl, especially on hills, subjects the transmission and drive train to constant loads and stress, This will eventually lead to failure of the parking pawl or transmission linkage.

With a manual transmission, it is recommended always to be parked with the handbrake engaged, in concert with their lowest gear (usually either first or reverse). However, when parking on level ground, many people either only engage the handbrake (gear lever in neutral), or only select a gear (handbrake released). My friend admitted that she doesn’t always use the parking brake unless she parks on a hill. If parking with only one system results in the car rolling and damaging the car or other property, insurance companies in some countries, for example in Germany, aren’t required to pay for the damages.

The moral of the story is to ALWAYS use both techniques to secure your vehicle when parking. If you don’t, consider yourself lucky if all you damage is your transmission and drive-train. If you’re unlucky, the consequences could be far worse.

Psychology of our Driving Culture Affects our Safety

Driving is supposed to be fun – it used to be anyway. Obviously the automobile wasn’t designed as a toy but rather as a convenient way to traverse great distances in a short amount of time. It really was convenient. Well…it used to be anyway. Now driving isn’t convenient at all though. It’s no longer fun to drive and it has become a huge source of frustration, fear for some, and leads to much pain, suffering and deaths. There have been more traffic related fatalities around the world, since the first automobile was made, than all the deaths from all global conflicts over the past 3000 years combined.

A machine that was supposed to make our lives easier has turned out to be more lethal than the atom bomb. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic but the drama on our roads is pretty severe.

However, despite all the technology invested into making our roads and vehicles safer, things are getting worse and the impact of each crash to our social economy is mind boggling. For example, each traffic fatality in Canada equals about $15million to the social economy. Although if our roads and our cars are getting safer, why are our roads getting worse? Well the simple answer is our drivers are getting worse. Yes there are more drivers out that but it doesn’t alone cover the disproportionately huge increase in collisions each year. Our drivers are less skilled, less aware, more complacent, and far less respectful (not only of others but also of themselves). One thing is certain…drivers just don’t care about their driving anymore and a driver’s sense of personal accountability is about as rare as a flock of Condors.

There are a myriad of reasons why drivers have become so much worse over the decades but it really comes down to taking personal accountability for our safety on the roads and having the right attitude. Although our driving culture, especially in North America, is absolutely deplorable. But why? Why has our driving behaviour become so appalling? Well lets break it down and consider some examples.

Lets talk about the psychology involved here. Safe driving is directly related to our attitude and a poor attitude relates to poor behaviour. Simple enough but why do drivers have such a bad attitude? We all have a bad day, I get that, but our emotions and how they relate to our driving is another discussion.

Some of the reasons we have such a poor attitude out there is because how our driving culture has been programmed with certain beliefs. Drivers believe they can’t get hurt because of the false sense of security ingrained in us by marketing campaigns. We are told again and again about the safety of All Wheel Drive (AWD) which is totally false. AWD is a performance feature first and foremost. We are also lead to believe that ABS brakes allow us to stop on a dime which is also untrue. It allows drivers to brake in a straight line and allow us to brake and steer at the same time. You aren’t told that it takes longer to stop on snow and gravel with ABS vs conventional brakes. You also aren’t told that it can take 10x longer to stop on ice than on a dry road. Instead you are lead to believe that ABS is the greatest thing since sliced bread. More and more marketing campaigns are hammering us with the marvels of the latest safety feature that will keep us safe. Things like stability control, traction control (also not a safety feature), as well as blind-spot & lane departure warning systems (that actually encourage bad driving habits). These are just tools to aid a driver (if used properly and if their limits are known and kept in mind); they will not allow you to defy the laws of grip or physics.

One of my pet peeves is left lane hogs. I had to ask myself “Why is everyone over there in the left lane when the right lane is totally empty? Why do they just sit there like sheep bumping into each other?” Well again it comes down to psychology. Our driving culture calls that lane the ‘fast’ lane. So if that’s the ‘fast’ lane then people must deduce that the other lanes are ‘slow’ lanes. Nobody wants to be slow. Everyone wants to get to where they’re going quickly, so they all merge over to the ‘fast’ lane and sit there…like sheep…going ever so slowly, while the cars in the empty ‘slow’ lane sails along unimpeded by stop and go traffic at all. That lane is called a ‘passing’ lane! It’s for passing! If you aren’t passing then you are cruising and should be in the right lane as required by law. Well, technically speaking, lanes don’t have names or titles…they have numbers. They are numbered from the centre outward.

Time and time again, police are told by drivers, who are involved in a crash, that their car ‘just took off’ or ‘suddenly went crazy’. Cars don’t suddenly do anything. They don’t suddenly go ‘crazy’. They don’t just take off for ‘no’ reason. Drivers control their vehicles and its drivers who lose control of their vehicle. Remember that Toyota recall for “un-intended acceleration”? It took a while to figure out, but that huge increase in Toyota’s ‘taking off’ was during the winter. Drivers were hitting the gas without realizing it because they were wearing winter boots. Same thing happened with AUDI back in the 1980’s and it took years to recover from the bad press. You may not have ‘intended’ to step on the gas…but you did. The car doesn’t just ‘take off’ all on its own.

It doesn’t help when the media says things like “car loses control and rolls over” or things like “truck went through a red light and hits another car”. Hold on there folks…vehicles don’t lose control…drivers do. Vehicles don’t run red lights and stops signs…drivers fail to bring their vehicle to a stop. The media keeps removing the human from the equation but all this does is reduce our sense of human accountability. When cars are one day fully operated and controlled by computers and fully drive themselves (which has already become a reality and will be very common place in our near future I’m sure), only THEN you can say the car lost control. Until then, drivers are ultimately responsible for what they tell that vehicle to do, or stops telling the car what to do. BREAKING NEWS: TV News Anchors aren’t just reporting problems on the road – they are adding to the problem.

Here’s another news flash: There are no ‘accidents’ on our roads. Well…very few. There are crashes and collisions. In fact 95% of all crashes are fully avoidable and as such, they aren’t accidents at all. An Accident is defined as something unavoidable, unforeseeable and unpredictable. The use of the word ‘accident’ further reduces our sense of personal accountability. Please refer to the following article “Not an Accident”, where I discuss the improper use of the word in more detail. Lets leave the word ‘accident’ for when an asteroid falls from the sky and pulverizes a vehicle. Nope…you wouldn’t have seen that coming and been able to avoid it.

Safe driving is directly related to our behaviour and attitude. Our attitude though is affected by our psychology and our state of mind. In turn, our psychology is programmed by our driving culture, the media and the terms that we use in a rather cyclic way. We all need to start re-programming our driving culture because only then will our attitude and sense of accountability improve, which will in turn lead to safer roads.

Safe driving starts with you…and with me…with all of us.

Is In-Car Technology Going Too Far?

In the last couple decades, the number of crashes on our roads has gone up drastically whilst the number of fatalities each year has fallen. You could argue that the increases in collisions are directly related to an increase in the number of vehicles on our roads, which to a point is true. The number of fatalities though has fallen, simply because automotive manufacturers have made their products more…crashable. Billions of dollars are spent each year on research & development on both ‘passive’ safety and ‘active’ safety in passenger vehicles. Manufacturers realized a long time ago that their customers are horrible drivers and therefore they needed to develop technology to help drivers survive crashes (passive safety) and better yet, avoid crashes altogether (active safety). However, hardly anything has been spent on making drivers safer. The driver is by far the most important safety feature of any vehicle and also the worst; so why isn’t the driver focused on more?

Some examples of ‘passive’ safety would be seat belts, air bags, roll cages, door impact beams and crumple zones. All designed to help you survive a crash. Whereas ‘active’ safety is the technology built into vehicles to help you avoid a crash. Such items include ABS, disk brakes, and stability control. However, if drivers on our roads were safer, more skilled, aware, and well trained in advanced driving techniques, nothing else would be required. Ok…life happens and people make mistakes and inevitably crashes will still occur. Nobody is perfect and acquiring the skills of professional race car drivers would be a huge personal expense to people, especially considering the tough economic times in which we live. However, if you can afford a car, insurance, gas and maintenance…you can also afford to take an advanced driving course. Most are under $500 and really is the best insurance you can buy (I’m sure your friends and family would say that your life is worth more than the cost of such a course). In fact, according to Transport Canada, the social economic costs of a single road fatality is about $15million each.

There are about 8.5million drivers just in Ontario. The cost of training every single driver in advanced driving skills would be about $4.3billion (average $500 each driver). The estimated social economic costs just from fatal collisions, just in Ontario alone, is about $17.9billion. Nationally the social burden is about $62.7billion. The number of drivers in Canada is about 21.6million and the cost of training every driver would be about $11billion. I can’t be the only person to recognize that there is a huge savings to having properly trained drivers.

My main objections to all the ‘active’ safety technology being put into cars these days, is that it’s providing a false sense of security to drivers. Drivers constantly hear how great all this stuff is and how it can handle any driving situation, which is simply not true. They are tools and only assist drivers when road conditions get bad & they are designed to compensate for when drivers make mistakes (like taking a corner too quickly or when encountering slippery conditions) but they don’t allow drivers to break the laws of physics and they will only assist you to a point. They also don’t allow you to realize what the road conditions are really like. In a sense, they disconnect you from ‘feeling’ the road. My other issue is that it’s sending a message to drivers that they can continue to be complacent while driving. This is especially true when it comes to some of the newer technology popping up in cars like ‘self-parking’ systems, ‘blind-spot’ warning systems, ‘lane departure warning’ systems and rear pointing cameras (to assist you when reversing). Wait a minute…these systems actually PROMOTE bad driving habits! Personally I find this rather counter productive and a step backward instead of forward.

All this technology is worth several thousand dollars of each car sold and more and more of these systems are being installed in cars as they are further developed. Perhaps some of this huge expense should be spent on developing the driver. If every new car sold included a free advanced driving course (a cost of less than $500), our roads would be significantly safer. It could also lead to reduced auto insurance costs, personal health insurance, medical expenses, and it would certainly reduce the costs to social health care (in countries where that is applicable).

It’s way better to have a skilled, safe driver in car with no safety technology, than a lousy driver in a good, safe car with all the safety technology…every time. Safer roads start with safer drivers. So let’s start focusing on improving the driver because its money well spent.

Tire Talk – No Pressure!

Nobody likes being pressured about anything in our lives but when it comes to tires there is a fine balance between too much pressure and not enough. How many of us remember our high school chemistry classes to recall that pressure, volume and temperature are all related (Boyle’s Law)? To keep things simple, I’m going to focus on pressure and temperature.

Ask most drivers if tire pressure is important and most will say ‘yes’. Then ask that same person when they last checked their tire’s pressure and most will respond with ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ because they simply can’t remember. At best, tires are checked every few months because it’s just not something that comes to mind when thinking about vehicle maintenance, but it’s the one thing that can change from week to week, especially this time of year.

If the last time you checked your tire pressures was back in August on that nice warm sunny day when it was 25 degrees; the pressure will be much lower when soon we will be experiencing temperatures in the -5 degree range. You will have actually lost several psi of pressure leaving your tires firmly in the danger zone for de-laminating. Now wait until it gets really cold, say -25 degrees, as in many provinces. You are looking at a good chance of kissing that tire goodbye; hopefully not while you are at highway speeds or while negotiating a ramp leading off or onto a highway, but that’s probably when it will blow on you.

Tire de-laminating will soon become a common sight for tow truck drivers. So now I take the opportunity to remind drivers about how pressure and temperature is related. I recall once assisting a driver stranded on the side of the road with a flat. His front left tire was actually torn to shreds, his front right was nearly flat and both his rear tires looked a tad low also. He also damaged his front left rim because he drove on it for half a kilometre. Since he didn’t have a spare tire at all, it resulted in him needing a tow to his repair shop of choice. Now because I’m anal about tires in general, for me this would mean two new front tires so that the tread is equal on both sides and possibly four new rims so that they match. That’s a big hit to the wallet! Although in reality, sometimes a damaged rim can be repaired.

Please just take a few moments to check your tire pressures in the very near future. Don’t go by the max pressure stamped on the tire, but rather the pressures recommended by the manufacturer of your car. This is usually found on a sticker on the inside of the driver’s door (near where the door latch is located). This comes with a caveat though — those recommendations are usually set slightly low to provide a comfier, softer ride. Take those recommendations and add a couple psi for a more ideal pressure setting for the actual tire. Most drivers and passengers won’t even notice a difference in the comfort level but it can make a difference to how your tires perform. It can also affect the overall life of the tire (your tires will wear out less quickly) and can also affect your fuel economy (proper pressures equate to less fuel consumption).

Approved Helmet Certifications

Snell Spec Diagram

Many times I come across articles discussing the purchasing of a motorcycle helmet; what to look for, how to measure your head to ensure the right fit, and how various types of helmets perform in impact testing. Sure there are lots of types of helmets like skull caps, half shell, 3/4 shell, full-face, modular (or flip-lid), etc and all perform differently in a crash. Some riders take helmet safety quite seriously and others don’t care in the least and opt to not wear one at all if they can legally get away with it. Others only care about how cool it looks. Some riders care so little about helmet safety, that if they are forced to wear one, they will buy the cheapest skull cap they can and slap on a DOT sticker that they picked up at some motorcycle swap meet in an attempt to fool whatever cop who happens to pull them over.

For those riders who really care about their noggin and care about being a law abiding citizen, choosing and wearing an approved helmet is important. Most riders in North America know that DOT is the most common type of certification for motorcycle helmets. Now I can’t speak for all regions but as a rider in Ontario, Canada, there are more than one. More educated riders will also be familiar with SNELL as another approved type of helmet. But there are more! It’s a shame that more motorcycle dealerships and equipment stores don’t keep up on the latest rules and regulations because they are limiting the options they can provide to their customers.

I know of at least one BMW dealership in Ontario that stopped selling their own preferred brand of helmet because they found out that it wasn’t legally approved. Well…it is now. As safety standards around the world are improved and compared against the currently approved standards in North America, it’s been realized that other types of certifications are just as good, if not better than, other types of certifications…for example the DOT standards. In fact it’s been realized that DOT is actually the lowest in performance standards compared to SNELL or the European Union regulation known as ECE. As a result, more and more certification types are now approved for on-road use. ECE 22.05, which is considered one of the best, was just added to the list in the past year.

Who knew? It turns out…not many. Motorcycle dealers don’t know, equipment supply stores don’t know and many cops don’t know. This is unfortunate in so many ways. Not only are we as riders limited in our purchase options, but we may also get a ticket for wearing an unapproved helmet which is actually approved. Take that ticket to court folks.

So how many approved certifications are there? Well at the time of writing this, there are five for Ontario (check your local laws…carefully). They are the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), SNELL, British Standards Institute (BSI), DOT, and European Union (ECE 22.05). Take a look at the appropriate section of the Highway Traffic Act below. If you have doubts, I encourage you to look it up for yourself and print out a copy. Show it to your dealers, shops and if need be…the cop who pulls you over. Be warned though, don’t be a jerk to the cops. They don’t generally pull riders over because they think you’re wearing an unapproved helmet. They may just add that one to the list of infractions that they did pull you over for.

 

Highway Traffic Act

R.R.O. 1990, REGULATION 610

SAFETY HELMETS

Consolidation Period: From July 1, 2012 to the e-Laws currency date.

Last amendment: O. Reg. 102/12.

1.  A helmet worn by a person,

(a) riding on or operating a motorcycle; or

(b) operating a motor assisted bicycle,

on a highway shall,

(c) have a hard, smooth outer shell lined with protective padding material or fitted with other energy absorbing material and shall be strongly attached to a strap designed to be fastened under the chin of the wearer; and

(d) be undamaged from use or misuse. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 610, s. 1.

2.  The helmet referred to in section 1 shall conform to the requirements of the,

(a) Canadian Standards Association Standard D230 Safety Helmets for Motorcycle Riders and shall bear the monogram of the Canadian Standards Association Testing Laboratories;

(b) Snell Memorial Foundation and shall have affixed thereto the certificate of the Snell Memorial Foundation;

(c) British Standards Institute and shall have affixed thereto the certificate of the British Standards Institute;

(d) United States of America Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 218 and shall bear the symbol DOT constituting the manufacturer’s certification of compliance with the standard; or

(e) United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No. 22, “Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Protective Helmets and of Their Visors for Drivers and Passengers of Motor Cycles and Mopeds”, and shall have affixed thereto the required international approval mark. R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 610, s. 2; O. Reg. 102/12, s. 1.

 

Motion Induced Blindness

Motion Induced Blindness (MIB) is not likely a term you’re familiar with but it is something you’ve experienced, whether you realize it or not. It’s also known as Troxler’s Fading discovered in 1804. It’s the affect whereby objects that are stationary, in relation to your eyes, simply vanish from your peripheral sight when near things that are moving, again in relation to your eyes. In the first example (click here to open the image) you see a grid of blue crosses that are spinning, three stationary yellow dots and a flashing green dot in the centre which is also stationary. Focus your attention on the flashing dot in the middle and you will soon become aware that the yellow dots start vanishing. Sometimes just one vanishes, or in pairs, or all three will vanish from your sight, but they also randomly re-appear without any rhyme or reason. The reality is though…they never actually vanish. They just look like they do.

Some experiments suggest that motion-induced blindness is linked to a visual mechanism that allows us to experience the world in sharp detail. Our visual system has a time lag, and acts somewhat like a camera with a slow shutter speed. This means we should perceive “motion streaks” behind moving objects. While this can be apparent when we watch the movement of sparklers at night, we are not usually aware of motion streaks because there is a mechanism that prevents them from reaching awareness. Motion-induced blindness appears to be linked to that mechanism.



Focus on the yellow cross (click on the image if there’s no movement)

Research data demonstrates that targets located towards the trailing edges of motion undergo greater MIB than targets at the leading edges of motion.

In the images above, stare at the central crosses and be aware of the yellow dots to either side. They should seem to intermittently disappear. Observers signaled that the dots disappeared more when the moving dots drifted away from, rather than toward, the static yellow dots.

Click on the image if nothing is moving.

In this example, the lilac spots in the lilac chaser fade away after about 20 seconds, leaving a grey background and black cross. Some viewers may notice that the moving space has faded into a moving blue-green spot, possibly with a short trail following it. Furthermore, moving one’s eyes away from the image after a period of time may result in a brief, strong afterimage of a circle of green spots.

Sources
Bonneh, Cooperman & Sagi (2001)
Motion-induced blindness in normal observers. Nature 411:798–801
Wallis TSA & Arnold DH (2008)
Motion-induced blindness is not tuned to retinal speed. JOV 8:11, 1–7
Wallis TSA & Arnold DH (2009)
Motion-induced blindness and motion streak suppression. Current Biology 19:325–329 [website]
New JJ, Scholl BJ (2008)
“Perceptual Scotomas” A functional account of motion-induced blindness. Psychological Science 19(7):653–659

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Are Electric Cars Finally Worth Investing in?

Chevy Volt, Tesla Roadster, Nissan Leaf

Greener cars are becoming more of a priority for manufacturers all around the world and the vehicles they are producing are as varied as the cultures where they are made. Each company seems to be taking very different directions. In some markets one may hit the mark perfectly, whereas another comparable vehicle could be a total flop. Now we’ve all heard the complaints about electric or hybrid vehicles (takes too long to charge, doesn’t go very far, not fast enough, etc) and despite how far the technology has come, many of those complaints are still valid.

I recently got to sample more of these types of cars, which were the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. As a benchmark, they were compared against the Tesla Roadster which I’ve driven many times before. Now those of you who are familiar with these three cars will surely be raising an eyebrow as to how one can compare the Volt and the Leaf, which are designed as average city cars, against the Tesla, which is by every measure a sports car. Yet some comparisons can and should be drawn as far as how they perform when it comes to acceleration, braking and overall handling. This was when I raised an eyebrow when it came to seeing and feeling the results.

Yes of course the Tesla out performed the other two in the acceleration tests and being able to stick to the road better in the lateral G-Force tests. However the real surprise was everywhere else with all three cars performing about the same. Braking distances were comparable for all three and the Volt and Leaf were pretty much the same in the lateral G-Force tests. For the most part the Volt and the Leaf performed quite comparably to most other cars in the same size class. What I found surprising was the slalom test. The parking lot where we were doing the testing consisted of slightly uneven pavement, just like most roads. We expected the Tesla to out perform the Volt and the Leaf but this turned out to not be the case. Sure it handled well but due to the uneven surface, it did suffer from some noticeable front end chatter and under steer. The Chevy Volt however was jaw droppingly nimble. It turned in beautifully and rotated really nicely around the cones. Just steer where you want to go and it went there with no fuss, no under steer and no scary moments. The Nissan Leaf however wasn’t as confidence inspiring and felt very much like a drunken Hippo trying to flick itself from side to side. I will give credit to its stability control system though. Just as my heart rate began to climb, as the car began to truly disagree with what was being asked of it, the stability system kicked in and nicely prevented the total loss of vehicle control had the system not been there. It’s important to mention that the speed for this exercise was 65km/hr for each vehicle. NOT something I would recommend anyone trying on their own. Leave it to the professionals please.

What about the differences between the cars beyond just handling? Each manufacturer took a very different direction. The Tesla Roadster and the Nissan Leaf are pure electric vehicles….not hybrids or what some refer to as ‘extended range’. The Chevy Volt however, is considered an extended range car. For the Tesla and the Nissan, the concept is pretty simple, even though the technology isn’t. The batteries power electric motors which drive the wheels. Simple enough right? The Volt however went in a different direction because it has both a gas engine and an electric motor. The wheels are driven directly by the electric motor period. The power is first delivered by the batteries but when the batteries drain, the gas engine kicks in and provides power to the electric motor, which drives the wheels. Not so simple. I would truly hate to be a mechanic nowadays.

There isn’t too much of a cost difference between the Leaf and the Volt with the Nissan Leaf retailing for $38,395 and the Chevy Volt comes in at $41,545. The Tesla Roadster however retails for $125,000 but hey, the Tesla really is a sports car, packs way more technology and has a huge range. It’s important to note that some Provinces offer a government rebate program. In Ontario the rebate is $5000-$8,500 for purchasing a green vehicle and certainly helps offset the cost of the car.

The main complaint about ‘green cars’ is their limited range. Pure electric vehicles are at the mercy of the power in the batteries and charging stations are few and far between. Once the batteries are drained, you either charge it up or call for a flatbed tow truck. Obviously if you let the batteries drain while in the middle of a trip, you will find yourself up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The Volt however can keep going for as long as you keep feeding it gas and is not dependant on electricity at all really. It’s just like any other car in that regard. The benefit for both is that if you are diligent about keeping it charged up, your operating costs are about 1/5 per kilometre than a similarly sized gas powered car. For example, a regular car with an internal combustion engine and an average fuel efficiency of 8 litres/100 kms will cost about $1,760 in gas per year (assuming a gas price of $1.10/litre and a distance of 20,000 kms/year). To travel the same distance in the Nissan LEAF will cost approximately $320 per year (with electricity at $0.11 kWh).

As for how far you can go per charge, well that depends on many factors including temperature, but the Leaf gets about 110km per charge and the Volt gets about 68km per charge. Sure that’s a pretty big difference but the reality is that most people only commute about 40-50km per day round trip. So as a short range commuter car, these may be perfect for your needs and both cars can be fully charged over-night. If you’re the type who likes to do road trips or needs to be able to take the car to the cottage on the weekends, the Volt would be a wiser choice. I guess at this point I should mention that the Tesla Roadster gets about 350km per charge. Yes you read that correctly and it can also be fully charged overnight.

I’m sure I’m not the only person wondering why such a difference in electric range. Well it’s partially because the sizes of the battery cells are different and so is the battery technology. Seriously though…if Tesla can implement a power cell technology providing such incredible range why aren’t other companies making similar headway with their own cars?

If auto makers really want people to get excited about their ‘green cars’ they better start plugging into the technology used by Tesla. Although the thought of spending $100,000 for a four door Chevy sedan may not sit well with consumers in general.

Here is what Wheels.ca had to say about the two cars. You can also find me in the video review. (click here)

Lakeshore & Leslie Moto Meet not what it used to be

Lakeshore and Leslie (aka L&L) has become one of the largest motorcycle meets anywhere in the Greater Toronto Area and it happens every week with hundreds of riders coming and going each Thursday night to the Tim Hortons/Price Choppers parking lot. It used to be a great meeting place for riders. A wide range of riders would show up to socialize and check out the other bikes which have ranged from average, to the exotic, to the obscure. Everyone was respectful of each other, the property and the neighbourhood. A friend of mine, who is known locally as Wobbly Cat, wrote a nice piece about the weekly meet up which can be found at http://wobblycat.blogspot.ca/2012/08/lakeshore-and-leslie-aka-l-torontos.html where he describes the humble beginnings of the weekly meet and how its grown over the years. As a photographer and fellow rider, he attends L&L frequently and his article has some great photos sampling some of the sites that can be found there weekly.

This year however, I think the the weekly moto meet has lost some of its luster. Not only are some exotic and farm animals now attending, so too in attendance are many more less respectful riders. Although the number of careless, reckless and ignorant riders are very few and far between in the general riding community. Although when they do hit the roads, they certainly bring a lot of negative attention to themselves, the venues they attend and paint all riders with the same tarred brush. Strangely though, they believe their behaviour is…cool. More and more people attending L&L seem to need a lot of attention. Perhaps its some level of  insecurity. Perhaps some level of narcissism. Whatever the reason, the amount of showboating is increasing and the level of respect is decreasing. The noise at the event has gotten to the point where neighbours are complaining, riders are tearing out of the area doing wheelies or redlining their engines and a failed burnout attempt has resulted in parked bikes being knocked over. Don’t even get me started on the animals. A goat? Seriously?

Is there really any wonder why the police are making more of an appearance? What started out many years ago as a weekly meet for friends to grab a coffee, catch up on life and talk about their riding adventures has now turned into a bit of a Gong Show. It’s only a matter of time before the land owners (who have been rather tolerant until this year) and local police crack down on the weekly gathering and start ticketing and/or arresting riders for even the slightest infractions of either the HTA or bike fitness. Now to my knowledge, there has never been any violence or rowdiness at the event but things do seem to be getting out of hand a bit in that riding hooliganism is becoming more common.

Personally I’m not one to regularly hang out at weekly bike meets, of which there are a few with L&L generally being the largest. However every once in a while, I like to show up and spend some time catching up with my friends whom I don’t always get to see on a regular basis. We all miss our mates and meets like this are a great way to see many friends at once. That was the whole point originally. Unfortunately, and eventually, the axe will drop on this weekly gathering and many riders will greatly miss it…all thanks to a couple handfuls of riders who have either forgot the meaning of ‘respect’ or never learned its meaning to begin with.

Perhaps we, the riding community, need to have a group discussion with the disruptive attention seekers before the cops have no choice but to shut the whole thing down. Since they do such a good job at alienating other riders, perhaps it’s time we alienate them.

Just my 2 cents worth. For those who disagree…keep the change.