The MSF and California

In the motorcycle safety community the biggest news in years is the MSF’s decision not to bid to run the California Motorcycle Safety Program.  I like to think of it as a “Brittney Spears” moment for the MSF–that thing that makes everyone stop, look and say, “WTF?”  Yeah, the MSF sorta shaved its head.  Is it the end of the world?  Are MSF Admins going to start running down paparazzi with their BMWs?  I think not.  This isn’t the beginning of the bike-o-pocalypse, the MSF isn’t going to disappear in a puff of glitter and diet pills, nor are they going to start twerking at the MTV Video Awards. 

Motorcycle safety is going to be OK.  Motorcycle safety may be better off in the end.  Remember, the MSF has been run by the same basic administration for over thirty years.  That’s quite an accomplishment but with a long career can come a certain amount of atrophy.  I’m not saying that the MSF hasn’t been active in trying to improve and diversify its courses, I’m saying that at the end of the day with longevity can come a sense of entitlement and self-aggrandizement; as Grandma would say, “They got a little bit too big for their britches”.  I felt this first hand 10 years ago when the MSF had its famous falling out with Oregon and Idaho.  At the core of the issue was the problem of control, who got to call the curriculum shots for individual states; by all evidences diversity wasn’t a core value in Orange County.  I’m cool with that.  I get it.  I am a Professional Technical Educator and I like to control my classroom and lessons.  However, I also understand that good ideas are all around me and that all students are not the same and may require individual attention. 

The MSF has done some wonderful things and without them the state of safety training in America would be atrocious.  No organization has done more to train and equip riders with solid riding strategies than the MSF–but this is the 21st Century and the MSF is still living in the 20th.  Although the MSF works to adapt, adhere to best practices and develop improving teaching techniques for a diverse community of riders they fail to understand the value of collaboration.  From what I have seen and can see the MSF collaborates only within its own walls.  To collaborate is to work jointly with others.  From only my experience and talking anecdotally with others it seems pretty clear that the MSF was pretty darn comfortable to wear a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows and walk around with a pipe.  Rather than being a student the MSF seems to want to the professor.  I know, I know, that the best teachers are the best students.  In my classroom we have “The Rule of 3″.  That means that before you run up to me and ask a question you have to ask 3 other students (and I suggest a lab assistant).  This forces collaboration where students share knowledge, refine their own understanding and have the success of being the expert.  My students have to work together.  Likewise my school district requires me to collaborate with other teachers.  I love that.  I learn plenty of delivery secrets from the core educators.  We talk.  We share ideas, experiences and expertise.  Nobody knows it all. 

As this situation unfolds I’ve had a flashback to Idaho’s switch from the MSF course to a self-authored one.  Then I was stunned by how many instructors were hung up on being an “MSF Instructor”.  The title was more important than the activity.  I would offer any California RCs who are struggling with this change to ask themselves this question:

“Do you want to be an MSF RiderCoach or do you want to be a motorcycle safety professional?”  It’s that simple.  Are you working for a title or for the students?  Answer that simple question and your decision will be very, very simple. 

At the end of the day what happened to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation isn’t the end of the world.  Hopefully it’s the beginning of a new world; a world that looks beyond its own walls for inspiration.  At the highest levels the MSF seemed to be intent on being “The Experts” and that is why they are no longer administrating the California program.  The danger now is that other states are looking for a partner not an expert.  I would suggest that maybe it’s time for a change at the top.         



So, there I was riding along, minding my own business when this dude decides to tailgate me for 2, 3 miles to the freeway.  As he makes his over the white line nutball pass to merge across the bow of the car I was sliding in front of I think, what a jerk and suddenly as he goes by it turns out my left hand is thinking and communicating the same thing.


This gentleman takes offense.  Slows to about 35 and plants himself on the dotted line blocking both right hand lanes.  I slow and backpedal.  He is clearly conflicted on what to do.  I’m not going to pass him and he’s not willing to go slower.  Think about it.  He’s a tailgater.  He’s probably tailgating and banzaiing lane because he’s late and in a hurry.  (Perhaps to church?)  We travel down the road a couple of miles before he settles into the right lane going 45.  I’m hanging back a good 100 yards.  He starts to pull off on an uphill exit and I make a serious mistake–I don’t realize he’s getting off so he can get back on behind me.  I should have pulled over at the bottom of the ramp and waited to see what he was going to do and then decided on my course of action.


By the time I’m on the other side of the overpass I realize what’s going on and start to really hustle to get to the next exit which is the only one for 4 miles.  I watch the mirrors as this guy tries to muscle around another car coming down the ramp but is blocked.  It’s very interesting to watch but I need distance.  I get on the ponies.  Coming up I bail out on the next off ramp because I have to safe harbors I can get to fairly quickly:  the State Police Barracks and the local Harley-Davidson dealership.  I figure either provide me some kind of back up.  As I’m going up the off ramp I can see the light is green and the two left turn lanes are empty and the right hand turn lane is clear as well.  Dude is catching up fast and the light is very, very, stale.  Taking a page from my 18 year old truck driving days.  I slide to the left, and start banging away on my horn as the light goes yellow and stays yellow a very long time.  The time for watching the light is over and still banging on the horn I scratch a hard left across the front of three lanes of traffic. 


Looking in my mirrors I see a flash of white as this muttonhead shoots straight across through the intersection and back down the ramp to rejoin the freeway.  I don’t see the entire car just doors and door handles, I believe he was trying to hit me.  I placed him in a position where to truly get me he would have to wreck himself and self-preservation took over.  Barely.  I haven’t been involved with a road rage incident in a long, long time and I’m still surprised by how technical the entire event was.  I wasn’t scared-my heart was beating faster-but I was thinking and when I made the first really big tactical error (letting him get behind me) I recognized it immediately.  Thinking about it now I realize that flipping this fool off wasn’t the first mistake–not pulling over and letting he around me before I got to the freeway was. 

If you’re in the Boise Idaho area and see a POS mid 00s white Chevy Malibu filling up your mirrors–find an excuse to make that right turn and let him go by.

How dangerous is heat?  Well, for about 700 people a year it’s deadly. According to our friends at the CDC more men die of excessive heat than women.  ( Heat is often thought of as annoying but seldom do we think of it as overly dangerous.  For motorcyclists we need to look at heat in a broader sense because it’s more than just uncomfortable and a little dangerous–it’s a rattlesnake that needs to be respected because like any other “incidental” danger we often think about and then overlook it, we don’t take it seriously enough. 

The danger with hyperthermia (too hot) isn’t just the idea that we can physically become so warm that our bodies shut down it’s the idea that we heat is the actual issue when, for motorcyclists, the real problem is dehydration.  On a bike we get hot, we get uncomfortable and we get annoyed but we don’t get real about what’s happening.  In the heat our body is busy trying to cool itself.  It does this by sweating.  Sweating is convective cooling.  Simply put this is why we enjoy standing in front of a fan on a hot day.  Air passes over our sweating faces, heat is wicked away and we feel better.  Most importantly you need to remember that sweating part.  The sweating part is the part where you surrender water for lowered temperature.  It’s a trade off.  You get cooler but you also dehydrate in the process.  Dehydration means that if you don’t put water back in you start working your way to being a human prune or raisin or jerky; you decide.  As you dry out you actually do just that!  You dry out.  Your blood thickens.  Your heart works harder to pump it.  You may get a headache.  Cognitive function suffers.  Your kidneys start working very, very hard as does your liver to deal with concentrated toxins in your now thicker blood.  You’re in a bind and you’re impaired. 

Remember that fan that feels sooo good and how good it can feel to be on a moving bike in the heat?  On a motorcycle you’re on fan blowing 60 miles per hour.  Unless you stop riding you’re in front of a sixty mile per hour fan that’s scrubbing sweat off you so fast you might not even realize how much you’re sweating.  The way to solve this problem could be simple:  Don’t ride in the heat but some of us use the bike as primary transportation and that means you need to consider that fact that you’re not just burning fuel you’re burning water. 

If you ride in the heat (whatever the reason):

1.  Drink.  Every stop.  Every arrival and every departure should be baptized with water.  Even a stop at the drinking fountain on the way in or out is a wise move. 

2.  Drink more than you think you should.  Yes, you can OD on water but the odds for that a infinitesimal.  Biggest issue for you on a hot day is to stay hydrated.  If you’re over-hydrated then you may need an extra bathroom break and that’s not a bad thing.

3.  Speaking of peeing, if you’re not peeing you’re not drinking enough.  Lack of urination or excessively dark urine means you’re running low on water.  Yeah, it sounds kinda gross or maybe like the stuff only old folks talk about but the color and quantity of your urine is a key indicator to your hydration status

4.  When you stop, make sure you’re still sweating.  If you’re not sweating then you’re actively in a world of hurt.  Dry, red skin is a bad sign and you may want to seek professional help immediately. 

Riding in the heat is possible. Remember that you’re in a new area of risk.  Use sun block on exposed skin.  Stay hydrated.  Understand you are being impaired and be willing to dismount and recover. 

Be Safe     

Jimmy’s New Tool Bag

Jimmy hung the tool bag under the headlight.

He didn’t know why.  It’s just what you did.  It had conches but no fringe.

He could probably fight a 12 ounce can into if you wanted.

And a small, vending machine sized bag of M&Ms.


The guys didn’t notice the tool bag under the headlight.

A tool was just what you did.  They didn’t know why either.

Tools don’t really fit into the bag–except maybe those fold-up, breakdown ones.

The bag was a place to forget to use, an unfilled empty. 
But Jimmy would think of something.
He would fill the empty and use the space.
With something good, something right.
And he’d share.  Just like his mother taught him.



Point of Reference

She had been his placeholder girlfriend; the one you reference for the rest of your life.  The page where you put your finger in the book and flip back and try to remember what not to do. The training wheels girlfriend. The first one you really took chances with, putting it out there and hoping you didn’t wind up in a bruised, broken ball or whimpering loser.

He stares at his front wheel watching the broken white line whisk by.  Light flits off the spokes and it looks like a roulette wheel in a poorly lit casino turned up on its side, spinning without friction, spinning wildly splashing rhythmic light over an empty room.

She was the anchor. place where he could go and remember that you never called a girl fat, or heavy or any thing close to it because of the look that had been on her face. It was that magic, frightful place where you learned that bumping noses while going in for the kiss was cute and delicate and if you handled it right the damn most romantic thing that can happen. She had been the bunny hill learning curve that taught you to fall off and get back on.  Gentle.  Resourceful. Respectful. Hopeful. Trusting.

The white flashing line edges closer to his imaginary vertical roulette wheel. Hrealizes that a good chunk of his bike and body are in the opposing lane. Staring at the ground is a bad idea but it pushes his brain somehow deeper into his memories. It is a stupid thing to do but he slides

closer and closer to the line and more and more of him is in the wrong lane. The guys who taught his motorcycle safety class—their ears must be burning–or maybe not. So close the line now that he wondered if he could get the edge of the tire over the line but keep the contact patch, the
part rooted to the ground, just off the paint.

She had been risk, reward and renewal. All the embarrassing things had happened back at that place. All the first true risks were there too. The coasting the car to her house out of gear to keep the engine noise down; sometimes to drop her off, others to pick her up. Bailing out the backdoor as Mom came in the front.  Somehow they survived seeing each other undressed or burping while kissing or just saying too much. The first “I love you” that carried real danger was there but forgiving, they had been forgiving and learning and testing and doomed to be a memory someone else would benefit from.  A 5 dimensional memory of touch, taste, smell, fear and love that broke a trail that then ends up trod by someone else. She had been the rainbow but not the pot of gold.

Really, he thinks, truly and seriously I am in the opposing lane. Oncoming traffic is crossing the fog line trying to keep their distance. The cars and trucks appear as noise and flashes in his peripheral vision, just a thing that’s happening next to him. A gentle press on the right handgrip. In his mind he swears he can see the front tire deflect ever so gently as the drift back into his lane starts and the gap between tire and paint increases.  Gently the bike dips into a low spot in the lane where trucks have cut a rut that only he knows is there because he can feel it.  Looking up he realizes he doesn’t know where he is because he had just been following the paint.

She had been a crap driver.  He feared for his safety when she drove.  But it was thrilling because she was distracted and beautiful and talking and singing and doing just about anything but operating the car.  Two weeks ago Thursday morning a  stroke had taken her while driving. It took the coroners from two counties before they figured it out.  Her brain had blown a gasket and blood fouled the plugs and she was gone in seconds they said. She was dead.  He would never be able to say, “Thank you”. She was his placeholder girlfriend, and this was their last first.