Archive for September 2009

Did MSF have more to do with Rider’s Edge than we thought?

September 10, 2009

You may have noticed in the prior entry on the simultaneous approval of both the Blast and Rider’s Edge that four of the nine classes (44%) that comprised the Rider’s Edge field-test were conducted in Albuquerque, NM.

The photo of what would be called the Buell Blast showing them in a training exercise was taken in mid-November and posted by The Single Cylinder Gazette on Wednesday, November 24, 1999.

However the range appears to be the very same one that appeared in the infamous marketing video sent out by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to introduce its new curriculum iteration, the Basic RiderCourse.

That range was part of the New Mexico State Motorcycle Program. And the NMSMP was (and still is) administrated by MSF.

According to Michael Weiss, H-D Director of Business Development in that phone call to state program rider educators, David Smith and Frank Allen were the ones to contact for how Rider’s Edge instructors would “bleed over” in terms of Rider’s Edge and state programs.  Iow, Smith and Allen were the experts on Rider’s Edge instructors.

David Smith and Frank Allen were employees of MSF at the time the spy photo was taken and working on another field-test for MSF in Albuquerque at the same time—more on that in a moment. Smith has been the New Mexico state motorcycle safety program manager for several years even though, at least until a couple years ago, he also taught for Rider’s Edge in Albuquerque.

For many months after the Milwaukee SMSA, Rider’s Edge was a source of controversy and confusion in the rider education community. It might have reassured many in the rider ed community if they knew that  MSF-employed instructors were evaluating the course and the motorcycle.

It appears that MSF was much more deeply involved than suspected with the origins of Rider’s Edge if only because it was administrator of the NMSMP and employed Smith and Allen. Yet it made every effort to distance itself from Harley and Rider’s Edge and would only admit that Harley had permission to use MSF’s curriculum.

For example, Piper posted this on the MSF listserve on Aug 25, 2000: “Harley-Davidson and its Rider’s Edge New Rider Course do not intend to “compete” with existing rider training through the state programs….From the MSF viewpoint, we’re pleased at the effort Harley-Davidson is making to help us address the training capacity issue and to expose non-riders to motorcycling.”

There’s only one place where I discovered any admitted connection (apart from the curriculum use) between MSF and H-D and Rider’s Edge: An e-mail from Albert Thornton, then chair of the SMSA, with the subject head “Chat with Tim Buche on 29 July 1999” to Ron Shepard states “Tim also indicated that the MSF will be assisting Harley-Davidson “with some research this winter” and that HD will be laying [sic— I think he meant playing] a bigger role. (???????)”.  After Milwaukee, Thornton may not have needed the question marks.

The question is: why did TPTB at MSF and/or H-D feel it was important to maintain an illusion of a Chinese Wall when news of a deeper involvement with MSF may have reassured nervous instructors?

Was the Blast and Rider’s Edge testing also passed off as BRC field-testing?

What few readers may realize is that Albuquerque did over 70% of the 1999 BRC field-tests) for the Basic RiderCourse.[i] And those 19 sets of range exercises were conducted between the end of June and December 1999. Thirteen of them (over 68% of all the field tests) were taught by David Smith, his son Mark Smith and Frank Allen from August-December.

Iow, at the same time that Harley-Davidson was conducting the field-test for both Rider’s Edge curriculum and the Buell Blast as a training bike on an MSF range in Albuquerque with MSF employees, David Smith and Frank Allen they were simultaneously conducting field tests on MSF’s Basic RiderCourse.

That overlap of field-tests includes the same weekend, on the same range that the couple snapped the photo of the top-secret Buell used in training in Albuquerque.

David Smith, Mark Smith and Frank Allen in a memo to Ray Ochs dated May 19, 2000 refers to BRC field tests conducted “using normally scheduled classes”. It is assumed that the same policy was followed in the fall since the class sizes were similar.

According to MSF documentation that weekend, November 19-21, there were six students in the class that was held (the photo shows five though one may be out of sight on the right hand portion of the circle).

And, according to MSF, the course that was being conducted was the curriculum that it was just developing—the Basic RiderCourse—and not the MRC:RSS, which allegedly was the curriculum Rider’s Edge first adapted and field-tested—at least that was the impression the rider ed community was given.

Iow, at the exact time MSF claims it was testing the BRC, Harley claimed it was field-testing Rider’s Edge on the same range with the same instructors.

My friend Thor also claims the picture shows Exercise Six from the MRC: RSS. The photo, then, should be of an MRC:RSS class in motion mid-way through the first range session. He based that on the circle on the range and assumed that the students were riding the circle—however, there’s also yellow markings on the range that may or may not conform the to BRC.

But, according to BRC field-testing documentation, no MRC:RSS classes were conducted in Albuquerque in November at all. According to MSF, the only RSS that conducted in Albuquerque in the fall of 1999 was held December 17-19, 1999—almost a month after the pictures of the Blasts were taken and posted on the Internet.[ii]

Iow, if MSF—and Smith and Allen—are to be believed the photo would be of a BRC field test and not an RSS class. But Harley says it was field-testing Rider’s Edge at the same time. So either Harley’s Rider’s Edge was the BRC from the beginning or the instructors who taught the course were confused about which iteration they were teaching that weekend.

Whatever iteration, it was conducted on the Buell Blast.

And remember that Elisabeth Piper said in her February 9, 2000 post that the Blast was currently being tested for use in the New Mexico and Pennsylvania state programs? No training occurs in Pennsylvania in the winter—but it was occurring in NM. And remember, there were only three dealerships that had Buell Blasts at that point—and one of them was in Albuquerque.

But the only MSF training being done in Albuquerque in the winter of 2000 was the BRC field test. Does this mean that at least part of the BRC field test was conducted on Buell Blasts? It’s unknown.

[i] When MSF sought permission from the Oregon Department of Oregon to be approved as an alternate state program it submitted numerous documents including 74 separate supporting appendices. Number 34 is the RESLAB Component Feasibility Testing: Times and Mileage (Sept-Dec ’99) and lists all the field testing done in the latter part of 1999. Other appendices reveal that no field testing had been done in 1999 prior to September and only a very few field-tests had been done in the fall of 1998 (at Eastern Kentucky State University).

[ii] Interestingly, the one RSS conducted as a control group and to compare against the BRC had 33% more students than the average test BRC course.

Which came first–the Buell Blast or the criteria change?

September 5, 2009

I’ve been having an interesting side conversation with a rider administrator about the Blast. He and I disagree on many things—but his commitment to and belief in training is beyond doubt. Our discussion began when he wrote, “My recollection is that the training bike criteria changed before the Blast rolled out.” He pointed out that H-D used the old Ford Proving Grounds near Yucca, AZ during the 90s and tested the “Thor” in the late 90s that he said “strongly resembled the eventual Blast.”

He also recollected a “poll” conducted by MSF on what criteria should be used for training bikes that found that the cc. and weight limits should be raised.  Because it amuses me I’ll call him Thor.

After relying on memory for the first couple exchanges, I went back to the old MSF listserv on Topica then went to my files and pulled out the relevant documents and then did a little more finding this and that. What I found among all those things might be of interest to my readers:

As I said before, Harley re-joined MSF in 1999.[i]

The rider education community first officially heard about what would become Rider’s Edge, at the 1999 SMSA Annual Meeting in Milwaukee in late August. According to a letter from H-D from Wayne Curtain and Michael Weiss[ii] to “Fellow SMSA Members/State Administrators” dated March 9, 2000.  Harley “presented a very high level outline of Harley-Davidson’s plan to become more involved in rider education” at that conference.

In August the bike that would become the Blast was still being field-tested itself at—as my friend said—the Ford Proving Grounds.  “Thor” was the code-name for the Blast.

By November, 1999, three dealers had received the new model to use in Motorcycle Safety Foundation training programs. According to The SingleCylinder Gazette, “One dealer in the Southwest supposedly got 14, has a “non-disclosure” agreement with Buell, and employees who snuck some photos had them confiscated.”

Those dealers, according to Harley’s own documentation on the Rider’s Edge field-tests prepared by Jenne Meyer, were Harley-Davidson of Dothan, AL, Harley-Davidson of Baton Rouge, LA and Chick’s of Albuquerque, NM (Chick’s no longer exists and now Thunderbird H-D/Buell does).

By the time H-D was trying to get dealers to sign on as RE providers and convince state programs to accept RE, however, Dothan’s no longer was on the list of current providers.

According to that internal document by Meyer, RE was tested in a total of 9 classes before being rolled out: Dothan and Baton Rouge, LA offered two classes. Three entire and one partial class were offered in Albuquerque. All tolled—and confirmed by Michael Weiss—Rider’s Edge was tested with a total of 58 students between those 9 classes went through the course. Iow, there was an average of 6.4 students in each class. As you can see in these photos, only 5 students participated in this class.

Meanwhile, rumors were flying through the motorcycling world about the new  Buell that now had a name—the Blast. Spy photos were published online and in magazines accompanied by speculations and more rumors.

On February 8,2000, instructor Eric West brought up the Buell Blast, “I am wanting MSF to approve the new Blast for the RSS. What do you think?”

The next day, Feb 09, 2000, Elisabeth Piper who was then, irrc, director of communications (her title changed frequently) wrote:

Re: Buell Blast            Elisabeth Piper

10:06 PST

“The Buell Blast is currently being tested by MSF as a possible training bike for all programs in the New Mexico and Pennsylvania state programs. MSF has already approved use of the Buell Blast for the Harley-Davidson training program [sic] for new riders. This program uses MSF curriculum and the HD sites are RERP sites subject to all the same criteria as sites run under the state program auspices [emphasis mine].

“MSF will be making announcements regarding these two facts in the coming weeks, which will be posted on the website. I will make sure to note that to the listserv so that you’ll know as soon as they are posted.”

During a phone conversation on February 26, 2000—twenty days after Piper’s post—H-D’s Michael Weiss stated that “Tim Buche has told at least one state that the Blasts will be available for general use next year” [emphasis mine]. The statement was so strong it appeared as if it’s already a done deal—the Blast was already approved.

Then, in the H-D letter signed by Curtain and Weiss dated March 9,2000—a month after Piper’s post and a few days after Weiss’ phone call—it stated, “MSF has not approved the Blast for general use in MRC:RSS. However, Harley-Davidson will be providing Buell Blasts motorycles to MSF for additional testing and, if the testing goes well, the Blast could be approved for general MRC:RSS use later this year” [emphasis mine].

H-D officially rolled out the Blast to the riding, business and general media worlds in March, 2000.

A month later, in April, Piper asked what instructors thought of training bike criteria:

“Re: was: Riders edge, now Review of the Blast     Elisabeth Piper

Apr 18, 2000 09:18 PDT

I’ve ridden the Blast too, on the LA Freeways from the westside to the San Gabriel valley, and then up and down Glendora Mountain road a few times. I have to admit that I felt a little puny on the freeway, but the bike had no problem maintain freeway speeds. The mountain roads were fun though.

“If you were going to establish criteria for what a bike must have to be considered good for a training bike, what do you think those points should be? And how important is cc size within that mix of criteria?”

It’s hardly a poll—and doesn’t reference any prior or more official poll by MSF of instructors on acceptable training bike criteria. And only two rider educators responded with their thoughts. 2 out of 5,000 instructors hardly seems to be a representative sample.

In August, Piper announces as a response to another posting:

Re: Legal issues / Buell Blast (LONG!)          Elisabeth Piper

Aug 21, 2000 11:04 PDT

“You might be interested to know that at the end of last week, the MSF Board of Trustees approved the new parameters set for training bikes, parameters for which the Buell Blast qualifies.

I’ll be putting the parameters and a list of bikes that meet them on the website by the end of the month.”

So, in this regard, I was correct and my friend Thor misremembered: there was no real poll of what instructors thought or wanted for training bike criteria and the Blast was not just rolled out but already being used in rider training prior to the Board changing the criteria.

If you were observant, however, you’ll have noticed a few things:

The private-manufacturer owned and dealer-administrated training course and motorcycle that’s associated with more near-fatal and fatal training crashes was

made based on the experience of only 58 students.

And those 58 took the class with less than the full complement of 12 students on the range but with two instructors. As all rider educators know, there’s a huge difference in how a class runs depending on how full it is.

This also means that the RE version of the MSF-designed curriculum and the motorcycle were both being simultaneously field-tested in the same less-than-full classes. That’s very poor research methodology.

Then there’s the issue of MSF approving the motorcycle—it had been approved for H-D but would be tested. It has been tested and will be further tested. If it passes it will be available—but Buche already said it will be available—and therefore it would mean it was already known it would be approved even though the testing hadn’t been done.

However, the plot has only begun to thicken—stay tuned.

[i] Stories vary as to why Harley left but only this friend, Thor, claims that H-D had tried to re-join MSF for years and wasn’t allowed—he gave no proof of that claim and is the only one I’ve heard make it.

[ii] Michael Weiss gives his title as Director of Business Development and Wayne Curtain gave his title as “Manager of Motorcycle Safety Program Relations”. However, Curtain had started at H-D a month before with the title “Manager of Government Affairs” and was Director of Government Affairs for years after this letter. In fact, only when dealing with state program administrators in this one lettere did he call himself “Manager of Motorcycle Safety Program Relations”.

MSF’s many mistakes in its perception test

September 3, 2009

Now that I’ve given readers time to take MSF’s perception tests, there’s a few observations I’d like to make. It’s nice that MSF realized there was a problem with perception and attempted to do something about it—but there’s a few observations to make—so I’ll use a few of the pictures and responses MSF makes to do so:

The Picture: A traffic signals are ahead of the photographer. A car is on the right but it’s not clear if it’s planning to go straight through the intersection or  planning to turn right or left. The traffic signal on the pole to the right has the pedestrian crossing signal with a countdown—the white lit walking figure has already disappeared and the orange hand is visible and below that the countdown shows 11 seconds.

The statement:

The traffic light will remain green at least:

a. 7 more seconds

b. 11 seconds

c. 17 seconds

MSFs answer: b. Is the correct answer.  Lots going on here, but perhaps you caught the countdown sign below the right traffic light.  It’s letting pedestrians know how much time they have left to cross, but it also lets you know that time is remaining before the light changes.


I have used the pedestrian countdown many a time—but only if there’s nothing else going on around me. In this case, I’d be paying far more attention to whether that white car would suddenly turn out in front of me. And the pedestrian countdown is not universal—in some places the orange hand just flashes and some don’t have it at all. So I’m not sure why MSF thought this was so important as to include in what’s called a “Collision Traps” test.

But, apart from that, what MSF says is correct is inaccurate: In fact, a. is also correct: If the light will remain green for 11 seconds it will first remain green for “at least” 7 seconds. In fact, a. is even more correct since the light will remain green more than 7 seconds and thus “at least” but in 11 seconds the light will turn  yellow and be green no longer—and therefore not meeting the definition of “at least”.

Maybe that’s being too picky—but it’s MSF who claims the answers it chooses are “correct” and correct, as MSF uses it means right, accurate, without error. And if there’s a “correct” then there’s an incorrect—that there’s a red “X” next to your choice confirms the idea there’s a right and a wrong and MSF’s answer is the right one (“Correct. Good Job!”—that last is such an MSF cliché.)

MSF also makes an implied claim on the main page of its perception tests that taking the tests it provides will make a rider safer on the road precisely by “trying until you consistently earn a perfect score of 20 out of 20 points.”

So what MSF puts on the page—a page that can be accessed globally—matters even when it comes to small inaccuracies such as “at least” because people are told there is a correct answer—and the implication is that they will be safer riders.

So let’s look at a just a couple pictures—and these aren’t the worst by far:

The Picture: A rider  ahead of the photographer is in the middle lane of a three-lane freeway. The photographer is in the right lane. There’s an exit only lane ahead on the right and an entrance lane that has already joined the freeway  on the right . A white van is in the right lane. There is no car visible entering the freeway—not even a shadow of a car.

The Statement:

In a few seconds ahead you will be:

a. Stopping at a red light

b. Merging

c. Changing lanes left.

MSFs answer: b. Is the correct answer.  There is a lane on the right that indicates vehicles may be merging with you ahead.  Be sure to leave a gap both in front and behind you so a driver will be able to choose a safe gap to merge.

There’s many things wrong with this picture:

Merging is what the entering vehicle does—so the photographer wouldn’t be merging at all. If there was a vehicle entering the freeway, the photographer would have to deal with the merging vehicle, which is what, I presume, MSF meant. However, “in a few seconds” you’ll be at least 300 feet down the road and long past any merging point. Is this, once again, just sloppy writing—“merging” and “in a few seconds”? No—there’s more:

In fact, there is nothing in the entrance lane to indicates that “you” will be dealing with an entering vehicle in “a few seconds”—unless, of course, that road sign casting a shadow on the entrance ramp is planning to zoom on the freeway.

While it’s true that merging traffic is a hazard, this picture doesn’t show it. In the absence of any indication of a vehicle entering the freeway, it’s at best, merely cautionary in the abstract.

In fact, the greatest potential hazard in the photographer is the motorcyclist ahead in the next lane. Since there is an exit coming up on the right, the rider could pull over into the photographer’s lane intending to move to the exit. But rather than deal with an actual potential risk, MSF goes for the absent threat and calls that correct.

The Picture: It’s a three-lane major arterial street with red lights ahead, a white SUV is attempting to merge into the middle lane from a left entrance. A white locksmith van has its brake lights on directly ahead of the photographer in the middle lane. Interestingly, another photo shows the same locksmith van doing the same maneuver as the SUV—pulling across more than one lane to force its way into another. There is no traffic in the right lane or beside the photographer.

You are asked:

A good plan to execute here is:

a. Change lanes to the left

b. Increase your following distance.

c. Actuate your brake lights.

MSFs answer: c. Is the correct answer.  The SUV pulling out from the left is causing the van in front of you to slow.  This is a good time to let people behind know there’s a potential conflict ahead.  And if there is traffic directly behind you, be alert for them to change lanes to pass by you.

First of all, MSF teaches the 2 second following rule, however, in most of the pictures, it appears that the photographer is far closer than 2 seconds at the various speeds the kind of roads would indicate—as is the case in previous picture and this one. So, if the photographer was using the 2 second following rule, s/he would’ve traveled between 88 feet (if going 30 mph) to 102 feet (if traveling 35 mph—which is a typical speed limit for that kind of street in the LA area).

Then there’s the red light ahead—and the photographer’s view of traffic in his/her lane is obscured by the locksmith van. For all the we know, traffic is backed up to the van and it’s coming to a complete stop.

So it’s really bizarre that MSF tells you that it’s a good time to let people behind you know by actuating your brake lights? Friend, you better be on those brakes so you don’t rear-end the van. Answer b is by far the safest action.

But even answer a would give you at least one more van length to come to a stop (and the SUV might have finished crossing) rather than risk hitting the van. At any rate, imo, a rider should always avoid having the view forward blocked by a larger vehicle.

And even though the right lane appeared to be clear for many car lengths, it was not a choice MSF gave—even though it could be the absolute safest (as it allows the rider not only an unobscured forward vision but allows an escape route to the shoulder—that is if there’s no one beside the photographer or coming up in that lane.

Full Frontal

But as in the last picture, there’s simply not enough information to know what the best and safest thing to do is because—as in all of the photos, all the viewer can see is what’s in front of the photographer. Essential information is lost because what’s behind the rider is not known and often what’s to both sides of the rider isn’t either.

For example, in one of the photos taken along Vegas’ Strip, a white SUV is pulling out in front of the photographer from what appears to be a parking lot. There’s a great deal of  the sidewalk and area the SUV is pulling out of but none to the immediate left of the rider.

MSF asks what the rider should do and gives the choices as: a. slow. B. Change lanes to the left. C. Use your horn. The “correct” answer, according to MSF is to change lanes to the left: “Slowing is a good idea, but a better choice would be to move to the left lane and avoid other traffic that wants to turn into your lane. Using your horn wouldn’t have much value.”

It’s true that using the horn would be useless, but since we can’t see to the rider’s left, it’s anyone’s guess that the safest thing to do would be to move left. And MSF doesn’t say to check and see if you can move left before you do.

But even if they had—and someone took MSF’s assertion that this is the correct thing to do, consider this: The SUV appears to be less than 90 feet away from the  photographer (and in most of the photos, it doesn’t appear that the photographer is using a 2 second following rule).

According to brain science research it would take about 1.5 seconds to see the SUV, interpret what it’s going to do, decide what you’re going to do and then do a shoulder check, interpret and decide on that information. Only then would the rider be starting to move over. In that time, the rider would be 66 feet closer to the SUV if s/he was going 30 mph—and only then realize they couldn’t move over—just before they smashed into the SUV. Otoh, in the same length of time and distance, s/he could have slowed to a stop if necessary.

Iow, MSF’s advice—since it doesn’t include essential information to the side and rear—could cause a collision rather than save a rider from it. And that’s true for many of the photos. More importantly is that MSF’s repeated ignoring of what’s going on to the sides and rear of the photographer conveys the message that only what’s in front of the motorcyclist is important.

This, then is  a subtle but insidious and dangerous aspects of the Collision Trap Test—while the majority of fatalities are frontal collisions, safe avoidance of those collisions very often depends on what’s directly to the sides of us and behind us.

Other very strange things include a strong focus on what the speed limit is—including one on the freeway (65 mph). If the photographer was going freeway speed, the “Collision Trap” would be the multi-lane brake check ahead that requires immediate action. Yet MSF uses this photo to say, well, the speed limit sign isn’t important here but it’s still good to know what the limit is supposed to be.

In fact, this is a case where, if the rider was going 65 mph, should be getting on the brakes instead of noticing the speed limit.

There’s an enormous amount of errors and foolishness in the commentary beyond these:  in one the commentator says the rider isn’t “quite” in the no-zone. On the contrary, the rider is well inside it. In one case where the photographer is in a straight road heading over a blind crest with a corner beyond, MSF says the correct thing is to stay left for sight lines. Not in this case since the rider could not tell if an on-coming driver was over the double yellow.

I myself haven’t run into anything but the most basic of all kinds of corners—yet going out of control on a bend is one of the most common causes of collisions.

I don’t know who chose the pictures (or told the photo what kind of pictures to take), I don’t know who decided what was the danger or the “correct” action, but the inaccuracies and poor choices that MSF claim are “correct” are truly representative of the inferiority of MSF’s basic rider training curriculum, the Basic Rider Training course.

If this is a sample of the kind of advice instructors are telling students is “correct”, no wonder so many new riders are dying on the roads.

What I want to know is why in hell MSF didn’t beg new AMA Hall of Fame member  David Hough to create this perception test for them…