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What are the biggest myths in biking, and why? Part two.

By Mario

After our search for biking myths post on Facebook, we got a lot of suggestions. Here’s part two, considering some more of them.

Amid the myriad myths, untruths and misconceptions about motorcycling, some tend to be more common and longer-lived than others. Like these examples.

It'll be loud, but will it save lives?

Yes, that old chestnut. Actually the jury's still out on this one and will probably remain so for all eternity.

Let's start with research and the much-quoted Hurt Report of 1981. It found bikes with loud pipes were a little more likely to be involved in a crash. It states "The modified exhaust system was typical of many accident-involved motorcycles, and also typical of many motorcycles observed during exposure data collection. The modified exhaust is overrepresented in these data, but not with high significance.”

Frankly, data from 1981 are likely to be of little significance in today’s world. For one thing, vehicles are massively better at insulating occupants from external noise than they were then.

So next we deal with opinion, anecdotal evidence and supposed facts. Talking of which, this one’s a doozie: “Your exhaust is pointed backwards and by the nature of you travelling forward, you're actually leaving the sound behind you as you move forward.”

Ducati motorcycle

Well, yes, you are…if you are travelling in excess of the speed of sound. And, if you are, you’ve got a few more dangers to think about than not being heard by the driver ahead.

I’ll spare any embarrassment by not citing where I found that quote. But, to be charitable, the author was most likely misconstruing the Doppler effect. This is where sounds coming towards you are higher in tone and slightly quieter than when the source has passed you. So the Doppler effect will suppress some of the noise coming from your pipes, And, yes, it’s going to be louder behind you than in front. But very loud pipes do still project sound ahead of the bike. The questions are, will it be heard and will it achieve anything?

One thing it will probably achieve is noise fatigue in the rider. Perhaps not a problem on a squirt to the local café but on a long ride noise can be very wearing. And fatigued riders make mistakes. So that’s a point for the ‘anti’ faction.

On the ‘pro’ side, the Oakland Police Department in California made the pipes on its patrol bikes louder after an officer was hit by a car whose driver said he hadn't heard the bike coming [source: Barrett].

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may be on the same side. With electric vehicles becoming more popular, the agency has been assessing whether noise should be added to increase attention, concerned that silent electric motorcycles and other vehicles would go unnoticed, particularly by pedestrians. Car manufacturers think the same way too, with many electric vehicles projecting a noise to alert people to its presence. So, you’d have to say that sound must have some value or why do it?

Of course a lot of the debate, for and against, is actually fuelled by a desire to justify loud pipes that motorcyclists like or driven by members of the public who desire a bit of peace and quiet.

So do loud pipes save lives? Maybe, sometimes. In some circumstances they can alert other road users and pedestrians to your presence and approach. On the other hand, aside from the fatigue issue, they can negatively affect a rider’s perceptual awareness and there’s the danger of complacency setting in: they must have heard me! One thing’s for sure, a loud pipe will not make up for poor road positioning, a lack of caution, skill and appropriate visibility measures.

Braking bad

Motorcycle braking has a whole host of myths attached, ranging from the subtle to the dangerously misguided.

The effectiveness of ABS is a favourite of pub bores everywhere. They can ‘out-brake’ ABS, racers don’t use it, it can increase your stopping distance and cause a crash, etc. Well, as Keith Code would put it: BS. Sure, if your name is Johnny Rea or Mark Marquez, you will be able to outperform an ABS-equipped bike using your own skills, on a dry track, braking time-and-again for the same corner. But that’s not when you need ABS. You need ABS when something unexpected happens and you have to brake as hard as you dare, on a surface you have not been able to test for adhesion. Mostly, in those circumstances, riders lose control of their non-ABS bike by overbraking, locking the wheels and going down. ABS is really good at preventing that, and there’s plenty of data showing it.

So why does the myth persist? Because, again, there’s a tiny grain of truth: a highly skilled rider, in controlled conditions, with a little practice, might squeeze out a half-metre shorter stopping distance. But that’s not reality. The ABS-equipped bike is capable of consistent tyre-screeching stops on inconsistent surfaces. All you have to do is apply the brakes hard enough…

Which most riders cannot do. Several trials have shown that the average rider is only capable of braking their motorcycle to about 50% of its ability. Even more skilled riders usually average about 70%, compared to a real pro. That’s why braking technique and practice drills are at the heart of Ride Forever coaching. It’s a real eye-opener for most riders, who invariably discover a whole different level of braking ability.

One of the most dangerous myths about motorcycle braking is that bikes can out-brake cars. No. They. Can’t. In fact, quite the reverse. Not only does a car’s weight and four wheels mean it can generate enormous braking forces, most cars now have ABS and Stability Control. Meaning even the least-skilled driver can stamp on the brakes and bring a car to a halt in an incredibly short distance. Something to factor into your following distances, and ably demonstrated by Ride Forever instructors if you go to a Shiny Side Up event.

Braking distance of a car, motorcycle with ABS, and motorcycle without ABS

Why the misconception? It could be down to the aggression with which some people ride. Doing a lot of hard-ish braking might create an illusion that the cruising cars surrounding you are less capable than they really are when braking in extremis. And why are riders generally so poor at braking? That’s easy: lack of training and lack of practice. A Ride Forever course will convince you of that.

No need for coaching.

“I’ve been riding for X years and there’s nothing I could learn from a course” is a commonly held opinion. In fact, it’s one we’ve heard from many participants describing their incredulity at what they used to think and what they learned from Ride Forever coaching. Good on them, at least they got past their prejudices.

It’s not just all the riders who train with us, then can’t believe what they’ve learned and how much their riding improves, even after 15, 20, 30 to more years riding. There are other clues.

One is that all high-skill roles - the likes of pilots, submarine captains and astronauts - routinely undergo refresher courses and testing to keep their skills sharp. Another is that the majority of MotoGP and WSBK stars at the sharp end of the field employ riding coaches to analyse and improve their skills.

If you really think you have nothing to learn from coaching, come and put it to the test.


Got a myth you think needs busting? Get in touch via Facebook or using the Contact page.