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Who should bikers vote for?

By James - 8/6/2008

While Obama has been attracting large audiences to see him talk, McCain this week decided to go to where the crowds are. His recent stop in Sturgis, South Dakota, during the Black Hills Classic motorcycle rally, made me wonder which nominee is best, strictly on biker issues.

Gas prices
With Obama’s recent reversal of his opposition to offshore drilling for petroleum and the possibility of tapping the strategic oil reserve, there is not a lot of difference between the overarching principles of each man’s energy policies. When you dig deeper you see that McCain is in favor of suspending the gas tax which can bring temporary relief to the cost of gas, although how that would affect the condition of our roads is less than desirable. It is also questionable whether gas prices would decline since they are market driven, and not based on the costs associated with production. If that was true gasoline in the Bay Area should be the cheapest in the nation with the close proximity of the Richmond refineries. Unfortunately we have some of the most expensive gas in the country. Obama is in favor of a windfall profits tax on oil companies. The legislation would include safeguards to prevent passing the tax on to consumers, although I am sure the oil companies can find ways around this. McCain wins this battle. McCain 1 – Obama 0

McCain and Obama on a motorcycle
Which candidate is better for bikers?
Emission regulations
Obama has hard numbers on record; an 80% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050 and CAFE standards that raise the average gas mileage for cars and trucks. McCain wants to reduce carbon emissions – but has a softer commitment – and possibly eliminate CAFE standards if a cap and trade system is implemented. CAFE standards are not that applicable to motorcycles, we get great mileage already but by restricting emissions manufacturers of motorcycles will have to build cleaner bikes. This could increase the purchase price of a motorcycle – by requiring catalytic converters and charcoal canisters – from $50 - $300. Another win for McCain. McCain 2 – Obama 0

Helmet laws
Both home states of each senator have lax helmet laws. Illinois has no helmet law and Arizona only requires helmets for persons under 18 years old. I have been unable to find voting records on matters of helmet laws for either lawmaker so this one is a push. McCain 2 – Obama 0

While McCain trumps Obama on motorcycle related issues, the scoring was based on the probability of raising the price of enjoying the freedom of the open road on our motorcycles. While these costs are not significant to me – an extra $300 on a new motorcycle and an extra $10 per tank – they are a measurable and can be a burden to many Americans. What we are unable to quantify is how much clean air is worth. How much has the quest for cheap oil cost us in defense funding and the lives of servicemen and women? How much will climate change cost us and our children? These are costs that we should also take into consideration before we vote. Oh yeah, and remember to keep your tires properly inflated for fuel savings and safety!


Roundabouts, intersections and motorcycle safety

By James -

If you have driven abroad, roundabouts can be a strange and scary experience. A constant stream of vehicles, short merges and cars entering and exiting from all directions can test the wits of the uninitiated. But for those who are used to them, roundabouts are a more efficient and safer alternative to intersections. This is especially true for motorcyclists.

Roundabouts and intersections have quite a few “conflict points”. These conflict points are places where vehicles can collide with other vehicles, bicycles or pedestrians. According to Roundabout USA, intersections have 56 conflict points versus 16 in a roundabout. Wikipedia editors prefers roundabouts because they have “40% fewer vehicle collisions, 80% fewer injuries and 90% fewer serious injuries and fatalities”. There are a number of reasons for this, but the best reason is that it eliminates the bane of all bikers, the unprotected left turn.

The commute home yesterday on my wife’s Yamaha was 17 miles of stop and go, tight lane sharing, and navigating the aging pothole-pocked infrastructure of California’s heyday. I was sitting at the intersection of Brannan and 7th in San Francisco’s SoMa district waiting for the light to change. The light turned green and I revved up and dropped the clutch. An oncoming boy racer decided he did not want to wait to for traffic and jumped out to make a left before traffic is in the intersection. Typically he would have made it easy, had the delivery truck and lost tourist slowly proceeded through the intersection. But I was already through of the crosswalk, and seeing me jump out only made him more determined. He accelerated, communicating to me that he was committed. Still in first gear, a swerve and ease of the throttle transported me out of harm’s way, and I gave him a friendly one finger “biker salute”, the kind we save for boneheads like him. Ten years ago this would have been a panic situation for me. Unfortunately it happens so often that I anticipate it and my reaction has become rote.

The number one cause of urban fatalities for motorcyclists are from cars making unprotected left turns violating bikers’ rights of way. Motorcycle going straight, car turning left… crash. Most cagers state that they never saw the motorcycle. I contend that most cagers are not paying much attention. And that is why roundabouts may be too much for most American drivers. They require you to plan ahead, anticipate and adjust your speed and be aware of your surroundings. Traffic lights tell you when it is safe to proceed. You don’t have to think about it.

Roundabouts are being built in the U.S. but are still a rare sight. Just two blocks from my boy racer incident is a traffic circle at Townsend and 8th. While it is not a standard roundabout, you have to stop before entering instead of yielding, it is a much less hectic and time consuming than an intersection. I urge all urban planners as well as citizens and motorcyclists who care about safety to look into roundabouts for accident prevention, speed regulation, to save money and for the other advantages that they offer.

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