I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 35 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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To do nothing is sometimes a good remedy.

— Hippocrates, physician


<June 2024>



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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 4:44 AM Pacific

  08:38 AM

Via the @AngrySeattle Twitter feed today[1], I discovered the 2017 Traffic Report (PDF) by the City of Seattle. The report is full of many data (most of which I have not studied), but I did home in on a chart that showed "Contributing Circumstances for all 2016 Collisions":

The chart has oddities. One is that the circumstances apparently come off incident reports or something, so they're not, like, taxonomically rigorous. ("Driver not distracted"? "None"? wth) Another is that the chart is arranged in alphabetic order by circumstance, which is, I believe, the least useful possible way to have arranged it. So I copied to an Excel sheet that lets me play with the data a bit, and that you can download if for some reason you want to.

If you read my recent and lengthy screed about maintaining a safe following distance while driving (Mind the gap), you can probably guess what I was most interested in in this chart. Here are the top 7 circumstances and the total number of collisions they caused:
  1. None: 9196
  2. Inattention: 2386
  3. Other: 2163
  4. Did not Grant Right of Way to Vehicle: 1570
  5. Unknown Driver Distraction: 1265
  6. Driver Not Distracted: 910
  7. Following Too Closely: 597
As I say, the categories are odd. If we focus on those circumstances that actually make sense, we can see that "Following Too Closely" accounts for 597 collisions. If we combine "Inattention"(2386), another circumstance I discussed in my screed, and what the heck …

"Driver Interacting with passengers, Animals, or Objects Inside Vehicle" (23),
"Driver Operating Other Electronic Devices" (10),
"Driver Operating Handheld Telecommunications Device" (6), and
"Driver Adjusting Audio or Entertainment System" (4),

… the total comes to 3026 collisions.

As I noted then, we tend to take driving for granted, and sometimes treat our cars like a living room. But you have to pay attention or collisions can result.

[1] They are true to that name.

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  09:30 PM

I find it harder and harder these days to ride as a passenger when other people drive. Some of that is just part of getting old. But it's not just that; as I've noted before, learning to ride a motorcycle has helped make me a better driver.

One tactic I've worked on is how much space I leave between me and the driver in front of me. To my mind, most people follow too close. You really don't want to do that. Here's why.

Note: If you want the tl;dr, skip to So what do I do?

Speed and distance

Let's start by examining what sort of distance you're covering when you drive, because it might be more than you think. At 10 mph, in 1 second you cover about 15 feet. At 70 mph, in that same 1 second you cover 103 feet. Here's a graphic that illustrates this ratio.

An accepted measure of a car length is 10 feet. This means that if you're going 60 mph, in 1 second you will travel 9 car lengths. Even small differences in speed result in significant differences in how far you travel—the difference between driving at 60 and at 70 is that in 1 second at 70 you will travel an additional 15 feet (88 vs 103). More than one car length.

Braking distance

Let's imagine that for some reason you have to slam on the brakes. Alas, physics tells us that you cannot stop on the proverbial dime. The faster you're going, the longer it takes to get to zero mph.

There's no standard chart for stopping distance for cars. Cars weigh different amounts and they have different brakes; for example, newer cars have anti-lock brakes a.k.a. ABS. (Jeremy Clarkson of the TV show "Top Gear" also makes the case [video] that cars that are engineered to go fast are also engineered to stop quickly.) External factors also come into play, such as the road surface (wet? gravelly?) and the tires on the car. Also whether you're going uphill or downhill.

Anyway, it's complex. The best that people can offer is a minimum braking distance based on a formula that takes into account the initial speed, the car's mass (weight), and the friction coefficient of brakes and road. I'll spare you that here, but I'll suggest some ballpark numbers, as shown in the chart. (You'll see a variety of numbers for this measure if you look around; these are actually on the low end.)

Notice that braking distance at 60 is 180 feet—18 car lengths. That's about 1 city block. Going 70, which of course is only 10 mph faster, the braking distance goes up to almost 250 feet, or an additional 7 car lengths.[1]

Reaction ("thinking") distance

Braking distance is measured from the time the brakes are engaged. But everyone will remind you that there's a delay between the time you see that you have to brake and when you finally get your foot onto the pedal. Remember from the earlier bit that if you delay one second before you hit the brakes, your car might already have traveled many car lengths before you even start slowing down.

The combination of reaction distance and braking distance is referred to as the total stopping distance. Since I'm all about the pretty charts today, here's one from the UK that shows the total stopping distance as "thinking distance" plus braking distance (click to embiggen):

It's the total stopping distance that matters when you're driving behind someone: how far will you keep going before you can stop if something happens ahead of you? Or stated another way, is there enough room between you and the car ahead so that if they slammed on their brakes, you could avoid slamming into them?

As with braking distance, there's no standard measurement for reaction distance. Some people have faster reflexes than others. But even lightning-quick reflexes result in some delay between stimulus and reaction.

And much more importantly, some people pay closer attention to traffic than others. People text while they drive, they yack with their passengers, they watch their GPS, they fool with their radio, they search the passenger footwell for their dropped phone, they watch TV while driving. There have been accidents where the driver behind never hit the brakes at all. In our little car bubble, we sometimes forget that we're piloting 1 ton or more of iron at 88 feet per second, something that's not scary only because we're used to doing it.

And it's your fault

The law generally puts the responsibility on you to leave enough distance. If you rear-end someone, it will almost be always considered your fault. There are a few circumstances when you can make a case that the driver in front contributed to the accident, but the default assumption will be that you were not driving in a safe manner. Not to mention, I suppose, that if you have an accident, you will have had an accident, with all the hassle that that entails.

Think of the traffic

Even if you have superhuman reflexes and a physics-defying vehicle that can stop on a dime, leaving a gap between you and the car in front can have benefits for overall traffic flow. By leaving a gap, you can actually minimize the accelerate-then-brake cycle that characterizes most heavy traffic.

Imagine that you’re behind someone and they tap their brakes to slow down by 5 mph. If you’re close, then you, too, have to tap your brakes to slow down. Even this small slowdown, and even if both of you immediately speed up again, creates a kind of wave that moves backward through traffic. In fact, this is sometimes the source of “phantom” slowdowns on the freeway, where everyone slows down for no apparent reason.

However, if you’re far enough behind someone, when they tap their brakes, you might not need to tap yours at all, or you can slow down enough just by easing off the accelerator. And if you don’t have to, the person behind you doesn’t either, and so on backwards through traffic. Result: possible traffic jam averted.

The engineer William Beatty refers to this as "eating" traffic waves. He explains:

By driving at the average speed of traffic, my car had been "eating" the traffic waves. Everyone ahead of me was caught in the stop/go cycle, while everyone behind me was forced to go at a nice smooth 35MPH or so. My single tiny car had erased miles and miles of stop-and-go traffic. Just one single "lubricant atom" had a profound effect on the turbulent particle flow within miles of "tube."
Obviously, there are limitations to this; if traffic is completely stopped, it’s just completely stopped. But if you can help reduce traffic jams by leaving a little extra space between you and the next person, isn’t that a worthy goal?

So what do I do?

When I got my license many decades ago, the rule was to leave 1 car length ahead of you for every 10 mph. If you're going 60 mph, 6 car lengths. As you can see from the various distances listed above, that's probably not enough. And that's even assuming that you can estimate car lengths correctly, which I think a lot of (most?) people cannot. (Little-known fact: the dashed white lines between lanes on the freeway are 10 feet long.)

When I got my motorcycle license, I learned a far more useful guideline: the three-second rule (PDF). The idea is that when the car ahead of you passes some landmark (a streetlight, a sign, anything static), you count "one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three." If you reach the landmark before you finish counting, you're following too close.

The rule is useful because it's independent of speed—the faster you're going, the longer the distance is that you go in 3 seconds, so it (kind of) works out. Naturally, this is just a rule of thumb, which has to take into account all the factors that go into how quickly you can stop. But it has the advantage that if you routinely practice counting off your 3 seconds as you drive on the highway, it means you're paying attention, and that's a very big factor in how safely you're driving.

Event horizon

As if it isn't hard enough just to pay attention to the car in front of, you really should be aware of what's going on in front of them. The same motorcycle manual that recommends the three-second rule suggests that you try to see what's happening 12 seconds ahead of you. This is sound advice, because the driver in front of you might not be paying close attention. If you see that the driver ahead will have to slow down even before they're aware of it, you can adjust your own driving accordingly. (This is captured in the concept of assured clear distance ahead, which you can read about in a particularly poorly written Wikipedia article.)

By the way, all of this applies also to cars behind you, and to your side. Driving safely is hard work.

If you can't see ahead of the car in front of you, it's best to leave even more room than you normally would. I actually have this problem a lot. The motorcycle isn’t very tall, of course. And my normal car is a MINI, which sits pretty low to the ground. In both cases, if I'm behind an SUV or pickup or anything larger than that, I have no clue what's going on up front.

Parting notes

People have pointed out that if you leave gaps ahead of you, other drivers will swoop in. That's true. If you have completely mastered the zen of good following practice, you just let them, and you slow down to again open up a suitable gap ahead of you. I will acknowledge that this is a state of driving enlightenment that most of us can only aspire to. Still, it has helped me to think holistically about safety and about traffic, and if I’m in just the right frame of mind (like, not late to an appointment), I can do a decent impression of someone who actually has mastered all this. And of course, if I'm on the motorcycle, I am ever mindful that even a small miscalculation in how closely I follow can have grave consequences.

For the most part, driving is uneventful. Even if we speed, even if we speed and follow too closely, mostly things don't happen. But it's this very uneventfulness that can make us complacent and lead us to stop paying close enough attention to an activity that can wreak mayhem in the "unlikely event of" a crash.[2]

[1] I'm not sure how clear this is, but the "safety" of a large vehicle like an SUV has to do with how well it survives a crash, not in how well it can avoid one by, for example, stopping quickly.

[2] There's a movement to stop using the word "accident" and instead use the word "crash" in order to emphasize that almost all crashes are caused by drivers. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation puts it this way: "Using the word accident tends to make people think safety is a matter of luck, and it isn't."

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[4] |

  12:48 PM

The second motorcycle I owned appealed to me in part because of the sound: it had what people call a "throaty roar." (It was a Yamaha, but I suspect it had been engineered to sound Harley-esque.) In spite of this, I didn't really start to love riding the bike until I added an essential accessory: earplugs.

A sad effect of getting older is that loud sounds tend to bother you more than they did in your rock-n-roll youth. Possibly I would have enjoyed the unfiltered and aforementioned roar as a 19-year-old, but by the time I got the bike, I was covering my ears for passing sirens and babies shrieking nearby. But even as a 19-year-old with perfect hearing, it would have been a very good idea to wear plugs to save my hearing.

To state the obvious, (some) motorcycles are loud. The engine can emit anywhere from 80 decibels at normal speed to 100 dB when you rev it. That's louder than a lawnmower, and well into territory where hearing protection is recommended or, depending on your work, mandated. This is loud even to people who are on the curb while a motorcycle passes. The rider, of course, is about a meter away from the source of this noise, sometimes for hours.

Why are some motorcycle engines so loud? Well, one reason is that some people are just going to want to be loud, and obnoxiousness either isn't a factor for them or is the actual point.

Some people argue that a louder bike has better performance. This is true in a narrow sense: the shorter and less obstructed the exhaust path (hence, the louder the bike), the better the horsepower, by a small degree. However, whether there are other options for increasing horsepower, or whether a rider actually needs the extra horsepower, and whether the increased horsepower is actually the goal of the louder exhaust—well, these are points that one would need to discuss with individual riders. Cite from an online forum: And of course, Harley Davidsons just need louder pipes because yea. :)

Another argument for noise is the clichéd refrain "Loud pipes save lives"—that being loud makes other drivers aware of your presence. As a cranky article points out, that would be more true if the pipes faced forward, rather than annoying the people you've passed. And that there are many other, albeit dorkier, ways to raise one's visibility, including extra lighting and high-conspicuity jackets and helmets. Not to mention that modern cars have very good soundproofing. And that many motorcycle accidents would not have been prevented by noise; many are in fact are caused by the rider.

But even without deliberate efforts to make a motorcycle engine loud, it's just, well, loud.

Another and less obvious source of dangerous levels of noise is wind. A motorcycle rider on the freeway is literally sitting in 60-mph winds or, er, higher. (A windshield routes some of this airflow around you, of course, but doesn't eliminate it completely.) One article estimates that wind noise at 65 mph can reach 100 dB:

You might think that having a helmet on would alleviate this noise, but it can actually add to it; the wind whipping over and (especially) under a helmet can cause very high levels of noise. As one motorcycle site says:
It is our considered opinion, based on many years of evaluating dozens of different motorcycle helmet of all types and talking to experts in the field that there are basically only two types of motorcycle helmets: loud and louder.
The inevitable conclusion for anyone who wants to save their hearing (in my case, what's left of it) is that earplugs should be essential gear for every ride. I keep a handful of foam earplugs in a pocket of my motorcycle jacket, and have over the years developed the habit of cramming one in each ear before putting on my helmet. (Until I did this reflexively, I sometimes would have to take my helmet off again to put in earplugs, but I never skipped this step.)

One might have some concerns that wearing earplugs while driving is itself dangerous; shouldn't you be able to hear traffic noise and sirens and stuff? Yes, you should. (That said, see the earlier comment about the noiseproofing in modern cars.) I've found that the -20 dB or so reduction afforded by the foam plugs provides good balance. I'm not deafened by my bike, but I can still hear—well enough, in fact, that I can use my Sena headset to talk on the phone (via Bluetooth) as I ride. It's also possible, tho I don't know this first hand, that there are ear plugs that are tuned to eliminate primarily engine and wind noise but still allow clarity for other sound.

I do get the appeal of the throaty roar, as noted at the beginning, and I even like the sound of Harleys, as long as I'm not too close. But since that lovely noise can take a toll, it's essential to balance that with your own safety.



  09:44 PM

It's probably a cliché, but it's still true: riding a motorcycle regularly has made me into a better (car) driver. Here's a list of the skills that I've been honing on the motorcycle that I think have translated back into car skills.

Watching other drivers

The most obvious skill is that when you're on a motorcycle, you become hyperconscious of what other drivers are doing or might do. You might think of this as defensive driving, except on steroids. Another term is situational awareness. Anticipating what others might do becomes essential on a motorcycle; bikers are usually familiar with the phenomenon of SMIDSY ("Sorry, mate, I didn't see you"). You just learn to assume that people don't see you, even if they seem to be looking right at you (inattention blindess). And since they might not see you, you better watch out for them. This proves to be a useful skill when driving a car, too.

Using mirrors

I think that most car drivers don't know how to use their mirrors effectively. First, mirrors have to be adjusted correctly. On a bike, it's not as easy to do headchecks, since it's often an odd angle (for me, anyway). So I've learned to arrange my mirrors so that I have a complete view of what's behind me, including my blind spots, and now I feel comfortable changing lanes and turning without a headcheck.

Second, you have to actually use your mirrors. Again, I think a lot of car drivers don't scan their mirrors regularly (like, every 5 to 10 seconds just for toodling along, and constantly when changing lanes or stopping or turning), and some seem to change lanes or make turns without looking in the mirror. Do that on a motorcycle and soon enough you'll be dead.

In a kind of related point, I also try to stay out of car drivers' blind spots. If I notice that I'm in the blind spot of a car in the lane next to me, I'll either try to hang further back or get ahead where there's a somewhat better chance they'll see me if they decide to lunge into my lane.


Braking on a motorcycle is a bit of a fraught exercise. Do it wrong—too hard, while turning, or with a mismatch between rear and front brakes—and you can earn yourself a case of road rash. A simple way to reduce the chance of bad braking is simply to slow down earlier, such as when you see a red light or stop sign ahead. (Some drivers seem to race up to stop like that and then hit the brakes.) I've become quite conscious of when I'm braking while I ride, and this has inevitably translated to thinking about it in the car.

And my other solution to better braking is …

Following appropriately

What is it with people who tailgate? On the bike I've learned the discipline of the two-second rule: when the car ahead of you passes a specific point, you should be able to count "one-mississippi-two-mississippi" before you pass the same point. I do not want to have to hit the brakes hard (see previous point). I'm still better about this on the bike than I am in the car, but I'm getting better.

Watching for motorcycles

Finally, being a motorcycle rider makes you see other motorcycles. Many bikers wave at one another as they pass, which is a nice protocol. I've become so used to this that when I drive the car I now sort of reflexively want to wave at an oncoming bike. That would be silly, but it does mean that I'm much more conscious of bikes now, even in a car.

If you ride a motorcycle, do you also have a list of skills that you feel have made you a better driver?


[1] |

  08:33 AM

I’ve put a little over 18,000 miles on my motorcycle. The fact that it gets a whopping 53 mpg gives me an entirely unjustified sense of virtue as I pass other vehicles. Still, now and again I’ll consider the nominal fuel savings that I’ve achieved by riding the bike instead of driving my car. And how much might that be?

To keep things simple, I’ll round numbers grossly. I’ll assume 18,000 miles, 50 mpg for the motorcycle, and 25 for my car (which I actually know, because the car’s computer tracks this). So:

18,000 miles at 50 mpg = 360 gallons

Since the bike gets essentially twice the mileage of the car, it’s all very easy. If I'd used the car for the same miles, I would have used 720 gallons. At (assumed) $4/gallon, I’ve "saved" $1440 by riding my motorcvcle (360 x $4 = $1440).

Of course, this is all laughable. Many of the miles I’ve put on the motorcycle are miles I would never have put on the car—i.e., miles driven just for fun. Not to mention that this supposed savings in fuel expenditures doesn't come anywhere near what it cost to buy the bike in the first place, and what it costs to insure and maintain it.

Even so, every time I pass a Prius, I think "neener-neener, I get better mileage than you." And maybe by the time I’ve put 600,000 miles on the bike, it will actually represent a real savings.

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[1] |

  11:08 PM

I took my motorcycle in for a 12K service not long ago, and when it was done and we were going over the "inspection points," the technician noted that I had about 50% left on my brakes. "How much should I expect to be able to get out of set of brakes?" I asked him. "About 12,000 miles," he said. Then after a moment, he realized what we were talking about and said "Oh!"

The fact is, I use my brakes sparingly. One of the habits I've developed as a motorcyclist is to leave plenty of space between me and the guy in front of me. My favorite way to slow down is just to ease off the throttle. That, and I downshift a lot; unlike cars, you can't skip gears down or up on a bike, so you have to click your way down to first anyway.

But the most profound reason I avoid using the brakes on the bike is that it kind of terrifies me. Braking on a motorcycle is a fraught proposition. The physics are against you — when you hit the brakes, the bike's weight transfers forward, meaning that it is easy, easy for the back wheel to lose traction.

Then things get interesting indeed, as per the MSF Basic RiderCourse(tm) manual:
The biggest danger in any rear-tire skid is releasing the rear brake when the rear wheel is out of alignment with the front wheel. If the rear wheel stops skidding and resumes rolling when it is out of line with the direction of travel [i.e., if you release the rear brake], the motorcycle will immediately straighten and could result in loss of control. You could be thrown off in what is commonly called a "high-side" fall, and it is very likely to produce serious injury.
Not to mention braking in curves, where the basic advice is "try your best to straighten up before you brake."

Learning to brake effectively is one of the primary motorcycle skills. (Along with curves.) Old-time advice was to lay the bike down (literally) in order to avoid a crash, although David Hough observes that "Frankly, I've always assumed that laying it down is a crash."

Hough is also no fan of my strategy of simply avoiding situations that require braking:
Rather than think of smooth as never using the brakes, I prefer to think of smooth as being able to brake right up to the limits of traction without upsetting the bike or getting excited, whether rounding a corner or negotiating traffic. [...] If you intend to ride fast on public roads, you should be as good at hard braking and quick stops are at cornering lines and rolling on the gas.
To this end, as a minimum I have to practice hard stops, which Hough recommends along the lines of what they taught us in the initial safety class. I work with a guy who used to take his sport bike to the track and practice doing really high-speed stops.

I've also considered enrolling in a more advanced proficiency class, which tend to have names like Ride Like A Cop!(tm) (Example) At least in theory, that way someone's around to tell you what you're doing wrong. (I mean, besides if you flip off the bike, which might be another clue.)

Either way, if I'm ever going to both consider myself a proficient rider and feel totally comfortable on the road, hard braking is a skill I'm going to have to learn.



  04:54 PM

For motorcycle riding, I have an Exo-700 helmet (required by law), a Fieldsheer jacket with integrated padding, Arial leather boots, and various flavors of gloves/gauntlets. What I keep experimenting with is pants.

Motorcycle gear serves two functions. One is to protect you from the euphemistically named "road rash" in the event that you should find yourself in contact with something other than the motorcycle. The other is to keep you warm. Given that I ride in Seattle and that we're apparently now experiencing 9-month winters, the latter function has been my primary focus when looking for pants.

Most of the time, therefore, I wear flannel-lined jeans, which I happen to get from Eddie Bauer. Between those and my knee-length boot socks, this keeps me warm, or at least as warm as I'm going to be in 40-degree weather. When it gets warmer, haha, as if, I have two other options. I have a couple of pairs of Carhart double-front jeans. I also have a pair of Fire Hose jeans from Duluth Trading Company, which are made (they say) from the same material that fire hoses are made of.

The Carharts and Fire Hose jeans in theory offer some measure of protection against road rash. What they are not, as I happen to know, is warm. In fact, the Fire Hose jeans are the opposite — the weave on this supposed firehose materials is such that the pants are in fact well ventilated, which is oh so noticeable on cold days.

I'm a wee bit skeptical, actually, that any of my current pants option will do much to protect me in the event of a spill. The traditional protection for motorcycle riders is of course leather. But I don't like leather for a few reasons. One is that this is Seattle, and I ride a great deal in, um, moist circumstances. Leather is also astonishingly heavy. And then there's the fashion statement that leather makes, all the more so when it's motorcycle gear, that I don't feel is, you know, the real me.

All the gear you wear and strap on in some sense undoes the sense of freedom that you have on a motorcycle. On very rare occasions I'll ride the bike without gloves, perhaps even in shorts — for example, right after I've washed it, to "dry it." It's a completely different experience from riding in a cocoon of safety gear. Moreover, on hot days, all that gear is even stifling, at least till you get out at speed on the road. Still, I would never take the bike out at speed without protection, even if it is, as might be true for my trousers, illusionary protection.

[1] They offer a flannel-lined version and a fleece-line version, neither of which I've tried yet.


[5] |

  11:38 PM

Another motorcycle post. I've now had to change the headlight on my Honda twice, so I'm getting the hang of it. Here are some notes should you ever find yourself having to do the same. :-)

I have to note that the first (factory) headlight lasted pretty long. However, when I replaced it the first time, I replaced it with a particularly high-temp one (Sylvania Silverstar Ultra 4100K) that the guy at the parts store warned me wouldn't last nearly as long. (And is pricey.) However, I wanted absolutely as much light as I could get. In both cases, it was the high beam that expired, which makes sense, since I basically ride around on the high beam full time.

I got the gist of the following steps from the WikiAnswers site (of all places). The steps there are accurate (yay, and thanks to the anonymous poster), but extremely sparse. In the following I show you some pictures and add a trick or two that worked for me.

Tools and supplies
  • 10 mm wrench. Socket wrench helpful, open-end also useful for holding the nuts.
  • 8 mm open-end wrench.
  • 9003/HB2/H4 bulb.

    (Click to see larger version)
Note: Do not touch the glass part of the blub. This will put oil from your fingers on it that will considerably reduce its lifetime.

1. Loosen and remove the 10mm mounting bolts that hold the headlight to the frame. Technically this step isn't necessary. However, I found it almost impossible to do the next step without this.


This can be tricky. From the POV of sitting on the bike normally, the mounting bolts have nuts on the left side. I found it easiest to loosen the top nut from behind using the 10mm open-end wrench.

Tip: As a minimum, remove the bottom bolt, which will let you at least swing the headlight up so you can access the bolts you need for the next step.

2. Remove the headlight assembly from the frame or swing it up.

3. Loosen and remove the 8mm bolts that hold the headlight retaining ring on. Do not touch the Philips screws that are close by -- those are for adjusting the headlight aim.

4. Pry the headlight cover off from the bottom. This might take a little bit of effort.

5. Remove the electrical connection to the bulb. This detaches the bulb assembly entirely.


6. Remove the dust cover. Note that the top of the cover says "Top".

7. Unhook the wire bracket that holds the bulb in place. You just have to lean on it a little so as to be able to unhook it. You can then swing the wire bracket back and out of the way.


8. Have a look at how the bulb fits in, then remove the old bulb.

9. Put the new bulb in. As I said before: do not touch the glass of the bulb.

10. Re-hook the bracket.

11. Put the dust cover back on.

12. Reattach the electric plug.

13. Swing the headlight back in, starting at the top. Take note of how the tapped holes on the headlight cover match up with the holes in the headlight unit.

14. Put the 8mm bolts back in.

15. Reattach the bolts that hold the headlight assembly to the frame.

16. Test the bulb.

17. Go get a spare for the next time. :-)



  11:10 AM

Many (most?) motorcycles don't have fuel gauges. Mine doesn't, in spite of being a late-model bike. (Honda Goldwings do, but then again, they also have stereos, GPS, and air conditioning.) I asked the salesman about this when I bought the bike. His answer, basically, was that motorcycle fuel gauges aren't very accurate. The tank sits high, and as such, the level of liquid in the tank varies, sometimes considerably, as you go up and down hills and around curves. This seems to be what they tell the folks who buy sport bikes, anyway. Given that high-end bikes have them, there might be other factors.[1] On bikes that have carburetors, there is a workaround for not having a gas gauge — there's a petcock valve:

Petcock on motorcycle

Before you start the bike, you have to turn the petcock valve from OFF to ON so that fuel will flow to the carb. If you run low, the fuel supply stops, but you can then turn the valve to RES, which drains the the last little bit (aka the reserve) from the tank while you desperately look for a gas station. Here's picture of how that works:

The RES setting on a petcock valve switches to a tube that sits lower in the gas tank

When I was taking the motorcycle class, one of the instructors advised that you should practice turning the valve from ON to RES while you were riding and without looking, in case you needed to do this while you were on the freeway or someplace else inconvenient.[2]

As noted before, tho, I don't have carbs on my motorcycle, I have fuel injection. This means no petcock valve, yay, but it also means no RES setting to turn to when the fuel runs low. What I do have is a low-fuel indicator light, the way most cars have nowadays. This is supposed to function as a more convenient version of the reserve tank — IOW, when the light comes on, get yourself to a gas station pronto.

Representation of a spreadsheet that tracks mileageThis can be nerve-racking. So I've turned to a time-honored method, which is to keep an eye on the odometer. What I've discovered is that I can go about 150 miles before the low-fuel light starts flickering on. At (or before) 150 miles, I fill up, and I have been very diligent about resetting the trip odometer each time I refuel. (It is true that the light will come on and go off according to the immediate vagaries of the road.)

Whether as a result of this diligence or as an incentive to it, I've also been tracking my fill-ups and miles in a (what else?) spreadsheet. I've done this for the last 3500 miles or so, which has allowed me to track with some precision my overall MPG. (50.8, it says.) This has all worked well enough that I can glance at the odometer when I get on the bike for the commute to work, and I'll know whether I have to tank up before hitting the freeway, on the way home, or later in the week.

However, this is not a foolproof system.  On his Scooter in the Sticks blog, Steve Williams recounts a time when his scooter's gauge was on the fritz and he was relying on the odometer, only ... oops.

[1] Colleague Jim has a scooter, and he says it has a gauge and the gauge is accurate (enough). Possibly the configuration of the tank in scooters makes this more practical, dunno.

[2] Through the 1961 model, the VW Beetle didn't have fuel gauge either, and it likewise just had a valve for the reserve.



  11:49 PM

I had a near-miss on the motorcycle the other day that gave me some food for thought. I was traveling down 148th Ave in Bellevue, which is two lanes in each direction, with a wide island between opposite directions. In fact, this is exactly what it looks like (thanks to maps.google.com):

At one point, I'd been in the right-most lane, but I'd noticed that it was not moving very well. I peered ahead and saw that there was someone about 5 or 6 cars ahead of me who seemed to be slowing down and putting on his blinker, but then not turning, then speeding up, then slowing down, and so on. Basically, an erratic driver.

I swung into the left-hand lane. It was still during rush hour, so there was a fair bit of traffic, but in my lane, at least, things were moving pretty smoothly, so I was able to move up a bit. As I was getting close to the erratic driver (ER), tho, the car that was immediately behind him started moving into my lane, apparently fed up with ER and intending to get out from behind him. Like this, allowing for my primitive drawing skills:

I was forced toward the island, obviously, but thankfully, the impatient driver did notice me and jumped back into their lane.[1] I'm not perfectly clear on possible outcomes, but I think there was a chance that the car would have hit me.

This was a classic motorcycle hazard. It was bright daylight outside, and it was dry (at that moment). I was wearing a high-visibility helmet and even my bright-yellow rain jacket. The motorcycle has a loud exhaust. And yet the driver apparently did not see me. In the UK and Australia, motorcyclists know this as the SMIDSY problem ("Sorry, mate, I didn't see you"). There's a YouTube video of bikers telling their stories of not being seen.[2]

For me there were three lessons in this:

1. Stay out of people's blind spots. Or if you can't help that, at least be on super-sensitive guard. As truckers say, if you can't see their mirrors, they can't see you. Same for cars.

2. It's particularly dangerous when there's a big difference in the speed of adjoining lanes. If everyone is going happily in the same direction at the same speed, unexpected things are somewhat less likely to occur.[3]

3. If people are frustrated, they'll do impulsive things. Like impatiently jump into another lane. I know this phenomenon as a car driver, and when I'm in the HOV lane on freeway, I watch like a hawk for people lurching into that lane in order to get moving. I should have realized that the erratic driver was not just piling up cars behind him, but piling up increasingly agitated drivers who might do something unexpected.

And a kind of fourth lesson: someone reminded me that you should watch the front wheels of cars to anticipate what they're going to do. Good tip.

So, valuable lesson. I'd like to think that it doesn't take periodic near-accidents to keep me alert to this sort of thing. One of the biggest safety factors in driving a motorcycle, I think, is a combination of low-level fear and general distrust of others. Need to keep those things fine tuned.

[1] And stayed well back for the rest of our joint journey down 148th; projecting how I would have felt, I imagined one very shamed driver.

[2] There's an interesting article (PDF) on the possible causes of SMIDSY.

[3] I am amazed at people who will do, like, 70 mph in the HOV lane when the traffic in the lane immediately next to it is at a complete standstill. Those folks must really trust their brakes.

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