Building Competence + Safe-Fail options
With a varied riding background, we know what it takes to build two wheeled riding competence, as well as some of the downfalls that can arise with increased risk. There are plenty of patches of Australia where I've left some skin as I pushed to tackle a new challenge. There are some things that are fundamental in designing a safe, yet challenging riding experience. Here's our must-haves, with some examples of patterns and anti-patterns that we've seen in different riding facilities.
Competence builds in a progression
As toddlers, we learn to crawl before we walk, walk before we learn to run. Riding skill development is no different. Learning to balance, learning to pedal, learning how to turn without a front wheel washout, or wheelie, or jump. All of these are skills learnt in a competency progression, but all need foundation skills to work from. Having riding facilities that support riders at each stage in their skills progression sequence means attracting a much wider cohort of potential riding families. It's one of the reasons Stromlo Forest Park absolutely nails it in terms of attractiveness as a riding destination, supporting riders of all skill levels with challenges suitable for skill level across a broad range over 50km of designed trails.
Locally, on Central Coast NSW, we've seen two great examples, but at each end of the challenge spectrum:
Pattern: Saltwater BMX Park, for beginner riders, adjacent to a well designed and popular cycleway, picnic facility and playground, with free WiFi, where families are going to naturally congregate and create memories;
Anti Pattern: San Remo Xtreme Sports Park, where 66% of the available lines are Black runs, viable for maybe 5% of overall riders skills levels to tackle safely. The one Green line for beginner riders is on a downslope, with double jumps and bitumenised jump faces/landing zones, guaranteed to shred exposed skin, faces and risk fractures for new riders.
Design for Failure and Safe-Fail vs Fail-Safe
Riders of any skill level and any age are going to make mistakes as they challenge themselves to take on a new skill, whether it be riding a berm, looping out on a wheelie, or jumping high/longer, or more extreme challenges like backflips. Inevitably, that's going to involve some injury risk, so we need to consider how to let kids fail safely, using techniques like: motile track surfaces (gravel vs hard/immobile bitumen); differential heights (set landing zones higher than take off in jump-ups), gap-handling (using a table-top style double jump to handle landing short, instead of a jump face that will cause a trip over the bars when landing short); realistic and achievable gradings (make sure Green is beginner friendly).
Patterns and Anti-Patterns
Here's a simple Compare+Contrast experience. Imagine you're a junior rider, off training wheels, with established balance and pedalling strength, looking to tackle new obstacles.
Would you rather:
a) Learn on a gravel track, with manageable slopes and perhaps a bit of gravel rash (Exhibit A) or;
b) Learn on a downhill slope track, with bitumenised jump faces and landing ramps where you're going to lose a lot more skin when you make a mistake (Exhibit B)?
Design for Delight
Designing a Bike Park is the sort of thing that's best tackled by using a Service Design driven approach to create experiences that evoke joy, rather than drive people away with a bad experience.
Design for Delight.
New possibilities for Electric Action riding
With the 2014 Hunter Electric Vehicle Festival now done and dusted, capped off with a 1500 Class win and Energy innovation award, Quiet Rush have started to reach out to new regional destinations to see if we can bring a taste of electric riding action a little further south. The proposed new facility at CASAR Park represents a great option for motor sports enthusiasts of the Central Coast, with the potential to become something more than just a motor-sports venue and broader appeal for boosting already healthy regional tourism numbers.
What we've seen and proven in the Hunter EV Festival is that motor-sports are evolving and innovating in new directions, with exhibitors showcasing cutting edge vehicles in Electric Superbikes, Electric Motorcycles, Solar Racers, Electric Bikes (for On and Offroad action) and Electric Cars. The great example being set by Newcastle based ELMOFO as they redefine racing with their own vehicle, drivetrain and power source systems is a shining example of what's possible, leading to results that see them thumping its petrol powered competitors. Within our own modest racing class, we've experienced the thrill of seeing what its like to ride a bike that blends the best of human and electric performance to create a unique racing format, done at human-scale speed where you can still chat away with competitors whilst racing elbow to elbow in a clean, emissions free racing format.
Within adventure seeking always comes a compromise between adrenaline (proportional to perceived and actual risk) and survivability in the event of adverse outcomes - it's why GP riders often start out racing 125's, before progressing through 250s to higher power machines, honing their race craft, riding and racing skills. With a rehabilitation and human factors background highlighting for us the downside risk potential when things go wrong, we think there's ample space in the adventure sports space to innovate and create a new racing class for introducing new riders, using new zero-emissions machines such as our Stealth Fighter, racing at what we call human-scale speed. We use this to describe a speed that is fast enough to create the perception of risk, induces adrenaline and requires focus, but still occurs within an acceptable risk envelope where the risk to the rider is mitigated by modest power, with lower top speeds, lighter machines and nimble handling. You can read about what it's like to race a Stealth Fighter on a GoKart track to get a bit more background on why it's such enjoyable format, or take a look at others impressions.
With an initial orientation ride offered to Brad Wilson from CASAR Park to get a feel of what its like to ride one of our Australian made Electric Off-Road bikes from Stealth Electric Bikes, we're entering into more detailed discussions to see how we might be able to jointly create an entirely new riding experience, where novice riders can take part in a socially inclusive venue, getting a chance to try powered riding in a low risk riding and racing format. With plenty of sunshine, the CASAR facility is ideal for running an electric race format, powered by solar options, with people able to get a taste of how energised riding can boost their own riding skills and confidence. It can also be a place to participate in non-racing formats, where people of all ages might wish to experience an electric bike, ranging from mild to wild, build their skills and confidence with graded challenge areas (see this example of the The Playground Bike Park at Mt Stromlo to get an idea of what's possible). By combining the option of motorsports and family based activities achievable for all ages, with a road safety and competence building focus, places like CASAR park can help ensure cyclists and motorists leave after days fun at the facility with mutual respect and enhanced road safety behaviours.
We had a chance to spend a brief bit of time this week at Cameron Park raceway with the good folks behind the Hunter EV Festival as part of the Hunter EVPrize and in the leadup to National Science Week.
It was primarily a practice and shakedown day for schools sorting their electric bike entries - we thought it was also a great opportunity to have some of our commercially available Stealth Fighter demonstrators there on show to help give some added inspiration to the school students, teachers and visitors attending.
Whilst the race day itself is on 18August 2013, this was a good opportunity to see how our bikes fare in standard form on a fast GoKart track dedicated to racing, ridden at full power output of 3kw. The verdict? More fun than a barrel of monkeys!
It was great to have a chance to compare the relative stickiness of our Schwalbe Crazy Bobs (on the yellow Fighter) with the Duro Razorbacks which come standard with the Stealth Fighter. Naturally, the Crazy Bobs come up well ahead, with some quite impressive lean angles possible. It's the first time we've seen tread wear getting closer to the sidewalls.
The Duro Razorbacks, as you'd expect with a hard compound rubber, were predictably squirmier on the margins of traction, walking across the bitumen when pressed into hard lean angles. Still, it was manageable and gave good feedback to the rider about the impending loss of traction, allowing me to back off safely without sliding out. After all, we're still talking about the downside risk of hitting tarmac hard at 50km/h, so we're looking to ride within a safety margin.
One aspect we loved about the day was a chance to see what some of the school students had cooked up, with some really novel approaches and inspired designs. it's a great opportunity to blend some practical lessons in science, electronics, maths, physics and construction. Whilst there might be less emphasis on commercial viability, there were one or two designs that leapt out, including some inspired work with plywood. Which of course invites natural comparison against other awesome bikes made of wood. We're always keen to hear of rides with an ecologically sensitive design edge, for which timber is a naturally inspired material.
With a strong emphasis on rider safety and hands on participation, its an event that we'd love to see well supported and attended, so spread the word. Also keep an eye out locally for other National Science week events near you.
Sincere thanks to the supporting sponsors listed at the Hunter EV Festival website. We'll have more material up after race day - we were too busy doing laps to grab too many shots, so we're using images supplied at https://www.facebook.com/hunterevfestival.
Here's a small sample clip - even the wind on the circuit is louder than the bikes themselves..
You'd think that there would be a lot in common between groups of people who share:
It's interesting to observe the comment threads for articles like the following:
It seems from reading through the comments that people fit into roughly three camps: Deniers, Integrators and Challengers
- Deniers take the line that anything with a motor is definitely not a bicycle - human effort alone is what counts, getting to the top of a hill can only be done by the applied use of personal sweat and determination (never mind if you've got a health condition that might compromise your ability to do so);
- Integrators take a more open view, noting that there is merit in giving some level of assistance to riders who need it or desire it, who might be happy to share a trail with an assisted rider, but it's not quite their cup of tea;
- Challengers are open advocates for mixed trail use and wanting to question why they might not be allowed to share trails, seeking well supported evidence to demonstrate why they should be excluded.
The thing is, they also have a lot in common:
Getting those trails endorsed and supported by land managers takes advocacy effort, time, clearly expressed positions and goodwill between the groups. But it can be done.
Using a multi-use trail in a way that endangers any other user risks the viability of that resource for continued use by anyone on two wheels. That too, can be done. It's a shared problem.
IMBA have made their position clear at the present moment, through:
Here's an extract from the first IMBA link
Will IMBA eventually need to retool our approach to sustainable trail design and construction to accommodate these bikes? We recognize the benefits of e-bikes, yet also recognize that this type bike creates many added challenges for land managers and for IMBA's approach to mitigating the impacts of bicycling in natural environments.
I wonder if advice like this would be given if the writer had bothered to actually try an eBike. Once you do, you very quickly realise that they're a long way off being a motorcycle. Especially at the lower end 200W output bikes.
Whilst the two tribes are recognised, their ability to play together nicely is not supported. It seems a little sanctimonious and elitist given the scale of the challenges our planet faces and the extent of population health issues. Which would you prefer: seeing an overweight relative die an early death, or making the modal switch from car-use with a bike that makes the transition easier to going completely unpowered?
I'd ask you to consider, when we have so much in common, why this should continue to be the case when the world needs a combined, urgent and relentless focus on getting onto a lower emissions trajectory - two wheeled transport is a big part of the solution opportunity for doing that. Especially when bikes such as these are fully capable of being charged in offgrid setups.
Offroad riding - frozen in time or evolving?
There's been some pretty disturbing news coming out in the Hunter recently as Hunter communities opt for vigilante responses to dirtbike rider problems, with tales of wire traps strung across local Hunter trails (shudder). See here:
Cessnock and the Hunter have been the birthplaces of some of Australia's best riding talent - it's easy enough to understand how they're heroes to local kids.
I still remember very well what it was like to experience my first motorbike rides at mates places on their farms, on a mix of old farm bikes, kids bikes and arm-stretching motocross bikes. I still also remember how much thrill there was in buying disassembled motorbikes in tea-chests for a song, to have a go at putting them back together and getting them running. I remember the pester power I would muster to have some time on those farms, in order to have some riding time. I'm lucky my parents took the time to do it. Not every kid is.
I've never lost the appetite for riding, having a string of powerful enduro bikes and off-road riding experiences, but my outlook on adventure riding has changed. I've spent enough time picking up broken people to know the impact of speed and unforgiving terrain, or having the weight of a motorcycle pin you down. I've been fortunate to only lose skin, or break a rib. Others have not been so lucky. If I'd had the option of a lighter bike, lightly powered, that could be ridden quietly, I'd have snapped it up. But it didn't exist. Until now.
As a kid, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small town with crown land available, not too far away. Like many kids of my day, we took our chances to go into the bush, far enough away from town to not annoy the living daylights out of people. Not all kids have that chance though. Eventually, I was old enough to get my license, buy a registered bike and adventure away, legally.
I've taken my registered bikes into National Parks, state reserves and found some amazing country which I've since taken family back to. I might never have discovered those if I'd never ridden or gone exploring.
I've ridden in dedicated off-road facilities, experiencing thrills, spills and camaraderie, where even experienced riders can fall and break themselves just as badly as a remote National Park.
I've also lived in the ACT for the last 13 years, where we have a world class racing and off-road riding facility at Stromlo Forest Park in close proximity to the suburbs, where off-road riders of all ages and stages can mix together and learn, bench-race or play-race, or just hone skills in new terrain. Dirtbike riders there have had the same challenges of riding trail access, feeling like the poor cousins to their mountain bike riding brethren. But that's changing.
The thing I know now, looking back, is how much noise and erosion the bikes make, and how wearing that can be on a persons psyche, testing a persons patience to the limits of their sanity and reasonableness. It's enough to drive desperate people to desperate acts, as unlawful as they are. I can see how it happens. I sure as hell don't support it or condone it - trap setting is just as likely to seriously injure a licensed, insured rider, or family mountain bike rider, as it is the undesired rider.
I can't help but wonder what a difference might take place if the bikes being ridden were silent, electric, incapable of tearing the ground up in the same way, or going as fast. Whether the local community would back having a dedicated riding facility nearby, where kids could be supervised, or ride their bikes in risk controlled environments, not too far from home, mastering their skills on progressively more complex tracks, on silent, agile, adrenaline inducing but lighter, slower bikes. It's been done elsewhere. At MtStromlo Playground. At DarkGreen Motorsports. At Rays MTB parks in Milwaukee and Cleveland. At Whistler. It's why many of our customers are switching from dirtbike riding to a different option, a halfway point between a mountain bike and a dirtbike. Having a bike with a bit of modest power allows you to create terrain where you no longer need huge downhills to build momentum, within acceptable risk margins.
It can happen here in the Hunter as well. If you want to help me make it happen, let me know.
Here's just one way to reinvent off-road and adventure riding..
Couldn't resist taking the chance whilst on holidays with the kids last week to have a quick crack at some loose berms on a nearby (very degraded) BMX track, which has been cut to pieces over the years by pitbikes, motocross bikes. Track was on a sand base, with lots of loose cover and some berms.
It was interesting seeing how much fun was involved in building up speed to drift into the berm, and the minimal wheelspin created by the motor in those riding conditions - quite different to what I'm used to with enduro bikes. Still achieved an easy maximum heart-rate workout and had quite a sweat up. But that might have been the pneuomnia I was coming down with..