Category Archives: Energy

Motorcycle Safety and the Derbi Mulhacen

I just read an amazing recount of a motorcycle accident by Sylvia Stuurman and her subsequent path to recovery. The reconstruction of the accident and thoughts about managing risk are interesting.

She also has some great insights on motorcycle touring and engineering. She makes a good case for the Derbi Mulhacen. Would she have migrated from a giant “adventure” 1200 BMW to this smaller, more nimble, bike if not for the accident?

mulhacen For what it is worth, the Mulhacen is said to be the largest bike ever made in Spain, but it’s incredibly small compared to the latest American and German designs.

Does anyone really think 1600cc is a safe or reasonable platform for two wheels? Even 1200 seems out of proportion to me. I couldn’t help but notice the Mulhacen was designed by a German engineer, Klaus Nennewitz, who also helped Aprilia make the Tuono, and the engine is a Yamaha design. Derbi is a subsidiary of Piaggio, the famous scooter company. This new take on the 1970s scrambler concept is probably far too sensible (it’s a long long way from the current fad of chrome-covered American garage queens and show boats) to be shipped to the US market for some time.

The only thing I’d change is to make it a diesel-hybrid instead of yet another gasoline bike. But I guess that would be changing a lot, eh?

The drag car incident and risk

ESPN’s report on the Tennessee drag car incident has a very troubling quote:

Amateur video of the crash, broadcast on WMC-TV in Memphis, showed the car’s engine revving loudly before the vehicle sped down the highway. After a few hundred feet, the smoking car skidded off the road and into the crowd.

“It’s been a safe event until this year,” Police Chief Neal Burks said Monday.

With all due respect to the Chief, it has not been a safe event until this year. Rather, it has been an event without incident. The two conditions are vastly different and should never be confused when calculating risk.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it is a pet peeve of mine to find managers who say they have a safe environment when what they really mean is they are unaware of any incidents. Being lucky is definitely not the same thing as studying data and preparing for predictable outcomes.

I wonder what the Chief would say if he pulled someone over for a safety violation (e.g. speeding, no seatbelt, drunk driving, etc.) and that person said “I have been safe so far”.

The crash occurred at a Cars for Kids charity show, which has been an annual event in this small town 80 miles east of Memphis for 18 years. The drivers always do crowd-pleasing burnouts — spinning the tires to make them heat up and smoke — at the end of the parade.


Cars for Kids holds several events throughout the nation and raises close to $200,000 annually for charities that help children in need, according to its Web site.

The charity was formed in 1990, two years after founder Larry Price’s son, Chad, suffered a severe head injury in a bicycle accident. Price promised that if his son was saved from lifelong injuries, he would spend the rest of his life raising funds for disabled children, according to the Web site.

So here is an interesting question: Would the crowds come and pay admission if there was less risk (to the driver, the environment, or themselves)? Seems to me there is some questionable judgment and sad irony in using high-risk activities to raise funds to pay for injuries from risky activities. Then again, maybe I’m a bit more sensitive than most to the risks of “burning” tires or “burnouts” for show.

Tires are not made of rubber, they are complex chemical mixtures that will release thousands of chemicals in mixtures that will create new ones, the health hazards of this are unknown. As a cancer researcher I know that mixtures of chemicals in low doses are cancer causing in humans, even if the individual chemical is not.

Would you like some asthma with those fries?

Carbon Footprint Calculator

The World Resources Institute has put a calculator online that promises fun for all ages:

The average American is responsible for about 20 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, a far greater per capita number than that of any other industrialized country. In fact, the US accounts for more than 20% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. You can reduce your carbon footprint by driving a more efficient car, or driving less. You can also plant trees or help preserve forests to offset your emissions, since trees are a sink for carbon.

I guess it is targeted for Americans.

I have often wondered how people calculate their carbon footprint when they talk about offsetting it. I mean the political mudslinging lately seems to have been linked to who has the bigger footprint and what can be done individually to compensate. For example, what is President Bush’s carbon footprint? Is it higher or lower than prior Presidents? Is testing Bush on compliance going to end up down the same road as the “Click It or Ticket” campaign where he promised to support a crackdown on drivers who disobey the law, while he paraded around in disregard?

Bush did not violate Texas law. “On private property, you’re not required to wear your seat belt,” said Tela Mange, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety. She said “it’s fairly common” in the ranchlands of Texas.

Will Bush try to come up with a similar justification for carbon emissions exemptions? Should the calculator have an option “click here if you are a member of the Bush family”?

After all, isn’t the reason for the seatbelt law to prevent some people from causing harm to themselves that others ultimately have to pay for (through the externalities of the insurance and emergency response system)? Or perhaps the Department of Safety is simply saying they have no jurisdiction on private roads, which raises a whole other discussion (libertarians, start your engines) about the “corporal” right to pollute on personal property.

Anyway, it would be nice if politicians could publish their carbon footprint data as a matter of public record, including the impact from private spaces.

In case anyone is interested, the calculator says my footprint is apparently far less than the national average. I suppose that has something to do with driving a biodiesel car that gets almost 40mpg and walking to work on most days.

Seems to me that the calculator should end with “and this is what you can do to offset your footprint: plant x trees…”. And it should perhaps also offer a range, or some measure of certainty, since the calculations are really just estimates.

Iraq War Spurs Vehicle Weight Savings

Composites companies, such as TPI, are reported to have been hired by the US military to find ways to save weight on vehicles. The objective is to compensate for armor and weapons, but the same technology will be excellent for fuel efficiency if used in the civilian market:

The cab was designed for the U.S. Army’s tactical wheeled vehicle fleet and addresses serious vehicle issues by being lighter in weight, highly durable, and strong enough to carry the heaviest of armor and mine blast protection.

TPI’s lightweight, all-composite cab allows soldiers to carry more protective armor, ammunition, and equipment because it weighs hundreds of pounds less than cabs constructed with conventional materials. For example, TPI’s cab would allow the accommodation of 400 more pounds of weight than a comparable integrated A-kit aluminum based design.

That is a lot of weight savings. Efficiency is a better real-world security value than big or heavy.