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  • Bob LoCicero

Ride Safer With the SMARTrainer

On the SMARTrainer, riders can experience road hazards in a safe environment

Eddie Krasnow tries the simulator while instructor Bill Mitchell looks on
Eddie Krasnow tries the simulator while instructor Bill Mitchell looks on

You’re riding down a city street when suddenly a pedestrian steps into your path from behind a parked box truck. Your heart jumps, you grab the front brake causing the front tire to howl as you skid into the man knocking him to the ground. Your bike goes down and you fall in a jumble to the pavement.

Fortunately, this is the world of the SMARTrainer not the real world. No was killed, injured or maimed. Your bike wasn’t destroyed and you won’t have to go to court. You can hit the reset button and try it again.

Ride Safe Vermont, a Burlington VT based motorcycle safety instruction company, recently acquired the motorcycle simulator as tool for training tool new and returning riders.

“It seemed like a great bridge between VMAP and the Basic Rider Course,” said Bill Mitchell, owner of Ride Safe Vermont. VMAP is the Vermont Motorcycle Awareness Program, a course which prepares riders to take the motorcycle permit test.

The trainer consists of a computer, monitor and a set of motorcycle controls. Riders operate the simulator by using the motorcycle controls. There is a working speedo, gear indicator and rearview mirrors.

While it would be tempting to compare the simulator to a video game, it is definitely not a game and great care has been taken to make the experience as close to riding as possible.

SMARTrainer hand controls
SMARTrainer hand controls

All the controls are standard, including kill switch, start button, turn signal switch, horn, and high beam flasher. Riders must shift using a foot control in the standard 1 down, 5 up shift pattern. The clutch must be released smoothly as the rider rolls on the throttle to get underway. Braking must be smooth and the rider must use both the front and rear brake to stop in the minimum distance.

Audio feedback includes surrounding traffic noises and the motorcycle engine. When too much front brake is used, the tire squeals. The feel of the front brake is progressive, simulating hydraulic braking accurately. The throttle control rolls on and gains speed as expected for the gear selection. Even engine braking works as it does on a real bike.

SMARTrainer foot controls
SMARTrainer foot controls

The purpose of the tool is to improve rider perception skills and reinforce the S.E.E. strategy – Search Evaluate Execute – for safe riding learned in the MSF Basic Rider Course. When running simulations, riders must continually scan for hazards and use coordinated hand and foot controls to avoid them.

The simulator can produce 45 different scenarios, using a combination of day, night and fog conditions. Riders can choose a city course, a ride in the suburbs or a tour along the sea coast or up in the mountains. Rider speed is taken into account when presenting hazards and the traps vary each time the simulator is run.

Hazards include merging, pedestrians, bicyclists, children playing, left turning vehicles and lane changers. While these types of hazards are almost expected, there are more complex scenarios like debris in the road, changing road surfaces and cars riding in your blind spot. One scenario involves a tailgating truck, while approaching a yellow light; the rider must decide whether it is safer to ride through the yellow or attempt a stop (spoiler: stopping results in a crushing rear-ender).

Typical training sessions last five minutes. After a session, the rider reviews the ride with a coach, which is perhaps the most valuable part of the tool.

The coach can change the perspective 360 degrees, allowing an incident to seen from all angles. A diagram of the street shows motorcycle position, cars and obstacles involved in the incident. The coach can use the simulation as a springboard to discuss options, related their experience and open the student’s mind to possibilities and how to avoid trouble in the real-world.

At the end of the review, the coach can print a synopsis of the session for the student to review at home. The synopsis shows where the rider was riding above or below the speed limit, where their turn signal initiated and when it was cancelled. Each incident is graded and the synopsis tells how the rider reacted and what they might have done differently.

While the tool is great for new riders, Mitchell is finding that experienced riders can benefit too. “What we’re finding is, experienced riders can get something out of the trainer too,” Mitchell said. “It brings you back to reality: these things can happen to me.”

By merely increasing awareness of what might happen, riders become safer. The simulator makes familiar what otherwise might be a surprise. By removing surprise – and reducing the delay caused by panic -- the rider moves quickly from assessing options to action. Reducing processing time improves reaction time and increases the chance of good outcome.

Ride Safe Vermont is scheduling SMARTraining sessions throughout the coming summer. The trainer will be demoed at the coming Green Mountain Harley Ladies Night, Central Vermont Motorcycles in Rutland on Friday May 9th and in Brattleboro on Saturday May 14th. See the Ride Safe Vermont SMARTrainer schedule page for a complete list of dates and reservation information.

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