Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This mortal coil

Photo from UK's Telegraph, with apologies
Up until yesterday I could think of only one journalist who had been killed while testing a vehicle for the enthusiast press: Car and Driver's Don Schroeder tragically crashed in 2000 during a closed-course top-speed run in a modified Mercedes and did not survive.

Today that number goes up to two. Kevin Ash, the terrifically respected and admired motorcycle correspondent for the British MCN magazine and Telegraph newspaper, died while on a BMW test ride in South Africa.

Details are scarce right now, but I think this is a fair time to reflect on the misunderstood idea that a car or motorcycle tester's life is somehow all fun and thrills. Those folks go out and do legitimately dangerous work so that the rest of us can make informed decisions, or at least have some greater understandings.

Acceleration runs and top speeds may be so much bench-racing grist, but the human factor - the feel of the controls, the responsiveness of the setup - must be investigated and described. And if you're doing it right, you're often way outside normal margins. It's a serious risk.

We all face mortality in one way or another. And this is not about some "died doing what he loved" excuse either. I detest that dismissal. I'm sure he would have very much preferred to die of old age at home in bed, maybe after one last brilliant ride through the English hills.

The physics of motion can be thrilling. They can also be brutally uncompromising.

My deepest condolences to his family and coworkers and friends.

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