24 Dec 2013

And what about the objectivity?

On 20 December Visordown published an article entitled Kevin Ash’s widow still waiting for answers from BMW.

If you see a title like that you know it’s going to be a contentious article, but I was somewhat unprepared for what, in my opinion, was tabloid style reporting, with unreferenced quotes from various points in time since the accident occurred, and what felt like the author leading the reader toward his own bias on the subject.

I know the journalism community is tight (‘take one for the team’ etc) and they lost a very highly regarded colleague on the day of the accident, but I would also expect the reporter to indulge in at least a dribble of objectivity. Instead, the tone was one of the ‘big bad corporation’ remaining tight-lipped—despite stating that the public prosecutor in South Africa hasn’t yet released the findings of the investigation. Is BMW meant to fabricate something in the meantime?

A couple of ‘facts’ in the article were not well researched. The article states that the R1200GS has been equipped with a steering damper since October, although my bike, which was built in late August and delivered at the beginning of September, came with the damper. Sloppy reporting, but forgivable. The statement about ‘a new traction control package called Automatic Stability Control’ is incredibly misleading. The system is not new—in 2013 buyers could optionally have the bike fitted with 5-mode ASC (rain, road, dyna, enduro, enduro pro), and the vast majority of the bikes sold were so equipped. For 2014, BMW made 2 of the 5 modes (rain, road) standard on all models, and the other 3 modes (dyna, enduro, enduro pro) optional. To give some context, they also made ABS standard on all models in 2012, when this was previously optional.

The context in which the steering damper and ASC were mentioned implied that BMW had added these features in response to the accident. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t—but objectively speaking, there are simply no facts to prove or disprove this theory at this point in time.

With very few exceptions, I have all but stopped reading comments on news articles, much less getting involved in futile commenting wars with armchair activists (too many angry people propagating thoughtless and hateful drivel) but this time I felt compelled to create an account and express my views objectively:


Firstly, RIP to a great personality, reporter and loving family man. No one wants these things to happen in our circles. And like any grieving family, KA’s wants answers. They are angry. Upset. They want someone to blame. They want closure. I would too. As it stands now, no one knows exactly what happened and it will likely remain this way indefinitely.

Almost unanimously, the responses here are quick to point the finger although none of us witnessed the accident. If a tank slapper was the cause of the accident there would most certainly be damage to the steering stops which inevitably would have been reported by this point by the public prosecutor based on the finds of the SA police who investigated the incident. Since this has not been reported, no manufacturer (BMW, Ducati, KTM, Honda etc) could be reasonably expected to admit liability for speculation or allegation of which there is no proof. If BMW were found to be negligent by the investigation you can bet it would have been splashed across international media circles like lightning. But people love to vilify the ‘big, bad corporation’ without any objectivity. A corporation with people like you and me who have exactly the same strong feelings about the incident. You can bet there are engineers and testers losing sleep about how their work resulted in someone’s death.

BMW claim their decision to fit a steering damper on 2014 models of the standard 1200 is to harmonise the production of the platform which now includes the new Adventure and RT models which were designed from the start to include the damper—exercising economies of scale or some such economics-speak. Everyone will of course have strong opinions on this claim but it is nevertheless nothing more than speculation to connect this to an issue that was experienced by a couple of reporters, yet strangely not reported in various forums by the 17,000 or so owners of this model.

KA had a reputation for being a sensible, experienced rider. But he was still a human being with the potential to make errors in judgement like any other person. Was this the case? Again, nobody knows. I don’t know how many of the people commenting here ride regularly off road... I have enjoyed doing this for years on heavy bikes, and despite my experience I still come off the bike from time to time—it’s an inevitable risk of the activity. And for any number of reasons... Misjudging a rut. A brief lapse of reading the trail surface. A small, unfortunately located rock mid corner.

So we are back to the beginning again. A person has died who shouldn’t have died and I wholeheartedly join in with everyone else who sends their best thoughts to his grieving and heartbroken family. I hope they find closure somehow. But perhaps the reason nothing more has come from this incident, is because there is nothing more to come. Sometimes accidents happen to good people.


I was somewhat surprised by the response (perhaps I shouldn’t have been). Wild accusations of being paid by BMW to write this, corporate astro-turfing (ie a BMW spokesperson attempting to appear as a general member of the public). Of course it’s all a conspiracy and we should all sit around wearing foil hats. My response:


I’m not sure how I should take the comments above. No, I most certainly do not work for BMW. But at the same time I don't feed into foil hat conspiracy theories based on speculation. My line of work is in communications in a healthcare setting which involves considering events and writing with objectivity—I have also worked in clinical risk management.

Re-read what I have written carefully and you will find that I have not sided with anyone—I have simply pointed out the knowns and unknowns in this incident without drawing any conclusions based on speculation.

I agree with [nickname removed]—it is a rather convenient coincidence that BMW have added the damper on 2014 models. But no one outside of BMW has all the facts behind this decision, so to draw a parallel to the accident would again be based on speculation. If I had to harbour a guess, I would say it would be more toward the public perception side of things than an outright design flaw, based on the negative press. But that astro-turfing remark is a bit rude—I’m not difficult to find on google, I’m either duffs or duffs10 on several motorbiking forums.

Also agree with [nickname removed]—large corporations are not quick to issue statements until all investigations have been completed. If anyone of you were potentially liable for a tragic event, would you issue a statement before having all the facts? I would expect once the public prosecutor has issued their statement, one will follow from BMW.

I would love to know if there was a clear root cause behind the accident—as much as anyone else here—but this just isn’t the case at this point in time.


As of 9:30pm on Christmas Eve (how sad am I to be doing this when I should be focussing on the lovely bottle of red staring at me from across the room) the comments have been suspiciously disabled for the article, although they are still accessible in the Visordown forum.

It worries me about the state of the world when objectivity is viewed with suspicion, and where people form such strong opinions based on nothing more than speculation and hearsay, instead of researching the facts, however few are available.

But when this includes reporters, who are paid to write objectively and without bias, there simply is no excuse.

Come on, you know you have an opinion—let’s hear it.

3 Dec 2013