We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Michael Jennings on how a discount airline that loses the safety also loses the profits

Patrick Crozier and various others, of whom I am one, continue to put stuff up at Transport Blog from time to time (although my contributions are not always very profound). One of the more interesting Transport Blog items of recent weeks has been this recorded conversation in which Samizdata’s own Michael Jennings talks with Patrick Crozier about low cost airlines. Says Patrick: “Here‘s my favourite bit.”

This favourite bit is worth quoting in full:

Jennings: There was an airline named ValuJet which flew a plane into the Everglades and everybody on that plane was killed. Now this sort of put a damper on the discount airlines of the US, because ValuJet was the second largest discount airline in the US at that point after South West, and it got out … once there was an investigation into this crash, it turned out that ValuJet had cut costs in all kinds of places, and in particular they’d simply neglected safety. And because the fact that this one discount airline in the US had done terribly bad things with respect to maintenance, discount airlines in the US didn’t grow as fast after that as they probably would have if this crash had not happened.

Crozier: It’s interesting that that does sort of put a kibosh on the profits-before-safety argument. If you try to put profits you lose the safety, and if you lose the safety you lose the profits.

Jennings: The interesting thing which came out of that was that discount airlines in other parts of the world really, really learned a lesson from that. Discount airlines in Europe, in particular RyanAir, which is … one of the most ferocious cost-cutting companies I’ve ever seen of any kind … it doesn’t skimp on maintenance. The lesson was learned that whatever you do, you do your maintenance properly, because if you do skimp on maintenance and a plane crashes that will be the end of you, basically.

One of Patrick Crozier’s relentless Transport Blog memes is that safety and profit are not alternatives; they go hand in hand. As he says here in connection with railways, where exactly the same equation applies:

… crashes are expensive. You lose the train, you lose passenger revenue through delays and cancellations and you probably have to rebuild the track. As a rail executive once said: “Even a minor derailment or a collision can cost a fortune. I mean millions.”

No wonder Patrick was glad to hear Michael saying a similar thing not just about airlines, but in particular about cheap airlines.

My favourite bit is where, reflecting on the impact on low cost aviation of the Second World, Michael says:

There are probably more airstrips in East Anglia than there are in all of China.

It’s not so much that I never knew that as that it had never occurred to me to even think about it.

46 comments to Michael Jennings on how a discount airline that loses the safety also loses the profits

  • Frederick Davies

    There are probably more airstrips in East Anglia than there are in all of China.

    Due to its geography, East Anglia could be considered one giant airstrip!

    PS: Sorry, I could not resist…

  • Lascaille

    Interesting quote but he’s wrong – by about x50. Countries with bad road and rail networks which are large have airstrips _everywhere_ because air travel becomes the equivalent of a local bus, and is about as glamourous, and as safe – think DC3s, ford tri-motors (yes, still) and other such airgoing barges.

  • Jerome Thomas

    In my opinion air travel is TOO safe. I would still travel by plane in a world in which the accident rate was orders of magnitude higher than it is. In fact I might prefer such a world. Statistically, air travel is over 20 times safer than car travel. Regulatory bodies demand that this be so and the additional safety costs are of course, born by the customers.

    How cheap would international air travel be if we accepted the same risks when travelling by plane that we accept every day when we get into our cars?

  • Nick Timms

    Jerome, I for one, am prepared to pay the cost. My family travel quite a lot by air and the thing about air accidents is that the passengers walk away from very few of them, unlike cars.

  • Jerome Thomas

    Even if we restrict our conversation to fatal accidents alone, the degree of safety required during air travel is frankly absurd in the face of the risks we happily face in our cars every day.

    If we were required to be as safe on the roads as we are in the air, the vast majority of the public would not be able to afford motor cars.

  • Jerome: feel free to fly ValuJet then. Oh, wait…Seriously though, I am all for lifting the regulations. People who are willing to take risks to minimize costs should be able to do so. Regardless,

    air travel is over 20 times safer than car travel

    As with any statistics, this one needs to be closely examined before jumping to conclusions. Can you cite the source?

  • Jerome Thomas


    Alisa. Of course! My figure was taken from the above piece on the Boeing website

    “Comparing the risk
    In the United States, it’s 22 times safer flying in a commercial jet than traveling by car, according to a 1993-95 study by the U.S. National Safety Council. The study compares accident fatalities per million passenger-miles traveled. The number of U.S. highway deaths in a typical six-month period — about 21,000 — roughly equals all commercial jet fatalities worldwide since the dawn of jet aviation four decades ago. In fact, fewer people have died in commercial airplane accidents in America over the past 60 years than are killed in U.S. auto accidents in a typical three-month period.

    U.S. traffic accident fatalities in 2000 — 41,800

    Commercial airplane fatalities in 2000 — 878?”

  • Interesting quote but he’s wrong – by about x50.

    I am probably wrong. (The good thing about recording conversations and placing them on the internet is that it is much less work than a blog posting. The bad thing is that if you make a semi-facetious quip, it may be preserved for all eternity). However, I doubt it is a factor of 50. The basic point I was making – which is that China is very poorly served by airports compared to Europe – is true. There were only 147 airports in China in 2006. That is all airports with commercial services, including ones with a short runway and a tin shack as a terminal. (Only about 25 of those are capable of serving jets the size of a Boeing 747). China has announced that they will build 97 more airports by 2002, so that “82 percent of China’s population will be within 100km of an airport by 2020”. That sounds impressive, until you figure out that it means that more than 250 million people in China won’t live within 100km of an airport even by 2020.

    China has a few military airstrips too, but that is all. The huge number of long runways in Europe which have perhaps only been used for a little general aviation for the last 50 years are not present. China’s infrastructure was woeful in 1980 – including railways, roads, and air. They are only just fixing it now.

  • Alisa: Jerome is quite right about the safety of flying but the figures are somewhat more complicated than the raw fatality numbers suggest.

    As it stands Air Travel, providing you don’t mind Coach class is amazingly cheap by any metric you care to think about and probably ought to be more expensive than it currently is for various reasons.

    I’m on target to do about 250,000 miles by air this year and I’ve averaged over 150,000 for the last 5 years. I’m reasonably happy that we’re really rather anal about safety on aircraft.

    I’ve been in one aborted landing in my life and that wasn’t all that fun and I’ve read enough about air crashes to know that I really don’t want to be in one.

    There is a myth that at least dying in an aircraft crash is fast. The problem isn’t the crash. It’s the time before you crash when you know there’s very little you can do about it that’s the problem. I suggest Googling Alaska Airlines 261 about how bad the 30 minutes before you crash could be.

  • Daveon:

    but the figures are somewhat more complicated than the raw fatality numbers suggest.

    How so?

  • Nick M

    I’d like to fly in a DC-3 or Ford Trimotor. Golden age of aviation, Tales of the Golden Monkey stuff. I hate being herded through endless teminii onto soul-less Airbuses and Boeings (though I’d give the 247 a go).

    No, I know the modern planes are cheaper and safer and faster but… still. I want a dashing pilot in a leather jacket who fought for The Flying Tigers – preferably me… Failing that I’d settle for a hot aviatrix who’d let me gap her spark-plugs anytime…

  • Nick, in countries where they actually fly these things commercially, the pilots are anything but dashing. Or competent. Or sober.

    Jerome: thanks for the link, I’ll comment on it later – too tired now.

  • Nick M

    I know, and I think I was fairly clear it was a mere flight of fantasy.

  • tdh

    Except that ValuJet changed its name to AirTran, which is still in business.

    It’s hard to keep track of all of the bad guys nowadays, with all of their changing names (in part due to buyouts).

  • Nick M

    Sorry Alisa,
    That came over all too stringent. Me Bad.

  • We are doing every possible effort to reduce car fatalities. They don’t stand at the level they are because we decided it’s not worth investing more to reduce them. It’s not a matter of money, we simply don’t know how to reduce them, it seems to me we never will, there will always be drunk and incompetent drivers.

    Equally, air fatalities are lower not because we invested a lot more money in safety, but because this is the nature of the medium – air travel – it logs a lot of miles in uncrowded “roads” – the air.
    So, this way of looking at the matter – costs vs. safety is false. It’s not (or mostly not) a matter of money.

  • James Waterton

    Lascaille & Michael Jennings: Actually, I’d say Michael’s not far off regarding most of China’s landmass. Its rail network is actually surprisingly decent – well-maintained (for the most part), comprehensive and efficient – and this has been the case for several decades. And its national highway network is in the latter stages of a massive construction binge.

    However, in the Western provinces, it’s a somewhat different story.

  • Brian, thanks for the heads up. Much appreciated.

    Now that we’ve aired the Valujet story, I realise that I should have done a bit more probing. Did Valujet go bust because people refused to fly with them or did they go bust because their insurance rates went through the roof? Or did the loss of a single jet which (I am speculating here) the insurers refused to pay out on put them out of business.

    What I am getting here (thanks to Jerome) is why is plane safety as high as it is: consumer demand, the cost of planes or regulation?

  • The Luke

    Airstrip One! (Thanks, Orwell.)

  • A someone else mentioned here, Valujet did not actually go bust. It was grounded by the FAA for some time – not immediately after the crash but a little later when it clear that their safety procedures were terrible and not in compliance with regulations. They then purchased a much smaller airline named “AirTran” and took the name of the smaller airline, because their own name was mud at that point. Prior to the crash Valujet were high profile and one of the fastest growing airlines in the US. After the crash, the growth stopped and they turned into a smallish stagnating airline, which they remain today. What seems unarguable to me is that the crash was horrifically financially costly for the airline. A lot of this was due to simple loss of reputation, which is emphasized by the fact that they immediately abandoned a brand that they had spent a lot of effort building up, and then went off and more or less pretended that they were not the same airline.

    That reputational loss was caused considerably more by the scandal after the crash than the crash itself. The laws of large numbers mean that even the best airlines do occasionally have accidents, and airlines certainly can have crashes without destroying their reputations. However, have a crash that has been led to by poor safety standards and the reputational damage will be immense.

  • Jerome Thomas


    I have to disagree. We could reduce motor car fatalities very easily. Car models vary widely by how they are rated for safety by bodies such as the Insurance Institute for Highway safety. Here are their 2008 ratings


    We could raise the bar for roadworthiness tommorrow. to take older vehicles off the road

    We could raise the minimum age for driving age to 21

    We could increase the rigor (and expense) of driving tests

    We could impose additional taxes or an outright ban on drivers rated as higher risk by insurance companies.

    Dramatically increasing the costs associated with driving and thus reducing the number of cars on the roads would increase safety.

    I am not advocating any of these draconian measures, but they are certainly possible and would have a positive impact on road safety.

    Society implicitly recognizes that the trade-offs involved are too costly in this instance.

    With air travel however, a ‘safety uber alles’ mentality dominates.

    Nothing wrong with extreme risk aversion if thats your bag and you are willing to bear the costs.

    I just think to set the bar for risk wildly differently for different modes of transportation is pretty irrational

  • Lascaille

    No one seems to have mentioned the most obvious fact – the vast majority of air travel is ‘passenger’ travel – people being shipped about. The vast majority of road travel is ‘driver’ travel – people driving themselves. Pilots do nothing but fly and airlines do nothing aside from operate aircraft so we obviously expect them to be good at it and set appropriately high standards.

    Related to that: what are the fatality statistics for road travel strictly via buses and coaches?

  • The laws of large numbers mean that even the best airlines do occasionally have accidents, and airlines certainly can have crashes without destroying their reputations.

    See for example the current buzz around the heoric life-saving brilliance of BA’s 777 pilots. That will of course flip very rapidly indeed should the pilots’ brilliance turn out to have been needed because of some systematic failing on BA’s part.

  • Nick

    if you want the Golden Age experience safely, there are a couple of Ju 52’s buzzing around Berlin and Munich. Operated, I believe, in their spare time by Lufthansa pilots & mechanics – competent and sober, most likely, if maybe a bit lacking in dash.

    And only tourist circuits, so not *really* commercial flying for the purpose of actually getting from somewhere to somewhere else.

  • Daveon

    Alisa: It depends on what you want to measure. Jerome quoted absolute numbers of deaths, but the more usual tool is deaths per passenger mile, or deaths per passenger hour where people tend to travel a lot further in a single flight than they’d drive in several months – or in my case a single lifetime.

    There are also metrics which look at fatalities per incident and then break down the incidents into types of operated aircraft.

    All show that flying is safer than driving, but the numbers are skewed to the large aircraft and large aircraft companies. I’ve been told by lawyers that the odds short dramatically when you look at light aircraft and especially helicopters.

    Jerome: a lot of the things you suggest aren’t bad ideas for cars. As a relatively new immigrant to the US I especially think you need stricter testing and training and significantly improved road worthiness.

    A lot of aircrashes especially CFT (Controlled Flight into Terrain) are pilot error. It would be interesting to see what impact on flight statistics it would have if you tried to adjust for the difference in numbers of pilots.

  • Jacob

    Jerome Thomas,
    All the measures you enumerate will reduce fatalities somewhat, only a little. The small reduction is not worth the high costs or limitations. There is no way to eliminate road fatalities.
    On the other hand, in airlines it’s the other way around: safety procedures do not cost horribly much, and they are worth doing. The two industries are totally different, the safety comparison is comparing apples to oranges.

  • Midwesterner

    Here is an interesting article (if amateurish) on the various dangers of traveling. Unfortunately, on one of the most interesting tables “Dangerous Trips”(safety by man-hours, not passenger miles) he forgot to include the unit of measure so all that was available was the ratios between them. In that table, he also didn’t say whether ‘planes’ included private although he does discuss it in the text. For a dozen years my favorite ride was a turbocharged motorcycle. I think I was on the less desirable side of the risk continuum.

    The third table down certainly supports the difference between professional and passenger operated vehicles.

  • Daveon: that is exactly what I was driving at, but was too tired to articulate – thank you. (I think that Jerome did quote by passenger-mile, but I could be wrong, as I am just as tired tonight as I was last night.

    From Mid’s link:

    International accident rates for travel are clouded by lack of reporting by the large numbers of people who die in vehicle related accidents and don’t have the courtesy to fill out the paperwork after they are dead.


  • Forgot, Nick:

    Me bad

    . You good:-)

  • mike

    Midwesterner: the article you link too is also very much written from an American point of view (and therefore many of the claims made are almost certainly wrong).

    I know from certain Japanese people I work with that Japanese companies do not forbid their employees from driving in the United States if they so wish. However, under no circumstances may a Japanese employee be permitted to drive in either China or Taiwan.

    Whilst it is possible to use the metro system in Taipei and feel somewhat as though you are in a ‘normal’ city, once you get of the capital – you either take taxis or drive yourself – either way, it is the law of the jungle here – it often seems as though the people here have absolutely no awareness of what is happening around them. It really is incredible.

    To Michael Jennings: as much as I can see the sense in discount airlines giving paramount importance to maintanence and safety – I just cannot bring myself to believe that this could ever actually be true for companies like China Airlines and Eva Airlines operating out of Taiwan. Having spoken to several Australian pilots for these airlines in various pubs over the years, I have a nagging fear of not only China-Taiwan airlines but also the air-traffic control systems. They are apparently as chaotic and immune to common-sense as the ‘drivers’ on the roads…

    So far as transport is concerned, countries like Taiwan really are the wild east.

  • Given the relative price of taxis in Taiwan and China it really doesn’t make much sense to try to drive, providing, and this is really really important, you have your return and target addresses written down for you in Chinese.

    I can’t speak for China Airlines but I’ve flown Eva and they really impressed me. I don’t worry so much about their aircraft but I can imagine the ATC side is scary.

    Now, from what I’m told, if you want SCARY, you should schedule an internal flight inside Russia on Siberia Air. I’m told the planes on the Nihnzy Novgorod-Moscow run has some excellent examples of 1970s Tupolevs still flying.

  • Neither China Airlines or EVA are discount airlines in the sense that I was talking about, so I wouldn’t say they are directly relevant. However, it is certainly true that there are different safety cultures in different places. I have never been to Taiwan so I can’t comment, but China Airlines in particular has a truly ghastly safety record. As for Chinese air traffic control, it is designer for far fewer flights than China presently receives, and it is primitive and incompetent. So yes, no real disagreement, although this does not conflict with the general point.

    Of course, the biggest airline in Asia which does follow the discount model is AirAsia, which I talked about in the podcast. When I was in Asia in December I actually flew a roundtrip with them (domestically within Malysia from Johoh Bahru to Penang), as (a) they were cheap and flew roughly where I wanted to go and (b) I had read a lot about them and wanted to see if they were any good. They struck me as a really professional operation and I am sure their safety standards are excellent. Of course, they are Malaysian rather than Chinese or Taiwanese. I have driven on the roads in Malaysia as well, I felt perfectly safe when doing so. I have not driven on the roads in China, but I have sat in enough vehicles in China with other people driving for me to realise that I don’t particularly want to.

    Daveon: In Chinese cities I have found that carrying a good map of the city and pointing out where you want to go on the map can usually get the message across to the taxi driver as to where you want to go. Trying to actually speak the name of the place is just hopeless, though.

  • Daveon

    In Chinese cities I have found that carrying a good map of the city and pointing out where you want to go on the map can usually get the message across to the taxi driver as to where you want to go.

    Funny, a bunch of us were discussing this tonight and concluded that this was futile. Although my actual China experience is limited to Beijing where I think it would work.

    I’m less convinced about Taipei or Seoul (especially Seoul).

  • The main place I have done it is in Shanghai, and it worked okay there.

    Seoul has such a good metro system that I don’t think I caught a single taxi in the week I was there. It was simply easier to get to the nearest Metro station and then find my way from there. (The lack of street names can make finding your destination tricky once you have got to the right dong though).

  • mike

    Michael Jennings – yes, neither Eva or China Airlines are ‘discount’ in the sense of your podcast discussion (although with the recent completion of the high-speed rail link from Taipei to the south of Taiwan, China Airlines has been forced to cut its’ prices by about 25% for equivalent domestic flights to compete with the new trains).

    By the way, I found myself wondering at the end of the podcast, whether you would have gone on to mention Oasis Airlines – the chaps running the discount London Gatwick – Hong Kong route… any thoughts?

    Daveon: You don’t seem to understand – I really prefer not to take taxis in Taiwan because the people who drive them are terrifyingly incompetent as well as contemptuous of the safety of those around them. I carry this assumption about all Taiwanese drivers and use it to make decisions about how and when I drive – I think it is a generally good policy to have wherever you drive, but it is really driven home to you (no pun intended) when you try to drive here.

    However, when I have taken taxis in the past, I’ve found that simply saying the name of the place must usually be augmented by stating the nearest road intersection – which of course requires some geography. The reason it is difficult to be understood when speaking Chinese place names is usually that your tones are way off. It is actually very easy, for example, to think you are saying ‘yeah’, when in fact you are saying ‘beansprouts’ – the chinese terms for both these words are almost identical, differing only slightly in tone.

    There is also something else however (and somewhat at variance from the original topic!) – I can walk into a McDonald’s in Taipei, order a big mac in good-enough mandarin (I am well-practiced by now), yet still the young girl at the till will simply ignore me and ask my girlfriend what I want. This kind of thing happens quite a bit; if I am with another Taiwanese person and I speak to someone in mandarin – the person I’m speaking to will simply refuse to listen and instead turn to the person I’m with to find out what I want. Whenever I ask why this happens, it turns out to be a diffidence some Asian (Japanese also) people (usually people in serving jobs) have when dealing with westerners. It baffles me because whenever I’m on my own, I can usually make myself understood just fine.

  • Midwesterner


    Your last paragraph is interesting. Is it perhaps that they think of westerners as large children? That is how most servers treat children in the US.

    Do you know any physically apparent westerners who speak with native vocabulary, intonation and body language? (And assertiveness?) Do they get the same treatment after their first sentence?

  • mike

    Midwesterner – westerners as ‘large children’? I tell you, I sometimes think some of the westerners here actually ARE large children!

    Perhaps there is simply a widespread expectation that any westerner they meet will not be able to speak mandarin, and so it possibly comes as a shock to meet one who does.

    Yet that is not what interests me – what does interest me is the suspicion I have that little or no attempt is being made to recognise what I’m saying to them. Even when the circumstances drastically narrown down the possibilities for what I could be saying – I’m in a McDonald’s, they serve ‘food’, they only serve eight kinds of ‘food’ – so you’d think the chances are they’d realise I must want one of their eight kinds of food – and probably the one that sounds just like the one I’m actually saying to them (in their own language)!

    To be fair, I never have a problem with this when I’m on my own – I can make myself perfectly understood so long as I have the vocabulary. It is only when I’m with my girlfriend or another Taiwanese person that this happens – I suddenly cease to exist except as a sort of disgustingly overgrown appendage to whoever I’m with.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course one does not have to be a strict libertarian to understand that “health and safety” is NOT best served by govenment regulations.

    Nor does one just have to use the butcher quote from, non libertarian, Adam Smith (although there is nothing wrong with it).

    For example, Milton Friedman was not a strict libertarian – but the “Who Protects the Consumer?” chapter in his “Free to Choose” (1980) is still very good indeed.

  • Midwesterner


    You mentioned a while back (I think) the premium they place on speed and convenience. Do you think they are just choosing the quickest option?

    BTW, is there any safe way to get around the rural areas safely or is that pretty much a take your life in your hands activity?

  • mike

    Midwesterner – quickest option? Possibly, but it’s just so rude!

    It is certainly possible to catch trains from the major cities (Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taichung) to the rural east coast areas of Hualien and Taitong – and this would certainly appear to be many times safer than driving.

    Yet in my experience, driving in the rural areas has always seemed to me to be much, much safer than driving in any of those cities – simply due to the relative lack of traffic. However, last year I did have to drop the cruiser at 60kph coming down the mountains in Hualien – I went round a corner and there was, right in front of me, a rather large snake crossing the road!

  • Midwesterner

    a rather large snake crossing the road!

    Whoa! That tops my hang gliding Christmas goose in the middle of the visor. I sold my Turbo and haven’t ridden in about ten years. Sometimes I really miss it. What’s the cruiser and how did it survive the slide? Oh, and you as well. Still walking I presume.

  • mike

    A goose in your visor whilst hang gliding? I’ve been meaning to have a go at hang gliding for the last few months actually…

    The cruiser is nothing you will have heard of – it’s a little Taiwanese thing I’ve tuned up a bit (Harley imports are now actually illegal here – air emissions – can you believe that?!). The crash inflicted minor damage that was easily fixed – I was lucky enough to come away with a couple of scars and a rejuvenated sense of mortality!

  • Midwesterner

    No, actually it was the goose who was hang gliding. A big fat white feathered Christmas goose with too much wing loading to actually fly. He had apparently taking a running hang-glider style take-off on a hill next to the road, just cleared the fence and then glided across the road at about 5-6 feet of height.

    I had an extremely brief white-out and actually rode back to see what had happened. I had apparently had his wing feathers on my visor. I don’t know what market ready geese weigh, but at fifty mph in the face …

    How about the Italian Harleys? I had an SX350 years back that was a really good bike. Even if it did say AMF on it. Do you remember those? But they would have flunked emissions as well, I suppose.

  • mike

    “but at fifty mph in the face …”

    Hilarious! Perhaps she was trying to scare you away and miscalculated… well anyway, I bet you came away from that with ‘goose bumps’, so to speak!

    “I had an SX350 years back that was a really good bike.”

    A 1971 twin cylinder V was it? Googling it gives you a nice picture about half-way down…

    Actually, there are plenty of top-notch custom built cruisers here (there’s one guy lives nearby who has a custom-built 8 cylinder chrome monster down in his basement) – but these things are for guys who’ve owned tool factories for years and have practically unlimited cash to spend on this sort of thing. To get them road-legal it’s actually merely a case of adjusting the settings on the carburetor in order to pass the emissions test, and then readjusting them later on – except the police do occassionally carry out random stop checks for that sort of thing. Yet all the Harleys I’ve seen out here are in restaurant windows as show-pieces – they’re never actually driven.

  • Midwesterner

    Actually it was a honkin’ big single. The torque of a steam engine and about the same power band. here is a picture but the bike was actually a very heavy smooth riding bike with very deep suspension travel. What it really did best was be a go anywhere cruiser. I think the ‘SX’ as in ‘Super Cross’ was a miss labeling. This was a bike that would have been good (except for fuel capacity) on a Paris/Dakar sort of thing.

    This was my favorite ride.

    The bike may have been a rocket when on the boost, but around town, its low, 7.2:1 compression ratio and 574-pound curb weight made it sluggish. Then there was the turbo lag — the delay between the time you torqued the throttle and the time the puffer spooled up for monster launches.

    ‘Sluggish’ is an understatement. City driving could be terrifying because the engine would kill at low RPM in the middle of a slow and tightly banked turn. At that point keeping it off of the ground was hernia city. I really liked it for its nature. Up to 5 grand on the tach was a top heavy, stall prone handful. 5 to 7 grand suggested there was some potential. At 7 grand you had to tell your self to shift because red line was 9 grand and those last 2 grand went by in a quick bark.

    It only had 5 gears (which is probably why I still have a pulse and brainwave) so red line was around 120 mph. But at 110, if I sat normally and rolled into the throttle, the front end would lift. If I laid over the tank, the rear end would break loose and start to drift around.

    That 7.2/1 compression ratio would, through the magic of a constellation of sensors and computers, go up into the low 20s/1 under maximum boost. (The article says 19 but somewhere in my technical papers it said 21.something.) Way far into diesel territory. But only available in the highest part of the RPM range. I once caused a lot of doubtful laughter when I said that over 100mph, the bike was ‘peaceful’. I’ve gotten to ride a few different bikes and never felt one that handled open road speed so well.

    More on it here. I really liked the extreme peakyness of it and it was never boring. Ever. They tamed the 650 and that was the end of it.

    What a bike.