Kevin Ash's Death Still Needs Some Explanations

It’s been more than a year since the tragic, untimely and still mysterious death of Kevin Ash, one of the most popular and respected motorcycle journalists in both native UK and throughout the world. Yet, his demise remains shrouded in mystery, as the inquiry supposed to shed some light on his accident simply turned out the “accidental death” verdict… and that’s it.
Kevin died from injuries sustained after a crash in South Africa last January, where he and other Journalists were invited by BMW Motorrad to test the new liquid-cooled R1200GS. A highly experienced rider, Ash crashed in rather strange conditions, and reports from the other journalists mention the dusty environment which prevented them from seeing how things actually happened.

The crash happened near the town of George, some 155 miles (250 km) east of Capetown, just as the riding journalists were reportedly preparing to step down form the tarmac roads and enter dirt tracks to test the enduro mode of the new BMW motorcycles.

Now, riders do come off their bikes every now and then, and with new machines and off-road conditions, spills should not be exactly a huge surprise. Still, what’s missing from the whole picture is BMW skipping the corporate talk crap and explaining how they believe things happened and what were the exact findings on Kevin’s bike. I mean, disclosure, for the sake of truth, safety and Kevin’s heritage.

Warwickshire coroner Sean McGovern only says that he can’t produce a verdict, due to insufficient evidence. Since he is no bike forensics specialist, he refrains to set the blame on the rider, bike, or road and weather conditions, and adds that the “reasons remain unclear.”

On the other hand, BMW officials are also saying that even if the accident resulted in the death of a journalist, they’re clean, and so are their bikes, “Following the accident a thorough investigation was carried out on all aspects of the motorcycle Kevin rode at the time of the incident. The investigation showed that all of the motorcycle’s parts were functioning as they should and there was no evidence found of any kind of mechanical problem or failure which caused or contributed to this accident.”

Even more, the cited BMW official spokesperson adds that the manufacturer isn’t going to make the result of their own investigations public, as they were “prepared in contemplation of possible legal proceedings and therefore remains legally privileged.” In fewer, easier to understand words – “we’re telling you naught.”

The same thing has been going on during the whole time since Kevin’s accident and even though his widow, Caroline Ash, repeatedly asked BMW to disclose the full investigation report, things did not move an inch.

I somehow feel that something’s amiss, very amiss, in this affair. Sterile sentences and corporate talk are, really, little to no comfort at all for Kevin’s family and at least they should be the ones to find out what really happened in South Africa that day. For them, this might bring soothing, regardless of who is to blame.

If Kevin made a very costly mistake, well, that’s at least the (equally small) comfort his survivors can take. In the end, riding a motorcycle comes with a lot of risks and we all have to live with them each time we get on the bike. On the other hand, in case there was something wrong with the bike, BMW has to pay. In full.

Honestly, it’s been more than once when we saw corporations treating the loss of human lives as collateral damage in their way towards bigger profits. This is happening all over the world and in pretty much all industries. We’ve seen ecological disasters affecting huge numbers of people, accidents killing hundreds and so on… with little to no effect on those truly responsible.

If BMW wants to avoid being catalogued as a gang of cold-blooded murderers, answers are needed. Proper answers, documented, with all the issues addressed properly and with no “yeah, we checked the bikes, they’re okay, don’t know what happened, bye!” BS. I am no expert in Police and state prosecutor investigations in South Africa, but it seems like common sense that an independent investigator is employed to check the bike after a rider is killed riding it, more so in such mysterious circumstances. Allowing BMW to do their own investigation on the bike before a forensic mechanic examines it is a bit bizarre, don’t you think?

Okay, maybe such an expert was hired, and could not find anything… quite a possible scenario. The bike was an all-new build, with new technologies involved and deciding how things should work properly and telling this from faulty operation was almost impossible. Well, we can live with this, but then, why is BMW withholding the report of its own analysis? Again, answers are needed, badly.

Now, let’s get to the even trickier part of the whole affair: the infamous tankslapper reports and the steering damper. It appears like some guys riding the new R1200GS reported the bike’s front end wobbling without any sort of warning on perfect roads and in straight lines. Various types of steering neck shakes have also been reportedly experienced by other riders in Brazil, too.

I talked to a Brazilian rider and he indicated I should visit a local consumer safety resource, Reclame Aqui, and read the complaints. Alongside tankslappers, several crashes have been reported in conjunction with this shaking, and they are not happening in Brazil only.

Here’s an excerpt from a Visor Down article published last December, speaking about similar reports and crashes, “Earlier this year, Bike Magazine's Martin Fitz-Gibbons described a tankslapper he experienced while riding an R1200GS on a straight road. He said: ‘Down one laser-straight, Fenland-flat road late in the afternoon, the bike I was riding snapped into a vicious tankslapper.’”

Kevin Duke, editor-in-chief of US website, described an incident on a rippled surface, saying, “In an instant and with seemingly no provocation, the bike went into a wild tankslapper that threatened to throw me from the bike. It was a very panicked second before the steering regained its composure.”

South African racer Reg Gurnell crashed after the R1200GS he was riding went into a tankslapper during an “Econorun” fuel economy contest. He said, “I was on a brand spanking new road with no potholes in perfect conditions. The front just went into a full-on tankslapper. It caught me totally unawares.”

Since we’re out on a quest for truth, truth must be told: there is still no direct or implied connection between the tankslappers and Kevin’s accident. If anyone rushes to say that the faulty design or electronics setup of the R1200GS have played a role in his unfortunate demise, then proof is needed, much more than simple allegations. Such shallow claims are just as worthless as the feeble explanations BMW has offered so far.

Still, EXPLANATIONS seem to be the very thing missing from the entire affair, the ONE THING which prevents Kevin from resting in peace. BMW adding a steering damper to the bike even though claiming it wasn’t exactly necessary is not helping at all, and neither is secrecy. In fact, BMW’s lack of transparency in the matter is only fuelling all the “conspiracy theories” and gives the bike a bad name.

Of course, BMW fans will disregard the matter, with all the updates the bike got and will be happy with their riding. But to the rest, Kevin’s family and people who are into really finding out what really happened on the outskirts of George, South Africa I wish they have the necessary strength to keep on fighting until the truth is discovered. Until then, there will be a lot of people willing to accept that the new R1200GS has become a safe bike, but will still turn an ever-suspecting eye on BMW.

Kevin Ash deserves an answer.
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