Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I HASTEN to say that this item has nothing to do with drugs. Rather, it’s on the perception of movement and its feeling of exhilaration. It’s also about bees and how they fall for the same trap as SUV drivers.

By way of personal history, I’ve exceeded 178 mph at Ohio’s vast Transportation Research Center. I was piloting a Callaway Corvette at the time. But the fastest I’ve ever driven was in my Austin Mini Moke on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas—35 mph down a one-way street, the wrong way.

I was chasing a motorcycle thief, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, it was a brash act but one still lodged firmly in my memory. You sit on—not in—a Moke (see And everything rushes by with real immediacy—St. Thomas store fronts, pedestrians, telephone poles.


There is a sense of immediacy in any Moke drive. For trivia fans: My intrepid passengers are Kim Reynolds, Rich Homan and Andy Bornhop.

Driving a race car into a corner isn’t nearly as scary, but I get the same high holding off braking and downshifting until what seems the very last instant. The high is enhanced in something like a Formula Ford, what with one’s proximity to the tarmac.

In fact, researchers have determined that “command driving positions” in SUVs work in the opposite manner: Drivers tend to underestimate the speed at which they’re traveling. The researchers analyzed the angle of incidence in forward view of the road and concluded that drivers set a pace according to the rate of visual differentiation; that is, how quickly the view was changing.

Curiously enough, as the old song says, bees do it too. Only with bees, the thing being misjudged isn’t speed (they’re apparently pedal-to-the-metal types), it’s distance.


This wonderful illustration is by Leo Bestgen (see It appeared in Road & Track, March 2002.

Honeybees do clever little dances to communicate to their sisters (yes, guys, male bees are nothing but dumb drones). A bee waggles and whirls to share information on direction and distance to nectar and pollen discoveries.

The bees’ perception of direction is easy: It’s that-a-way. But perceiving distance is rather more complex. Some researchers thought bees did it by energy consumption. Others suggest they rely on visual stimuli—much like we do in Formula Fords, Mokes and SUVs.

Researchers tested this hypothesis of “image motion” in a neat way. They encouraged bees to pass through a tunnel on the way from hive to feeder and back. Then they alternated the lining of the tunnel between simple and complex visual content.

In statistically significant numbers, bees traveling past complex landscape thought they had covered more distance, and they communicated this misinformation in their subsequent dances.

Just like driving a Moke the wrong way down Nytvar Gade. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2012

2 comments on “HIGH ON SPEED

  1. Bill Urban
    December 6, 2012

    Re “The high is enhanced in something like a Formula Ford, what with one’s proximity to the tarmac” . . . It’s all relative, no pun intended. But I don’t think that can top my open go-kart experience (ground clearance 2″) at 65MPH, enhanced by a Power Products chainsaw engine behind your ear at 9,000ReportsPM, not 4,500.

    • simanaitissays
      December 6, 2012

      Hi, Bill,
      This reminds me of the Tech Auto Club at Worcester Poly, my undergraduate school. We had a couple of go karts as well, run at a local little track that shared property with–of all things–a chicken farm. Thanks for jogging my memory on this.
      – d

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This entry was posted on December 6, 2012 by in And Furthermore..., Sci-Tech and tagged , , .
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