Ride into the Danger Zone…

Motorcycle vs. passenger vehicle death chart

It’s a dangerous sport we’ve embraced, folks.  Indeed, looking at this graph, it’s hard to make any other conclusion. Motorcycle fatalities per passenger mile are 37 times higher for motorcycles than for cars.

What irks me about this report, though, is that we, as a community, don’t seem to be making it much safer.  Sure, there are cars that turn in front of us, or change lanes into us…I get it. In fact, my last crash was a guy that T-boned me after running a stop sign.

But I notice two salient facts from this report.

22% of motorcyclists that died in 2009 did not have a valid license.

If you’re riding without a license, there’s a couple of things that could be going on. You can’t ride well enough to pass the test. You don’t want to be inconvenienced with getting a license. But, I presume a significant portion of those people without licenses don’t have them because they got taken away after getting caught doing something stupid.  That doesn’t stop them, because…well…they’re stupid and/or reckless, and the odds caught up with them.

30% of fatal motorcycle crashes involved a driver with a BAC greater than .08.

Speaking of stupid and reckless.  If you tie one on and get on a bike, then you’re just a moron.

Overall, those two numbers tell us that somewhere between 30% and 52% of all motorcycle fatalities are stupidity-related. Frankly, I don’t have any sympathy for these people.  Good riddance.

Not only do they kill themselves, and cause their families pain, they make those of us who have licenses and don’t drink and ride look bad.

Just not drinking and riding would lower motorcycle fatalities by 30%. Maybe that would help stop other morons from arguing that motorcycles should be banned.

Rear-view helmet

Reevu Helmet
Reevu Helmet

A British company is set to bring a brand new helmet concept to market.  Called the Reevu MSX1, this new helmet allows the driver to see the road behind him through a small mirror inserted into the visor.

The mirror reflects the image of whatever is to the rear of the helmet, and to see it, the rider merely has to glance up slightly to see the mirror.  The helmet liner is sculpted to fit the rider’s line of sight to the mirror.

Sadly, there is no word as to whether this helmet will be marketed in the US, or only in Britain.  At £249–approx $400–it isn’t an especially cheap helmet, but it is available directly from Reevu, and their web site has more info.

If you’re interested in what you see as a rider when wearing the helmet, Reevu has obliged us with a demonstration as well.  Click the image below to see a larger view.

Reevu MSX1 Riders View
Reevu MSX1 Riders View

At first glance, it seems like a massively useful idea, and one that really does offer some safety advantages.  It’s a neat idea, and I’d like to see that helmet over here in the US.

The Perennial Loud Pipe Controversy

Maybe you think loud pipes are an important safety feature.  You’re entitled to your opinion, even if I think it’s a pretty stupid one. What you’re not entitled to do, however, is physically threaten city officials who want to keep the noise to a bearable level by introducing noise limits. But that’s what’s happening to Saskatoon city councilor Bob Pringle.

Saskatoon city councillor Bob Pringle says he’s received several threatening phone calls after asking city administrators to examine the possible prohibition of aftermarket exhaust pipes that amplify a motorcycle’s exhaust note. Pringle claims he hasn’t been threatened so much since his days as social services minister under former Premier Roy Romanow in the 1990s.

“Bikers are very angry. They feel like I’m targeting them unfairly and they need this extra noise for safety reasons,” said Pringle in a recent interview.

Many loud pipe proponents have called Pringle to simply tell him to back off, but others have been more sinister, he claims.

“I would love to meet you in a back lane and you wouldn’t come out,” said one caller, according to Pringle.

I guess if you’re foolish enough to think that super loud pipes are the only thing standing between you and certain death, you’re probably foolish enough to make terrorist threats against officials who try to limit the noise.

The thing is, loud pipes don’t actually appear to save lives.  The Hurt Report shows that motorcycles with modified exhausts are involved in accidents more frequently than bikes with stock pipes.  I wonder if that has more to do with the attitude of the rider than the decibel output of the pipes.

As Motorcycle Cruiser puts it:

Yeah, there are a few situations—like where you are right next to a driver with his window down who is about the to change lanes—where full-time noise-makers might help a driver notice you, but all that noise directed rearward doesn’t do much in the most common and much more dangerous conflict where a car turns in front of you. Maybe it’s the fatigue caused by the noise, maybe it’s the attitudes of riders who insist on making annoying noise, or perhaps loud bikes annoy enough drivers to make them aggressive. Whatever the reason, the research shows that bikes with modified exhaust systems crash more frequently than those with stock pipes. If you really want to save lives, turn to a loud jacket or a bright helmet color, which have been proven to do the job. Or install a louder horn. Otherwise, just shut up.

That last piece of advice is particularly good.

You are invisible

Motorcycle Daily’s Dirck Edge has re-posted his “Being Invisible” post, which is full of advice on how to survive the mean streets on a motorcycle. It got me thinking.

As part of my blogging here, I have some standard Google search feeds set up, such as “Honda Motorcycles”, “Harley-Davidson Motorcycles”, “BMW Motorcycles”, etc. These feeds sometimes provide me with links to interesting stories that other motorcycle publications or bloggers haven’t found yet. A very large percentage of the time, however, they provide me with more grim headlines, of the “Motorcyclist Shredded Into Tiny Pieces Then Ground to Paste by Semi”.  There are horrific accident stories every day on those search feeds.  Every day. It really brings home to me, on a regular basis, that we are involved in a dangerous sport.

Sometimes, in these stories, the motorcyclist is clearly at fault, usually because alcohol was involved, or excessive speed.  I have no sympathy at all for the motorcyclist in the former case, and often little sympathy in the latter.If you drink and ride, you’re a complete fool. If you push the limits of your ability and something bad happens…well, those are the breaks. It’s unfortunate, but if you play dice with your skill set, sometimes the wrong card is gonna turn up. And I say that as someone who in no way could be characterized as the poster-boy for conservative riding. It’s something that could very well happen to me. This, as the Mafiosi say, is the life we’ve chosen.

But a lot of those accidents are the fault of motorists, rather than motorcyclists, with the common refrain from the motorist, standing over the broken body of a motorcyclist, is “I never saw him!”  Because, to a lot of motorists, you are, in fact invisible. My accident a couple of years ago happened when I was riding in a Hi-Vis yellow suit, with my brights on, doing about 20MPH, when a guy pulled out from the stop sign of a T-intersection. He never saw me, either. Partly, this is psychological.  Drivers are looking for cars, so they get “car tunnel vision”.  If an object doesn’t register as a car, it may not register on them at all, and then they do something that causes a Bad Thing to happen to a motorcyclist.

That highlights a fallacy of a certain class of rider who thinks that, because they have a sharply honed riding skill set, that they can avoid accidents via their madd skillz.  That’s utter BS.  Your skills are only half of the equation.  No matter how good a rider you are, drivers can always put you into a bad situation in an instant.

Chris won’t even ride pillion with me any more, because she just can’t take sitting helplessly behind me and watching drivers do the silly things they always do in the vicinity of motorcycles. The last time she rode with me, she ended up cursing a blue streak at cagers who cut us off, made irrational lane changes, followed too closely, and generally did all the things that those of us who regularly ride the streets have to get used to.

So, Dirck Edge’s advice is about as good as it’s ever going to get.  Remember that you are invisible.  Stay focused, and scan the surrounding traffic. Look for escape routes. Make yourself as visible as you can.

And, going beyond that advice, wear the proper gear.  When I had my accident, I was bumped and bruised, with a broken toe, but I didn’t have a scratch on me, because I was ATGATT. My knees, shoulders, elbows all came through with flying colors too. At the end of the day, when that car makes an unexpected lane change and slams into your bike, it’s too late to regret being clad in a half helmet, wife-beater, shorts, and tennis shoes. You are now going to experience unpleasantness.

Just some free advice. What you do with it is up to you.

Speaking of tires…

The rear tire on my FJR1300, well scrubbed, but with an adequate safety margin
The rear tire on my FJR1300, well scrubbed, but with an adequate safety margin

…I’ve noticed something odd when I go to the shop with my FJR.  That’s my rear tire over there.  Now, that’s not an extreme-to-the-edge wear pattern, although it does reflect some peg scraping.  But I have a 650-pound touring bike, and, while I’m nowhere near the poster-boy for conservative riding, I’m not willing to sacrifice my life to Mr. Inertia.

But every time I go to the shop, I see a number of literbikes and super sports that are worn all the way down to the cords in the center of the tire, and with three untouched inches of tire on either side of the center.

So, I guess I’m just curious.

What, exactly, is it that you sportbike guys are doing when you ride?

Are you just doing burnouts in the parking lot, wasting 100+ bucks per tire in a few days? Or do you just never turn, and ride in endlessly straight lines?  How on earth does someone burn through a tire, while leaving the outer two or three inches untouched on either side? And, by the way, you do realize that if you can see steel cords on the surface of your tire, then riding it–even to the shop–is a gamble, right?

I just have this image in my mind of someone who hauls his ZX600 from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds at every stoplight, and then slows to 5 MPH every time he approaches a corner.

Seriously, I’m not trying to be an ass. I really do wonder how you can actually ride a sportbike for any distance at all, and have pristine, untouched, 3-inch chicken strips.  You simply have to be doing something stunty, and not using the bike as a daily ride.

And while we’re on the subject of weird riding habits, what’s with the shorts and tennis shoes?  I realize that we live in a desert here in far southern California.  It’s hot.  I get it.  But I constantly see guys tooling around in shorts and tennis shoes.  And I’m not talking about squids on super sports.  It’s almost universal.  I see guys on Gold Wings, Harleys, sportbikes, and BMW GSs wearing shorts and Reeboks, tooling around town, and on the highway. And I’m not talking about dumb young kids.  I’m talking about guys my age (mid-40s) riding 800 lb tourers.

I mean, granted, I’m a paranoid old woman who wears a full Olympia Motosports suit and full-face helmet to ride 2 blocks to the 7-11, but seriously, why on earth would you hit I-15 on a bike, wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and a ratty old pair of Air Jordans?  Even if you’re a super-skilled rider, the roads are full of cager morons who’ll run you over without even seeing you.

You are aware that we are involved in a rather dangerous sport, aren’t you?

New Motorcycle Traffic Study Initiated

For the first time since 1981’s Hurt Report, the  Federal Highway Administration is beginning a comprehensive study of traffic safety as it relates to motorcycles.

A significant new motorcycle crash causation study will soon get under way at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Formally announced by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on Oct. 5, the study will give motorcyclists and others concerned with highway safety a fuller picture of how motorcycles fit into today’s traffic mix, a better understanding of what causes motorcycle crashes, and insights into the best strategies to prevent these crashes.

“The announcement that the full study will now begin is great news,” said Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations. “While the study will take years to complete, it promises to offer up information that will allow for the creation of effective countermeasures to make the roads safer for all of us.”

The last major motorcycle crash study, called “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Countermeasures,” commonly known as the Hurt Report (named after lead researcher Harry Hurt), was published in 1981. It provided a wealth of data that has been used to develop training and strategies to help keep riders safer on the road. In the decades since, the traffic environment has changed enormously, prompting the AMA to begin campaigning for a new study several years ago.

“There is certainly a lot more traffic now than when Harry Hurt and his team did their research,” Moreland said. “SUVs didn’t exist back then, and motorcycles have advanced light years in technology. On top of that, distracted driving poses a significant safety challenge. We will certainly learn a lot from this new study.”

The FHWA is overseeing the OSU project, which will be administered at the Oklahoma Transportation Center, an independent and well-respected research facility in Stillwater.

It will be interesting to see how the changes of the past 28 years will affect the conclusions of the study.