Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

It’s increasingly common for new riders to go through a graduated licensing system whereby they’re restricted to riding certain capacity bikes for a period of a few months up to a few years before they’re able to ride whatever they want. Even in the United States where no such restrictions really exist, the beginner bike category is booming. The factor driving this is supposedly safety – it’s safer for new riders to be on small capacity bikes rather than jumping on liter bikes. But is this really true?

We’re big on safety here at TheRideAdvice. We’re big supporters of ABS, wearing good quality protective gear and really understanding motorcycle techniques. Just look at our YouTube channel if you don’t believe us. And we do believe it’s better for new riders to have lower capacity machines. But the reason for our view has nothing to do with safety. In fact, we say a KTM RC390 is just as capable of killing a new rider as is a Kawasaki ZX-10. The reason we believe starting out on smaller bikes is better is because as a new rider (or even an experienced one), they’re so much easier to improve your skills upon.

The simple reason for this view is that the slower the motorcycle, the easier you can find its limits. On a small capacity bike, you’ll be hitting redline all the time, constantly shifting gears and having to use all the braking power the bike can muster. At a race track, you’ll be using all the grip that the tires can give and to make up for that lower power and you need to take as much speed through the corners as possible. If you start on a liter bike, you’d be lucky to use more than a quarter of its potential performance on the road and at the track, there’s only a tiny fraction of the population that can reach the limits of a superbike, even after decades of riding. You don’t get a jersey in the top team of any sport unless you work your way up, so why should motorcycle riding be any different?

Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

But if it’s easier to learn on smaller capacity bikes, doesn’t that mean they are safer? In a certain way that’s correct, because the better one trains at something, the better they should get at it and the less likely they are to make mistakes. Therefore, someone who starts on an easier to ride machine and learns how to properly ride a motorcycle should theoretically be a better rider when they hop on a liter bike. And that’s fine – no disagreement from us. The trouble is, that’s generally not the rationale behind these laws (or the argument for them) either by governments or even other riders.

Have a read of some motorcycle forums or the ever popular /r/motorcycles subreddit. You’ll find a chorus of people telling new entrants into the sport that in order to live past the age of 21, they should start on smaller bikes because they’re slower and therefore safer. But that’s not true at all.

Safety on a motorcycle has nothing to with power to weight ratios or engine capacity. Safety is about a riders attitude and how they’ve been taught and trained.

Let’s compare the specifications of the most popular entry sportsbike, the Ninja 300 and one of the fastest machines you can buy – the BMW S 1000 RR. The Kawasaki makes just under 35 hp, has a top speed of just over 170 kph and can hit the metric ton of 100 kph in just under 5 seconds. It also features very basic (though adequate) brakes, suspension and tires. The S 1000 RR on the other hand produces 193 hp, has a top speed of 300 kph and hits 62 mph in 3.06 seconds.

Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

But at an average highway speed limit of say 70 mph, which is safer in the event of an accident? The answer is if you crash on either of these bikes at such speeds, you’re facing the same scenario either way – death or serious injury most likely. But which bike is more likely to avoid an accident at such a speed? The BMW has far, far superior brakes. It’s suspension is phenomenal (with dynamic adjustments available as an option) and its tires grip like glue. It’s also equipped with all sorts or rider aids such as anti-wheelie control, traction control and various engine modes. So on paper, the BMW is far, far safer than the Ninja 300 if you’re riding within the legal speed limits of just about any country in the world, and yet in some places, a rider won’t have access to such a motorcycle for the first 3 years of their riding life.

There are some obvious counterpoints to this, mostly with younger riders. Let’s be honest, many teenagers, especially male teenagers are reckless. Many of us have been there and done that and the temptation to set a new land speed record within the first few months of owning a superbike would be too great a temptation for some. And older liter bikes (and some new ones even) don’t have any electronic aids to stop someone from looping the bike when cracking the throttle too hard. But again, if a Ninja 300 can hit 170 kph, a reckless teenager will try his or her best to reach that speed too.

You could also state that our entire argument is moot if restricting riders to lower capacity machines is proven to save lives. And while we will still argue that the policies don’t necessarily make riders safer, we’d have to concede saving lives is the most important point. But guess what, the statistics don’t seem to prove that these policies do help.

We’ve compared data from Australia (which nearly universally introduced restrictions on motorcycles for new riders in 2009) and California, which has no such restrictions. Both Australia and California have mandatory helmet laws so there’s no skewing of data in that way. What the comparison shows is that there’s no marked difference in deaths within age brackets in either case. When looking at the total number of deaths, keep in mind that California has a population of 38.8 million, which is 1.67 times Australia’s population and so we’ve adjusted the deaths in Australia by that amount. That does not affect the percentages.

Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

In comparing the data, you would expect to see that the percentage of riders killed in the 15-24 age bracket (the age bracket which would mostly be filled with new riders) would have be much higher in California than in Australia. But it’s not. The other statistic that you would think would show is a downtrend in deaths in that age bracket in Australia once restrictions were introduced. As you can see, the trend is down slightly, but so is the trend in California. Given that California has no restrictions for new riders, it could be guessed then that the reduction in deaths is due to things like the increased prevalence of ABS, better tires, or just dumb luck.

There’s also real no discernible difference in the raw number of fatalities. In some years, Australia had less deaths in total than California (2009, 2012) but in others California had a lower level of fatalities (2010, 2011).

As we said before, motorcycle safety is a mindset. So if a rider progresses from a 300 cc, to a 650 cc and then to a 1,000 cc and doesn’t really care about what they’re doing or have any interest in improving his or her technique, in our opinion they’re at far greater risk than someone who hopped on a GSX-R1000 straight away and actually learned their craft properly.

Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

The other problem behind this movement to make new riders start on smaller and slower bikes is that it hasn’t been done in conjunction with improvements in rider training. Learning to be a proficient and skilled motorcycle rider is hard – much, much harder than a car. Yet, in many countries all you need to do is take a day’s course and there’s your license. That’s enough so that you don’t fall off your bike when taking off at the traffic lights or teaching you to how change gears, but it’s a long way from creating safe and competent motorcyclists. It leaves it up to the individual to develop themselves as a rider and guess what? That comes all the way back to attitude and a correct mindset.

For places like Europe and Australia, there’s almost no chance of winding back the clock. Western nations are far too risk averse to consider loosening laws in such a way. And that’s fine, because there’s no doubt that there are some benefits in forcing people to learn the ropes on lower powered bikes as we stated at the outset. But the real issue is both rider training and attitude – making people rider slower bikes for the sake of it doesn’t help anyone.

Does Restricting New Riders To Smaller Bikes Save Lives?

Kawasaki Z300 Review – Is The Naked Ninja A Worthy Addition?

Within the space of less than a year, new riders have gone from having the choice of no naked motorcycles to having three, the latest of which is the Kawasaki Z300. Based on the long lived Ninja 300 platform, does the baby Z bring anything new to the field or do the existing low capacity naked bikes from Honda and KTM do the job better? Read our world first review of the Z300 to find out.

If you happen to live in South East Asia, then you’ll already be familiar with the appearance of the Z300. Released a few years ago there, the Z250 as it was known was based on the Ninja 250. It’s proved quite successful in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia where a naked sportsbike from the big Japanese brands is virtually unheard of.

So the western world gets the goods a little bit later but in doing so, the Z has been upgraded to use the same engine as the Ninja 300. In fact, there’s very little difference between the two bikes other than the obvious visual changes. Losing the fairings saves the Z300 about 4 kilograms of weight.  Ground clearance is up fractionally by 5mm and the rake and trail is modified from 27°/93mm to 26°/82mm, giving a slightly more upright riding position – though still slanted more towards performance than comfort in comparison to Honda’s CB300F.

The first thing that came to mind when looking over the Z300 is how it looks far more expensive than it actually is. Kawasaki has done an excellent job with the fit and finish on this bike and the metallic grey paint scheme looks fantastic. Plastics are of good quality and I honestly couldn’t find any areas of the bike where there were obvious gaps or poor alignment.

 

The dash on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. At a basic level it does what it should do very well – the tachometer is nice and large and easily readable both day and night. However the digital display doesn’t really give you much information – speedometer, odometer and fuel gauge is all you get. No information on average fuel consumption or even remaining mileage.

The aesthetic appeal of the bike is carried over when you pull away and begin riding. The gearbox is a great unit, regardless of what price bracket you’re look at. It’s smooth and direct and I even managed to do clutchless upshifts from 1st to 2nd gear without any issue. Not bad from a bike that had done only 6 kilometers when i hopped on it. Like the Ninja 300, it also comes standard with a slipper clutch – an addition that might save a few newbies who accidentally downshift multiple gears too quickly which would normally cause the rear tire to break traction.

If you’ve ridden the Ninja 300 before you’ll know that it’s parallel twin engine, which pumps out 29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm and 27.0 N.m @ 10,000 rpm is a great little motor and performs well given its capacity. You’re not going to win any traffic light drags against bigger bikes on the Z300, but you’ll still easily hit the speed limit before 90 per cent of cars on the road.

The great thing about this engine is that unlike the singles of both the CBR300R and the Duke390, power delivery is far more smooth and linear – there’s not as much need to keep revs up high when rolling on the throttle at speed. This translates into an easier bike to live with for everyday riding. Like the Ninja 300, expect a 0-100kph (62mph) time of just under 5 seconds. Counter intuitively, there’s still a bit of vibration from the engine that travels through to the bars. Not as much as the two aforementioned thumpers but more than I would have expected from the twin.

Suspension is pretty stiff and I would l have liked to have seen Kawasaki dial it down for the Z300 in comparison to the Ninja. You definitely feel the bumps in the road, though I found the damping to be pretty spot on so that it didn’t bounce around when hitting those bumps. Don’t really on the seat to help absorb these bumps either – it’s a pretty hard pew but in comparison to the competition it’s no better or worse.

Our test bike was the ABS version and stopping power was fine. There’s a good amount of feel from the brake lever and we found the ABS to be pretty unobtrusive, too. I’m nitpicking on a bike of this price level but it would have been nice to have included adjustable levers – those with smaller hands might struggle a bit to comfortably pull in the brake and clutch levers.

 

Steering however is great. This is a tremendously flickable bike and it reacts very quickly to your input. Given the more upfront riding position it’s probably even easier to turn that its faired brother as you can more easily leverage the bars in the direction you want to go. This translates into a fun ride in the corners which is what bikes like this should be aiming for. But there is a limit to this and it’s probably the only major negative to this bike.

It’s the tires. We’ve mentioned before how much we loathe the IRC Road Winner tires that are put on both Kawasaki’s entry level machines and Honda’s as well. Not only are these old style bias ply tires, they’re made for longevity and not grip. We’ve heard stories from riders that have managed to do 20,000 kilometres (12,500 miles) or more on the IRC’s. In order to have such durable tires, it means you need to sacrifice grip.

Not only are you sacrificing grip, but these tires just don’t communicate enough with you. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to low side on these tires by going around corners, but they don’t allow you to fully exploit the bike and feel what it is doing underneath – they sell short what is a great machine for the price. I’d highly recommend you include in your budget a replacement set of Pirellis that are designed to fit these smaller bikes as soon as you can. You’ll enjoy the bike a lot more and you’ll be safer for it.

On the practical side of the equation, the Z300 has a 17 liter tank and due to it’s excellent fuel consumption you won’t need to refuel very frequently. Again, the riding position makes filtering in traffic nice and easy, though I was consistently keeping an eye on the mirrors which stick out a little bit too far for my liking.

If you’re in a country that restricts new riders to lower capacity/lower horse power motorcycles than you can’t really go wrong with the Z300. It has Kawasaki’s reliability, it’s the best looking (in our opinion) entry level naked currently for sale and its got enough zip to provide an enjoyable ride.

Pricing hasn’t been announced in the US yet, but in Australia, the Z300 retails for $500 less than the fully faired Ninja 300 and for $500 you’re certainly not missing out on anything.

Special thanks to Wayne and the team at Team Moto Kawasaki Bowen Hills for the use of their bike.

Pricing

AUS: $5,999
USA: N/A
UK: £4,349
CAN: N/A

Kawasaki Z300
Engine
Engine Type296cc 4 stroke, parallel twin
Bore And Stroke62mm x 49 mm
Induction32 mm x 2, with dual throttle valves
Compression Ratio10.6:1
Valve TrainDOHC, 8 valves
Horsepower29.0 kW (39 PS) @ 11,000 rpm
Torque27.0 N.m (2.8 kgf.m) @ 10,000 rpm
Drive Train
TransmissionSix-speed
Chassis / Suspension / Brakes
Front Suspension37 mm telescopic fork
Rear SuspensionUni Trak with gas charged shock and 5-way preload
Front BrakeType Single 290 mm petal disc
Rear BrakeType Single 220 mm petal disc
Front Tire110/70-17 M/C 54S
Rear Tire140/70-17 M/C 66S
Dimensions
Rake26 degrees
Trail82mm
Wheelbase1,405 mm (55.31 inches)
Seat Height785 mm (30.9 inches)
Wet Weight170 kg (383 lb)
Fuel Capacity17 L (4.5 gallons)