While probably not a surprise to most, a study recently published in the American Journal of Surgery has found that post the 2012 repeal of the mandatory wearing of motorcycle helmets in Michigan, non-helmeted crash scene fatalities were higher after the repeal (14% vs 68%), non-helmeted riders had a significantly higher in-patient mortality (10% vs 3%), injury severity score (19 vs 14.5) and abbreviated injury scale head (2.2 vs 1.3).
The study undertaken by a team the at Spectrum Health Hospital in Grand Rapids began soon after the repeal of the law commenced when Dr. Carlos Rodriguez noticed a massive spike in motorcyclists being treated at the hospital for head injuries, “I just could not help but notice the number of patients that had been in motorcycle crashes with no helmet on, which was enormously different in number and volume than we had experienced the weekend before.”
The study team looked at records for patients admitted to Spectrum Health Hospital and at state transportation department records of fatalities at crash scenes for the seven-month motorcycle season (April to November) in 2011, before the law was repealed, and for the same period in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Of riders who died at the scene, the proportion of those not wearing helmets increased from 14 per cent to a massive 68 per cent and of those that did make it to hospital, 10 per cent died compared to only 3 per cent who did wear helmets.
In a finding that we can only assume means people are deciding to sacrifice themselves to the motorcycle gods, alcohol use among riders who crashed while not wearing a helmet was higher as well. And for those arguing that individual freedom should usurp laws enforcing safety standards, the cost to the health system because of riders not wearing helmets was almost 50 per cent higher.
While “next-gen” helmets are focused on heads up displays and the use of some new materials, the Vozz Helmet is an entirely new design. It’s a helmet with no chin strap, and that’s because it has a chin bar that fits extremely close to the user’s jaw line. You might be wondering then how you fit a big fat head through a now small hole. Just lift the back of the helmet up, silly.
Yes, the Vozz Helmet uses a hinge that effectively means you put your head in from the rear. It’s hard to explain without seeing it in action, but the image below illustrates it well. So why go to all the trouble of completing redesigning the way virtually all helmets have worked since their invention? It’s all in the name of safety.
At its most basic level and because of the way you put your head into the helmet, it can be designed in such a way that offers far greater protection. Because of now only needing a hole at the bottom of the helmet to fit a neck and not an entire skull, the helmet can be made to be smaller and thus sit closer to your head.
But more importantly is the way the helmet can be removed in an emergency. One of the most difficult things to assess in a motorcycle crash is a riders spinal state – taking off a conventional helmet has to be done in a very specific way and if done wrong (especially by a well meaning passer by) it can result in serious injury. At the same time, paramedics need access to your airways as quickly as possible, so it can be a catch 22.
This is how the Vozz is so clever. It incorporates an emergency safety release system, meaning medical personal can easily take the helmet apart without any movement of the riders neck. The lack of the exposed chin guard also reduces ‘snag points’ – effectively how an object can wedge itself between your chin and the helmet chin bar and twist your neck. Without a gap, there’s no here for foreign objects to get in.
The team of Mark Bryant and Damian Chown have been working on the VOZZ helmet since 2005, and it’s taken them 10 years to perfect it and get it to market as the Vozz RS 1.0. One thing we were curious about the helmet was if it felt claustrophobic when putting it on as we’re so used to having the air rush up underneath the chinbar – but it honestly didn’t bother us one bit when putting it on and the snugness of the helmet around our head was second to none.
There’s also the added bonus of being able to put your helmet on with your gloves on (hooray!!) and leave your sunglasses on too (double hooray!!).
While the helmet is certified to meet DOT, European and AU/NZ Standards, it’s currently only available online for Australian residents at a price of $888 (US $635) which gets you the helmet, a clear visor and a tinted visor. It will hit Canada and the US in April 2016 and Europe TBA.
And for the ADV riders out there – yes, they’re working on a dual sport version.
As motorcyclists we already get the rough end of the stick when it comes to being seen by other motorists during the day. But when the sun goes down things get even worse with reduced visibility, more tired and drunk drivers on the road and those suffering with night blindness having to be contended with. So how can ride your motorcycle at night and stay safe despite the fact you’ve got one less headlight and are a heck of a lot smaller than a car?
Black looks good, hence why the most popular colored motorcycle gear is black by a huge margin. Bikes with a black color scheme are also among the most popular. What’s also black? Nighttime is black, which means being head to toe in black leather when riding at night is the equivalent of wearing camouflage in the jungle.
If you’re determined to don black clothing, make sure that it has reflective patches on it – preferably on the chest, elbows and back that will illuminate when light is shone on it. For your bike, get some reflective rim tape on the wheels.
But also be creative. Shark Helmets recently released the SKWAL, a standard looking helmet that contains green LED lights both front and rear to improve visibility. Japanese motorcycle gear firm RS Taichi has a number of innovative products including backpacks and shoulder bags that contain lights which will provide a further light source to bring other drivers attentions too.
Assume You Are Invisible
While you should assume you haven’t been seen both day and night, it’s during the evening that it’s far more likely to be true, especially when at even moderate distances the only thing that someone will see at night are headlights. Because you have just one headlight, it’s not difficult to see how your bike’s visibility can just merge into the car behind you – causing a potential accident when someone pulls out too soon.
In most developed countries, accidents occur twice as often in the night as they do during the day. Additionally, night blindness becomes a factor as well as the fact that because visibility is reduced in the dark, reaction distances are far worse. It is also the time of day when both tired and drunk drivers are more likely to be on the road.
For these reasons, approach every intersection with caution. You should be covering your front brake lever religiously and your lane positioning also becomes critical.
One of the best strategies to be visible while riding at night is to be a little unorthodox. By that we mean do things that will hopefully get drivers attentions. When slowing down, ensure you’re doing so by braking rather than engine braking and coasting, otherwise your break light won’t come on. Feel free to ‘flash’ your brake lights too by pulsing the lever quickly and repeatedly just enough to activate them before you begin your breaking procedure.
Do so similarly with your turn signals. Ensure you indicate your turning intentions nice and early to give drivers behind plenty of warning that not only are you turning but you’ll probably need to slow down to do so.
Don’t be afraid to move around your bike either. Many riders will stand up when braking at night just so they can catch the attention of those behind them. Casually weaving your bike inside the lane is another way to attract an otherwise inattentive motorist.
See For Yourself
Like riding during daylight hours, your safest defense is seeing what dangers are around you. And to do that night you need your headlight to guide the way. It’s critical that your headlight is pointing where it should.
Just because you’ve bought a new bike doesn’t mean that your headlight won’t need adjusting. Given everyone weighs a different amount, plus the added mass of luggage you may be carrying, your headlight will need adjustment to suit you. Your low beam should be angled so that it lights up just in front of your bike and towards the horizon, while high beams should be illuminating the road from a distance of about 30 meters (100 feet) and beyond.
Consider also replacing your bulbs with brighter ones – although keep in mind that if you’re going to dazzle oncoming traffic you create a danger not only for them but for yourself. Keep within the law and follow common sense.
Triumph Motorcycles is facing a hefty bill of at least $1.9 million after failing to report safety issues to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that they were aware of for more than a year. The manufacturer also failed to submit documents to the NHTSA surrounding injury claims and progress reports on repairs to recalled motorcycles.
The $1.9 million penalty is made up of a $1.4 million fine and $500,000 that is required to be spent on improving safety practices a the company. A further $1 million in penalties is hanging over the company’s head should further transgressions be discovered.
The penalties stem from a safety issue discovered that could reduce the steering capability of up to 1,300 motorcycles which the NHTSA found had the potential to cause injury or death.
In response to NHTSA’s investigation, Triumph acknowledged deficiencies in the manner in which it collected and reported early warning data to NHTSA and several instances where Triumph was late in providing quarterly reports on safety recalls. In addition, the company failed to respond by the required deadline to a NHTSA Special Order issued as part of the investigation
As part of the decision, Triumph is required to hire an independent consultant to assist with improving the company’s safety practices, hire a dedicated employee with oversight of all safety issues and direct access to the board of directors and submit plans for improved practices and employee training for the NHTSA’s approval.
Most riders have it drummed into them the importance of wearing a full range of protective clothing, colloquially known as ATGATT. Yet surely the phrase “prevention is better than cure” applies to riding motorcycles equally as much as our general health? So why is there so much emphasis on covering ourselves head to toe in protective gear at the expense of motorcycle training? When you only have so much money spare, should you spend it on motorcycle gear or motorcycle training?
For the vast majority of riders the only training or coaching they receive on a motorcycle is when they go for their license. Depending on the country you live in that could amount to a single day of training by a qualified instructor. Can you think of any other highly dangerous pursuit which requires such a small qualification period before handing you the keys and letting you go on your way? Yet as riders we seem happy with this and don’t give it a second thought.
A small amount of riders will at least head to the track which does teach motorcycle control in a relatively safe and controlled environment. But that itself can give a false sense of security on a surface with huge amounts of grip. It does nothing to teach recovery techniques on poor surfaces that are often coated in oil, sand and other debris that is the norm for public roads. Nor does it do anything to train riders on the dangers of other traffic.
Motorcycle track days are a good way to gain experience, but don’t teach defensive riding.
The issue with protective gear is that at the end of the day it does very little to prevent broken bones or internal injuries. If you’ve read our article on ‘Where You’ll be Injured in a Motorcycle Accident‘ you’ll see that studies have shown that motorcycle gear – even the best money can buy – can only do so much. Gloves, pants and jackets are fantastic for reducing or eliminating nasty abrasion injuries (and the potential for skin grafts) but save for helmets, current technology used in motorcycle gear (at least until airbag technology becomes commonplace) won’t do a great deal more – the energy at play when a two ton car hits you is just too great.
This is the argument many make about rider training – you’re far better off spending the money on advanced training and defensive riding courses than motorcycle gear if it won’t actually save your life in a seriousness enough accident. Being a competent rider means you’ll have less chance of being involved in a crash.
In an ideal world, advanced rider training would go a long way to preventing or eliminating accidents. The trouble with a heavy emphasis on rider training is that it doesn’t eliminate the one variable that we have little control over – other drivers.
Quality motorcycle training does provide guidance and advice on how to read traffic, position your motorcycle correctly to minimise risk as well as a host of other defensive riding techniques. But at the end of the day, you cannot avoid every single eventuality on the road. No matter how good you are or how alert you may be, there are situations that you cannot avoid. It might be a drunk driver crossing on the wrong side of the road, the inattentive soccer mum texting and running a red light or perhaps the car up ahead has dumped its oil all along the blind corner up ahead. Perhaps on one day you’re not in the right head space and are not concentrating as much as you should – and that’s when the worst may happen.
Physics and human imperfection will and can intervene and its because of this that one cannot solely rely on advance motorcycle training – gear is your backup and it’s a very important one.
It only takes a moment of inattention for this to happen – gear or no gear.
So what should you spend your finite resources on, gear or training? The answer obviously is both which may mean buying cheaper gear in order to have enough funds to pay for advanced training. You can always pick up some ‘cool’ Dainese or Alpinestars gear in the years ahead – but you may not have the opportunity to if you don’t get proper training.
Our article on motorcycle helmets showed emphatically that expensive helmets don’t equal safer helmets. Certain helmets that are cheap are just as safe as top of the range ones. It’s the same story with gear – CE2 rated armor is CE2 rated armor – regardless as to whether it’s fitted to a REV’IT jacket or an Icon one.
What everyone should always keep in mind is that getting a motorcycle license isn’t the end of your training – it’s only the beginning. Don’t take the lazy option and purely concentrate on top of the range gear – train yourself every time you ride your motorcycle and try your best to get qualified professional training. It may do more than just save yourself from a case of road rash.
Of all the protective gear that you wear, a helmet is by far and away the most important item in order to reduce or even prevent injury. And yet for all the technological advances society has seen over the past few decades, motorcycle helmet technology remains pretty much as it was fifty years ago. But that’s all rapidly changing with a number of new technologies either now for sale or soon available that look set to provide drastic improvement to protecting your brain.
The biggest change coming and one you’ve possibly already heard of is MIPS which stands for Motorcycle Impact Protection System. MIPS is less of a new material and more of an innovation in how a motorcycle helmet should work. In a MIPS equipped helmet, the helmet shell and liner are separated by a low friction layer. When such a helmet is subjected to an angled impact (far more common than a direct impact to the top of the helmet by which most helmets are tested and rated), the low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head.
The idea behind this system is actually a case of technology imitating what nature already provides. Our brains are surrounded by a low friction cushion of fluid beneath the skull that protects the brain by allowing it to slide around on impact. Thus, MIPS does the same thing by giving the protective layers within a helmet the ability to slide and therefore absorb energy. The video below from One Industries gives a good demonstration of this:
MIPS technology is currently available in these helmets:
Bell, one of the most renowned helmet manufacturers has just released a helmet with very similar technology to MIPS which they call Rotational Energy Management (in fact, it appears so similar to MIPS that we’re wondering if it’s the same product licensed by Bell to use under a different name). But in addition to allowing the inner layers to move independently like MIPS, the Bell Moto-9 Flex has a few other tricks up its sleeve.
The Moto-9 Flex is equipped with three separate layers that are each designed to manage energy from low, mid and high speed impacts. The EPO (expanded polyolefin) layer is designed for low speed impacts, the middle EPP (expanded polypropylene) takes care of impacts at speeds up to 5 metres per second and the outermost layer is made of traditional expanded polystyrene (EPS). EPO is a soft and flexible low-density polymer that when placed between the EPP and EPS layers, dampens low-threshold impacts.
And now for something completely different. The 6D ATR-1 helmet incorporates omni-directional suspension – small dampers that sit in-between layers of traditional expanded polystyrene. It is this array of isolation dampers surrounding the entire liner, combined with the air-gap, that affords the free-motion suspension capability of their omni-directional suspension.
Like MIPS, this split liner system allows the inner and outer shells to shear omni-directionally within itself to provide improved performance against oblique impacts and angular acceleration demands. But in addition to this, the dampers function with specially designed frusto-conical (their words, not ours) ramping chambers within the ODS system to produce a rapidly escalating spring rate under compressive load. In other words, the system can absorb and dissipate energy far better than traditional EPS alone while at the same time, reducing the rotational forces that MIPS does.
The overall effect is probably similar to that of the Bell Moto-9 Flex, but with a different approach. The 6D Helmets are definitely more elaborate whereas Bell approaches the problem by using different materials of differing densities. Both go a long way to reducing injury from low and mid speed impacts which traditional EPO isn’t so great at.
Probably no other company has moved motocross safety forward so much in recent times (perhaps ever) than Leatt and its founder, Dr Chris Leatt. The physician developed what is now known as the Leatt Neck Brace after witnessing a rider die from a neck injury in 2001. Since then, his company has developed advanced body armor, sophisticated knee braces and is now close to releasing what appears to be one of the most advanced helmets ever produced – the GPX 5.5 and 6.5 (the latter is made of carbon while the former uses a composite shell).
Features so far known about the helmet are that the shell is smaller by between 11 and 25 percent than other helmets which reduces impact forces. Leatt states that a 10% smaller shell transfers 22% less torque and rotational energy to the head and brain. The GPX also includes what they call ‘turbines’ which act not only as a damper but allow the inner and outer layers to slide – an approach that looks very similar to 6D Helmets.
Where it really stands out is in the creation of the shell and the energy absorption layers. Where traditional helmets have distinct layers, Leatt has combined them. Looking at a cross section of the helmet, the outer and inner layers are actually combined in a zig-zag pattern. Effectively the shell and the foam is one integrated part.
The Leatt GPX 5.5 and GPX 6.5 are currently available for pre-order from here and at around $360 have a massive price advantage over the competition.
Koroyd isn’t a helmet – it’s a new type of material that has found its way into bicycle and snowboard helmets and hopefully will find its way into motorcycle gear in the near future. Koroyd is made up of tens of thousands of co-polymer extruded tubes, thermally welded together and can be molded into various shapes and sizes.
It’s claimed that Koroyd is far better at energy absorption in comparison to EPS and foams. Upon impact the cores crush in a completely controlled manner, decelerating the energy from the impact and reducing the final trauma levels. Another advantage is that large gaps aren’t needed to create airflow. Because Koroyd is made of thousands of small tubes, airflow comes naturally meaning there’s more total surface area for impact absorption.
How much better is Koroyd? Some are claiming that the technology provides up to 30% more energy absorption than the same helmet with foam – which is a massive difference. The image below is taken from a trade catalog and shows that a Koroyd equipped motorcycle helmet reduces peak G’s in testing by 32% and HIC (the Head Injury Criterion as used by SNELL which is an involved calculation based on the entire time history of the acceleration pulse transmitted to the head) by a massive 58%.
Koroyd is currently in talks with helmet manufacturers and we will hopefully begin to see motorcycle helmets featuring this material in the next few years.
All of the above technologies are great if you’re in the market for a new motocross helmet. But what if you’ve just bought a new lid or want a road helmet? There is one product that may be of interest.
That product is by Unequal Technologies which has found huge support in the American NFL as a way to reduce and prevent head injuries. The padding which is about a quarter of an inch thick can be placed (and trimmed to size) inside a helmet and features three layers:
Acceleron – An elastomer with amazingly durable cushioning qualities. Multiplies shock absorption capabilities dramatically in patented combinations with Kevlar
Kevlar – A patented fiber used in law enforcement and the military that, when woven into a sheet, is 5-times stronger than steel. Delivers virtually unmatched strength and flexibility.
Impactshield – A patented polymer layer added to some Unequal® protective pads to maximize shock suppression and dispersion in a much-desired low profile.
In addition to adoption by American Football players, its found support from a number of other high profile athletes including Winter Olympics and X Games gold medalist Torah Bright. Unequal claims that their product can reduce G-forces generated at impact by up to 25 per cent. While not marketed towards motorcycle riders, there’s no real reason why it can’t be adopted for road helmets – although the legality of ‘modifying’ your helmet by placing an additional layer of padding inside it may vary from country to country and state to state.
It sounds great in theory but at this stage, there’s no real scientific peer-reviewed evidence of the benefit of Unequal’s product. Curiously, Unequal has changed it’s naming of the product over time. Initially the technology was labelled as ‘concussion reduction technology’, then changed to CRT and now is called ART which stands for ‘acceleration reduction technology’. Take out of that what you will…
After decades of stagnation it’s great that we’re finally beginning to see real advances in helmet technology. Until recently, the motorcycle helmet you bought contained simple styrofoam – whether it was a cheap $100 helmet from some unknown brand or a top of the line Shoei that costs ten times as much. Higher end helmets offered no real increase in safety – just better quality, lighter weight and better ventilation. But now new materials and new ways of integrating existing materials into helmets are becoming readily available and will hopefully become mainstream (and therefore affordable) sooner rather than later.
There’s a headline you won’t enjoy reading, especially if you’re a fan of KTM and their underrated 1190 RC8. KTM CEO and President Stefan Pierer has stated in no uncertain terms that he believes as a producer of sportsbikes, KTM has a serious responsibility to their customers regarding safety and that therefore means saving you from yourself.
That statement was made in an interview conducted by legendary motorcycle journalist Alan Cathcart and published in CycleNews magazine. The interview is quite an interesting and lengthy read and was spread out over two issues, but it’s the second part of the discussion that’s a real eye opener.
Stefan Pierer’s shocking announcement came in response to a question regarding KTM’s return to MotoGP in 2016. Here’s the reason for returning to MotoGP:
We’d like to produce a successor to the existing RC8 V-twin… In which case, let’s do the following: We’ll stick to making a Superbike, but only for closed course usage. So it won’t be homologated for sale as a streetbike. Okay? So then to produce that we will take the best prototype development arena available, which is MotoGP. And for the 2016 season there will be new rules introduced when the playing field will be leveled with a standard electronic system, so then KTM can challenge Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia on an equal basis. So that’s the concept for development. We’ll call it the RC16 and it will also be available for the normal customer for track days or private use on track, but it won’t any more be homologated for the street. It’ll be a really serious sports and race item for closed course use only.
Just to make sure he was hearing things correctly, Cathcart pressed the KTM CEO and asked if there would be at least a homologated version of this machine? In answer, Pierer again said “No, because we at KTM think that a sportbike with such performance doesn’t have any place on the public roads.”
The KTM RC 8 R will be discontinued soon and will not be replaced because it’s apparently too dangerous for public roads.
He goes on to say the following:
But let’s be honest, if your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it’s impossible to argue that it belongs on the street. It really doesn’t, anymore.
As soon as the RC16 is available for customers we will stop with the RC8. The design is outstanding. I would say it’s still state of the art, and there is nothing else like it. It’s a classic Superbike. But with the increase in safety concerns, I’m afraid bikes like this don’t belong on the street, only on a closed course.
So is Stefan Pierer just another CEO completely out of touch with reality and condemning KTM to a future of mediocrity? That’s a difficult argument to make, as Pierer has presided over KTM for a number of years now and its current success is no doubt in large part due to his leadership. He also stated that part of his reasoning is fear of European politicians who would ban motorcycles outright if they could. So in effect, his decision is perhaps one designed to avoid the issues from the 90’s where governments almost intervened to stop the top speed wars.
But it’s also a huge cop-out. KTM’s most powerful bike on sale is the 1290 Super Duke R which produces 177 hp (The 1190 RC 8 R makes 172 hp but weighs 5 kg less). That sort of power has been available in motorcycles since the Hayabusa was released over 15 years ago and the Suzuki certainly had none of the electronic aids that the Duke does such as traction control, lean-sensitive traction control, ABS and various engine modes when it was first released. So why is it now all of a sudden too dangerous for the public?
Secondly, does this dangerous amount of horsepower also encompass other types of bikes like sports tourers? Say, the 1290 Super Adventure which delivers 160 hp and was only just released? Or are motorcycles only dangerous if they’ve got sportsbike fairings?
We can understand being cautious of politicians and their desire to interfere, but to leave a motorcycle company who’s motto is ‘Ready to Race’ without a flagship sportsbike you can ride on the road? Does not compute.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.