Learn to Ride a Motorcycle with an English Accent

Some of the local constabulary in the English town of Hampshire have decided to do their bit by creating and uploading some instructional videos as they tootle around town. While the videos aren’t going to teach you too many tricks if you’re an experienced rider, they’re no doubt something that would appeal to newer motorcyclists.

It’s also wonderful to see local law enforcement taking a proactive role in motorcycle safety, rather than the usual reactive methods of fines and the like. At the moment there’s just two videos up – one titled Safe Urban Driving and the other Safe Urban Filtering. According to the channel, it features Police Motorcyclist Trainer, PC Roger Peskett, commenting on his route in an urban environment to identify hazards and give advice on filtering.

Road Safety Sergeant Chris Appleby said: “We have identified three high risk groups of motorcyclists. These are leisure riders, commuters, and young scooter riders. Our priority still remains with leisure riders using high powered motorcycles on rural roads; however there is an emerging risk for commuter riders or urban motorcyclists as they choose bikes as a preferred travelling option.

“We’ve therefore created a short video for safe urban riding from a police motorcycle trainer view and highlighted what hazards riders need to be aware of and how to reduce the risks associated with riding in urban areas.”

Source: Motorbike Times

Should You Spend Your Money on Motorcycle Gear or Motorcycle Training?

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.

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.

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.

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?