ONE OF THE tactics I suggested back in “Stayin’ Alive” was to graduate through learning to ride in a progressive manner. The idea is
to start on a smaller bike, and incrementally move
up the tier to more powerful machines as you gain
knowledge and experience. That’s how many of us
“antique” riders did it. My first machine, back in
1965, was a Suzuki 150cc two-stroke. I gradually
moved up through larger and more powerful motorcycles as I gained experience.
Today, lots of new riders buy powerful aggressive machines as soon as they get a license. And
the unfortunate result is that lots of crashes occur
to new riders who don’t have the necessary experience, skill or judgment to control powerful bikes.
A few years ago, I made a presentation at a
motorcycle safety conference in Canada. I had
attempted to poke a few holes in the conventional
view of “safety,” noting that there was a huge difference in
accident exposure between different types of motorcycles. Sport
bikes and younger riders were over-represented in crashes. A
dealer representative immediately asked me if I felt that sport
bikes were more difficult to control than other types. My top-of-the-head response was “no.” Sport bikes are easy to ride,
with race-bred steering geometry, broad torque curves, smooth
transmissions, and powerful brakes. The dealer rep had slyly
worked in the concept that crashes are most often triggered by
rider error, not by the type of bike.
Several parents of teenagers who had died in motorcycle
crashes had been invited to attend the conference, and one by
one they related sad stories. A common thread was that a young
man had just gone for an innocent motorcycle ride, and was
involved in a fatal crash.
Since that conference, I’ve given the dealer rep’s question
a lot more thought. Does the type of motorcycle contribute
to crashes? Today I would answer, “yes, sport bikes are more
difficult to control.” Or, to be a little more specific, “high per-
formance motorcycles require much more careful control of
the throttle when operated by teenagers.” That’s my way of
working in the idea that both the driver and the machine are
culpable in crashes. The sad stories of the survivors were also
a reminder that motorcycle crashes involve lots of people other
than the rider.
Teenage Brain Development
Most of us can recall really dumb stunts we pulled as teenagers, and we’re still amazed that we survived. Brain researchers have recently found evidence that the human brain is still
developing through the teenage years. The late teens seem to be
the time when a person develops a sense of self-preservation. If
you are the parent of a teenager, you might wonder what took
the brain researchers so long to figure that out.
A high performance machine contributes to bad outcomes
in the hands of a young rider. It’s just too easy for the testos-terone-poisoned teenage brain to launch into a fast ride after
squabbling with parents, or reacting to a homework overload.
Compared to countries such as Japan, Germany, or the United
Kingdom, the licensing situation in North America is quick,
easy, and cheap. Here, a new rider with no motorcycling experience other than riding around a parking lot for a couple of days
on a 250cc bike can get a full license to ride anything. A big
part of that “fast track” concept is that the beginner will need
to learn the hard lessons about riding in traffic through trial and
error, after he or she already has a license.
Of course, the motorcycle magazines on the racks at the grocery stores will be depicting middleweight and big sport bikes
as the machine any sensible rider will want. Anything smaller
than about 500cc will be labeled as “entry level.” What self-respecting new rider would want to be seen on an “entry level”
bike? And the new rider’s peers will likely be suggesting the
purchase of a sexy 650 sport bike or even a 1000 right away.
A 650 might not seem like an aggressive machine to a parent,
unless someone explains the performance specifications.
Right Bike for
the Right Time
Exposed skin may be pleasantly tickled by the wind on a motorcycle, but it offers
absolutely no protection in the event of a crash and scars don’t look attractive.
In the USA, the new rider is expected to learn the hard lessons about
riding in traffic after he or she has obtained a license.