Aug 3, 2009

My Picture of Over-40 Riders

For a year, I subscribed to Motorcycle Consumer News. I like the concept of this magazine and I really wanted to like it, but I mostly was disappointed. Many of the articles are poorly written, some are as silly as the advertiser-based magazines, and a couple of the regular writers are downright irritating (kettle calling the pot "black," I know). However, some of the reviews are not only super-detailed but MCN will look at bikes the other magazines barely notice (like this month's review of Suzuki's TU250X).

As I was digging through the crap in my MSF classroom bag, I stumbled on an old issue that cemented my disinterest in renewing my subscription back when that subscription was about to run out: "A Portrait of the Over-40 Rider." This article, written by Wendy Moon, was supposedly an analysis of a survey pasted inside a previous issue. The survey received 122 respondents and Moon makes some amazing conclusions from the results. This was a survey placed in an out-of-the-way spot in the magazine a few months back. So out-of-the-way that I had to paw through my old issues to find it. I hadn't even noticed the survey while I was reading the magazine.

With her tiny collection of responses from MCN's odd group of subscribers, Moon attempts to dispute the findings of NHTSA's crash data (and several other studies) from previous years. According to her survey results, 57% of motorcycle riders are in their 50s and 23% are in their 60s, leaving 20% of riders for the 16-49 and 70-up year-old categories. I'm not even close to buying that. Since she concluded that such an overwhelming percentage of riders are geezers, the fact that 50% of all fatalities are old folks doesn't bother her. Her conclusion was that, "In contrast to the media's portrayal, they could be said to be the safest riders on the road."

A statistic that is missing in all of the significant studies' data is miles driven, but Moon's average of 11,968 miles per year is so far from NHTSA's 2,411 and anything any reasonable person could believe that the rest of the article loses what little credibility it might have had. A substantial number of her polled riders claimed an average of 50,000 miles per year on their bikes. Hell, I don't even believe NHTSA's 2,600 mile estimate. I think most US bikes barely collect 2,600 miles before they hit the scrap heap. Asking a bunch of geezers how many miles they ride is as useful information as asking SUV owners about their gas mileage. People lie and people really lie about stuff that they think points out superior strength or weakness.

Moon and MCN's other conclusions were:
  • 83% "always wore a helmet"
  • full-face helmets were the "overwhelming" choice
  • 75% said they "never" drank and rode
  • 85% were self-taught and 60% had "some kind of training"
  • 70% rode year-round in spite of the weather
  • only 14% rode with a group of any kind
  • 54% claimed to be daily commuters
  • 40% claimed to be crash-free
Somewhere in all that silly data, common sense was totally lost. In everyone else's data, many of the douchebags getting killed on motorcycles are over the alcohol limit. While it's true that the majority of motorcyclists in the US are over 40, I doubt that they contribute much to NHTSA's average 2,600 miles traveled per year. The garage candy crowd aren't dressed well enough to experience more than a 2 month riding season in most of the country, It's tough to put on big miles when you have to self-medicate yourself every 50 miles because of your crappy suspension and awkward riding position.

Like hearing the mpg data from an SUV owner, I put very little faith in the big mileage claims of most cruiser characters. The best someone claiming 50,000 miles a year can expect from me is a polite smile. I work on that expression often. I am a firm believer in disbelieving practically amazing story I didn't witness. [How's that for a convoluted sentence?]

How does a wide range of motorcycle riders manage to put on 11,000 miles a year and while 40% of them manage to avoid any sort of crash? Not buying that, either. If you ride, you crash. If you ride a lot, you crash a little more.

She also quoted a study that concluded, "those individuals who took beginning rider training courses were more likely to be involved in an accident than those who did not, and that those who took the beginning course more than once were much more likely to be involved in an accident."

Now, that I believe. If you can take the MSF BRC and fail the test afterwards, you are incompetent as a motorcyclist. The test is insanely simple. Honestly, I suspect that most folks who are forced to take the BRC to get their license are a bit handicapped in the hand-eye coordination skills territory, anyway. There is no such thing as a "difficult DMV" test in these United States. If you can't pass that test, you are either riding a worthless pile of crap or you are not capable of managing a motorcycle. The test ought to be 200% tougher, if anyone ever really wants to reduce motorcycle deaths. For those of us over 55, it ought to be re-administered ever couple of years to check the decay of our skills.

What MCN proved is that getting useful motorcycle data is tough and that publishing sketchy data is a formula for losing credibility.

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