Sep 12, 2014

Counting Bikers

The next-to-the-last of the season Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Council’s Rider Coach update had an interesting stat that caught my eye and triggered a Geezerly response. The comment was, “To date, we have fifteen fewer motorcycle crash fatalities than we did at this time last year (32 to date in 2014 versus 47 on Sept. 2, 2013).”

We saw the same kind of claim in 2008-10 and motorcycle safety “experts” claimed credit to training, improved traffic safety systems, toughened and enforced laws intended to “protect” motorcyclists from themselves, and other magical bullshit. Like the post-Great Recession days, I think the real “fix” for this year’s motorcycle death rate has nothing to do with any of that. Back then, motorcycle deaths went down because all of the pirate, hooligan, and up-scale newbies had their bikes repossessed. For three years, the roads were pretty much free of recreational motorcyclists. Harley needed TARP bailout money to stay alive. Suzuki lost about a third if its dealerships. Everybody else took major economic hits and ne motorcycle sales collapsed.

This year, the weather did a job on recreational motorcycling. Every Basic Rider Class I taught from late April until July got rained on and all of the other classes, since, have had at least a few hours of wet weather riding. This past week’s “Seasoned Rider Course” got rained on for 3 out of the 5 hour class. Once again, I tried to catch a few motorcyclists on video for RtWD this year and after leaving a 4 camera setup going for both rush periods on I35W, I35E, highway 36, and Rice Street, my small crew and I gave it up as hopeless. I hadn't done this since I quit producing Motorcycling Minnesota a few years back and it was a little discouraging to see how few people actually ride motorcycles on a near-perfect summer day. Apparently, the only way we’re ever going to cut down on motorcycle fatalities and injuries is to discourage motorcyclists from riding. It works, obviously.

One of the things about teaching a lot of BRC2's this year is getting to hear why people don't ride. While I don't think Minnesota riders exactly fit the California biker profile (, we're not far off in all respects. It does make me suspect that the future of motorcycling is going to be a lot different than the past. I absolutely believe that Minnesota motorcyclists don't even get close to the 0.001-0.01% of traffic contribution California motorcyclists contribute. Likewise, if there are 180,000 licensed "motorcyclists" in Minnesota, I'd be hard-pressed to believe that close to half that number actually ride more than 50 miles a year and I'd bet the real numbers are more like 20,000 actual riders exist in the state. In this case, my standard for “actual riders” is pretty low; 500 miles a year or more. Out of that tiny number, I imagine the average motorcyclist owns at least 3 motorcycles. I’m sub-average with two bikes.

Your mileage may vary, but what I get out of all this is a strong feeling that rider safety is a broken quality control system that pats itself on the back for anything resembling “success.” It makes sense, though. When the whole industry closes its eyes to the fact that motorcyclists are grossly, overwhelmingly overrepresented in highway mortality and morbidity statistics, world wide, we aren’t seriously doing anything to promote highway safety.

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