Dec 5, 2015

Crash Analysis

When you read about a motorcycle crash and the associated injuries or death, do you automatically analyze the news report looking for evidence that there was something different about the rider--or riders--involved and yourself? This is a question I've been asked by several experienced riders and friends lately. With the growing evidence that motorcycling is insanely dangerous and grossly overrepresented in traffic injuries and fatalities, even people who have been on two wheels for fifty years are rethinking their commitment to riding on public roads.

I wrote a column for MMM a while back titled "Ride Like the Killer Robots are After You." In that essay, I suggested that if you aren't committed to being the safest, best equipped, most talented rider you can be, you should reconsider your motorcycling habits. A friend, who is an excellent rider and who automatically gears up for even the shortest or most benign rides, read that column and wrote to ask me if I thought he was fooling himself and should quit riding while he was still mobile and on the good side of his lucky streak. He’s 71, so the fact is that any sort of road-speed crash could screw up what’s left of his life seriously. Howeve3r, answering that question for him is not something for which I feel equipped or competent. It's a good question for all of us to ask ourselves, though.

The things that put your risk of injury and death on an elevated status are combining riding with drugs or alcohol, group riding, riding helmetless and/or without reasonable protective gear, riding without a license, riding a motorcycle that requires more skill than you possess (most riders on most cruisers, for example), and riding when you don’t possess any skills.

I suspect most of the folks who follow this blog are pretty self-critical and don’t need my advice or opinion on any aspect of their motorcycling career. I think doing the self-reflection bit when you read about someone’s fatal crash is a pretty good habit. When you find yourself hitting on too many negative cylinders, it’s probably time to hang it up.


  1. I've outlived my ability to comfortably enjoy it. But I did enjoy it.

  2. As one of those with 50 seasons of two-wheeled riding, the fundamental questions you pose are often on my mind. Throughout the northern winter, I still anticipate the first ride of the next season. As the baby-boomer bubble of riders reach retirement age, you bring out a thorny but ever-present issue on the minds of many older riders. I appreciate that I am not alone working through the changes in motorcycle life.

    For the last couple of decades, I've worked to keep my mind focused upon my strategies for enjoying a safe and satisfying ride. Throughout the year, I make some effort to keep my body stronger and more flexible to improve my riding posture and ability to respond within the limits of the inertia of the machine. I wear the gear and I analyze the learning opportunities that each ride provides. I remain in tuned in to the complexities of interaction with my surroundings, yet keep mindful of simple, effective strategic techniques. The steady exercise of these strategies has become an indispensable part of the joy of the ride. The unexamined ride is not worth taking.

    I study with interest accident statistics and circumstances. I try to understand the motivations, attitudes, riding styles and riding strategies of other riders. I try to be informed about what makes particular bike designs more amenable to effective braking, turning, and interaction with the riding environment. I gather this information to better inform my own rider decision-making and attitudes.

    Each year I am more aware of the vulnerabilities to which riding exposes me. As with all introspection associated with aging, I do expect a tipping point will be revealed to me. I hope and intend that revelation will be a result of my steady, informed (if biased) empirical analysis and not the result of a two-wheeled surprise. Yet, there is no sure thing in the two-wheeled world, except the imperative to avoid surprises while on two-wheels.

    Thanks for your articles on this subject.
    Rick in WI

  3. That day is soon on my horizon, too.


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