50 Years of Riding and 40 Years as a Motorcycle Lawyer
This year I celebrate riding motorcycles for 50 years, and dealing with accidents for 40 years. I hope I learned something in all that time that might be useful to other riders, so here it is.
Is it safe to ride a motorcycle?
Years ago, I remember discussing this question with Luke Lucarelli. He was known as the “million mile motorcyclist”, because he had more than a million miles under his belt. He set up the CHP motorcycle training program, and he taught motorcycle riding and safety, and he was awesome when he testified as an expert witness in court.
It was simply astounding how much Lucarelli knew about his subject, and when he made a point, that usually ended it.
Over and over, I came back with hypothetical situations. “What about this? What about that?” Finally, he simply became exasperated.
“Look, I have more than a million miles without an accident. I wouldn’t teach this stuff if I didn’t think it could be done safely”.
End of conversation.
Speed and safety
At first blush, there would seem to be an inverse relationship between speed and safety. Certainly, the popular notion of a motorcyclist is someone racing through the streets on the way to disaster.
And it is true, that the faster you are going, the less time is available to react, and thus the less time to take evasive action.
On the other hand, there is no substitute for focus and concentration.
A 25 mile per hour speed limit is designed so that the least talented and most distracted driver can drive through a neighborhood without hitting a child who darts out into the street. At that speed, it should be possible to avoid hitting almost anything, and there is no reason to crash a motorcycle. That’s the thinking of those responsible for setting speed limits, and this low speed has been a constant forever.
At 60 miles per hour, or 90, motorcycles don’t normally fare worse, except when the unexpected occurs. Here it becomes critical to pay attention to developing situations, and it is also critical to see them developing. A rider who pays full attention will avoid what would otherwise be deadly.
Attention relates to speed in different ways for different riders. Sometimes more speed means more attention, sometimes not.
I think the attention thing is the reason that so many really good riders have embarrassing falls at really low speeds. They are looking for a parking space, or thinking about what they are going to do after they stop.
My absolute best safety tip
Helmets are designed to avoid lacerations and fractures. They do far less in limiting that movement of the brain as it sloshes around inside the skull. This is even more so in glancing blows that make the head rotate too quickly. The inside of the skull has a lot of rough spots, and helmets don’t help much.
Helmet designs have not improved enough to decrease the rate of head injuries, although there are a few innovative helmets that are not available in shops yet.
That said, helmets do provide the only protection we have against head injuries. Head injuries are horrible, because they can’t really be treated.
The best statistic is that 50% of all helmets are not correctly fitted. Half. That means, dear readers, that it is just as likely as not your helmet does not fit you correctly.
Helmet fit is most important at the foam, not the soft comfort liner that goes against your cheek.
Take the time to get properly fitted, and be certain you are fit by someone who actually knows that they are doing. Test the helmet for movement while you are wearing it.
And I won’t even mention whether to wear full face.
My second best safety tip
Statistically, you are 41% less likely to die on a motorcycle if you have ABS brakes.
Studies show that even the best trained and experienced riders lock the brakes when faced with a panic situation. 4,000 years of evolution overcomes hundreds of hours of practice and training.
Until now, motorcycle ABS worked only in a relatively straight line. The new Bosch system now considers Yaw, so you can brake and steer in a turn (or swerve) at the same time.
The new system will be implemented very slowly, because it has to be tuned specially on a model by model basis. In the meantime, any ABS will almost double your ability to avoid an accident.
My last safety tip
The most likely place for injury is the lower limbs. Boots, of course, and proper ones.
Riding in jeans is little better than no precaution at all, except at very low speeds. I confess to having more than one pair of Kevlar lined jeans, but these are only reasonable with good body armor underneath. I prefer Forcefield, but it makes the jeans look funny.
A good pair of riding pants, even one made to measure, is a cheap investment relative to what it does for you. I find that my riding is more confident when I am geared up, so riding with the right gear is safer in more ways than one.
Textile beats the heck out of leather in any number of ways.
That said, nothing is a cool or feels as good as your old and well-broken in leather jacket.
You can’t do this overnight, so you should have at least one. They last a ridiculous number of years, and you always feel good in one if the temperature is right.
Lucarelli was right, of course
I wouldn’t be writing this column if I didn’t think it was possible to ride a motorcycle safely.
Focus, keep learning, and enjoy the ride.