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Eric
07-19-2006, 08:40 AM
Riding rules: A helmet's just a good start
By Eric Peters
for immediate release

It's been said that the skills necessary to safely operate a motorcycle -- especially a high-performance sport bike -- are comparable to those required of a fighter pilot.

The risks of two-wheeled flight can be just as high-stakes, too -- as Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found out recently. He was badly injured when a Buick unexpectedly turned left in from of him, sending him to the hospital and his bike to the junkyard.

Though the accident wasn't technically his fault -- "cages" turning left in front of bikes are among the most common set-ups for horrific bike crashes -- Roethlisberger stacked the deck against himself at least three ways.

One, while news accounts focused on his failure to wear a helmet -- which is legal in Pennsylvania -- few pointed out that Roethlisberger also wasn't wearing protective "leathers" or proper riding boots. Without proper riding gear, a helmet alone may only ensure your face still looks good when you're sitting in your wheelchair -- or lying in your coffin.

While 20 states and the District of Columbia require motorcyclists to wear helmets and/or eye protection; none mandate that leathers and boots be worn when riding.
But no matter what "the law" has to say, experienced bikers know that riding a motorcycle without protection for the rest of you -- not just your head -- makes about as much sense as wearing a partial shark suit when scuba diving with great whites.

Dress for the wreck, not the ride.

The next thing that got Roethlisberger -- and so many other riders just like him -- into deep water was his inexperience. Stats show that 92 percent of motorcyclists involved in crashes were either self- taught or trained by family or friends; more than half of the accident-involved riders had less than 5 months experience behind them.

Roethlisberger didn't have a motorcycle license -- legal in PA but required in most states -- and hadn't been riding for very long. He apparently had never taken a basic rider safety course, such as the ones conducted by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The MSF course is designed to teach new riders accident-avoidance techniques and panic braking -- two skills that might have saved Roethlisberger an ambulance trip. They also drum in the need to be constantly vigilant -- and to anticipate the worst of the drivers around you when you're out riding.

Finally, Roethlisberger -- like many gung-ho young/first-time riders -- made a potentially career-ending mistake in selecting his bike. According to news reports, the 24-year-old QB -- who had never owned a sport bike before -- chose to ride the world's quickest, fastest production motorcycle, the Suzuki Hayabusa. This is the Ferrari Enzo of motorcycles -- a machine with a higher power-to-weight ratio than virtually anything on four wheels; it is capable of running to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds -- and from there to a top speed in excess of 175 mph. Like other high-performance sport bikes, the 'Busa is designed for expert riders who have developed the skill set crucial to safely keeping such a machine under control.

Not a good choice for first bike.

But because such bikes are relatively inexpensive, almost anyone can afford one -- including "newbie" riders who may be getting in way over their heads. A new Hayabusa 1300R like the one Roethlisberger was riding, for example, lists for $11,299 -- about the cost of a used Corolla.

But the price you pay could end up being a whole lot more.

This isn't a slam of high-strung top-tier sport bikes like the 'Busa -- or its Kawasaki/Yamaha/Honda equivalents. These bikes are immensely capable -- and in the hands of a skilled rider, they're no more dangerous than an F-14 under the control of an experienced combat pilot.

The thing is, no one's ready to fly a Tomcat without first having mastered a Piper Cub -- and the same goes for high-strung sport bikes with abrupt power delivery and extremely high capabilities. Such bikes can easily get away from novice riders. At 150 mph -- or 20 over and too deep into a fast turn -- there is little margin for error. Or inexperience.

In some countries (the UK, for example) there are "tiered" licensing requirements that prohibit new riders from starting out on a machine above their skill set/experience level -- for just this reason. After a year or so of learning the ropes on a smaller, less powerful bike, the novice rider is allowed to graduate to bigger, faster bikes.

We have no such laws in the United States, but as with gear, this isn't so much about "the law" as it as about common sense.

While it may be perfectly legal for the new/inexperienced rider to go out and buy the quickest, fastest sport bike he can swing the payments for -- it's not necessarily the smart thing to do.

Roethlisberger was tempted by the prospect of blazing speed and race-track capabilities -- even though he wasn't ready to handle either. Ego -- boosted by testosterone -- sometimes gets the better of good judgment.

The results can be ugly.

Motorcycling is some of the best bang for your buck fun there is -- but the sport has a learning curve as sharp as your favorite 35 mph decreasing radius off-ramp taken at 70. Many new riders don't quite make it around.

Don't end up a statistic. Gear up. Learn to ride. And always ride within your limits -- and the limits of common sense.

END/TAG: Eric Peters is an automtive columnist and author living in Floyd. He rides an '03 Kawasaki ZRX1200R and (when it's running) a '76 Kz900 with a big bore kit and cams. But he never rides without leathers.

SIDEBAR:

* According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 4,315 fatal motorcycle accidents in 2005, an increase of 8 percent over the previous year.

* The death rate for motorcycle riders is exponentially higher than it is for people riding in cars -- 38.93 fatalities per million miles traveled vs. 1.23 fatalities per million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for occupants of passenger cars.

* By a wide margin (as high as 92 percent, according to some estimates) motorcyclists involved in crashes were either self taught or trained by family or friends.

* More than half of the accident-involved riders had less than 5 months experience on the accident-involved motorcycle, according to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).

* Motorcycle riders who are unlicensed or improperly licensed are over-represented in fatal crashes by more that 100 percent nationally -- and by as much as 400 percent in some states.

* A 2004 study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that that 44 percent of motorcyclists involved in a crash are not legally licensed to operate a motorcycle.

* Of the licensed riders who were killed between 1998 and 2003 in Florida, not one had participated in the state-administered Rider Training Program or MSF rider school.

See: http://www.msf-usa.org for information about MSF rider schools in your area; or call 800-446-9227. 31 states use MSF skill tests for their licensing process; 41 use the MSF's motorcycle operator manual.

Best of all, they provide the bikes -- so you don't have to own a bike to learn how to ride a bike!

END

Kwozzie1
07-19-2006, 09:22 PM
Eric
I have to agree! I have both a scooter and motorcycle.
Amazingly I tend to jump on the scooter to do the local trips of shopping....sometimes just wearing thongs as footwear! I am of course equally as vulnerable on the scooter as I am on the motorcycle which I tog up for!
Rex

Eric
07-19-2006, 09:35 PM
Eric
I have to agree! I have both a scooter and motorcycle.
Amazingly I tend to jump on the scooter to do the local trips of shopping....sometimes just wearing thongs as footwear! I am of course equally as vulnerable on the scooter as I am on the motorcycle which I tog up for!
Rex


Yep - I was lucky not to have learned the hard way... when I was younger (and dumber) I did ride without gear; not today - not anymore!

JohnB
07-19-2006, 11:04 PM
Yeah, a helmet will keep you alive (maybe) but if you ain't wearing good body protection, you may wish you were dead after sliding down the asphalt for 100 or 200 feet..... wearing shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops. ---Just ask my neighbor.

Eric
07-20-2006, 08:00 AM
Absolutely... !

PS - The bike is really coing along... got most of my small pieces back from the chrome shop yesterday; mainly just waiting on the head at this point....

Swedishboy
08-07-2006, 12:57 PM
Great article and terrific web site Eric!
Being of European descent, I am constantly amazed at the number bikers in this country who wear a helmet but not much else. There seems to be this perception that wearing leathers is uncool and labels you as a pansy over here.
Oh yeah, my brother is now partially lame after some nasty roadrash after ignoring your pointers. The Triumph Daytona lasted all of 8 weeks...

Eric
08-07-2006, 02:48 PM
"Being of European descent, I am constantly amazed at the number bikers in this country who wear a helmet but not much else. There seems to be this perception that wearing leathers is uncool and labels you as a pansy over here.
Oh yeah, my brother is now partially lame after some nasty roadrash after ignoring your pointers. The Triumph Daytona lasted all of 8 weeks..."

Thanks for the kind words - and welcome to the site!

I've never understood why anyone would consider it being a "pansy" to gear up; everyone I ride with always does - and some of us do track days/hold croad racing licenses, etc.

Awful about that Daytona... and sorry to hear about the in jury, too.

-Eric