With the frantic Christmas holidays behind us and my bikes tucked away for their winter slumber, I was having a bit of a struggle coming up with an overall topic for this month’s newsletter. I started browsing through the GoldwingDocs Forum looking for some common themes, to see if there were one or two topics that were generating a lot of interest. I didn’t have to look far.
That common theme: crashes – from several different angles: A couple members who have suffered major crashes recently, talk about ways to make you and your bike less likely to be involved in a crash, and methods to mitigate injury when crashes did occur.
Motorcycling carries with it inherent risk. Anyone who denies this is fooling themselves. There are two major aspects of risk: the fact that as motorcycles, we are hard to see on the road, and drivers (for many reasons) fail to see us. The other is that when we are involved in a crash, we have significantly less protection against injury, compared to a regular passenger vehicle. It is important that we mitigate these risks in every way that we can, to tilt the odds more in our favor. Basically, first do everything we can to try to prevent the crash, and second, be prepared as best we can in case the crash does occur.
Back in 2009, member propstop reported that a driver had pulled out in front of him while riding his 1983 GL1100. He swerved and ended up sideswiping the driver. He managed to stay on the bike and keep it upright, ironically thanks to the impact itself. The driver, as usual, claimed he had never seen the motorcycle. He wrote a post entitled “The Invisible Motorcycle” asking what we can do as riders to make ourselves more visible to the drivers who seem to be blind when it comes to motorcycles. Five years later, people are still reading and posting to this topic.
Some things are changing, however: Recently it was announced that Tennessee has now banned trucks from the infamous Tail of the Dragon. This will go some ways toward reducing accidents on a road that has a very high ratio of motorcycle traffic. I’ve also noticed a trend in the US over the last couple of years toward high-visibility clothing, something that is all but ubiqutous in Europe and Canada. The standard uniform of the US motorcyclist, black leather jackets, T-shirts and jeans is slowly being replaced by high-visibility ballistic nylon gear. Now if we can only get people to start wearing helmets, which is unfortunately seen as “not cool” by a large majority of riders. We have no end of stories of riders who have been saved by their helmets.
Another major method of mitigating risk is training. Riding a motorcycle is a perishible skill that takes considerable training and experience to do safely and well. Watching the skilled motorcyclists in England, where training and experience requirements are strict and involved, and comparing them to the skill shown by the average rider here in Ohio shows that the level of training offered (and required) here in the US has tremendous room for improvement. Here in Ohio where I live, a 16-year-old kid, who has never ridden a motorcycle in his life, can take a 20-question multiple choice test, and is then issued a “learners permit.” This permit makes it perfectly within his legal right to hop onto a 1000cc superbike and go screaming off down the road. This too has come up in discussion, comparing the licensing standards from different parts of the world: Licensing of riders. Let’s face it: if you come into a hairy situation and your training and experience amounts to a buddy helping you figure out which is the clutch and which is the brake, you are going to fare far, far worse than a rider who took a training class to learn to ride their bike, and continues with recurrent training to help sharpen their skills and practice emergency maneuvers.
The other way of mitigating risk has very little to do with training, skill or experience, and everything to do with preparation. Once the crash has occurred, your fate is now no longer in your hands, and how you come out the other end is going to depend on the quality of your safety equipment, the environment, your velocity, and let’s face it: a whole lot of luck. Sometimes you need that luck: member seelyark1 recently encountered a slippery pile of grass in the middle of a blind corner, and the next thing he knew, his helmet was scraping along the ground. He got away with a broken ankle and a few broken ribs, and is waiting to be able to ride again. So how can you mitigate the risk of injury from an accident over which you have no control?
The GL1800 air bag was a huge step forward in motorcycle safety. Many people have escaped serious injury thanks to this impressive device. However it is expensive, difficult to maintain (and makes regular maintenance and repair of the bike more difficult), and was not adopted by other motorcycle makers – or even by Honda for other models.
A few years back a company came out with an innovative air bag built into a jacket, that was tethered to the bike. Whenever the rider came off the bike, the tether would pull a trigger on the jacket, and the air bags would pop out of the jacket, protecting the most common areas of serious injury: the shoulders, neck, and torso. Of course, if you forget to disconnect that tether when you dismount…an expensive surprise awaits! Other companies have improved on the designs, with arming now being done by the action of zipping up the jacket, and triggering being done by sensitive electronic acceleration sensors. The stratospheric prices of these systems is also beginning to come down, to the point that they may actually become a reasonably common safety item.
But expensive gadgets aside, the simplest and best way to avoid injury is to be wearing the proper equipment in the first place. This is yet another one of those long-running topics: Started three years ago, this topic is a discussion of the safety gear worn by various riders, and how it works/has worked for them: Distinguished Attire. And work it does: reading through the Motorcycle Accidents topic, Goldwing owners relate accidents they have had, and how the gear they were wearing helped prevent or minimize injuries. Unfortunately, for some riders (and I count myself amongst them), the education as to the requisite safety gear comes the hard way, only after bones have been broken and skin removed via asphalt.