In the last 2 months there have been an interesting spate of articles defending sportbikes in light of more 'sportbikes are unsafe' press announcements from the U.S.'s IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).
I found them facinating and helps with our 'defence' of sportbikes when the ignorant and uninformed make claims about these 'crotchrockets' and such being inherently unsafe by their very design (v.s. a cruiser?).
I couldn't locate a copy/pasteable online versions of two articles from the AMA magazine, but if you care or want to try to search more there was a good response article from columnist Bill Wood in his 'Viewpoint" column in American Motorcyclist magazine, November 2007 on page 14. it was entitled "They're Baaack!" There was a press release by the AMA which Bill's column was based on, so it has a lot of similar points.
It is here: http://home.ama-cycle.org/newsroom/a...sp?rnum=A07017
Also a full featured story in the American Motorcyclist magazine, December 2007 on page 53 entitled "Target: Sportbikes"
Here is an article by John Campbell in Canadian Biker magazine, December 2007.
Issue #236 The Unjust War on Sportbikes
Written by John Campbell
Monday, 03 December 2007
A recently released study by America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says sportbikes are to blame for the skyrocketing death count in the motorcycle community: from 2,116 in 1997 to 4,180 in 2006. It goes on to say that sport riders are four times more likely to get the chop than people who ride other models. (The full report can be read here:
The American Motorcyclist Association has countered with a press release that says the study is seriously flawed. The AMA takes exception to the study’s data collection methodology, claiming that it ignores key factors such as the number of miles the bike was ridden, the traffic environment in which it was used, along with the age and experience of the rider.
“Those factors are so significant that they could easily change the results the IIHS has reported,” said AMA Vice-President for Government Relations, Ed Moreland.
Among other statistics the IIHS study suggests that deaths for every 10,000 registered motorcycles in 2005 were:
But it’s in these “categories” that the study really goes off the rails, according to the AMA. The IIHS report says unprecedented speed and acceleration combine to make the Supersport category so dangerous, yet it places the twin horsepower monsters ZX-14 and Hayabusa in the presumably tamer Sport category, which they share with bikes we would consider definitive sport touring models, Honda’s ST1300 and Yamaha’s FJR1300. A categorical oversight that causes Moreland to practically snort in derision.
“No matter what name you put on it, the Hayabusa and the ST1300 are simply not in the same class of motorcycles,” he says. “And if you’re claiming to rank fatality rates by category of motorcycle, it’s hard to get meaningful results when you lump those very different machines together and declare them to be in the same class.”
This back and forthing between the IIHS and the AMA has caught the attention of mainstream media, which already has its own standing, if unspoken, orders: “If it bleeds, it leads.” More than one news outlet latched onto the final sentence of the report: “Short of banning supersport and sport motorcycles from public roadways, capping the speed of these street-legal racing machines at the factory might be one way to reduce their risk.”
Naturally, media’s shorthand translation was that the IIHS is calling for an outright ban on sportbikes, though they may not be entirely clear on what they are.
Doing its bit, the AMA says it is in the process of compiling its own federally funded safety study scheduled to begin this fall.
“We look forward to getting the results of actual, in-the-field research that won’t just compare fatalities to some hypothetical class of motorcycle, but will pin down the actual factors involved in motorcycle crashes,” Moreland said. “That will be much more useful in helping save lives on the highway.”
Well, let’s hope so because all the AMA has done so far is present a very rapid spin-doctoring of the IIHS paper, although I’m glad the association said something ... anything. As it stands now, the sport sector is a beleaguered one, and in all the criticism levelled against the category one significant piece of information often goes neglected. If it’s true that modern sportbikes, with their high-revving, powerful motors, are capable of getting the average rider in trouble in a big hurry, they’re also capable of getting them out of a tough spot with equal rapidity. Never has there been a time when brake, frame and suspension technology have combined as they do now, to make any rider a better one. Tire technology too has risen dramatically and the overall sport package allows the pilot unprecedented control over his vehicle. The unwritten truth is that for every rider who’s succumbed with fatal results to the throttle’s allure, there are many times more who’ve been able to brake or steer their way clear of potential disaster, simply because their motorcycle, with its stiff aluminum frame and crisp steering, is so damn good. Ban the very best motorcycles on the road? This position makes absolutely no sense.
Still, what remains are the final numbers: the death count. Obviously there is something wrong when tolls have nearly doubled in less than a decade. It matters not a whit whether the IIHS is slightly confused about vague genres that are sometimes defined simply by the inclusion of a factory-added set of saddlebags or a windshield of varying proportions.
Perhaps it comes down to sheer numbers: the volume of traffic in cities where most deaths occur has risen in equally alarming proportions.
That may be too simplistic though: the majority of deaths occur in the under-30 age group. Of course, that’s also the demographic that is most drawn to sportbikes, and youth is always rash. Or is it?
The IIHS paper also touches on the influence of booze, which was a factor in the fatal crashes of 19 per cent of Supersport riders and 23 per cent of Sport riders. However, by comparison, alcohol was an even bigger factor in the fatal crashes of cruisers, standard bikes and touring motorcycles, particularly among riders 30-49 years old. “Thirty-three per cent of cruiser and standard riders and 26 per cent of touring motorcycle riders had blood alcohol concentrations above the legal threshold for impairment,” says the study.
So, what can we conclude about all that? Young guns prefer the thrill of speed, while older, supposedly more “mature” riders don’t mind a belt or two before they hit the road?
I kind of like what our Off-Road Editor John Fuller has to say on the topic in ‘Dirt Trax’ this issue.
“Judging by history, it definitely lowers the odds to have some limits,” says Mr. Fuller, “but stupid is stupid and the individual who pins the throttle without ‘due care’ will probably encounter trouble with or without built-in limiters.”
In short, you can get just as messed up on say, a Buell Blast, as you can on a GSX-R1000. So, perhaps the solution does lie in comprehensive, (authoritative) studies and multi-pronged collaborations by safety councils, lawmakers and industry in the creation of a baseline understanding of the cause of accidents. But then again, maybe it just comes down to taking more stupid people off the road. I see that as a peer pressure thing. But waging war against motorcycling’s best technologies will solve nothing.