My Car Quest

July 20, 2024

Opinion: The Dangers of Motorcycles

by Wallace Wyss –

One of the strangest things I ever saw was a man whose head, face and shoulders were encrusted in tiny bits of glass. He’d been through a car windshield not once but dozens of times. This was many decades ago.

In college, I was working my way through as a PR man for the University. One of my beats was a crash testing lab and back in those days crash test dummies were still crude, more like clothing mannequins in store windows, without the sensors they have now so they were still using cadavers. Some of them over and over again. This explains the man whose skin was covered with broken glass.

So I’ve been away from the field for decades (besides myself personally being t-boned twice) but in catching up with the latest videos of crash test design the thought re-occurred to me that’s sounds astonishingly naive but I don’t yet have an answer so I’ll ask it again.

1970 Norton Commando Fastback-The Quail Motorcycle Gathering

1970 Norton Commando Fastback at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering – 2017

The Question: Why do they still allow motorcycles?

I know I know, motorcycles go back a long way toward establishing a man’s macho image (though the model for that image–Marlon Brando–seems short and fat in the old publicity stills I found for his biker movie, The Wild Ones).

My motorcycle riding career lasted one block. I borrowed a BMW and rode it one whole block before stopping to ask the owner how does one turn a corner?

Flash forward a few decades. I’m back to what’s happened since–turns out modern cars are being engineered to slow down the crash to minimize injuries. The faster you’re going when you hit something the more damage occurs to you–the driver and passengers. If they are in a car that has a suspension and body designed to crumple progressively the accident is slowed down a few milliseconds with less injuries to driver and passengers.

Nowadays they have side air bags (in hardtops and sedans) that do a lot to mitigate impacts from the side. Which again brings me back to my naive sounding question about motorcycles. After all, they have:

– no airbags
– no crumple zones

So when you hit something at speed your body goes flying at the same speed you were going when the conveyance abruptly stopped.

It makes no sense that millions are spent on car accident research to mitigate injuries yet here’s an entire class of vehicle being sold worldwide that, by hook or by crook, doesn’t have to play by the rules. One rule in particular: Newton’s Third Law of Motion.

Today I saw a beautiful girl riding on the back seat of a motorcycle and thought if I were a parent of a young lady, I’d refuse to let her ride on her boyfriend’s motorcycle (or any motorcycle).

It’s not only the likelihood of death but of injury that could cripple her for life. Mostly I see young teenagers to women in their mid-twenties riding pillion–an age range that still has a lot of life to live.

I know, I know, as a scribe who has penned several books about car racing, you might ask why am I against motorcycles that in essence, compared to a car, are a more pure machine. They can be ridden in a manner to experience g-forces far more than in a car, to allow you the piloto (and maybe passenger) to communally enjoy the landscape–S-turns and the like.

And yet…the users of these machines are cavalierly tossing all that half century of research on accidents away. Like it never happened. And it’s perfectly legal. I know I’m going to be called an old curmudgeon but remember I saw a human body launched through space through a windshield not once but many times. That fellow died not just once but many times for the good of us all that ride in machines. Only to have all that knowledge willfully disregarded by motorcyclists.

It’s amazing they still get away with it.

What say you?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss art

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a novelist and fine artist, he prefers four wheels on his vehicles.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Honda Motorcycles-The Quail Motorcycle Gathering

Honda Lineup at The Quail Motorcycle Gathering – 2017

Summary
Opinion: The Dangers of Motorcycles
Article Name
Opinion: The Dangers of Motorcycles
Description
I'm going to be called a curmudgeon but remember I saw a human body launched through a windshield many times, so why do they still allow motorcycles after all we now know?
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Comments

  1. Raymond Nelson says

    I have ridden a Motorcycle thru every Province in Canada and beyond and, I would not exchange it for a CAR. Do not get me wrong I also love Cars but the experience of being on a Bike is, unfathomable.

  2. Richard Flasck says

    I totally agree with your article on motorcycles for the reasons you stated, I have never ridden one. But your-comments Also apply to most of the vintage cars out there. I have owned dozens of vintage cars such as jaguar XK 120, Austin Healey, Morgan, Alfa, Romeo, etc .For 60 years I have enjoyed restoring them and driving them, but often thought of the consequences of being T-boned or rear ended-sitting in my Morgan or Any of my other vintage cars. The results would not be much different than a motorcycle , even though I installed lap belts in them. Consequently, I sold my collection,Thankful that I got through 80 years without an incident. I guess I can understand why one collects these beautiful cars and only admires them in the garage.

  3. Mark P Livingood says

    Playing devil’s advocate and using a slippery slope fallacy argument, why are smoking, the consumption of alcohol and junk-food, sunbathing and medical errors still allowed, never mind why — given all of the time and money that’s been spent — do so many causes of cancer still remained either unknown (or undisclosed)?

    Life is tough, filled with risks and hazards… some of our own making, some caused by others and then there’s nature. If all non-natural causes of death were eliminated, how long would it be before famine or the depletion of resources became the number one cause of death in the world?

    Food for Thought….

    War: https://ourworldindata.org/war-and-peace
    Disasters: https://ourworldindata.org/century-disaster-deaths
    Famine: https://ourworldindata.org/famines

  4. Totally agree and well put. Also, good point on the vintage cars, however still way safer than a motorcycle. One can add seatbelts to their vintage cars plus they are rarely driven, and they are driven with caution. Hence the favorable insurance rates on vintage cars. I enjoy my Vespa scooter only on the bike paths and limited on the road use. Yes, the motorcycles are super dangerous especially as drivers often don’t see even the best riders. I truly appreciate bicyclists who wear bright clothing with flashing lights.

  5. I totally disagree. Motorcycles are not unsafe: it’s inept car drivers who are a danger to motorcyclists! I’ve ridden for 35 years, and crashed once due to a mix of an abrupt maneuver by the car in front of me combined with my cockiness. That taught me to be more careful in busy intersections.

    If I were ruler of the world, one could not get an auto/truck driver’s license until you served an internship riding a two wheeler for at least one year. Riding a motorcycle (or scooter) teaches you how to read the road surface, how to handle a moving machine, and most important, how to respect other motorists. Driving on public roads is a cooperative venture. People must work together to drive safely (which is why I’d ban dark tinted windows – drivers need to be able to make eye contact with each other!).

    Finally, there’s the element of personal freedom. Nothing feels like successfully riding a motorcycle. It is the ultimate sports “car”. Life without risk is not worth living. One needs to learn how to successfully manage risk. It’s another of life’s lessons. Let’s not dumb down living. Leave “choice” to the individual. They will ultimately make the decision that’s right for them.

  6. Rob, my point exactly. One can be an excellent rider but too often drivers just don’t see cyclists, both peddle an motor.

  7. Actually. Honda sells a Goldwing model with an airbag. I’m not certain how well it works but it’s a start. I’d rather have it than not! There are also numerous makers of ‘airbag jackets’ and these look very promising. They operate like a life raft… instantly deploying in an accident enveloping your torso and neck. They are revolutionary. I’ve recently quit riding due to auto drivers and their relentless texting! I do agree that motorcycles make you a better driver. The young girls in short shorts and flip flops scare the hell out of me!

  8. wallace wyss says

    I thought of another comparison. I saw a program on mountain climbers who pride themselves in:
    No pitons (or whatever those nail in hooks are called)
    no ropes
    no attempt at all for a “save” if they slip
    I think the guy I was reading about had already died from a fall by the time the article came out praising his bravery.
    And yet, being half Swiss, I get why the mountain draws them. I heard of one family where three in the family were killed climbing.

    Another sport that I think is short lived (regarding the practitioners, is those self propelled hang gliding (or maybe it’s called wing suits?). Looks dramatic as hell, but there’s too many things that can go wrong. Maybe if the participants were required to use a parachute, I’d be more for it. I’ve parasailed behind a speeding boat, and loved it but I was only 50 ft. above the water and close to shore. Not the same as a self propelled craft

    As far as sports cars being dangerous. True, but I’ve met many a famous race driver (such as Stirling Moss) who survived a crash when they were “topping the ton.” They wouldn’t have survived the same crash at the same speed in a motorcycle.

  9. Glenn Krasner says

    I am sure what RobM says is the most accurate description of the situation: “Motorcycles are not unsafe: it’s inept car drivers who are a danger to motorcyclists!’

    I live in Brooklyn, New York, and 4 years ago I went to the NYS Department of Motor Vehicles office and picked up the NYS DMV Motorcyle Driving Manual. I read it 4 times before coming to the same conclusion as RobM, and quit my dream of becoming a licensed motorcyle operator. The manual did not make me apprehensive of my own abilities – rather, it made me petrified of all the other car drivers on the road who would never see me coming and would mow me down.

    Every single day, in Brooklyn and Manhattan (where I work), as a pedestrian, I see nothing but drivers making illegal u-turns, going through stop signs, and unbelievably, it seems lately stops at red lights are optional, and also unbelievably, I see cars going the wrong way down one-way streets and avenues. Additionally, I see cars driving at 70 in 30 mph zones, and cars never giving pedestrians the right-of-way, especially when crossing 2nd Avenue (a downtown avenue) in Manhattan. I know that my cause of death will not be a heart attack, stroke, or cancer – it will definitely be me getting runover by a car travelling at 80 mph going downtown on 2nd Avenue while I am trying to cross 2nd Avenue. I have already informed all of my friends and loved ones of this.

    If I had more faith in my fellow NYC (and Long Island) drivers, I would continue my motorcycle dream, but, unfortunately my faith in them has completely evaporated.

    Glenn in Brooklyn, NY.

  10. RobM sure got a point and sometimes your hand gets forced…

    I used to ride my Harley Knucklehead (1970 FLH) for decades in The Netherlands without any issues. Then, I moved to the US and it was one of the vehicles I brought with me because I was so attached to it.

    After finally getting my California license plate I asked my wife to join me for the first ride, she was happy to join me. All went well until I went onto the 101 Freeway where a lady in a bus (Escalade) moved over into our lane obviously in an attempt to kill us. Having only drum brakes I had to do everything to avoid her but my wife told me immediately to ride home as she had enough…

    I rode it a second time, alone, and right after hitting the 101 the same thing happened: someone in a large SUV had no idea I was next to her and moved into my lane. Again I survived but that day I made up my mind: no air bags, no crumple zones – Los Angeles is not for drum brake Harleys! I hated to see her go but it’s not worth my health or life. So now it resides in Denmark where it lives a much more relaxed life. It’s not the motorcycles that are dangerous, it’s the (drivers of the) cars around us.

  11. I love the posts this thread has inspired! In Europe riders wear high-quality leathers and helmets while in this country I see many riders in flip flops and tee shirts with no helmet. Some of them look like organ donors in waiting. I can’t believe we are required to wear seatbelts while some states don’t require helmets. I’m sure those who follow this website are responsible riders but I’m sorry those who don’t at least wear a helmet are stupid. At least a helmet and high-quality leathers provides some protection.

  12. Mark P Livingood says

    As just a follow-up and for full disclosure, I rode motorcycles for over 50-years beginning with dirt bikes at 11 back in the early 1970’s. Having owned quite a few and logged a couple 100,000-miles riding them on the street since the middle-70’s, I’ve had more than my share of run-ins with motorists… the appropriate share should have been one. But, being a life long cyclist and motorcyclist, there’s just a unique sense of ‘freedom’ that comes from enduring the elements — good and bad — to appreciate the motoring experience, analogous to driving a vintage MG TC with the top down for those who are into cars and not motorcycles or bicycles.

    To make a long story short, I finally began to question the prudence of riding especially in urban areas after my wife and I were side-swiped by a little old lady who shouldn’t have been driving down in Florida back in 2015 that totaled our 2013 Road King “Blue.” We bounced back and resumed our enjoyment of our annual road trip down to Key West a few more times.

    That was until 2017 when I was riding my GL1800B home from – noting I commuted via motorcycle year-round in the NW Atlanta burbs for 20-years — and while stopped and waiting to turn left, was rear-ended by another little-old-lady who shouldn’t have been driving, sending that bike to the salvage yard and leaving me with a nagging back issue.
    It was at that point that we realized the world had changed, between distracted, careless, reckless and drivers who had ‘aged-out’ but “had to” keep driving given the lack of public transport, etc. So, I began to sell-off the last four bikes and finally sold the Road Glide Ultra and Bushtec trailer earlier this year, as they’d both been sitting essentially unused for two-years, less some monthly exercise for the Harley.

    The world’s a different place, but I still appreciate that as an adult living in the U.S. I have the freedom to make bad choices. The Darwin Effect is what it is and, quite frankly, cars have become so safe that its undermining Darwin, often times to the detriment of others. Self-driving cars are novel today when so few of them are on the road, imagine what it will be like when 4 out of 10 cars have mindless passengers on their phones, watching videos, etc. behind the wheel but not actively engaged in driving. I can foresee a time when motorcycles and bicycles have been outlawed on interstates and highways since they “are part of the problem” when auto drive cars fail to ‘react’ as well to those as they do other cars, never mind pedestrians in urban areas where the problems actually occur… a solution that fails to address the real problem, another modern phenomena.

  13. Mark, you had some cool bikes!

  14. This is an interesting subject – thank you Wallace.

    My random thoughts:

    – My two younger brothers are both avid Harley-Davidson riders and we had a Honda mini bike when we were kids. I have ridden some, mostly off road. I prefer 4 wheels under me but both of my brothers went whole hog.

    – It is “Common knowledge” that all motorcycle riders have either fallen off or will fall off their bikes.

    – All riding or driving is a safely issue – it is just a matter of degrees. I remember when many motorcycle riders complained about helmet laws but no one I have heard of complains about air bag laws in cars.

    – The safest path is to just stay home all the time. But what fun is that?

  15. Just after graduation from high school I buried numerous friends killed on motorcycle. Never been on one since.

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