Yes Emily

Yes Emily, girls can ride motorcycles!

Monday, December 20, 2010

What are the odds for a ‘born again’ rider in a Group Ride?

I began thinking about the types of riders who “come to grief,” that is, have a serious accident, after a conversation about accidents and group rides with friend and neighbor Ken Morgan. Ken’s background is racing and motorcycle safety as the National Supervising Chief Instructor, Motorcycle Training Programs - Canada Safety Council. His theory is that group riding is dangerous. Now Ken pretty much knows what he’s talking about when it comes to motorcycle safety, but before I published this post I wanted to back it up with some serious research and statistics, more than just, well, “Ken says…” This lead me to do a little reading on motorcycle accidents and their causes. (Check out the Hurt study published 1980, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration FARS, plus‘Recent Trends in Fatal Motorcycle Crashes’ and ‘Fatal Single Vehicle Motorcycle Crashes’, the MAIDS report, and Road Safety Research Report 54-In Depth Study of Motorcycle Accidents DfT, London published in 2006 not to mention numerous articles published by the insurance industry and monthly motorcycle magazines.)

Group riding is a popular sport but the idea doesn’t appeal to all riders. Experienced rider and writer for Motorcycle Cruiser magazine, Art Friedman agrees with Ken and is not a fan of group rides. He writes,

“The proximity of other riders, as when you are close to any other vehicle, presents a potential risk. If you wander into each other's zones, you can cause one or both to crash. I have observed riders run onto the shoulder by other riders in their group who overlooked them or wandered off their intended paths while distracted.” (Oct. 2006)

Art has been rear ended twice during group rides and witnessed many other group ride tragedies. But is it the group ride or is it the group rider? Are high risk riders drawn to riding in groups more than lower risk riders? Being in proximity to other vehicles is a risk but there are other risk factors involved with motorcycle riding. The major studies on motorcycle accidents and their causes paint a similar big picture - motorcycle fatalities have increased steadily over the past 10 years and the number of older riders involved in accidents is increasing more than other groups. As a casual observer it seems to me that most group rides are filled with the ‘older’ riders. Now, I’m not saying all riders over 40 are at higher risk, but how many of them, I wonder, do fit the ‘high risk’ criteria? None of the studies that I have read to date specifically state in their statistical analysis that being part of a group ride is an inherent risk factor. What they do specify is the type of rider, the most likely bike styles and the most likely scenarios of increased risk. Do these risk factors coalesce more often in group ride scenarios?

According to D. Clarke (et al) of the University of Nottingham, 70% of motorcycle accidents can be classified as being one of three main types; right of way, bend and maneuverability. Most common, as reported in all major crash studies, are the accidents involving ‘right of way’ violations. The majority of these accidents have been found to be the fault of the other motorist, often because they just didn’t see or notice the motorcycle and most occur at T- intersections in urban areas. Second to this cause is rider error when the rider loses control on bends or curves in the road. These ‘bend accidents’ are predominantly on open, undivided, rural roadways and the rider is often out for a pleasure ride. Riders in this group are three times more likely, according to the Clarke study, to have under 5.2 consecutive years experience riding (either because they are newly licensed or are ‘born again’ riders and are generally on larger machines). Speed is often a contributing factor to these ‘bend’ accidents although gravel or oil on the road surface is sometimes a factor. Thirdly are the accidents Clarke classifies as motorcycle maneuverability accidents. These accidents are related to the way a motorcycle can be maneuvered in traffic that a car cannot. They often occur when a rider is overtaking slower moving or stationary traffic, often by lane splitting or filtering (using the unused portion of the lane). A higher proportion of riders involved in this type of scenario are younger and riding larger displacement engines (507+cc).

The rear end shunt is the next most common cause of fatalities sited in the studies read. Rear end shunts accounted for 11% of the accidents in the Clarke study. A rear end shunt is when the rider hits the rear end of another vehicle. This group included a large proportion of young, inexperienced riders, riding on bikes with smaller displacement engines.

As mentioned above a notable trend in statistics since 1999 is the increase of accidents for riders in the over forty age category, the ‘easy rider,’ baby boomer generation. These riders tend to be riding motorcycles with higher displacement engines and from the Clarke survey 38% have admitted, like myself, to being “born again” riders. Born again riders are those of us who many years ago obtained our motorcycle license but for one reason or another stopped riding for an extended period (more than 3 years.) Most of these riders do not (I am assuming) take rider training again before getting back in the saddle. Now speaking from personal experience when I started riding again I knew I was starting all over. I chose to re train with the Canada Safety Council’s “Gearing Up” rider training program. The skill it takes to ride a motorcycle is something that has to be practiced, if you don’t do it, you do lose it. I know. My first time out, before re training I put the bike down on a bend in the road. Luckily I wasn’t a statistic, perhaps because I wasn’t speeding or riding a big bike. I started back on a 250cc.

I am sure most people will agree riding a motorcycle is more risky than driving a car, just by the sheer nature of the beast but the studies found many accidents involved riders taking unnecessary additional risks including going faster than skills and road conditions dictate, following too closely, riding after 9pm in darkness, riding under the influence – just to mention a few. Clarke included a rider attitude survey to examine rider risk awareness and goes on to suggest , “An approach is therefore clearly needed that targets riders’ attitudes to risk, as well as the effective measures that can be taken in the area of defensive riding skills.“

So is it the group ride or the riders that present the danger? The group ride obviously puts the rider into a risk position with other vehicles, even the lone rider must contend with the traffic. The danger, in my opinion is that in a large group the risk is being compounded by the participation of more high risk, older riders who are now riding with the group. The statistics show these are the riders who are most likely going down on the curves in the road – if that happens in front of you can you avoid it? The Clarke study, though it didn’t mention group riding in the actual stats, in the conclusion did state,

“In contrast there is some evidence that an older ‘born again biker’ subgroup seem to
be mismatching the performance of new machines with their own previously learned
abilities. If motorcycle category is examined, it is shown that over 40%of ‘supersport’ bike riders at fault in the sample come to grief on bends. This is over twice the proportion of ‘at fault’ bend accidents found in all other types of machine, and ‘super-sport’ bikes are over-represented in ‘at fault’ bend accidents relative to their numbers in the sample as a whole. Riders in this category are more likely than others to be travelling at speed (whether over the speed limit or at speeds inappropriate to road conditions), riding for leisure purposes, and riding in groups with other riders. Moss (2000), in his report on rural motorcycle accidents, was more specific regarding the type of behaviors these riders are exhibiting, saying
that ‘. . . riders are failing to ride their machines within their personal capabilities” (Road Safety Research Report No. 54: In-depth Study of Motorcycle Accidents, David D. Clarke, etal, School of Psychology, University of Nottingham, November 2004, Department for Transport: London, Pp 49).

If you are planning on joining a group ride plan first to reduce your risk. Know your group - analyze the riders and attitudes before you start riding with them. Don’t be one of those high risk riders yourself - participate in rider training (even if you are a born again rider – I’m glad I did), learn counter measures first. Know your personal limits and don’t feel pressured to ride beyond them – regardless of the group mentality. Remember your most valuable piece of equipment is under your helmet. For more tips on group riding check out Art Friedman’s article in Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine or the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Guide to Riding video on YouTube. I’m not planning to join a group ride any time soon but intend to assess my own risk attitude before my 6th born again season begins – I don’t want to be one of 2011’s statistics.

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