I’ve been riding street bikes my entire adult life, beginning in 1989 when I bought a 1982 Honda CM 450a (the “a” stands for “automatic,” which was a brilliant bike for a beginner. It had an automatic transmission and no clutch. That’s a subject for another day.)
I’ve been lucky that, in the 29 years I’ve been riding motorcycles, I’ve never been involved in an accident, or never “laid down” a bike. In the motorcycle world, “laying down a bike” means you wiped out, crashed etc. Even though it’s never happened to me, I have certainly heard and even seen firsthand quite a number of crashes and “lay downs.”
Why do motorcycle crashes happen? Who’s to blame?
It’s fashionable in the motorcycle world to blame everything on “cagers,” that is, those who drive in a “cage” which is a car, pick-up, 18-wheeler or what have you.
Granted, in my 29 years of experience I would be forced to say that, when I’m on my bike, other traffic does not show respect. By that I mean other traffic ignores the motorcycle. Courtesy on the road is bad enough these days, but when I’m on my bike every other vehicle seems to want to take your lane, cut you off when changing lanes, pull out from intersections without yielding the right of way to me and much more.
Last summer I went on a day trip to Lake Abraham in the mountains with a friend, and maybe five minutes after I left my house in Wetaskiwin I was cut-off by a pick-up truck ignoring right of way by making a left-hand turn across traffic. When the truck made the illegal left-hand turn, I was so close to it that I could see and count the people inside the vehicle. About 60 minutes later the same thing happened to me in Rimbey, except it was a massive RV towing an SUV that cut me off.
There’s a false trend occurring in the motorcycle world over things like illegal left-hand turns and motorists endangering our lives by cutting us off to save themselves a few seconds. Motorcycle helmets and gear with “high visibility” markings are the rage, they “make you more visible to motorists.” From my experience, the motorists see you whether you’re wearing hi-viz or not. The problem isn’t visibility, the problem is the motorists don’t care.
That being said, when it comes to motorcycle crashes, I suspect I know how they happen and, for the most part, who is to blame. From my experience, most crashes occur because the motorcyclist causes them through speeding, inattention or inexperience. Scientific studies tend to back this up.
For example most riders think the number one danger to them is another vehicle. However, the American government found in 2013 that most collisions involving a motorcycle also involved a fixed object, meaning the motorcyclist drove right into a barricade, fence etc.
The same study found over 34 per cent of motorcyclists involved in collisions were speeding, compared to about 18 percent of automobile collisions.
The third factor is a bit more complicated, the issue of experience. Last summer I read about a large number of fatal single-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles, and a lot of them occurred on curves. Riding a bike isn’t like driving a car; a properly trained and experienced rider will know he or she should slow down a bit entering the curve, then speed up exiting it. Otherwise, if your bike enters the curve too fast and the rider is too inexperienced to handle a tight curve at high speed, kinetic energy will force the bike to shoot straight off the curve. Flying through outer space moving at least 100 kilometres an hour…well, hopefully you’re wearing good gear and land on pillows.
Do other motorists cause motorcycle collisions? Hell yeah, no argument here.
But it looks like at least the same number, if not more, are caused by the riders themselves.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.