Are motorcycles safer today than 50 years ago?

Are motorcycles safer today than 50 years ago?

The dictionary defines the word safe as:

adjective
          - protected from or not exposed to danger or risk; not likely to be harmed or lost.


This being, I would say that by definition, no motorcycle in the world is or will ever be safe per se, however, we can debate if todays motorcycles are actually safer than the ones that came before them.

I honestly believe this simple exercise allows for some very interesting opinions, and insightful points of view, and that is what brings me to todays article.

I’ve been dwelling and gathering opinions about this topic for quite some time, and I wanted to not only share my two cents on it, but also to find out what you from the Nation have to say about it.

This being, we need to ask, are the motorcycles of today, really safer than the bikes of old?

If we are not putting much thought into it, the answer needs to be a resounding YES, but does the answer remain the same if we dig deeper?

Without a doubt, today's technology blows away anything being done 10 years ago, let alone 50 or 60, so it would be easy to point out every single item where today's bikes are safer.

Tires, lights, frames, suspensions, brakes, even parts reliability is overall improved, so how can one even consider that today's bikes are not safer than their predecessors?

In a way, because of all of that.
 

THE THEORY OF MORE

Nowadays, no matter the segment, there is only one rule for manufacturers when we are taking state of the art bikes, and that rule, more!

More braking power, more luggage capacity, more electronic aids, more horsepower.

On paper, all of that looks incredibly exciting, we all end up looking with amazement at 200hp street legal rockets.

But are we getting lost in numbers, and forgetting that those same rockets will be ridden in real streets, filled with real drivers and pedestrian, and piloted by real people without any special skill or professional abilities?!

And let's not get confused, it is not just superbikes pushing high numbers.

The BMW S1000XR puts out 165hp, and the KTM 1290 Super Duke GT is going above the 170hp mark in the sport touring category.

Adventure bikes weighing 500 plus pounds, pushing as high as 130hp, on bikes meant to be able to go off-road in the hands of any rider, regardless of experience.

No one even considers a middle weight bike that makes less than 80hp, and things only started getting interesting to the market when the numbers hit the three digits.

Even in pure off-road bikes, we see them more performance oriented year after year, becoming racing machines available for the masses.

Like this, one needs to ask, how much does this power craze translate into safety?

Even though I believe some power can indeed be helpful, and as such, safer, I would say the place where we are nowadays has passed that line, and is not safe out there anymore, even with high-end brakes and electronics supporting it.

Let me quote Stefan Pierer's, KTM CEO when talking to Alan Cathcart in an article published in the CycleNews magazine regarding the return of KTM to the MotoGP in 2016:



"We'd like to produce a successor to the existing RC8 V-twin… In which case, let's do the following: We'll stick to making a Superbike, but only for closed course usage. So it won't be homologated for sale as a streetbike. Okay? So then to produce that we will take the best prototype development arena available, which is MotoGP. And for the 2016 season, there will be new rules introduced when the playing field will be leveled with a standard electronic system, so then KTM can challenge Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia on an equal basis. So that's the concept for development. We'll call it the RC16 and it will also be available for the normal customer for track days or private use on track, but it won't any more be homologated for the street. It'll be a really serious sports and race item for closed course use only."

"But let's be honest, if your Superbike is reaching 200 horsepower or more, it's impossible to argue that it belongs on the street. It really doesn't, anymore.
As soon as the RC16 is available for customers we will stop with the RC8. The design is outstanding. I would say it's still state of the art, and there is nothing else like it. It's a classic Superbike. But with the increase in safety concerns, I'm afraid bikes like this don't belong on the street, only on a closed course."


That speech from the KTM CEO leads us to believe that either Mr. Pierer is forgetting the engine outputs of his other production bikes, or that he believes 200hp is the limit, but still, he accepts that there is indeed a limit for the street, and that we have reached it.

But the theory of more doesn't just stick to horsepower, it also hits other points with striking accuracy.

Braking power had to be immensely improved to stop the two-wheel speeding bullets of today, and even though they come with a myriad of electronics to allow even the less skilled rider to be able to feel like Rossi or Marquez before entering a corner, that is precisely my point, they feel like them, they are not them.

As for the weight, you cannot get to the theory of more without adding some pounds with all they have to stack on the bikes, so even with the use of lightweight materials, we see the weight of the average bike increasing in many categories.

They manoeuvre well, but more weight means greater difficulty in handling at lower speeds for the average rider.

So, are the motorcycles of today safer?

On paper, without a doubt, on the road and in thoughtful hands, definitely, but they lack honesty.

The easiness of use, the incredible power delivery and braking abilities, the insane reliability and any other point you wish to add is by far improved year after year, but it seems most people forget one key point, a motorcycle is not like a car.

The motorcycle has always been an extension of its rider, a dancing partner in a perfectly choreographed ballet, where every detail was accounted for, and where limits where known.

Today's bikes are like gourmet fast-food, seasoned with racing technology.

It is increasingly harder to play with them under the hood, which creates a distance between the rider and the bike, and with all the electronics needed to tame the insane powers we are dealing with, we are now in a three-way dance between the rider, the bike, and the bike's computer.

I don't know about you, but even having two left feet, I've always managed to trow a few dance moves with the right partner, but I've only successfully seen professionals be able to dance with more than one partner at the same time with grace and control.

Motorcycle technology is indeed safer, motorcycles themselves, those are moving away from motorcyclists, and that, in my humble opinion, is ultimately not safe.

Knowing we cannot go back, I would say its time for brands, driving schools, and riders to push harder and harder in better and more comprehensive teaching programs.

Would it be so crazy to think brands could sell and push riding courses as an extra, as they already do with parts like exhausts or comfort seats?

If we cannot change the bikes, let's at least do our best to educate the riders on how to deal with what its being sold to them.

What do you think?




Are motorcycles safer today than 50 years ago?

3 comments

  • Zé Duarte

    Hello Cole,

    I agree with you; that is why I believe it is so important to remember people of that.

    The way brand’s marketing works, ends up brainwashing us into believing we are all Rossi, and able to deal with any bike from the get-go, and that is very very dangerous in my book!

  • Cole K

    Cars n motos have evolved by leaps and bounds over the decades. But humans have not. While bikes n cars and computers have exponentially increased their capacity, humans reaction time has not kept pace.

  • David Rupple

    100% Agreed.

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