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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Here it is, more than two years after I first wrote/published this. There are some new things to add to this conversation about the risks of riding a motorcycle.

Yes, there is additional risk of injury and death when you ride a motorcycle. However, when you look at the actual numbers, it turns out that you have a huge influence over a lot of that risk:

As a general rule, half or more of the motorcycle fatalities involved the lack of a helmet. Wear a fucking helmet people. Road rash won’t kill you, but I can tell you from personal experience how much it sucks. Wear protective gear. You can get cheapo imported motocross armor (jacket and pants) for less than $75.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/2017/08/02/riders-not-wearing-helmets-make-up-more-than-50-percent-of-motorcycle-crash-fatalities/

Air bag vests are available on Aliexpress for around or under a hundred bucks now (including shipping) You probably have to buy the CO2 cylinder separately. Are they as good as a $700 Helite vest? Probably not. But how many of you are actually wearing that $700 airbag vest? What’s stopping you? Carry a first aid kit. If not for yourself, for your buddies or random strangers who need your help. Take a first aid class. If you are involved in a motorcycle crash, you ARE the first responder.

If you are a competent and responsible motorcycle rider, it also makes you a safer driver of cars. So to account for the total risk, we also have to consider your reduced risk to have an automobile accident. Why Riding A Motorbike Makes You A Better Driver

43% of all motorcycle crashes involve alcohol (That we know about. Could be higher). Don’t drink and drive anything ever.

40% of all motorcycle crashes are single vehicle crashes. Sure, watch out for cars, but YOU are the single biggest risk factor, and you control you.


25% of all motorcycle deaths involved the rider hitting a fixed object. Don’t speed (crazy amounts) and learn about target fixation. Motorcycle Accidents: Common Causes

Horsepower matters. Riders of super sport motorcycles are 4 times as likely to die in a crash than the average motorcyclist. Maybe you’re the one person that can own and operate a bike with that much performance and horsepower in a totally responsible manner. If you are not……...don’t get one. Motorcycle Accidents: Common Causes

33% of all multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes involve a car driver pulling out in front of (or turning in front of) the cyclist. Just assume (every ride) that every car on a cross street WILL pull out in front of you and try to kill you. Think about defense, swerving, escape paths, hard braking, etc etc etc. Practice those skills. Every car in those situations, every time...have a plan. For a car on a cross street, watch the wheels, not the driver. You will instantly notice the motion. Consider getting your next bike with ABS. You can do emergency braking LIKE A BOSS without years of practice. Then go and practice emergency braking, ABS or not.

33% of all motorcycle fatalities involve a cyclist who is not licensed (or properly trained) to operate a motorcycle. Take a class. Then take another class. Then take an advanced class.
https://one.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/pedbimot/motorcycle/safebike/anatomy.html#:~:text=Approximately 43 percent of all,ability to operate it safely.

You can't reduce the risk to zero. Drunk drivers also kill innocent people driving cars every day. As stated, there is more risk involved with riding a motorcycle. But there is a lot of risk that can be reduced. I originally wrote this in response to somebody who was thinking about buying a motorcycle and many friends and family told them they were crazy. "Everybody knew" that riding a motorcycle was super duper dangerous and it was a virtual certainty that you would get killed or injured.

As a spreadsheet nerd, I don't find "super duper" very convincing or enlightening, so I hunted down a bunch of studies so I could see what the real risk looks like. As it turns out, it's not 100x as risky as driving a car. I don't think it's even 10x as risky as driving a car if you are competent and responsible. I have not found the definitive study that compares the risk of a safe and competent motorcycle rider who has and uses all the safety gear to that of car drivers. But I keep looking for that, and at least we now know that a substantial amount of risk for motorcycle riders as a group, comes from behavior that is easily avoided.

Summary: Wear a helmet. Wear safety gear. Pay attention. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t ride like a hooligan. Assume all cars ARE out to get you and ride accordingly. Practice practice practice.


I originally published this on the big motorcycle sub-Reddit and it was generally well received. When I updated it and published it recently, it was also well received, but brought up an interesting discussion about my single line/reference to cheapo asian air-bag vests. I think that is worth a whole other article. If you are interested in that, and all the other comments, it's over here:

I didn't want the whole article to appear again, just the link so you could follow the discussion if you were interested in that. So here is a non-functional link. You will have to remove the leading and trailing "x's" to make the link valid:

xxxxhttps://www.reddit.com/r/motorcycle/comments/107ocuz/quantifying_the_additional_risk_of_riding_a/xxxx
 

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In my experience, drinking and riding a motorcycle leads to riding too fast, taking chances you would otherwise not take, and living in a wheelchair the rest of your if you live at all. True story. Unfortunately, plural as in true stories.

I could tell you the stories, but they are the kind you really don't want to hear and can't un-hear.
 

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I read a lot of studies like that before I bought my first bike in '17, and incorporated what I learned from them into my riding habits. Knowing the real risks and practicing the skills didn't keep me from a rookie-mistake crash, but the gear did it's job and I walked away without a scratch. I've considered that reading time well spent, but I never thought to put it all together as you've done. Thank-you.
 

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Throw in - be visible. Wear bright/reflective clothing, a bright helmet. Use lights both in daytime and at night.

Light should not be a single pinprick - in darkness that doesn't allow other drivers to judge speed/distance properly. At least have dual headlights like the first 'strom models. Augment this with aux light that form a triangle shape. Same for the rear. And put some reflective patches on the side. But use standard colors: all-white or all-yellow at the front (don't mix colors, it just causes confusion), orange reflectors on the side and reds at the rear.

Use the s-weave technique when you come up to a crossing. A light that is coming directly towards a driver doesn't generate a lot of attention; a light that weaves left to right a bit generates a lot more.

And - be predictable and give others time to react. Here in NL we sometimes have bikers lane-splitting with speed differences of 30 km/h or more. That doesn't give anybody time to react and get out of the way, and will only cause anger reactions. When you lane-split with less speed difference (the legal speed difference limit is actually 5 km/h) you give drivers a lot more time to get out of your way. Same for changing lanes, braking, entering and exiting traffic, whatever.
 

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Take a track day school, learning where the limit is in a controlled environment will pay dividends. It will also take out some need for speed when your riding on the street.
 
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
++ on track day. I am trying to arrange that for myself this summer.

One of my church friends is shopping hard for a motorcycle, but has no real experience. He's smart and responsible, so I know he won't do the really stupid things like drinking and riding a motorcycle.

But other things are less obvious to the beginner. I encouraged him to stick to the posted speed limit on curves (you know, within 10% ish) for the first year.
 

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I don’t feel responsible for anybody else’s decisions related to motorcycle safety.

Critiquing a friend’s safety protocols typically works about as well as dieting suggestions for your wife or girlfriend.

Ride your own ride. The others will figure it out, or not.
 

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I think I saw that taking an advanced motorcycle class. I want to take one. That was a very good write-up @Solarguy . Thanks for that.
 
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I don’t feel responsible for anybody else’s decisions related to motorcycle safety.

Critiquing a friend’s safety protocols typically works about as well as dieting suggestions for your wife or girlfriend.

Ride your own ride. The others will figure it out, or not.
Maybe consider different riders if they aren’t safety conscious or are daredevils.
 

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Maybe consider different riders if they aren’t safety conscious or are daredevils.
Not my style to even think about them. I still ride with some of my Harley buddies. They don’t wear helmets or much gear. That’s up to them. If a daredevil passes me on a ride without signaling me in advance, I take the next turn off and leave them.

I meet too many ADV type riders that are self appointed safety-nazis.
 

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...33% of all multi-vehicle motorcycle crashes involve a car driver pulling out in front of (or turning in front of) the cyclist. ...
I think this is the one factoid that I take away from the compilations of accident data. I store it as "left turns." That is, I assume that every car at a side street is going to make a left turn in front of me. And I assume that when I make a left turn, somebody won't see me. And that goes for deer, too.

And yeah, yeah, I am ATTGAT, and I never ride after drinking, and I take a class every few years, and I ride my own ride. Those things are within my control. But all else being equal, the left turns are where things outside your control are trying to kill you.
 

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Sick in bed today. Apologies for the weirdness ...

As one of those [who] pretends to "own and operate a bike with that much performance and horsepower in a totally responsible manner", I would like to stress the importance of being prepared for those "things outside of your control". How is your reaction time and path of action affected if, as you ride, you anticipate said things outside of your control? (it can still be fixed).

So, in addition to all the great comments above, I would add, Put in the seat time. Be diligent about it. Embrace the ideology behind the "10,000 Hour Rule", and PRACTICE
 

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I accidently started a safety thread "wear your hi-viz" that resulted in a lot of good information (e.g. no critter zone). My suggestion- get a copy of "Proficient Motorcycling". Just a few weeks after that hi-viz thread a lady pulled out in front of me WHILE LOOKING RIGHT AT ME! (I wear hi-viz and have a headlight flasher). Based on a tip in the book I was watching her front wheel and instantly knew that I was in trouble. Fortunately there was no traffic in the other lane and I was able to dodge her car. I could still pick her out of a line up today.
 

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From the time I got my first "real" motorcycle in 1965 ( A Honda 305 Super Hawk which was considered a bigger bike at the time for Honda) my mother assured me I would get killed on it. She continued with that general line of thought and advice until her passing at age 95 a few years back. I will admit towards the end she finally realized why I managed to survive. My profile photo shows it all...me and the wife with all the gear from head to toe.
I raced off road motorcycles for many years. Racing teaches you a lot about survival skills and why total situational awareness is so important. You also learn to react and handle the unexpected, things like suddenly losing traction and quickly avoiding dangers. Oh, and an important one: Humans are bad at making very sudden irrational movements that put you in danger. Expect the unexpected. Around every turn or blind spot is danger waiting to bite you in the back side.
When I lived in Germany I came to appreciate their system for getting the special license to ride motorcycles. You have to take classes and pass tests. You started on a small bike and then had to work up to larger, more powerful, bikes in stages. In this country any dumb butt with money (or good credit) can just walk into a dealership and drive off with a 200 HP semi race bike, no experience necessary! Read the statistics on how many of those people crash within the first few weeks of ownership.
In my mind the most important item is the rider's mindset and outlook. If the rider has brains and follows the great advise of the many experienced riders in this thread they will find motorcycle riding can be made much safer.
For the record: Its still a free country but..... The average cost of treatment for a head injury to a rider not wearing a helmet costs society (that's you and me) around half a million dollars. And, my favorite story from some of the Harley riders I know is when hey swear they, or their buddy, was in a crash without a helmet and their doctors told them if they had been wearing a helmet it would have broken their neck and killed them.
 
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Really good writeup compilation of not just dry statistics but actionable advice.
And even if we heard and read it all before it reiterates those points.

And for those who chose to ignore not much will change their minds or positions. Maybe only personal experience. Though that might not be pleasant.
 

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I raced off road motorcycles for many years. Racing teaches you a lot about survival skills and why total situational awareness is so important. You also learn to react and handle the unexpected, things like suddenly losing traction and quickly avoiding dangers.
I totally agree with this statement. I raced Enduro for years and still do some trail riding at age 71. I am certain that an offroading background has contributed to my continued wellbeing for reasons outlined above.
 
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