Unnatural Disaster Strike Again

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by Eric Peters EricPetersAutos.com

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A mile-high tidal wave could not do more damage to human beings than the unnatural force called government. In terms of outright mass murder — line ‘em up at the edge of the ditch and mow ‘em down — government has no equal. Jeffrey Dahmer — America’s most prolific serial killer-cannibal — got maybe 40 victims over a ten-year period. For Uncle Sam, that’s not even an afternoon’s work. In “peace” time.

Here’s the latest example:

According to a study published in the Feb. issue of the academic journal, Injury Prevention (see here) there has been an Everest-like ascent in motorcycle injuries during the past decade. Older riders (age 60 and over) are getting hurt the most — up 247 percent, from 4,300 injuries per year in 2001 to 15,100 in 2008 — but it’s not just them. Accidents involving riders in the 40-59 bracket are also up 61 percent; for riders in the 20-39 bracket, it’s 28 percent.

What’s changed?

More people of all ages are riding.

But why the sudden uptick in motorcycle riding?

Follow the money.

Or rather, follow the lack thereof. The ridership explosion has tracked in correlation with the economic implosion. You know — the unnatural disaster caused by government.

More people have taken to riding because it’s less expensive to ride than it is to drive. One can buy a 60 MPG-capable commuter bike for about 75 percent less than the cost of a 50 MPG Prius. And the bike only costs about $10 to fill up — vs. $40-$50 for the Prius. It’s a great way to cut down one’s costs of getting around.

But, there’s a catch.

A rider is not only more vulnerable than a driver, he’s more at risk if he’s an average (or less) rider — because it takes a great deal more in the way of physical and mental skills to competently ride a motorcycle than it does to drive a car. Excellent vision — and excellent reflexes (including physical flexibility, such as being able to quickly turn one’s head, shift one’s weight in the seat — and so on) are not required. But without them, your odds of going down are probably much greater than they would be inside a car. Because in a car, maintaining control is not as dependent on the driver’s physical capabilities. There are also more — and different — tasks one must handle. For example, almost all motorcycles have manual transmissions as well as separate front and rear brakes that must be operated individually, yet in a mutually complementary way. And there are unique tasks — such as learning to steer by learning to lean — that require physical skills some people don’t have. Or don’t have enough of.

Many 70-80-year-olds can still drive perfectly well (some extremely well). Few 70-80-year-olds can still competently ride a bike.

The closer one is to average as a driver — the closer one is to marginal (or worse) as a rider.

Historically, the higher skill threshold involved — and frankly, the fear — acted as a kind of natural check on motorcycle mayhem.

Much in the way that skiing has for the most part been a niche hobby. Something only a relative handful of people — most of whom had the skill/experience necessary to do it successfully — got into doing. Likewise, bikers chiefly rode because of the fun of it. And because they could.

Not because of the economics of it.

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Eric Peters [send him mail] is an automotive columnist and author of Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his website.

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