- untrained rider
- failure to use safety equipment
My conclusion is that a properly trained and equipped motorcyclist who stays 100% sober while riding is pretty safe. My 15 years of riding on the streets has borne that out -- I've had a few close calls due to insane drivers, but keeping up with safety training has given me the skills to deal. Without having taken the safety classes, no question I would have had multiple crashes.
The real issue is that even if you only get in as many accidents on your motorcycle as you would have in your car (which is probably nonzero, even if you're a great driver--other drivers suck, remember), each one is way more likely to kill you or cause serious injury when you're not surrounded by a ton of steel.
My stepfather (rode for 50 yrs) drove off a cliff and landed in a tree. My uncle was hit by a cyclist going through a red light and broke many bones in his hand (the cyclist's arm was severed!) My mother, a scooter driver, got her front tire trapped in streetcar tracks in the middle of traffic.
This is the best source I could find with comparative accident rates for motorbikes/mopeds: http://www.motorcycle-accidents.com/pages/stats.html
Ie, if you ride a motorcycle sensibly, is it really that much more dangerous than driving a car sensibly? I suspect it is always going to be higher because you've got less protection when you do crash, but still, it can't be that much higher...
(I read once that deer kill more people in North America than any other animal.)
I think the risk is very controllable. It's also a "dose is the poison" kind of thing. I only average about one fairly local ride a week. I am quite sure I am safer than people who drive on highways every day.
The danger depends heavily on the driving environment. Suburbia and semi-rural areas are rather dangerous because you get a mix of fairly high speeds and many space cadet drivers (grandma, 16 year olds): the kind of people who back out of driveways without looking. In this particular urban area those risks aren't present. It's pretty safe 50mph free-way sprints and then stop & go in a grid system.
You should review the findings of the Hurt Report, the most comprehensive study of motorcycle safety to date (even though it's from the 70's):
If you want to live: ride dirt bikes as a kid, attend a training course, stay sober, wear all the gear all the time (ATGATT!)
If you want to die: have a friend teach you how to ride in a parking lot, skip the helmet on short trips, drink one for the road, do not assume that everyone is trying to kill you all the time
Statistics show that you are dramatically safer on a motorcycle if you take a safety course before you ride at all. Start with a safety course. It teaches you all the nonintuitive things that you need to know.
You are also safer if you dress properly.
Once you've done that, the primary danger is other people. You will motorcycle happily until the day that a driver who is making a left turn fails to notice you approaching (you are small relative to a car, and more difficult to see) and pulls out in front of you, too close for you to stop. Then you are going to dump the bike and/or go flying, because you have no airbags or crumpling metal to help stop you. This will happen sooner or later. There is very little you can do about this, except to do everything you can to enhance your visibility, and to ride very slowly, which can be difficult -- according to many cyclists, once you're on the thing and feeling comfortable you will speed up, perhaps even unconsciously. ;)
Obviously, deer are even worse at noticing you than humans. I hit a deer in my car once. It was traumatic enough in a four-wheeled vehicle.
No motorcycles for me, I'm afraid. The risk/benefit ratio is too high for my personality.
- Make sure you see the car in the left lane
- Realize he may be about to do something stupid
- Lower your speed a bit
- Watch his front left tire (that's his tell)
- Meet his eyes
- Wiggle your bike
- Flip your high beam on/off
If you're too far away to see his face or his tire, and you're still at risk, you're going too fast period.
(From what I gather, left turns into oncoming motorcyclist is one of the most common accidents outside rider error and riding drunk, so I'm always thinking about it)