SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- There are two critical differences between cars and motorcycles.
First, cars don't fall over. Motorcycles, on the other hand, want to lie on their side.
Riders would prefer that the motorcycle stay upright (it's expensive to repair all the scratches).
Riders spend every ride, beginning with their first Basic Rider Course, keeping the tires in contact with the ground, balancing the weight of the bike, or carefully using the side or center stand to park the bike and leave it upright.
Stability is the first major difference between cars and motorcycles. Cars are far more stable than a motorcycle in nearly every situation. A motorcycle must be balanced, by the rider or by gyroscopic forces once the bike begins moving.
The motorcycle's stability depends upon tire traction, steering inputs from the rider and forces acting on the motorcycle like acceleration, braking and turning. The rider needs to constantly manage this stability by estimating traction and the forces that will act on the motorcycle should he do different control inputs.
This is the realm of an experienced rider. A basic rider rides the motorcycle and doesn't think about managing traction and stability. An experienced rider will estimate what could happen, and can rapidly react to an unforeseen issue, like a patch of gravel in the middle of a turn.
Technology can also provide some help in certain circumstances. Riders can choose to purchase a motorcycle with anti-lock brakes or traction control. Some systems have become very sophisticated, though the availability of these systems is limited to select models from a handful of manufacturers.
Unfortunately, the careful calculation of forces working on the motorcycle cannot be taught in a classroom or training range setting. The rider must experience, feel, and adjust to a variety of situations and speeds. The only way to do this is by riding often and changing the conditions to experience new stimulus.
This is where an experienced rider can Take a STAND! and help new riders broaden their experience by suggesting different roads and mentoring the novice rider at a learning pace.
The second critical difference is the vulnerability of the rider.
A couple of years ago, Honda patented an airbag system as an optional accessory for their touring motorcycle. A computer and several sensors limited the activation to frontal impacts only. As you can imagine, it could not prevent injuries from a fall-over, but was designed to absorb the rider's body weight during a frontal crash.
A different approach by several apparel manufacturers was to install a compressed-gas airbag in the neck and torso of motorcycle jackets. This system deploys a stiff airbag to absorb impact forces and limit body movement when a rider falls from a motorcycle and a lanyard is pulled. Both of these systems are a first-generation approach to reducing the vulnerability of the rider in a crash.
A key survival technique taught in every basic rider course is wearing good personal protection equipment during every ride. The mantra is "All the gear, all the time." The basic premise is that the rider is exposed to hazards on every ride, and should not choose different levels of protection for different trips. Instead, a rider should treat every trip as a potentially hazardous adventure, and wear the best quality and most protective riding equipment they can afford.
There is no such thing as an easy fall when the rider impacts the pavement and begins sliding to a stop. This is another opportunity to Take a STAND! If you see a motorcyclist riding in a T-shirt, half-coverage helmet, no gloves and tennis shoes, talk with them. Sturdy jackets with impact-absorbing armor in elbows, shoulders and spine are available in cool, air flowing mesh, leather and water-resistant varieties.
Helmets fall into half, three-quarter and full-faced versions, with the full-face protecting the face/jaw area, accounting for a large portion of falls of crash-involved riders. The less-protective helmets, though cooler and less restrictive, are a study in increased calculated risk.
Not every accident is preventable by the rider's actions, but in nearly every accident, the rider could have lessened the likelihood or severity of the accident by understanding and actively managing stability and vulnerability.
Ride Safe! Take a STAND! and help fellow riders, friends, and family members who ride.
How does this add up? In studies done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcyclists are 20 times more likely than an automobile operator to have a fatal crash each trip that they take.
The statistics for non-fatal crashes is much higher. Not all websites agree, but for each trip taken, a motorcyclist may be as much as 30-50 times more likely to have a crash resulting in injury.