Doctor Diesel

Doctor Diesel Soapbox – Tragedy on two wheels

Web_soapWhatever casualty figures you look at, there’s no escaping that riding on two wheels on Britain’s roads is often very dangerous. Somewhat belatedly, people and government are beginning to realise that, in general, cars, trucks and buses should perhaps not share the same road space as pedal powered transport, or at least not without adequate safety provisions. Heavy, hard, and relatively fast vehicles whose occupants are more and more protected by clever vehicle safety systems are just not compatible with slow-moving cyclists, whose bodily protection is minimal, and whose vulnerability to some kind of serious life-changing injury is significant.

But what about motorcycles, where a similar situation applies? I’ve done plenty of motorcycling in previous times, riding modestly powered lightweight machines, for essential transport purposes, from east to west and north to south across the heart of England, with only around 10 to 12bhp at my disposal. The roads were quieter then, and other traffic was slower than today’s, and I rode defensively and never felt threatened greatly by much other than my own misjudgements, of which there were a few, but none with serious consequences.

Today’s roads are more densely populated by cars and other vehicles, all travelling faster than in those days, and by motorcycles with 120bhp and more on tap. That means fearsome performance potential that’s often not appreciated by many car drivers. But the riders themselves, many on the road for pure pleasure rather than essential transport, often push these pseudo-racing machines to the limit for their entertainment, and to exercise their riding skills; it means that they are often travelling very fast, often at illegal speeds, and with considerably less grip, stability, and personal protection than car drivers. I just don’t think that such almost limitless performance is compatible with the ability of many riders, and the skills of most car drivers, on the roads of today. A 150mph performance bike capable of 0-62mph in under four seconds and a Renault Zoe, for instance, with a 0-62mph figure of 13.5 seconds and a top speed of 84mph, or a Peugeot 108 with a 17-year old at the wheel, arguably don’t belong on the same roads.

A proposed 1991 100bhp EC power limit for motorcycles was only adopted in France, and later forcibly overturned there by the EC, whilst fresh 2010 EC power limit proposals are still on the back burner. Alright, so riders of powerful machines pay for the pleasure in heavy insurance premiums, but it hasn’t put paid to the carnage, with motorcyclists 40 times more likely than car occupants to be killed on UK roads for every mile they cover. I’ve seen enough motorcyclists riding at idiotic speeds in the wrong places to know that many car drivers just aren’t expecting something small and travelling at a totally unexpected speed to arrive on the scene. It would not be fair to ask car drivers to share the road with Formula One cars, and arguably much the same applies to cars sharing public roads with these most powerful road bikes. Yes, I know there are some responsible riders, but don’t tell me that someone with a 110bhp, 160mph bike is going to stick rigidly to all the speed limits and isn’t going to explore the massive potential performance for which he bought the machine in the first place. It’s just not credible. The legacy of car drivers judged responsible for fatal accidents who carry a lifetime burden of guilt is surely significant? Along with the medical and care costs to society of crippled, brain-damaged and killed motorcyclists, and the sadness of bereaved and broken families, these are surely factors that are deserving of immediate action?

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