Packer has suggested four categories to describe the different approaches to the risks of motorcycling. The first and fourth categories take opposite views of motorcycling, but share a fatalistic notion that to motorcycle is to tempt fate. The second and third categories differ in the degree of emphasis they place on measures to limit the risk of riding, but share the view that riders have some degree of control and are not victims of fate.
- Quit riding. Or ban motorcycling; this is the belief that motorcycling is too dangerous. Some former motorcyclists had an epiphany due to an accident involving themselves or a person they know, which permanently upends their view of motorcycling. Some are adamant in their opposition to motorcycling, unwilling to consider the merits or pleasures of riding due to their horror at the danger and physical carnage of motorcycle accidents. Agony aunt Claire Rayner, in her review of Melissa Holbrook Pierson's motorcycling book The Perfect Vehicle, admits her prejudice that nothing Pierson writes could change her attitude about motorcycling because, "I used to be hospital casualty nurse and spent so much time dealing with bikers who were scraped off the road like so much raspberry jam after accidents that I became an implacable hater of the machine... The danger to which bikers constantly put themselves, however well-wrapped in their urban armour of studded leather, and however horrendously helmeted, seems to me a reason for banning the infernal machines.a smell of blood and smashed muscle and bone mixed with engine oil. That is what motor cycle means to me. And, I'm afraid, always will."Some safety experts have advocated banning motorcycling altogether as being untenably dangerous.
- Hyperreflective self-disciplinary. This attitude to risk consists of self-criticism, constant vigilance, perpetual training and practice, and continual upgrading of safety equipment. It is sometimes a reaction to an epiphany. David Edwards of Cycle World wrote, "Here's the thing: motorcycles are not dangerous," saying that if a rider has a license, attends riding schools, wears all the gear all the time (ATGATT), and develops an accident avoidance sixth sense, motorcycling can become safe... do all of these things, become really serious about your roadcraft, and you'll be so under-represented in accident statistics as to become almost bulletproof." An advertisement appeared on the opposite page of Edwards' editorial, for FirstGear brand riding gear for leather and textile riding suits and jackets.There are many examples of riding advice which enumerate strategies for avoiding danger while riding, but they de-emphasize the rider accepting inherent risk as part of riding, instead emphasizing the rider's agency, based on his education and practice, in determining whether he will crash or not, and the utility of the correct safety gear in whether or not he will be injured in a crash.
- Risk Valorization.This is the acceptance that risk is unavoidable but can be embraced by making certain choices, whereby motorcyclists, "reappropriate risk and motorcycling as something which can't be measured only according to utility and efficiency... This discourse doesn't eschew safety in absolute terms, but neither does it maintain the validity of safety as the be-all and end-all for riding."Motorcycling advocate and writer Wendy Moon said that one of the reasons she relaxed her insistence on always wearing a helmet while riding was that she no longer considered it worth "the mental effort required to maintain that protective attitude. I am not free to live in the now because I’m enslaved to the future 'what if.'So we gradually distance ourselves from experiencing a full and free life and we don’t even know it. As a society, we’re like kids so bundled up against the snow we cannot move at all.Embracing that risk rejuvenates the soul and empowers one to live the rest of her life as she wants."
- Flaunting risk. Hunter S. Thompson's passages in his book Hell's Angels have been quoted by Packer and others as perhaps the best illustrations of the devil-may-care approach of a sizable group motorcyclists: "They shun even the minimum safety measures that most cyclists take for granted. You will never see a Hell's Angel wearing a crash helmet. Nor do they wear Brando-Dylan-style 'silver-studded phantom' leather jackets," and "anything safe, they want no part of", and "The Angels don't want anybody to think they're hedging their bets."In his essay Song of the Sausage Creature, Thompson wrote, "It is an atavistic mentality, a peculiar mix of low style, high speed, pure dumbness, and overweening commitment to the Cafe Life and all its dangerous pleasures."Packer calls it, "a fate driven sensibility."
While giving respect to the first two discourses, Packer himself is sympathetic to the third approach and disdainful of the fourth. Packer's analysis of the second category, what he calls the hyperreflective self-disciplinary camp, acknowledges that seriousness, sobriety, ongoing training, and wearing complete safety gear is not misguided, but worries about its close alignment with the profit motives of the insurance industry, the motorcycle safety gear advertisers, and the public relations desires of motorcycle manufacturers, as well as governmental bureaucratic inertia and mission creep.He sees motorcyclists who make non-utilitarian choices balancing risk and reward as being as respectable as other categories.
BMW psychologist and researcher Bernt Spiegel has found that non-motorcyclists and novice motorcyclists usually share the fatalistic attitude described by Thompson, insofar as they think that high speed motorcycling is like a game of chicken or Russian roulette, where the rider tests his courage to see how close he can come to "the edge", or specifically the limit of traction while braking or cornering, without having any idea how close he is to exceeding that limit and crashing.In Thompson's words in Hell's Angels it is, "The Edge... There is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. The others — the living — are those who pushed their luck as far as they felt they could handle it, and then pulled back, or slowed down, or did whatever they had to when it came time to choose between Now and Later.
Spiegel takes issue with the claim that only those who have "gone over", that is, crashed or died, know the location of the boundary line. He says that if motorcycle racers, or even non-professional advanced riders who make good use of the capabilities of a modern sport bike, were approaching the limits of traction blindly, they would be like a group of blind men wandering around the top of a building, and most of them would wander off the edge and fall. In fact, Spiegel says, crashes among skilled high speed riders are so infrequent that it must be the case that they can feel where the limit of traction is. Spiegel's physiological and psychological experiments helped explore how it is possible for a good rider to extend his perception beyond the controls of his motorcycle out to the interface between the contact patches of his motorcycle and the road surface.
Whether or not one believes that the limits of traction are knowable can determine whether one falls into the second and third categories, those who try to minimize or accommodate the risks of motorcycling, as opposed to those who think the risks are beyond the rider's knowledge and control, categories one and four, either rejecting riding altogether or riding recklessly.Motorcycle Consumer News Proficient Motorcycling columnist Ken Condon put it that, "The best riders are able to measure traction with a good amount of accuracy" even though that amount changes depending on the motorcycle, the tires and the tires' condition, and the varying qualities of the road surface.But Condon says the rider feels the limit of traction through his hand and foot interface with the handelbars and footpegs, and the seat, rather than extending his perception out to the contact patch itself.
Motorcycle Deaths and Veterans
Growing data shows that an alarming number of veterans returning from combat areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan are dying in motorcycle related fatalities. Between October 2007 and October 2008, 24 active-duty Marines died from motorcycle accidents. There were 4,810 deaths on motorcycles in the U.S. in 2006, an increase of 5 percent over the previous year, and more than double (2,161) over the decade before, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In the Marine Corps, high-speed bikes account for the majority of fatalities. In 2007, 78 percent of motorcycle mishaps in the Marines occurred on a sport bike, compared to 38 percent nationally.
Consequences of accidents
A motorcyclist unbuckles his chin strap in order to remove his helmet after sustaining a minor hand injury through losing control on a wet corner.
Once the collision has occurred, or the rider has lost control through some other mishap, several common types of injury occur when the bike falls:
Collision with less forgiving protective barriers or roadside "furniture" (lampposts, signs, fences, etc...). Note that when one falls off a motorcycle in the middle of a curve, lamps and signs become impossible to negotiate around.
Concussion and brain damage, as the head violently contacts other vehicles or objects. Riders wearing an approved helmet reduce the risk of death by 37 percent.
Breakage of joints (elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and wrists), fingers, spine and neck, for the same reason. The most common breakages are the shoulder and the pelvis.
Soft tissue (skin and muscle) damage (road rash) as the body slides across the surface. This can be prevented entirely with the proper use of motorcycle-specific protective apparel such as a leather jacket or reinforced denim and textile pants.
There is also a condition known as biker's arm, where the nerves in the upper arm are damaged during the fall, causing a permanent paralysis of arm movement.
Facial disfigurement, if in the absence of a full-face helmet, the unprotected face slides across the ground or smashes into an object. Thirty-five percent of all crashes show major impact on the chin-bar area.
The Hurt Report also commented on injuries after an accident stating that the likelihood of injury is extremely high in these motorcycle accidents - 98% of the multiple vehicle collisions and 96% of the single vehicle accidents resulted in some kind of injury to the motorcycle rider; 45% resulted in more than a minor injury.
Personal protective equipment
To address the risks of motorcycling, before and after a fall, motorcyclists use personal protective equipment (PPE, or more commonly "motorcycle gear"). Many developed countries now require certain articles of PPE, and manufacturers and governments recommend its extensive use.
Functions of PPE
Improved Visibility — Although for decades the popular image of the motorcycle rider has been of someone clad head-to-toe in black leather, in the light of the Hurt Report findings, and the day-to-day experiences of motorcyclists themselves, many riders choose higher-visibility gear. Bright colors and retroreflective strips are common on quality equipment.
Abrasion Resistance — Thick, tough leather provides the most abrasion resistance in a crash, but fabrics such as Cordura, Kevlar and ballistic nylon provide significant protection too. In addition, fabrics are generally cheaper, easier to maintain, waterproof, and more comfortable in hot weather. Thick leather, which affords the most abrasion resistance, can be uncomfortable in temperatures exceeding 85 °F (29 °C) and above 100 °F (38 °C) may cause heat stress & loss of control with insufficient fluid replacement. Some PPE may be constructed of fabrics made into a 'mesh' that provides cooling and a stable surface for the attachment of padding (see below).
Impact protection — Quality jackets and pants provide significant extra padding in the vulnerable joint regions described above. This can take the form of simple foam padding, or dual-density foam that stiffens when compressed, sometimes with plastic or carbon fiber outer-shells that distribute the impact across the pad. Integrated pieces can be found in some jackets.
Weather Protection — One important aspect of PPE not mentioned above is protection from the elements. Extreme weather can make a long ride unbearable or dangerous. PPE provides protection from wind, rain and cold.
Items of PPE
A full-face helmet credited for saving its user. Half helmets or "skid lids" meet minimum legal requirements.
Helmet — A full-face helmet provides the most protection. Thirty-five percent of all crashes show major impact on the chin-bar area. However, 3/4- and 1/2-helmets also are available. Some motorcycle training sites[which?] have banned the use of half-helmets because of avoidable injuries sustained by riders wearing them.
Gloves — Commonly made of leather, cordura, or Kevlar, or some combination. Some include carbon fiber knuckle protection or other forms of rigid padding. Gloves designed specifically for motorcycle use have slightly curved fingers and the seams are on the outer surfaces to allow the motorcyclist to maintain his grip and control on the handlebars and clutch/brake levers. Some gloves also provide protection to the wrist.
Jackets — Generally made from leather, ballistic nylon, cordura, Kevlar or other synthetics. Most jackets include special padding on elbows, spine and shoulders. Airbag system technology is now available fitted to jackets and vests for accident protection and impact protection for both riders and pillions. Competition-approved hard armor is superior to soft padding. Competition-approved back and chest protectors can be worn underneath jackets. Inflatable airbag jackets can offer an additional airbag for neck support.
Pants — Made of the same material as jackets, usually including special protection for the knees and hips.
Boots — Especially those for sport riding, include reinforcement and plastic caps on the ankles, and toe area. Boots designed for cruiser-style riders often have steel-reinforced toes (However this reduces sensitivity of the foot when changing gear). Boots should always have a rubber sole (as opposed to leather or other less-flexible materials). Despite their toughness and protection, most boots are very lightweight. Some even include titanium plating.
Goggles or Helmet Visor — Eye protection is of utmost importance - an insect or a kicked-up pebble in the eye at speed has enough momentum to cause significant damage. Such an event could easily cause the rider to lose control and crash. Besides this danger, squinting into the wind is unpleasant at best and watering eyes are quite distracting.
Ear plugs — Most riders experience substantial wind noise at speeds above 40 to 50 mph (64 to 80 km/h). Ear plugs help protect against hearing damage, and reduce fatigue during long rides.
Vests — Made with high-visibility colors and retroreflective materials, vests can be worn over jackets to increase the chance of being seen and allow drivers to better judge the speed and position of riders, especially in adverse conditions of dark and wet.
Other PPE — Dirt bike riders wear a range of plastic armor to protect against injury from falling and hitting other riders and bikes, running into track barriers, and being hit by flying debris kicked up by the tires of other riders' bikes. This type of armor typically covers the back, chest, and sometimes the extremities.
It is increasingly common for gloves, jackets, pants, and boots to be outfitted with hard plastics on probable contact areas in an effort to ensure that when a motorcyclist contacts the ground, his clothing will permit him to slide relatively easily as opposed to "crumpling", risking injury to body parts being stressed in abnormal directions.
Since the first line of protection in crash contact is the outer shell of clothing, designers have moved that further from the body. The ultimate protective shell so far is an airbag that stays with the driver as he flies off the bike. However, increasing use of "exoskeleton" plastic shields attached to clothing points toward design of a complete roll bar belted to the driver. A near-stage design is a plastic or light alloy double "wheel" perimeter rim around the driver, over his head and in front and behind him. When the driver unbelts himself and gets off the bike, he leaves the wheel roll bar with the bike. But when the driver flies off the bike, the roll bar flies with him and makes contact with hard surfaces. The driver is relatively safe from contact, belted within a contact rim extending out around him.
Riders sometimes use the acronyms MOTGMOTT and ATGATT, which stand for "Most Of The Gear Most Of The Time" and "All The Gear All The Time", when describing their personal gear preferences