Friday, July 10, 2009

Motorcycle Safety and Training

The dust has settled a bit and maybe it's time to sum up how important training is for bikers. Lack of bike control skills and observation/situational analysis has time and time again been identified as a contributing cause in the majority of bike accidents in studies from Hurt to Maids and by every experienced and responsible biker I have ever talked to.

As a bike safety site, we at are appalled at the negativity and bogus allegations expressed in various quarters. Yes, five people died due to crashes during MSF training in the last ten years. But the MSF has trained more than two and a half million riders during this time, so the chances of being killed during training are about one in half a million. Compared to more than 30,000 bikers killed in accidents during this time, it is a very small number, especially when you consider that lack of training probably contributed to 20,000 or more of those deaths. Yes, deaths during training are tragic and should not happen, but consider the benefit of training 2.5 million bikers and the awful trade-off makes sense. I do hope that MSF is changing up its processes with a view to reducing the death rate, and I will be talking to them about that. (I hope I don't wear out my welcome there).

So the training isn't as good as it could be. Oregon's course material is similar to MSF's but they use different adult teaching techniques and claim better results. (We're checking this out right now). The Marines and Air Force are currently revamping their training regimens, and are being a bit secretive about the research they base it on. Famously, the Marines claim they lose more squaddies from bike crashes than in combat, which is motivating their current development. There is also evidence that some states have been dumbing down their training and testing requirements, while we note that the EU generally has more stringent requirements and is in the process of making them tougher. We think this is a factor.

What needs to happen here is a new study so we can have good information, not the bogus junk obtained from public records. (The military research underpinning their recent training decisions was based to a large extent on researchers responding to crashes and collecting their own data, but they won't release their results due to their culture of secrecy). We need to research improved course material and educational methods, and to have tougher training and testing requirements. In the meantime, responsible bikers educators, researchers and safety people need to be improving and promoting training incrementally, based on what we know now. If the military can research the options and make decisions regarding training courses, then the rest of us and the MSF can do something too.

We at have been working on this. We have a new national training page with a cool, clickable map, listing all the non-MSF basic, experienced, advanced and specialized bike training we could find. (The MSF already has their own version of this). We've been talking to a lot of the trainers. I am booked into Dragon Safe's training course next week, nice excuse to take the ST up into the Smokies. I'll be reviewing this course, based on Lee Park's Level 1 shortly. While on the road, I hope to interview Lee himself, another upcoming feature, and also review his book. I am very interested in his theories on Rider Psychology which will probably be a new section in pretty soon. I'm also planning to visit with an MSF Basic Rider Course in coming weeks, and we'll do an in-depth article on the training and the people. I also plan to visit with Joey Redmon in North Carolina soon, to sit in on his 'Ride like a Pro' police-style training class, and I'm sure I'll be writing about that.

In short, is getting ready to take a major ride through the training landscape and y'all are invited. Along the way, I have identified several people who are knowledgeable on the changes happening in the military training, and we'll be trying hard to get under the skin of what's going on there.

I have been talking and corresponding with dozens of motorcycle trainers and bike police lately, with hundreds of years and millions of miles of combined riding experience, and man-years of advanced training. I've asked them all if they'd recommend that a new rider takes the MSF course. The answer is unanimous - train early and often, learn riding skills, learn defensive strategies, develop situational awareness and ride a little bit safer. That's the research we care about.

We'll have the first installment of the new and expanded BikeSafer training coverage when I get back from my road trip next weekend.