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What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Shooting your own foot

It doesn't really make me feel much better, but I suppose it's worth pointing out that I'm not the only one. The United Kingdom's ridiculously expensive and arduous licensing process creates problems for thousands upon thousands of other people. To the extent some have clearly decided it's not worth it, which at best is a shame and at worst is an incentive for illegal behaviour.

The other day I happened to be looking at statistics from the Motorcycle Industry Association and was struck by the numbers given on test pass rates. In the 2008/2009 financial year, some 70,000 people earned a motorcycle license in the UK. That was before the current style of testing was introduced. 

In October 2009, the two-tier practical test was brought in; a single exam was broken into the Module 1 and Module 2 nonsense I've been going through lately. The new system had an immediate impact. The number of motorcycle licenses earned in the 2009/2010 financial year plummeted to just 30,000. For the next financial year things improved to 35,000 people passing their test –– still only half of those that passed before the change –– and things have remained more or less the same ever since. 

I would expect to see a further drop in the 2013/2014 numbers thanks to additional changes that were implemented in January of this year. Those changes had little affect on people such as myself taking a Direct Access route but made it even more difficult and impractical for a person under the age of 24. The United Kingdom is regulating motorcycling to death.

This is a truth evidenced in the numbers of bikes sold each month. MCIA statistics show sales have been steadily plummeting in the past years, with the only strength coming in sales of bikes that are 125cc or less, in other words, the bikes for which one needs only a day of training to ride.

No doubt this is why almost every motorcycle you see in London has L plates. Those people are avoiding the bullshit of the system by simply getting their CBT and leaving it at that. They will quite possibly never need the additional power afforded by larger engines and as such beat the system by staying in a permanent learner status (one can renew his/her CBT every two years indefinitely). Outside of London people are choosing to beat the system by simply ignoring it.

Thanks to my numerous failures I've had the opportunity to meet and chat with a lot of people going through the training process, and I've found that I am in the extreme minority in not having spent time riding a motorcycle unlicensed. It turns out to be a very common practice, with riders relying on the fact that police forces are too thinly stretched to do a great deal of traffic enforcement.

So, consider the situation being created: 

Potential riders who are rational and law-abiding look at the system and think: "No, it is vastly cheaper and easier for me to simply get a car driver's license and leave it at that." 

Meanwhile, some who still want to ride are choosing to do so illegally, a behaviour that suggests they are less likely to be well-trained or safe. It's a fair assumption that these are the riders most likely to be involved in or cause accidents.

So, the reputation of motorcycling continues to slide downward because it becomes ever more a hobby for the inconsiderate and criminal. No doubt government will respond to this with even more stringent regulations, which will, of course, only exacerbate the situation. I feel so frustrated and angry about the whole thing, especially when you look at riders' groups like the BMF and MAG, who dedicate their time to complaining about to possibility of having to keep their bikes well-maintained.

Comments

  1. There is a certain point where things are so over-regulated that even people who are basically law-abiding will go rogue.

    As an outsider, it appears to me (based on what I've read from obviously-biased sources) that the U.K. government keeps coming up with more rules for everybody. Of course, the U.S. government is doing the same thing, but we seem to be lagging behind the U.K. quite a bit.

    To go off topic for a moment - a while back, I told you that dealers don't allow test rides. Well, this weekend I was at the local Triumph dealership. They have demo bikes. It's not quite as simple as test driving a car, but it's not too difficult to arrange, either.

    I'm going to go back and test ride a Daytona in the next couple weeks. :D

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  2. Chris:

    we have the same soft of riding proficiency tests here too. You write a multiple question test and get a learner's Licence ("L" = L license)which lets you ride bikes in the presence of another fully qualified Motorcycle license holder who coaches & mentors you. You are still restricted to only riding during daylight hours, on surface streets and not allowed to be on any highway, nor can you carry any passengers.

    After you pass your MST: motorcycle skills test which shows an examiner that you are proficient in doing U-turns, slaloming through cones], doing figure eights and pushing your bike around, they will remove the "supervisor" restriction, and then you can ride alone, by yourself with no one else riding.

    I believe you can "renew" your learner's license ONCE, then you have to start again at the beginning, so you cannot continue to renew, as they do in the UK

    The final exam is like yours, with a radio in your ear and following instructions from an examiner behind and lasts an hour.

    Most dealers here will not allow you to test ride as insurance is too costly. On Demo days the bikes are supplied from the factory and make their rounds to various dealers, for their customers to test ride

    bob
    Riding the Wet Coast

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