How dangerous are non-rocket motorcycles?
October 12, 2010 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How dangerous are non-rocket motorcycles? I am not looking to tool around 100mph+ here, just thinking about getting one to use in a city and single lane country highways.

I know, I know, it's dangerous. But I'm talking about going 40-50mph tops, in city and non-highway situations. I'm a very safe driver, grew up in NYC, used to chaos, thinking a bike would be a lot of fun to tool around San Francisco proper and the bay area a bit. I'm 26, was going to sign up for a motorcycle course to get a feel for it before I get a wife that tells me not to. Looking for input from someone who has been a rider for a while.

I see sport bikers on the road, doing wheelies and going 120, and feel like that's reported majority. I know it's going to be much more dangerous than a car, my gut just says it's 5-10x as dangerous, not the 34x reported.
posted by brocklanders to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I was like you when I got my very reasonable and high-mpg cruiser motorcycle three years ago. Took the safety course, geared up every time I got on the bike, read motorcycle safety books, even practiced sudden-breaking maneuvers in abandoned parking lots. I was going to do everything in my power to drive as safely as I could, and I did a pretty darn good job of it.

But then, after having my bike for about 18 months and 3000 miles, a lady with a nasty combination of cell phone and minivan ran a stop sign and I plowed in to her. Totalled the bike, though I came out reasonly okay with a fractured wrist and a bunch of bruises. Had it not been for the gear, I'd have been in much worse shape.

So, that's my anecodotal experience. On the other hand, I have a friend who has been riding for 25 years and hasn't had an incident.

Is it dangerous? Is it safe? Maybe. You do what you can do to protect yourself, but you're playing the odds, and, ultimately, fate/providence/chance plays a big part in it.

I haven't bought another bike yet, but I've been out riding a few times since then on borrowed bikes. I've still got the bug... :)
posted by BurntHombre at 1:27 PM on October 12, 2010

I can't speak to motorcycling in San Francisco, but I ride in Chicago, where people are frequently idiotic, and I've been fine. When you ride, it forces to you pay attention to everything around you instead of fiddling with your radio or taking calls on your non-handsfree cellphone. If you take a course with a reputable school (preferably someone associated with the MSF), than I'd wager you'll be safer than a fair number of motorists.

Also, it's so much fun.
posted by lholladay at 1:28 PM on October 12, 2010

Are you looking for statistics or anecdotes? Anecdotally, I've ridden a motorcycle for a few years and not even come close to having any sort of dust-up. Take the MSF course, get a cheap, sturdy starter bike and a lot of safety gear, and see how well you like it. Stay aware, ride defensively, and don't go out in inclement weather conditions. You'll have a hell of a lot more fun than if you were in a car, and I doubt it's too much more dangerous if you ride safer than most people drive.
posted by booknerd at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2010

I wonder too how much the totally insane protective gear and helmet-less idiots skew the numbers, but everything I've ever learned says that your planned usage won't help you much. Single lane country highways are the most dangerous roads there are for all vehicles, and you can easily die at 40mph.

I'm trying to dig up some of the stuff I've been reading, but essentially it's that most crashes and most fatalities don't happen at high speed on highways (in one study, none of the fatalities studied happened at 90+ mph), but happen at intersections where vehicles are crossing paths and bikes are both less visible and less protected. Something like 75% of wrecks involve some rider error, so you can cut that down as far as you can by taking a course (so useful in so many ways, and they supply the bike!) and not being an idiot, but the most common type of accident is when another vehicle pulls into a bike's path. Visibility is a big, big deal.

I learned all this when we were trying to figure out whether our scooter use (it can do 60+mph and is highway legal, but we use it in the ways you plan to use your bike because a scooter is much better for stop-start situations) was making us safer than the statistics. We found that it wasn't. Still nothing in life is really safe, so there you go.

By the way, your assumption that any future wife won't enjoy this too makes me kind of sad!
posted by crabintheocean at 1:32 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The last big study of motorcycle safety done in your country was thirty years ago. The findings are still relevant though, if you do a few things you reduce your risks very significantly:

- Wear a helmet, preferably a full-face one
- Wear a leather or padded riding jacket, thick gloves, boots, and riding pants, even when it's hot
- Take a motorcycle safety course (good to see it's on your list)
- And don't drink and ride. (This one seems obvious but it's worth restating, even very small amounts of alcohol have a serious effect on your sense of balance and motion. There's no safe "under the limit" for riding a motorbike, and I say this as a man who enjoys both activities).

Do the obvious things and don't ride like a fool, and you've reduced your risk factors already. When I have enough time off work, I ride in a sprawled suburban metropolis (Sydney). It's more dangerous than driving a car or catching the bus, yes. It's also orders of magnitude more pleasant and fun.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:33 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd say go for it. At 46 I just started riding a year ago and it's been great. Definitely take the MSF course and read this book.

It's highly likely that you will drop your bike at least once during the first year (was true for me anyway), so get something used first and buy your dream bike later.
posted by doctord at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

According to the most comprehensive study, three out of four motorcycle accidents involve another vehicle, and two out of three of those are the other vehicle's fault. So half of all motorcycle accidents are some other guy plowing into you with his car, and have nothing to do with how fast your motorcycle can go or how big a daredevil you are.
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not the motorcycle, it's the rider. Do you have excellent situational awareness? Do you get very good at the things you do? Are you willing to accept that you're invisible and everyone really is out to get you, and not let it discombobble you? You might be a future motorcyclist.

I'm a street rider since age 15. Didn't have a car until I was 28. Took a break, but am riding again as primary transportation at an advanced age. I started by taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course (which also lowers your insurance). Rode a 90cc bike for a few years. Then a 350. Then a sport 750. In between those, I've ridden lots of different sport bikes and race bikes. I've fallen while moving twice, with no injuries either time.

Some people just shouldn't ride motorcycles. Statistically, they are the ones who don't have a license, may have had a beer, or borrow a friend's bike. I say "statistically" because these are the ones we have accident statistics on. Bummer.

You likely know if you shouldn't ride a motorcycle on the street. Listen to your inner voice.

Wives are not the problem. Mine made me post here.
See you at Alice's Restaurant!

Here are three starter links.
The Hurt study
posted by lothar at 1:40 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: You are thinking EXACTLY like I was thinking when I got a motorcycle. Family members have been motorcyclists, I piddled with them as a youngster (dirt bikes), I did a lot of bicycling.

So I took the MSF course, got a very sensible Triumph Trident with a 850-ish cc engine.

Everything went great until 9 months later the old man turned left in front of me. I was doing 35 mph in a small town. He didn't see me, or my headlight, or my yellow riding vest, and decided the lane was clear after the truck got by. Yes, I was scanning traffic. I saw him very clearly when he rode into me.

I am, by the grace of God, a fully functioning human being. That's after 6 weeks in hospital, a replacement hip, and a lot of metal installed in my body. I can walk without a limp, except that when my feet get tired I start turning one of them in due to nerve damage, but I'll never run again (too hard on the hip replacement joint), and I can't straighten my right arm out all the way (elbow was shattered - repaired very well, but a lot of PT still hasn't straightened it out entirely).

Now, chance being what it is, I could have been killed, or I could have, like my relatively reckless cousin, ridden 30+ years (and counting, in his case) without a street accident. He's had countless auto accidents, but not one on a motorcycle. Go figure.

So, like any other hazardous activity (like the bicycling I did on county roads for 18 years, and no longer have the nerve to do), skydiving, etc., you have to weigh the risk vs. reward and make your choice. But don't kid yourself, as I did, that the hazards in motorcycling are all due to excessive speed and some of the clowning you've seen these asshats do on them.

Motorcycles have at least 3 safety problems, and I don't see a complete solution to any of them where you can still call the end result a motorcycle, although (1) is debatable:

1) 2 wheels and inherent instability. Hit the front brake too hard and do a high side. Corner too fast and/or otherwise improperly and get slung off. Hit an edge trap (ex. a raised lip on a road or a metal grate bridge, lose the ability to steer, and fall down. The skill level in keeping a motorcycle up on its tires is exponentially higher than keeping a car from flipping over. Yes, there are 3 wheelers, but that's not what most people want.

2) visibility. Basically what got me. People are scanning for cars. I nearly pulled out in front of a bright green scooter in broad daylight the other day, which made me feel like shit, for several obvious reasons. Only the fact that I did that second check kept me from going with that first instinct, which was "looks clear, pull out."

3) zero protection. Now, here's where I sound like granddad, but there's no help for it - there's just nothing between you and the tons of metal flying around on the road. About 3 months after my motorcycle accident, I was in my Camry when a pickup truck hit me from behind going 45 mph. He was drunk and didn't even apply the brakes. The Camry was demolished, I got a sore neck and back for 1-2 days. Went back to the orthopedists I'd gotten to know so well in the hospital for a checkup, but nothing re-injured.

What do you reckon would have been the outcome on a bike?

Many motorcyclists will undoubtedly check in, and I respect their decision to ride. It's something everyone has to think about for themselves. But I'm done. 10X vs. 35X is pretty academic, but anecdotally EVERY rider I've talked with has dropped a bike in some way I wouldn't want to be a part of, and probably 1 out of 10 has had something truly horrific happen to them or a buddy.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

...before I get a wife that tells me not to.

Do I even need to yell at you for this? Bad, stereotype, bad! (Ahem, future wife and motorcyclist here.)

Here is a great website for bike safety. If it's a little too much for you, or raw data is more your style, check out these statistics.

Basically, it's not as bad as a lot of folks make it out to be, but it's still more dangerous than driving. Take a safety course. Don't speed, lane split, or do any other irresponsible things. Wear a helmet and all other safety gear, especially jacket and boots. If you are good at assessing risk, you have a one-up on most other bikers.

Above all, have fun!
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:41 PM on October 12, 2010

+ I commuted in SF (business district) for quite a while on a Kawi Triple two-stroke, and now live on the Peninsula on a famously twisty motorcycle favorite road. The Bay Area is a better than average place to ride a motorcycle.
posted by lothar at 1:45 PM on October 12, 2010

+++ protective gear. Always. Years ago I was a passenger on my then-boyfriend's bike. We had what is probably the ideal scenario for a spill: very experienced rider, low speed, no cars around, quiet road. Hit a slick patch making a turn and the bike just went out from under us.

Depite the low speed, the distance my ass slid on the asphalt before I came to a stop was a revelation. Protective gear FTW.

In the interests of full disclosure I must also mention that a cousin of mine was a Motorcycle Safety instructor, and had ridden for 20+ years without incident, before a drunk driver crossed over into his lane and left his wife and child without a husband and father. So while I understand the appeal, I'm now in randomkeystrike's camp.
posted by ambrosia at 1:56 PM on October 12, 2010

I used to ride, but after becoming a career firefighter I encountered one too many dead motorcyclists in a professional capacity, and gave it up. That said, many of my colleagues have motorcycles, and I take part in a few other sports that carry a measure of risk. I don't believe in living in fear, but the fun wasn't worth what I saw done to the bodies of those people, some of whom made no error at all and were destroyed by drivers whose only mistake was a moment's inattention.

If you do it, please get a full helmet. Mine saved my teeth (and maybe lower jaw) in a relatively low speed accident.
posted by itstheclamsname at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2010

I'm a very safe driver

When I ride, It's not my skills I worry about.

Motorcycles are dangerous, much more dangerous than cars. Every rider knows people that have died. Every rider has stories about the times they almost died but for a few microseconds, or a few inches, or some luck.

That danger is just something you accept to do something you love. No different than downhill skiing, or skydiving, or (any optional dangerous pursuit for fun).

Trying to minimize the danger could lead to poor decisions like not wearing the proper gear for "a quick trip", or not doing the proper maintenance, or being careless with your speed, or not having a will.
posted by anti social order at 2:00 PM on October 12, 2010

"Basically, it's not as bad as a lot of folks make it out to be"

I really fail to see how you drew that conclusion from the websites you linked to. To pull from the one website you linked to that actually provided numeric stats, motorcycle riders are 35 times more likely to be killed in crash, and of those that aren't killed 20% have a significant head injury. It also basically states that if you're in a wreck you're 96-98% likely to injure yourself.

The .pdf you only had descriptive stats in the summary of conclusions, but they mentioned that riders were most likely to be injured on undivided roads --which are most of them-- and that riders over 40 had been experiencing an increase in fatalities.
posted by 517 at 2:04 PM on October 12, 2010

Dangerous riders are dangerous no matter what they're riding.

As a car driver who commutes from SF to Menlo Park (on 280), things that motorcyclists do that I hatehatehate include:

- ride quiet bikes fast. If you're going 90 on a whisper-quiet bike, you're going to spend about a nanosecond in my mirrors, and I'm going to change lanes at a bad time because I have no idea you're there

- not using turn signals (applies to jerks in cars, too, of course)

- behave unpredictably (also applies to jerks in cars)

I don't have a problem with lanesplitting, as long as its done safely and at not-ridiculous speed.

A former co-worker died on her bike a few years ago. She was on Division, at...Folsom I think. This was before it was repaved - the pavement was rough and very bumpy. She hit a weird bump wrong and came off her bike. She hit one of the columns that holds the freeway up. The cops said she wasn't going that fast.

On the way to work this morning, I heard about three accidents, all of them motorcycle-related (and was stuck in the traffic aftermath of one of them). I have near-brushes with idiot drivers every day, but I have a car between me and them.
posted by rtha at 2:06 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would switch to using a motorcycle in a red-hot minute ...

... if it weren't for all the very obvious statistics.

Let's take a look at your gut assumption: "It's 5-10x as dangerous, not the 34x reported."

Realize that you're already starting from base level of danger ("5X as dangerous") that is really fucking high. In fact, at age 26, the leading cause of death is ... a car accident.

If we measured danger on a 1-100 score, with 100 being death:

* If you're at 5 just walking around town, and 100 will kill you, then 34 x 5 will certainly kill you.

* But you're not at 5. You're not walking around town. You're at 20 simply because you're driving around town. And 5 x 20 = 100. DEATH!

So, even "5X as dangerous" is enormously dangerous.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:08 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, I rode for about two years and had a few close calls but nothing serious. A lady pulled out in fron of my bright red scooter when I was going 40 mph, and I barely managed to swerve around her. If I hadn't , I probably wouldn't be alive today.

Just three weeks ago a friend of mine got hit on her scooter, again going like 35 by some guy who just wasn't paying attention and ran a red light. She spend two and a half weeks in the hospital and had to have a partial hip replacement, and will probably need a full hip replacement every 10 years for the rest of her life.

Don't get me wrong, I loved riding, but you can't change the fact that there is nothing protecting you from 2 ton cars that aren't paying attention. It is a dangerous activity that could cost you your health or your life no matter how safe you are.
posted by arcticbluejay at 2:10 PM on October 12, 2010

There are two reasons motorcycles are much more dangerous that you might think.

One: you are significantly less protected than might be prudent on a road filled with large vehicles often driven by careless people;

Two: you are significantly more vulnerable to your own mistakes (a friend of mine damaged her scooter and passed out when her head hit the ground, going around a corner at low speed that happened to have a little oil in the middle of it -- she doesn't even remember the bike sliding out from under her.)

If you take this path (and I have myself) make sure you have medical insurance and a will, wear the appropriate protective gear, and ride more defensively than you've ever driven in your entire life. Here's hoping you remain accident free, and get to be one of the many who claim no accidents ever (and I mean that sincerely.)
posted by davejay at 2:19 PM on October 12, 2010

Oh, and your gut is not nearly as useful a gauge as the actual statistics referenced for reporting. Consider this: do you worry that you might be killed if a Smart car rear-ends you at a stoplight, in your car? Now, should you worry that you might be killed if a Smart car rear-ends you at a stoplight, on your bike?
posted by davejay at 2:21 PM on October 12, 2010

Oh, almost forgot: the very first time I tried to use my scooter for commuting, a dog -- of all things! -- ran out into the road, and I almost hit it. It was more than a little sobering to realize that hitting (or attempting to swerve around) the dog could have put me off the scooter, and getting rear-ended when I hit the brakes (had there been a car there) could have gotten me knocked off. Just a little dog.
posted by davejay at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2010

You can protect yourself as much as possible, but as the saying goes, "hell is other people." A bicyclist cut me off while riding my scooter, and my elbow was "pretty much powdered," but I eventually got back on the thing until I sold it and bought a car.

It's sort of an "everything will be fine until it isn't" kind of thing.
posted by Madamina at 2:36 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: I rode a scooter and then a motorcycle for about 4-5 years. I did not take an MSF class. I always treated every other vehicle on the road as if it was going to purposely go out of its way to try to kill me.

The one time I didn't treat another vehicle like that, I ended up with my bike on top of my ankle. It turned out just to be a sprain, but that was 7-8 years ago and the ankle is still discolored and still hurts when walking or standing for a long time.

And yet a coworker was riding in the mountains in full body armor, took a turn too wide, flew several hundred feet down an embankment, being hit by his bike several times on the way down, dusted himself off, plugged up the ripped brake lines on his bike, pushed it back up onto the road with the help of his friends, and rode home.

The wisdom I heard is that you have three impacts that can kill you on a motorcycle. 1) When the car/bike/truck/rut hits you. 2) When you hit the ground/tree/curb. 3) When another vehicle hits you as you lay on the ground.

I don't ride any more.
posted by MonsieurBon at 4:05 PM on October 12, 2010

while i happen to be a crotchrocketeer, i think the biggest threat by far for any responsible motorcyclist is the drivers they ride amongst. for eight or nine months of the year, riding tends to be my entire life -- i just about live for that shit. but having said that, i really think that the only people who should ever get on a bike are those who love it so much they almost have to. there's absolutely nothing like it in the entire world.

the problem is that i've had five close calls in the last six months alone and three of them were those instances where you really do essentially look death in the eyes. two of them could have very easily been the end of me. experiences like these are not at all uncommon when you ride regularly, and they are all-too-often the kinds of experiences that would move a good many people to shit themselves.

on the whole, i'd say that riding a motorcycle is really fucking dangerous. in the end though, what i take away from riding is very much worth the risk i take whenever i get on my bike. people die every day in an awesome array of ways. just wear your gear when you ride, god damn it, and don't ever ride if you're even vaguely distracted or at all impaired in any way. gear up. gear up. gear up. all of it, every time, never excepted.
posted by austere at 4:11 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How dangerous are non-rocket motorcycles?

That's entirely the wrong question. The question should be, how dangerous a rider are YOU? How dangerous are the other drivers on the road? The type of bike has very little to do with it. Pretty much any bike that's road legal has enough juice to get you into some kind of trouble.

You can do many things to improve your odds: get proper training, practice defensive riding methods, wear good gear, only ride when you're focused and alert, only ride when the weather and road conditions are good, etc... But the longer you ride, no matter how safe and skilled you are as a rider, the odds will catch up eventually - because it's not just up to you. Your safety is in the hands of every other driver sharing the road with you, and with "God" (if you believe in a deity) because you never know when you'll round that corner and suddenly there's a huge patch of oil or gravel, or a Mack truck coming at you in the wrong lane, etc.

If you can accept that risk then go for it! Riding is awesome fun and there's nothing else like it. And you know, there are women who ride. Maybe you'll get lucky and marry one. ;)

Data point: The only person I know who has been very seriously injured is a guy who traded in his sport bike for a cruiser because he didn't want to kill himself on the crotch rocket. He nearly died on his cruiser instead, on a rural road, when a car pulled out of a driveway directly into his path.
posted by keep it under cover at 4:24 PM on October 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's no such thing as a fender bender on a motorcycle.
posted by claytonius maximus at 4:44 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

The question should be, how dangerous a rider are YOU? How dangerous are the other drivers on the road?

Ding ding ding!

This is the correct answer to the unasked question.

To be a good AskMe user I will answer your stated question: Are motorcycles dangerous? Yes.

The unasked followup questions you should consider are as follows (herein lies the rub):

Q: Can the danger be mitigated?
A: Yes, somewhat. Wearing safety gear and having the right state of mind can mean the difference between walking away from an accident and being one of the statistics in the "donorcycle" anecdotes.

Q: So that makes them safe?
A: Reread the first answer again. No, you cannot mitigate the inherent unsafeness of a motorcycle or the unsafeness of other drivers who are expecting a car, not a motorcycle.

Q: So... do you ride?
A: Yup. And love every minute of it. Even after my best friend was beaten within a inch of his life in a hit and run accident that left him in brutal pain for one week and then killed him with a loose clot one hour before he was about to walk out of the hospital.

Q: Now what?
A: You make your own decision. Sorry. I can't tell you it's safe (it's not). I can't tell you that other drivers on the road are looking out for you (they may not be). I can't even tell you they aren't actively trying to kill you (you'll need a faith in your fellow man that would leave Gandhi shaking his head and laughing). But I will tell you this: you can mitigate some of the danger if you use your noggin. And your noggin is the only thing that will keep you from being smeared across a half mile of superslab, but in some cases, even it won't be enough.

Ride well, and enjoy it, but don't, not even for one second, pretend it's safe, and you'll do okay. After all, everyone goes a certain length of time without an accident... until they have their first one then the clock resets and the math starts all over again, if they're lucky.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 4:50 PM on October 12, 2010

Best answer: For god's sake ride like your grandmother drives the first year. That first year is a killer. You'll get confident and do something stupid.

I ride weekly.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:11 PM on October 12, 2010

I used to ride a motorcycle in my late teens. For the most part, I was a sane driver, but there was always someone else ready to kill me.

When I was a baby, my father was accidentally run off the road on his bike. He was lucky to just have a few scratches. The guy who ran him off the road? an off-duty LAPD motorcycle cop in his personal pickup truck, someone whose own life pretty much depended on having excellent situational awareness while driving by virtue of spending at ~8 hours a day on a bike, in traffic, himself.

Look, riding a motorcycle is a hell of a lot of fun, even if you are taking it easy, but don't fool yourself, cars, and there are a lot of them, can kill you in no time, and there is only so much you can do about it.
posted by Good Brain at 5:34 PM on October 12, 2010

How dangerous are non-rocket motorcycles?

Motorcycles are not inherently dangerous, no more than cars.
A properly ridden motorcycle is probably safer than your average car.

However, accidents do happen, and the consequences are likely to be more severe than if the same accident happened in a passenger car.

The fatality rate for passenger cars is below 1.5 per 100 million VMT (vehicle miles traveled) and is approaching 1.
For motorcycles, the fatality rate is over 30 per 100 million VMT.

But honestly, do you want to live your live thinking about statistical likelihood?
Take a training course, use proper safety gear, buy an appropriately sized bike and go riding.
I'm not one to disparage "cagers" or wax poetic about the joys of the open road, but bikes are fun.
If you've got the urge, why not just enjoy the ride?
posted by madajb at 6:04 PM on October 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Riding a motorcycle, even responsibly and even while wearing proper safety gear, can get you killed.

Driving a car (or riding a bus, or crossing the street as a pedestrian) can also get you killed, through no fault of your own.

We drive anyway because the risk is statistically small on any given outing, and driving is useful. That's an important thing to remember, because a lot of the discussion about motorcycles seems to center on this idea of "You might die. Why risk it?"

We all risk it. A motorcycle may be thirty times more dangerous. But you are still multiplying a relatively miniscule risk per outing by thirty. A motorcycle is also cheaper, greener and far more fun. Only you can decide if those things outweigh the degree to which "thirty times death" causes more cognitive dissonance than simply "death."

All that said, a lot of people seem to go into MSF courses wondering exactly how dangerous motorcycles are. I don't think most of them find an answer, but about half of them seem to come out not really caring what the answer is anymore. Those people are your lifelong riders.

/rider, husband of rider, son of ex-rider (and mine is one of the rocket-motorcycles)
posted by 256 at 8:04 PM on October 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you ALL for the comments! This is exactly the kind of response I was looking for. I really appreciated every one, and highlighted a few that summed things up well.

A few years ago while traveling abroad, I met a dude (well, he was an american engineer working in Germany) that was a huge rider and we ended up going to the Ducati factory in Italy. Up to that point I was in the "bikes=suicide" camp, but I have developed an itch for it over the years and feel like it's something I gotta try.

Few things:

1) I really need someone that will be LESS reckless than me, so naturally I assume my wife will be a stick in the mud. But really, if I had kids I would never do this, hence the comment.

2) The safe-nyc-driver comment was less about my record and more about my constant hyper-awareness in the city. Bicycles are constantly going up one way streets, cabs run red lights - I never assume anything. I really liked the "ride like your grandma drives" comment. I would never ride at night or in bad weather.

I'm fully aware that it's super-dangerous - but it's something I want to at least try. I'll probably take a full safety/license deal just to see how I feel about riding one around a test course. I would obviously get full gear and a really loud bike. Also, the book mentioned above - "Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well" looks like exactly what I need.

I may end up learning how to ride then just going to closed tracks to have my fun.

Thanks to EVERYONE for the comments and suggestions! I will check back in tomorrow and post a followup in a few months when I take the course.
posted by brocklanders at 8:09 PM on October 12, 2010

a really loud bike

Please don't.

Also, the book mentioned above - "Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well" looks like exactly what I need.

An excellent book. Also look into the MSF book.
posted by madajb at 8:29 PM on October 12, 2010

Could you consider (don't laugh) a motortrike, or at least something with a sidecar? A fellow I know switched over to that after being in a terrible accident with his two-wheeler. It wouldn't solve all of the safety problems, but the added stability would be great. They actually don't look that cheesy.

Maybe even something like the Piaggio MP3 or similar could be a start. We also saw a Moto Tri-Elite 150 at the Minnesota State Fair last August and were pretty intrigued. Yeah, it looks like a Rascal had a baby with a golf cart, but whatevs ;)
posted by Madamina at 8:46 PM on October 12, 2010

car vs. bike :: metal box vs. fabric-covered flesh

As Clint Eastwood said, "you've got ask yourself one question...."
posted by 5Q7 at 9:13 PM on October 12, 2010

... 22 years riding on three continents including both sides of the road...

Riffing of Fiasco da Gama be very very careful before smoking pot and riding, no matter how glorious it feels. The urge to enjoy the scenery... can just be too much. With bikes wherever you're looking, that's where you go. Also consider doing an advanced course after you have some road miles under your belt. Speaking personally, the advanced breaking and steering techniques I've learned from the experts (police rider trainers) have been literal life savers.
posted by Kerasia at 4:29 AM on October 13, 2010

This thread was actually great to read while I was gearing up for my first-ever moped journey on major streets. Another thing to consider is comparing how your (safe, hopefully) driving skills would fare on a motorcycle. For example, I think I'm a pretty good driver and have never had a real accident. But if I translate the incidents I have had in a car to what would happen on a motorcycle/moped, things get a bit scarier. For example, hitting a pothole wrong in a car results in a popped tired at worst in a car, and flying road debris will only crack your windshield. But both of those things could potentially kill you on a bike. I've also been rear-ended at a standstill - no damage to the boat of a car I was driving, but on a motorcycle I could have been run over. Just something else to think about.
posted by fermezporte at 5:43 AM on October 13, 2010

I'm fully aware that it's super-dangerous - but it's something I want to at least try.

Good on you.

Also, the book mentioned above - "Proficient Motorcycling: The Ultimate Guide to Riding Well" looks like exactly what I need.

Excellent book, and I'd also recommend Total Control. It's basically a book about cornering.
posted by anti social order at 6:21 AM on October 13, 2010

a really loud bike

Please don't.

To clarify my earlier comment: if you're really only riding in the city, a loud bike is unnecessary (and even undesirable). I hate them when they go by my house at two in the morning. On the freeway, I appreciate them, because it gives me another way to tell that there is a two-wheeled, non-car vehicle near me. This matters less if you're not going really fast - if you're going a normal-fast speed, I'll have time to pick you up in my mirrors and know to watch for you. But remember that not all drivers check their mirrors the way they should. And, of course, some drivers are so busy talking on the phone/listening to loud music that you could buzz them in a fighter jet and they wouldn't notice.
posted by rtha at 6:57 AM on October 13, 2010

You have to decide if the risk is worth it to you. I ride a motorcycle. Much of the riding I do replaces long walks in the city. I'm not any more visible to bad drivers on foot than I am on a bike. Granted, I usually don't walk in the street.

Take the MSF class, which will make you a better car driver even if you never ride a bike on the street. Then decide.
posted by QIbHom at 11:29 AM on October 13, 2010

I've rode a motorcycle of my own for about 8 years now, and my dad used to take me for rides on his old Harley when I was a young kid. My lived experience suggests that your driving skill is actually the least significant factor in the danger you'll experience.

Yes, take the safety course. Definitely wear protective gear. However, you must also internalize the fact that you are 100% invisible to drivers when on a motorcycle. They will not see you - period. Drive extraordinarily defensively and do your best to anticipate the worst possible outcome (people turning left as you're going straight are particularly dangerous). In short, have a healthy respect for the damage that can be done in any collision.

That said, motorcycles are great fun, and cruising along on an otherwise empty highway out in the country somewhere can be something close to a religious experience. Jump on a bike and give it a try for awhile - you'll know right away if it's something that you'll enjoy long-term. Stay safe though.
posted by owls at 4:18 PM on October 13, 2010

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