Born-again bikers are a danger to themselves on the roads

Motorbikes are dangerous. You hardly needed the AA to tell you that but there are plenty of people out there who jump on powerful bikes with very little appreciation of the dangers.

Bike riders are extremely vulnerable on the roads. If I’m a little dopy one morning in city traffic I could make a concentration error and have a shunt that ruins my day. Hassle, embarrassment, the pain of having to claim on my insurance or face a bill for a couple of grand.

If a bike rider makes the same concentration error or is innocently taken out by a careless driver the same accident could easily kill him.

Motorbikes of various sizes make up about 1.8 per cent of the vehicle population but in a normal year they account for over 8 per cent of all road deaths. The risk of being killed off a bike is about 16 times greater per mile travelled than it is for an occupant in a car.

In what has already been a poor year for road safety the number of motorcycle deaths is up. There were nine by the end of May. On an ongoing basis we have maybe 20 motorcyclists either killed or injured every week and some of the injuries are truly horrific.

Of course there are lots of people out there who love their bikes and use them sensibly. They have lifelong careers on two wheels without getting hurt and swear by the joy, practicality and economy of life on two wheels.

They are no doubt in the majority but there are others. In essence there are two types of bikers that would worry me. There are young males for whom the bike is the number one transport choice. It might be a commuter-scooter or a fairly modest machine but as with other categories those young males tend to be much higher risk than other sectors of the population.

I would not give the women a free pass entirely. There are plenty of females on bikes. Those who choose large powerful machines may be the exception and good luck to them. But they are every bit as vulnerable as the men.

The other category is the born-again biker. Typically this is a guy in his early to mid fifties. He is prosperous and can afford to splash out on a seriously powerful machine, spending more on his leathers and gear than a youngster can afford to spend on his bike.

The guy has fond memories of his youth and the fun he had. He manages to forget that that was thirty years or more ago, the bike in question was a Honda 50 and fun or no fun he nearly killed himself a few times. No, he remembers how brilliant it was.

Now he has the bike he always wanted but, all joking aside, he has a vast amount of power between his legs and very little idea of how to use it. With minimal preparation and no actual training he hops on board and roars off onto the road.

Meanwhile his wife is at home feeling the same anxiety that Irish mums feel for their sons out late at night, never quite comfortable until he gets home safely. She is desperate for him to tire of his toy.

It is probably an unkind stereo-type but there is truth in it. There are plenty of sensible bikers as well of course. Gay Byrne himself is the proud owner of a Harley Davidson and uses it.

I would not say that people should give up on bikes or put aside a lifelong dream but the AA strongly advises anyone interested to make sure that they get proper equipment and some proper training.

The RSA produced a very good booklet recently called ‘This is Your Bike’ which is available on their website. I would also recommend the Motorcycle Action Group, magireland.ie, who do a lot of good work promoting responsible bike use.

For the rest of us we have a responsibility to be careful and to be bike aware while we drive in the relative safety of steel cages on four wheels.

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