I’ve held the position of Vice-President of Government Affairs for the Motorcycle Riders Foundation for roughly 18 months. And during those months I’ve sat in countless meetings, congressional hearings, public information sessions, symposiums, conferences and breakout sessions which have covered a gamut of issues that affect riders. Anything and everything from ethanol to self-driving cars to road design and infrastructure, I’ve sat, listened and taken detailed notes. However, during the last couple of months I’ve started to uncover a deeper (and darker) underlying message in my meetings. I’m not one for conspiracy theories so I won’t suggest that my theory is the product of some sort of anti-motorcycle secret society, but what I am beginning to believe is that the future of riders – our future – is questionable.
I say this because as I’ve sat through these meetings and conference calls, my takeaway increasingly becomes that the U.S. population at large, just doesn’t give a shit about motorcycles. We’re ignored or perhaps forgotten. We’re relegated to the category of recreation. And dangerous recreation at that. We’re swept into the same column as shark cage diving, or bull running or cliff base jumping. And though I have no problem with any of those recreational activities, riding motorcycles is not the same. It’s not even CLOSE to the same! Though many of us ride for the fun and the thrill of it, our bikes also get us from place to place. Unlike swimming with the sharks or running with the bulls, riding a motorcycle is a form of transportation. Motorcycles get us to work, to the post office, to the dentist. So why, in America of all places, are we forced to say again and again and again, what about us?
There is surprisingly little research done about the benefits of riding motorcycles. And I am not talking about benefits to the rider. You ask any one of our MRF members and they’ll tell you that riding is cheaper than seeing a psychiatrist. So lets put that aside for a minute and talk about the benefits to society. In Europe several years ago, there was a study done to test mobility – that is moving from point A to point B. They looked at commuting routes from outside major cities and within major cities as well as rural areas over varying distances and compared the mobility of a motorcycle to that of a car. And out of the fourteen tests they conducted to measure mobility, the motorcycle won 85% of the time. So in other words, a motorcycle is more likely to get you to your destination faster (and not just because you’re speeding).
The impacts go on from there. Another study (also in Europe where motorcycles are better viewed and accepted as a legitimate form of transportation) showed the impact of what might happen if just 10% of cars were replaced by motorcycles. Time loss for all vehicles would decrease by 40%. That means a quicker commute for everyone whether they are on a motorcycle or not. And with less cars on the road and less sitting in traffic, that means an impact on emissions. Though I have not uncovered a comprehensive study on the specific issue of reduced emissions and motorcycle usage, a case study by Transport & Mobility Leuven (yep, Europe again) stated that, “New motorcycles emit fewer pollutants compared to average private cars (less NOX, NO2, PM2.5 and EC, but more VOC). They also emit less CO2. Total external emission costs of new motorcycles are more than 20% lower than average private cars. On the section of motorway between Leuven and Brussels, total emission costs can be reduced by 6% if 10% of private cars are replaced by motorcycles.”
There are other benefits too. Things like fuel efficiency; most bikes get as many miles per gallon as a car if not much more. What about infrastructure? Right now, the Trump Administration is currently figuring out how to raise $200 billion to upgrade our nation’s infrastructure which is in dire shape in some parts of the country. What may have helped our nations’ crumbling infrastructure? A motorcycle’s lighter touch could mean less wear and tear on a bridge or a road than a heavier, wider-set vehicle.
Given all the aforementioned benefits, you’d think I’d hear some praise from non-riders. Instead, I hear a lot about noise pollution. And that’s when they even talk about motorcycles. In many cases, they aren’t. Take the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); when they put out their initial guidance on autonomous vehicles and potential policies and safety factors, motorcycles weren’t even mentioned. They revised the document a year later, and though they did mention motorcycles, it was in the context of what vehicles NHTSA has jurisdiction over. Where it was blindingly not was in the section that has to do with the ability of this technology to identify and respond to objects on the road. Interestingly, the guidance names cars, trucks, pedestrians, bicyclists and animals. But not motorcycles.
Another instance of riders being forgotten (or ignored)? The newly minted U.S. version of Vision Zero, called Road to Zero. It’s a program with an admirable goal – to completely eliminate deaths on our nation’s highways in 20 years. The program spends very little time or resources on motorcycle and related issues in every meeting I’ve attended. Even the logo can’t be bothered to contain a motorcycle rider.
It is estimated that there are more than 300 million powered two-wheelers in the world. These are substantial numbers, so when it comes being viewed as a legitimate form of transportation, why are riders having to fight for a seat at the table? And an even bigger question is how we can change this dynamic? I don’t have the answers, but I bet if enough of us put our heads together we can start to chip away at the problem targeting not just society as a whole, but the different segments that contribute to this pervasive problem. From policymakers to media to public interest groups and everyone in between, we need to make sure that riders everywhere, regardless of what patch you hold or bike you ride, deliver the message that motorcycles have a place in the future.
Vice-President of Government Affairs & Public Relations
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation