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The Wall Street Journal is weighing in on the recent NTSB and IIHS media releases. Storm clouds are forming.
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The New Motorcycles: Bigger, Faster, Deadlier - WSJ.com

The New Motorcycles:
Bigger, Faster, Deadlier
Trend Toward Outsize Power
And Lighter Weight Coincides
With Increase in Fatalities
By JONATHAN WELSH
September 18, 2007; Page D1

Bigger, faster, more-powerful machines are helping to make 2007 the deadliest year yet for motorcycle riders, say safety officials and a new insurance-industry study.

In the past few years a horsepower battle in the cycle industry has produced bikes that have the power of a car but often weigh less than ever. Sophisticated suspension and braking systems and other electronics make them easy for inexperienced riders to handle -- up to a point. But the bikes' potential speed and violent acceleration can quickly overwhelm all but the most skilled riders.

The new Ducati 1098's 160-horsepower engine makes it the Italian company's most powerful regular production model.

These high-performance machines, often called "superbikes" or "supersports," accounted for less than 10% of motorcycle registrations in 2005 but accounted for more than 25% of rider fatalities, according to data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and analyzed in a study released last week by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The total number of rider deaths has more than doubled since 1997. At the current rate, some safety experts say, fatalities in 2007 could surpass the previous peak of 4,955 set in 1980.

Superbike riders suffer much higher death rates than riders of other kinds of bikes. And while superbikes still aren't as popular as the larger, more laid-back cruiser-style bikes made by Harley-Davidson Motor Co., such bikes have been one of the fastest-growing segments of the industry. They represented 9% of the market in 2005, compared with 47% for cruisers. But superbike registrations jumped 83% between 2000 and 2005.

In addition to more-powerful machines, an influx of inexperienced riders is also helping to drive accident rates higher. And as more middle-age consumers return to motorcycling -- often after not having ridden for 20 years or more -- more older riders are being killed in crashes. Another contributing factor: a trend toward more-liberal helmet laws.

"These guys start riding again in their 50s and don't realize that they aren't the same physical specimens they were in their 20s," says David Livingston, director of the New Jersey Trauma Center at University Hospital in Newark, N.J., who has recently seen an increase in motorcycle-related injuries. "During June, July and August, about one in four patients hurt in traffic accidents have been motorcycle riders," he says.
SUPERBIKES

See three types of these new motorcycles.

Motorcycles, much like cars, have gradually become more powerful and nimble over time. But the more-rapid run-up in engine size and performance has occurred in only the past few years, as overall sales of motorcycles have boomed. New construction techniques and the widening availability of lightweight materials like carbon fiber and titanium "have made it easier to reduce weight and increase power cost-effectively," says Ted Miller, director of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a research group. "The stoked sport bike," he says, is a fairly new development.

Bike makers across the industry are conspicuously boosting power. Italian manufacturer Ducati Motor Holding earlier this year began selling the 1098, a superbike with 160 horsepower -- a big jump from the 112 horsepower the company's racy 996 model put out 10 years ago. The bike has about as much power as a Honda Accord EX sedan. BMW AG's motorcycle unit had a reputation for building sedate bikes with less than 100 horsepower until it rolled out the 167-horsepower K1200S about three years ago. Even Harley-Davidson, long known for its slow cruising and touring models, recently released the Night Rod Special, a fast, low-slung bike with a 125-horsepower engine developed with sports-car maker Porsche AG.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s -- the last time motorcycle fatalities were this high -- the hottest bikes included machines like Kawasaki Motors Corp.'s Z1000. A fearsome bike at the time, its 90-or-so horsepower and total weight approaching 600 pounds seem benign compared with the nearly 200 horsepower generated by the company's new ZX-14 or rival bike maker Suzuki Motor Corp.'s GSX-R1000.

The Suzuki weighs barely 400 pounds with a full fuel tank, and can accelerate to 60 mph in about 2.5 seconds. It even comes with a switch so the rider can select low, medium or high power settings. Other bikes have adopted electronically controlled brakes, transmissions and traction control to keep the rear wheel from spinning out of control under acceleration.

Many supersport bikes are actually built for racing. In popular racing events like the American Motorcyclist Association superbike series, riders use bikes that are modified versions of those available to the public at dealerships. In order to compete in the races, cycle manufacturers have to build hundreds of the bikes for sale to consumers.

The process, called "homologation," is meant to guarantee that the bikes found on the track are roughly the same as those widely available to the public. The bikes sold this way are sometimes touted as "race replicas" or "homologation specials."

Although a tripling of motorcycle sales over the past decade accounts for some of the rising death rate, fatal motorcycle accidents have also risen proportionally.

Over the time period of the IIHS study, from 2000 to 2005, the death rate for motorcyclists rose to 7.5 deaths per 10,000 registered motorcycles from 7.1. In the same period, the percentage of motorcycle deaths among all highway fatalities rose to 10% from 7%. Superbike riders had a death rate of 22.5 for every 10,000 registered motorcycles.

In 2005, riders 40 or older accounted for 47% of motorcycle fatalities, compared with 24% 10 years earlier. In the same period, the fatality percentage for riders younger than 30 years of age fell to 32% from 41%. Safety officials attribute this in part to a tendency of "returning" riders to overestimate their ability to handle the latest powerful bikes.

"You have a lot of people saying, 'I'm in my 40s and I want to start riding motorcycles again,'" says Daniel Lonsdorf, director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Transportation Safety. "But these aren't the same motorcycles they remember from 20 years ago."
 

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I'm only gonna say it one more time...

If the M/C manufacturers would make cellphone mounts, DVD players and cupholders standard equipment, we'd have a lot less trouble!
 

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MODERATOR X
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...there will always be worse things than dying....
 

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"Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up."

It only took me 5 minutes of reading the IIHS report to find out this "superbike deaths" panic is just a load of crap. As a percentage their fatalities are going down, while touring bike fatalities are going up. I guess the WSJ reporter only had 3 minutes to research his story.
 

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"Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up."

It only took me 5 minutes of reading the IIHS report to find out this "superbike deaths" panic is just a load of crap. As a percentage their fatalities are going down, while touring bike fatalities are going up. I guess the WSJ reporter only had 3 minutes to research his story.
Had to be a French report.
 

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The Toad
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Accuracy in reporting. Yep. I guess I'll head down to my local sportbike dealer and buy one of them there "homologation specials". We motorcyclists call them "**** bikes". Yep. Glad to see that the WSJ is meeting those high standards of reporting set by the New York times and the Washington Post.

Of course they have to trot out some croaker. Why people pay any attention to the opinions of medical doctors on any subject except medicine is a mystery. Pill pushers can go back in their offices and STFU. There are still plenty of sick people to maim and kill, quacks. Stick with them and leave the bikers alone.

The one thing all the "experts" are ignoring is the simple fact that the rise in death rates is simply the function of a flood of new riders. As the incompetents are maimed, killed and quit the rates will decline again if the rate of new riders decreases. All this is entirely unrelated to helmet laws.

Helmet laws... the panacea of the lazy, the stupid and the incompetent.
 

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Aging Cafe` Racer
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They couldn't print this stuff if it wasn't true you know, with Constitutionaly guarenteed Freedom of the Press comes great reponsibility. Our stalwart Journalists spend weeks sometimes researching their story then ignoring any personal bias they may feel write the whole unadulterated truth so that We the People can determine for ourselves the importance of the issue at hand
 

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The Toad
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17,449 Posts
They let you...

They couldn't print this stuff if it wasn't true you know, with Constitutionaly guarenteed Freedom of the Press comes great reponsibility. Our stalwart Journalists spend weeks sometimes researching their story then ignoring any personal bias they may feel write the whole unadulterated truth so that We the People can determine for ourselves the importance of the issue at hand
....drink on the job I see.
 
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