Car Safety vs Bike Safety

Bikes are dangerous

The general opinion is that bikes are dangerous, or at least more dangerous than cars. Obviously I don't subscribe to that "theory". To me saying that a bike is more dangerous than a car is like saying that a knife is more dangerous than scissors. They're both tools operated by a human, basically meaning that they are as dangerous as the human is. To me, if you park up a car next to a bike, they're both equally dangerous - or rather not dangerous at all. They're just objects at this stage.

Sadly we live in an extremely egocentric world, and when someone says that a car is safe, they are usually talking about themselves being inside of the car. That is when someone says that a car is safe, they mean it's safe to me, and that you don't give a rats bottom about the persons outside. You are also assuming that if there's an impact with someone else, they'll be in a similar car to yourself. A very faulty assumption. For example, a car has never "won" against a lorry or a train.

This unfortunately also leads us, again, falsely, to assume that a bigger car will be more safe than a smaller car - well, it's partially true as long as you're inside the larger car and hitting a smaller object. An SUV has never won against a lorry either.

My point with this is to underline that what we call safety isn't actually safety at all, but pure and simple physics. In the future, when you're talking about a safe car, just stop - talk about physics instead.

Compared to a car, a heavy motorbike weighs about 250kg, a more popular sporty motorbike will weigh about 170kg dry. Add petrol and some other fluids to it you're looking at a package of about 200kg. A car on the other hand rarely weighs under 1000kg - that makes the bike weigh a fifth, or 20% of the car. Add a heavy car, say a dreaded SUV like the BMW X5 and you're looking at a dry weight of 2,200kg, that's without the enormous amount of petrol that you'll need to propel the car and without the driver/passengers. Weight wise that's now showing that the bike weighs 9% of the car.

You might wonder why I'm not including the rider in the bike weight - quite simple - when a bike crashes, the rider usually crashes in another direction, and I think you know how much you weigh.

Laws of physics say that an object weighing between 9% and 10% of the object it's crashing into will have virtually no impact on the other vehicle. They also say that a car will crush the bike into coffee grounds, at best, upon impact.

As yourself again, which one is more "dangerous" now? A 2 ton batting ram, or a feather weight 200kg arrow...?

People are dangerous

Weight aside, I don't think that it's the actual vechicle that's anymore dangerous than the other. To me it's the person that's supposedly controlling it.

When you're riding a bike you're given the primary spot to control it. You're not sitting to the left, right or tucked in behind sun shades, bonnet and huge steering wheels. You're sitting high up, in the middle, you can barely notice the bike underneath you apart from the clocks and maybe a screen.
In a car, you get the feel from the road through your bottom and slightly through the steering wheel (which is numbed by your power steering).
On the bike your road feedback comes from all directions;

  1. The wind tells you how fast you're going
  2. The front wheel talks directly to your handlebars
  3. Your butt is firmly planted almost above the rear wheel.
  4. If you're riding on an uneven surface you can feel the bars hitting up at you (wouldn't it be great if your steeringwheel in the car pushed back when you went over a speed bump?!)
  5. If you're cornering and you hit a bump, the whole bike shakes and rattles
  6. If you're too heavy on the throttle out of a corner, you can feel the whole bike squirm underneath you (or throw you off for not being careful!).

Magnificent! You're there!
All this gives the rider a much better chance to actually feel what's going on and thus react on it and actually control the vehicle.

But not only that - on a bike you have very few distractions. Have you ever seen a biker shave whilst riding - I've seen several car drivers shave in the car. Or putting on lipstick for that matter? Or having coffee? Or holding a mobile phone? Or telling the kids to shut up? The list is, sadly, endless.

Distractions from driving or riding is the most dangerous thing. On a bike the distractions are few and far between - In a car they're queuing up to harrass you. Latest things being DVD players in cars. Why not install a pinlball game too...?!

Another thing that makes a car driver dangerous is the number of car drivers who actually don't care about driving. To most people the car is a necessary evil status symbol that takes them from point a to point b. They couldn't care less about the actual car. They have absolutely no interest in how the car behaves on the limit, or beyond the limit for that matter.

This is extremely dangerous because accidents never happen within the limits. When things go pear shaped, you're always outside the known envelope (otherwise you wouldn't be having an accident).

A biker on the other hand probably knows a lot about his or her steed. Power, weight, service interwals, oil grade, tyre pressures. I've never met a biker that's not, in some way, enthusiastic about his or her bike. I daily see people who hate being transported in their dreaded car.

If you love and like your vehicle, you don't want any bad things to happen to it.

Point so far is that a car has got many distractions, it provides relatively bad controls, and on top of that, most people out there in their cars would rather be home in the sofa.

Crashing - how accepted is it?

With the (illusional) safety concept that exists among car drivers comes the inevitable concept of that small crashes are OK. That's what airbags are for - they allow you to have smallish crashes from which you can walk away with a sore neck, maybe a bruise or so. Of course, this is if you're actually inside the car that's having the crash, and, naturally, if the object you hit was smaller than your car (or if you didn't hit it that badly).

In a bikers world a simple spill is completely forbidden. Even if you drop your bike while you're wheeling it out of the garage it's a bad thing. If you're thoughtful you'll have crash-protectors on it so your pride and joy isn't scratched beyond recoginition.
If we're talking speed, say more than 10mph, you really really really don't want to have a spill. You'll probably be allright, thanks to your protective clothing, but your bike will be less than allright. Even the smallest accident will lead to damages such as:

  1. Scratched fairings
  2. Broken mirror(s)
  3. Broken indicators
  4. Broken footpegs
  5. Scratched exhausts

That's only to the bike. Let's look at what you're wearing

  1. Scratched helmet (it's almost impossible to hit the ground without hitting your helmet in the ground)
  2. Scratched leathers, or
  3. Torn waterproofs
  4. Scratched boots
  5. Scratched gloves

Jeez - can you see the bank notes doing the invisibility trick?! If you'd want to replace all that you better dig into your pocket and pay for it yourself as your insurance company is already waiting for you to grow a third kidney to pay for last years insurance...

And this is if you have a single accident. What if your bike slides in under a car that knocks it like a billiard ball into the vegetation? Or what if you get run over by said car, or just bumped for that matter. Every bikers nightmare.

Accidents are not allowed to happen on bikes. Whilst car drivers think that it's OK to cut down the error margin a bit, because "we have airbags" and "the car is safe". Madness.

In other words...

Where does this put me..? Well, I think a car is convenient way to transport yourself in when the weather is bad. A car is unresponsive, heavy and above all, dog slow. You can't see around your car well, and you're stuck in one side of the car meaning that, in UK, you're more or less blind when driving behind another car in a left hand sweeping bend. With a bike you could position yourself for more visibility ahead.

I also despise the generic attitude of many car drivers which seem to think that small bumps are acceptable in a car, and that a car is safe because you don't die out of the tiniest scratch.

On my bike on the other hand, I'm agile, I'm fast. I'm on a vehicle that provides me with instant feedback of what's going on. I sit high up and I have good visibility. I also lack tons of distractions and can focus on the road ahead and the rest of my surroundings.

I know that any sort of crash is not allowed and I have to adapt my speed and my riding in general to suit this. There's no such thing as "I was right and the car was wrong" - the only thing that matters is a safe journey - no matter how stuipd the OAP that pulled out in front of me is. I have to ride like nobody has ever seen me, and I have to be prepared to avoid any silly action by everyone on the road. There's also no room for road-rage or competitiveness. If I for one moment loose my composition it will probably mean that I'll be picking up plastic in the field, at best.

To conclude - I don't think a bike is any less safe than a car. I think the dangers on our roads are created by unobservant and unskilled drivers/riders. I also think that a lot of dangers are created by the lack of understanding for different vehicles - not just cars vs. bikes, but also lorries, buses and tractors. They're all different and behave in a very different matter and should be treated so.

I'm also very aware of that should I have a "proper" accident it will probably have more severe consequences than if I'd have it in a car. But then again, in "My World" (tm) I'm not allowed to have accidents, so I'm not that worried. I'd rather enjoy riding my bike than worry.

Keep it safe out there - regardless of what vehicle you're in/on! crashing is not worth the trouble.