There are many positive, feel-good stories involving motorcycles and their riders, yet few make it to press. Here, Robert goes against that trend.
A few years ago, someone decided to find out how to get from downtown Vancouver to the University of BC in the shortest time—legally, of course. The contest pitted a motorcycle against a car, bicycle and public transit. The motorcycle won handily. Of course.
In sub-Saharan Africa, an organization called Riders for Health uses motorcycles to mobilize health care outreach (www.riders.org). They claim that a motorcycle-mounted health care worker can reach six times more patients and travel four times as far as using conventional local transport, improving health care access to more than 12 million people.
Many world cities including London, Melbourne, Munich, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Belgrade, Austin, Texas and even Daytona Beach use motorcycle-mounted paramedics to provide first response in medical emergencies and to attend vehicle accidents. They do this because a motorcycle can often get through traffic gridlocks when a regular ambulance or car-driving paramedic can’t.
Throughout the UK, volunteer members of the Nationwide Association of Blood Bikes transport blood and live organs between medical facilities, simply because the shipments are time sensitive, and motorcycles are the fastest means of delivery. And in a joint project with UNICEF, southern Sudan uses motorcycle ambulances to provide medical care during childbirth. Since the program was introduced in 2009, there have been zero fatalities among the 170 pregnant women who used the service.
The world uses motorcycles for transportation. As of 2002, India, with an estimated 37 million motorcycles and mopeds, was home to the largest number of motorized two wheelers in the world. China came a close second with 34 million motorcycles/mopeds. In Europe, 35 million people regularly ride motorcycles with the industry employing 150,000 people. More than 1.7 million “powered two-wheelers” are sold each year with a total value of Euros 34Bn. Meanwhile, fully one-third of the world’s cars are concentrated in North America and Japan.
So why are Canadian institutions that could benefit enormously—even if only for half the year—so resistant to using motorcycles? Fender benders are normal on a typical Vancouver morning commute. But sometimes it’s a lot worse. If, say, the Queensborough Bridge or the Lion’s Gate is gridlocked, it could take an ambulance half an hour to find an alternate route, where a lane-splitting motorcycle paramedic could be there in seconds.
I’m afraid motorcycles get bad press in Canada, and are definitely out of favour with politicians. Good news doesn’t sell, so motorcycle-positive stories never get into the media. Yet every squid who videos himself doing 200 kmh on a city freeway gets plenty of ink. Rodney Dangerfield would have understood. I guess if you have the power-to-weight ratio of a Formula 1 car attached to your twist grip, it can be difficult to resist opening up occasionally
The other big factor shaping public opinion has been the portrayal of motorcyclists in Hollywood. Ever since writer Frank Rooney turned the Hollister Boozefighters incident (made famous by the staged press photograph of a biker surrounded by empty beer bottles) into a vehicle for Marlon Brando in The Wild One, ordinary motorcyclists have struggled with the bad boy branding. Some are drawn to it, of course, but it doesn’t win the hearts and minds of politicos. Whether or not loud pipes save lives (there’s no evidence they do), they certainly piss off a lot of people—and politicians take note of that.
All this matters because our “privilege” to ride high-powered projectiles on the street is certain to come under threat in the future. In BC, the crown insurance corporation ICBC already unfairly targets motorcyclists (especially older, safer riders) with rates that are much higher than they would be in many other jurisdictions. In Europe, taking advanced safe riding courses is rewarded with reduced insurance premiums. Why not in Canada?
What to do? Well, publishing a few good news motorcycle stories, just like the ones above, wouldn’t hurt. If no one else is going to report them, I will.
Here’s a case in point. I’ve known Ian Kerr for a dozen years or so. He’s been a dedicated motorcyclist all his adult life, and writes for a host of magazines, mostly in Europe. He’s also a skilled and creative photographer with a long list of prestigious credits.
Ian joined London’s Metropolitan Police straight from school, and quickly graduated to Traffic Patrol Officer in the motorcycle division, representing the “Met” in numerous European riding competitions. After retirement from the force, he initiated a one-day advanced program for experienced riders called BikeSafe, while also acting as a safety consultant to motorcycle manufacturers and police forces.
In the Queen’s 2013 birthday honours list, Ian was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) “for services to motorcycle safety.” I haven’t found any motorcycle safety advocates in the Order of Canada list …