With football season bearing down on us like a HGH fuelled train I'm making daily trips to Football Outsiders (It's Baseball Prospectus for football!). One of their regular features is to collect football related news and commentary into a single source for me to peruse at my leisure.
Today I was reading their link to Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback editorial. Mr. Easterbrook launches into a tirade about the actions of NFL players and their motorcycle shenanigans (it's about 3/4ths of the way down).
The actions of Kellen Winslow Jr., Ben Roethlisberger and LaVar Arrington were anywhere between stupid to inexperienced. Roethlisberger had an expired motorcycle license. Winslow was on a learner permit, and Arrington was totally unlicensed. Big Ben wasn't wearing a helmet. Winslow was still learning how to ride his motorcycle. Arrington would possibly have died if he hadn't been wearing his helmet when he misjudged a turn and played the stoppable force to an immovable object. All three of these men who, really should have known better, made a mistake which could have cost them their careers, if not their lives.
Young people and high performance motorcycles are a riskier duo than young people and cars. The level of performance available in a modern sportbike is heartstopping. Consider this. The motorcycles Roethlisberger and Arrington were riding, a Suzuki Hayabusa and a Kawasaki ZX-14, are capable of a higher top speed than a Ford Mustang, Chevy Corvette, Dodge Viper, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, Mercedes Benz CL55 AMG, Lamborghini Murcielago, and a Ferrari Maranello. They also cost half the price of the cheapest of these cars, and 1/20th the price of the most expensive.
Easterbrook is right that these three men put more than just their safety and well-being at risk when they chose to get on to motorcycles which were either too much for them, or not wearing the proper equipment. They put their families at risk, and they put their employers at risk. Apparently language in their contracts restricts them from being able to ride a motorcycles because of the greater risk to their team's investment. Mr. Winslow suffered a significant financial hit when the Browns recouped some of the money they paid him because he didn't live up to his end of the contract.
Easterbrook is wrong when he suggests that what needs to happen is government intervention into the construction and design of motorcycles.
Congress has taken no action to impose horsepower limits or safety standards on sportsbikes.I'd like to think that Congress has better things to do than perform an in depth study on the proper limits for horsepower and performance in sportsbikes. As for safety standards... I'm curious if Mr. Easterbook has ever actually seen a motorcycle.
There is only so much safety equipment one can install on a vehicle with two wheels, no doors, an engine under your ass, and a fuel tank between your legs. The most important safety measures a motorcycle rider can take are ones to protect themselves. Helmet, gloves, and jeans are mandatory when I'm on my motorcycle, and I'll add a Kevlar/padded jacket and pants if I'm going to be doing anything more involved than my daily commute. I've also taken the Advanced Rider's Course offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. I've even watched the videos on MSF's website, as well as read advice and tips on more advanced riding techniques. Keith Code's Twist of the Wrist books were eye-opening for me.
On the list of risks facing NFL players though, maybe the "motorcycle" thing should be slightly lower on the list of Mr. Easterbrook's concerns.
While a motorcycle rider is 28 times more likely to die in an accident than someone in a car, NFL linemen have a 52% greater risk of dying from heart disease. Three NFL players were involved in motorcycle accidents over the past couple years, they're all alive and well. Thomas Herrion was a lineman for the 49ers when he collapsed and died after a preseason game. Cause of death? Heart disease. He was 23 years old and weighed 310 pounds. He was light for his position. The average weight of an offensive lineman is now 318 pounds.
And Mr. Easterbrook wants Congress to intervene in the design of motorcycles because he thinks they're ridiciously overpowered. If Congress can take the time and waste the money to spend days interviewing baseball players for their use of steroids and how that will affect "the children", then maybe they should take the time to bring NFL players in to discuss how their obese image is encouraging "the children" to become behemoths.
This wouldn't even rankle me up as much if Mr. Easterbrook had taken the time to get his statistics right.
Mr. Easterbrook points to the performance motorcycles ridden by the three players as if they were at fault for the increase in fatalities for motorcycle riders. Unfortunately, the greatest increase in motorcycle ride fatalities is in the 40+ age group. In 1995 541 riders over 40 were killed in accident. In 2005, 2143 were killed. The engine class with the greatest increase, and the greatest number of fatalities? 1,001-1500ccs. While the Hayabusa and ZX-14 fall into that category, they're a small minority of the bikes in that class. The type of bike that dominates the big engine class? Cruisers. The reason for the huge increase in fatalities for motorcycle riders isn't people on high performance sport bikes. It's older people riding bigger, slower, heavier cruisers.
Unfortunately, blaming old men on Harley's for the increase in motorcycle fatalities isn't as flashy, and probably hits some of Easterbrook's readers a bit too closely. It's a lot easier to pin the blame for the increase on those flashy plastic-clad machines exemplified by "bike racing and X-Game-style events". Just for argument's sake, I'll talk about this as well.
bike racing and X-Game-style eventsSo, motorcycle racing encourages one-wheeled stunting and other risky moves? Watch any motorcycle race. The riskiest move you'll see will be passing. And it's a race, they're supposed to do that. You'll also see them all wearing full leathers, gloves, and helmets, and possessing a level of skill that 99.9% of the riding population wishes they could demonstrate. Watch the X-games. Motorcross doesn't even use the same class of motorcycle which Easterbrook falsely accuses of causing the increase in motorcycle fatalities.
Easterbrook continues his assault on my sanity when he starts to compare the power-to-weight ratio of sportbikes to that of airplanes. Now, does he compare the Hayabusa to other performance-engineered aircraft? No. He compares it to the Cessna 172. The Cessna 172 is a 50 year old design with a 160 horsepower engine. The power-weight ratio for the 172 is 15lbs/1HP. The Cessna is the aircraft for training new pilots. It's the entry-level machine when one is learning how to fly. The aircraft equivalent for a ZX-14 would be something more performance-oriented. Say, the Learjet 60. The LJ60's thrust to weight ratio? .4/1.
I despise having people tell me how to live my life. Some might consider that ironic since I enlisted in the Army. I don't see it that way though. I chose to join the Army. I wasn't compelled, coerced, or forced into this life. I made that choice wholly aware of the risks inherent in it. Gregg Easterbrook has made the choice that the motorcycles I consider fun and enjoyable are too dangerous for my own good. He can take his nanny-state tendencies and put them where the sun don't shine.