Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dangers of Americade Revisited

Springtime means a lot of motorcycles on the road. It also means Americade, the annual motorcycle fest in Lake George that draws some 60 or 70 thousand riders to what is considered the World’s Largest Touring Rally.

According to their website, this year:

You can enjoy 5 new MiniTours, 3 Poker Runs (with a new route), a new scavenger hunt, 2 TourExpo tradeshows (bigger than ever), a new Moonlight boat cruise as well as a dozen daylight ones, 2 rodeos, 50+ seminars, 2 parades, parties, nearly $100,000 in door prizes!

Also: 17 manufacturers offering demo rides on the latest bikes and trikes, and on Saturday, World Champ Chris Pfeiffer will demonstrate his amazing riding skills. And… a whole lot more.

I wholeheartedly support Americade, but increasingly every year the rally draws criticism from our friends and neighbors. Among the chief complaints are the role tax money plays in supporting the event (which brings thousands of dollars to private businesses) and the sometimes caustic attitude of event organizers (who have repeatedly threatened to take Americade elsewhere if they don’t get their way).

Last year, I wrote a piece called The Dangers of Americade that questioned the deafening silence of organizers on the issue of safety. I pointed out that according to an Associated Press report, Americade founder Bill Dutcher stated that he was “aware of only one death among the hundreds of thousands of bikers who have registered for Americade over the years.”

My argument was simple, Dutcher assertion was blatantly false – many folks are killed coming and going to Americade. I argued that Americade organizers should stop obfuscating the facts and show some leadership on the issue of safety and in particular, on the continued cultural sense that automobile drivers own the road. Not even on their website, loaded with corporate logos and tips for attending the event, do they bother to even mention safety. They do take time to try to keep out the the folks they think are riff-raff, however, as I noted last year:

While the Americade website offers no safety advice or links, it does take pains to remind a certain class of riders that:

Americade… [is] a convention of riders and passengers who enjoy riding tourers, sport-tourers and cruising motorcycles.

Americade is a gathering of friendly, fun-loving folks, for whom motorcycling is a social hobby, but not some form of rebellion. It’s NOT the place for shows of speed, hostile attitudes, or illegally loud motorcycles. Americade supports the AMA position that “Loud Pipes Risk Rights.”

Nowhere does it remind riders that, unfortunately, riding a motorcycle is dangerous in our car-centered, self-absorbed world. It’s one of the most important issues facing bikers (as well as pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists) today. It’s probably safe to say that every bike club in America has a memorial to one of their riders killed by a car or truck.

That recently drew some discussion on the original post from a long time rider who took offense with my call for Americade organizers to show some leadership. One of the arguments the commenter made was that:

Americade is run by motorcyclist for motorcyclists and the overwhelming majority of the attendees are very experienced motorcyclists. Very few of the attendees are newcomers to the sport. When they are newcomers they usually are in the company of experienced riders who are introducing them to the fun of Americade. Americade does not pose any dangers for riders that don’t exist every other time they throw a leg across the seat of their ride.

Motorcycling is all about freedom and the responsibility that goes along with it. Anyone who expect someone else to be responsible for their safety on a motorcycle has no business being on one. All riders learn very quickly that they are responsible or managing the risks when riding. No one can do it for them.

That’s sounds great, but it’s not the truth. A new study by Gannett News Service reporters John Yaukey and Robert Benincasa called Risky Ride looked at data from the federal government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System:

Nearly half of the riders killed in 2006 were age 40 and older, and nearly a quarter were 50 or older. The average age of motorcyclists killed in accidents was about 38.

Half of motorcyclists killed between 2002 and 2006 lost control and crashed without colliding with another vehicle… Motorcyclists account for about 2 percent of vehicles on the road but 10 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to federal statistics.

The main point of the study is that the trend toward fewer helmet laws has led to an increase in fatalities. According to Yaukey and Benincasa:

Death rates from motorcycle crashes have risen steadily since states began weakening helmet laws about a decade ago, according to a Gannett News Service analysis of federal accident reports.

I don’t agree with helmet laws, though I think you’d be stupid to ride without one for any distance (yeah, I know, and even down the block… blah, blah, blah).

I do however, still think it’s long past time for Americade organizers to take a leadership role in rider safety – something – anything – to show a commitment to rider safety for bikers young and old. It makes even more sense now, that their is a rise in rider deaths with loosening of helmet laws to show the world that riders care about safety and don’t need the nanny state to keep them safe.

Don’t you think?

BTW: Last year’s post was prompted in part by the news that Alan Gregory, author of Alan Gregory’s Conservation News was hit by an 85-year old driver while bicycling near is home. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in long term hospital care – the good news is, one year later, he is getting back to blogging. We missed his insights and are glad to hear of his return to the blogosphere.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

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