Keeping up with the Japanese

I’m wrestling with an essay for MMM on motorcycle safety training. Mostly, writing about this subject is kicking my ass because there is so little actual information about the only thing that matters in motorcycle training: the outcome/effectiveness of training. It’s no secret that I believe motorcycles are a doomed mode of transportation and it shouldn’t be surprising that I believe the problem is that our favorite vehicle is primarily a hyper-dangerous toy and that licensing for the use of this vehicle on public roads is a joke. The fact that so many “riders” believe the DMV “test” is “impossible to pass on a real motorcycle” ought to be absolute proof that most of the characters on motorcycles are incompetent as riders and not all that bright as human beings.

As part of looking for inspiration for this article, I got involved in a discussion about why motorcycle sales have tanked (post-2008) and the recovery has been so weak. An old MNSportbike acquaintance who has been in the retail end of the business for the last decade thinks it’s because “the last two generations are pussies.” I can find no evidence to support his claim, but his argument is mostly that we’re following the Japanese model and that Japanese youth are “pussies.”

A long while back, Japan’s NHTSA equivalent decided to attack the constant over-representation of motorcycles in that nation’s mortality and morbidity statistics. The end result has been the only effective change in motorcycle safety in the world. Another result has been a dramatic drop in Japan’s motorcycle/scooter sales. Other than the industry itself, which generates almost as much expense as revenue, collapsing motorcycle sales isn’t much of a downside. The Japan Biker F.A.Q. created a page to explain the Japanese licensing system, “Motorcycle Classes and Vehicle Licensing.” The whole story is pretty much there in English and Japanese, explaining the tiered licensing system, insurance requirements, motorcyclists’ liability, laws and enforcement, and the rider costs of all of that. Honestly, I was surprised that the actual expense of compliance is so low. Insurance for the various classes isn’t out-of-line with US costs. Testing and licensing expense is reasonable. The real difference is what happens when you violate the laws: enforcement is expensive and harsh.

It’s obvious and true that if you had to be competent to obtain a motorcycle license and that getting caught riding without a license would result in serious costs and even jail time a large portion of the idiots on hippobikes would quit riding. Harley and Indian sales would disappear in a puff of logic, since obtaining that “Large Class” (400cc and over) license would require competence and riders would have to demonstrate that competence on the actual bike the plan to be riding.

Yesterday, on the way back from Alma, WI with my wife (she was driving), I got to see how far from being an actual motorcyclist the typical hippobike rider reality is. Two nitwits heading south on WI35 decided to make a U-turn on that relatively wide two-lane road with decent shoulders on both sides. The two stopped in the middle of their lane, stacked up a couple of cars behind them while they gathered their nerve to make the turn, paddled through the turn one-at-a-time, and the second of the two made his entrance into our lane about 100 yards in front of our vehicle. Being the obvious least competent of the two, he panicked when he finally noticed our vehicle (and the four behind us) bearing down on him, and he sped-up his paddling routine to get out of our way. Of course, he didn’t make the turn and paddled right into the ditch, which fortunately for him was only a few inches deep at that spot. On their best day, these two would barely deserve to posses Japan’s “Small Class: 50cc to 125cc” license. Here in Freedomville, USA, these idiots are on motorcycles 10X their capabilities.

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