Opinion: Motorcycle Racing Is Dangerous, And There Are No Easy Answers

There has been a lot of death this year in motorcycle racing. At Mugello, Jason Dupasquier crashed and was hit by another rider during qualifying for the Moto3 race, and died in the early hours of the following morning. At Aragon, during the European Talent Cup race held at a round of the FIM CEV championship, Hugo Millán crashed during the race and was hit by another bike, dying as a result of his injuries. And yesterday, during the WorldSSP300 race at Jerez, Dean Berta Viñales crashed at Turn 2 and was hit by another rider, dying in hospital a few hours later. Dupasquier was 19, Millán was 14, Viñales 15.

The deaths – three teenagers in the space of less than four months – led to a great deal of introspection in the racing world, and concerns over what should be done to prevent this from happening again. A lot of people had a lot of ideas, but the thing that strikes me about these deaths is that, as good as some ideas might be, there are no easy answers.

Motorcycle racing is dangerous. This is a truism, but it is not often we get a reminder of just how dangerous it is. Sometimes, reality likes to rub our noses in it.

The one thing that all three fatalities have in common is that the riders who crashed were hit by bikes that were following them. Though an enormous amount of work has been done to make circuits safer, this is the one type of accident for which there are no simple solutions. A motorcycle traveling at speed contains an enormous amount of energy, more than a human body can absorb and survive.

This is true even at relatively low speeds. Dean Berta Viñales crashed on the exit of Turn 2 at Jerez, one of the slowest corners on the circuit. According to data from Brembo published before the weekend, WorldSBK riders brake to 65 km/h for Turn 2, meaning that Berta was hit by another bike probably traveling at less than 80 km/h.

The best hope of improving a fallen rider's chances of survival is better protective gear, to absorb and dissipate as much as the energy as possible. Such technology is not available now, and may never be available. And there's the risk of energy being returned to the bike hitting the fallen rider, and the effect it would have on that bike and rider combination.

There is also the shape of a motorcycle to contend with: like stiletto heels, motorcycles are sharp and pointy, concentrating energy into a small surface area on impact. And behind the fragile fairing there are a lot of sharp edges, dashboards, dataloggers, small hard metallic objects which again concentrate force on impact, reducing the chances of survival for a rider hit by another bike.

If the impacts can't be mitigated successfully, could the chance of impact be reduced? The current set of rules, especially in the junior and development classes, are designed to level the field and give talent a chance to shine over outright superiority of equipment. The downside of this is that it means that races produce large bunches of riders all riding together. If one rider makes a mistake and crashes, there are more riders around them, increasing their chances of being hit.

It is not just that the rules have created close racing. The changes in technology and in athlete preparation have changed too. Firstly, even young riders spend a lot more time training and practicing, which reduces the differences due to sheer natural talent. This is not unique to racing: across all forms of sport, young athletes train better, and receive better training and guidance, helping them get more out of their potential.

The bikes have changed too. Manufacturers have switched from two strokes to four strokes, meaning the bikes at all levels are easier to ride. More importantly, they are easier to manage in the case of a mistake, and so it is easier for riders to keep a tow, and stick in the group. When bikes were peaky two strokes, if you let the engine drop out of its power band, you were lost. A four stroke has a nice wide spread of torque, meaning you can lose ground, but the engine will always provide you with some drive.

The four strokes produce closer racing, however, and that is more spectacular and exciting for fans. The organizers benefit from having a great product to sell to broadcasters, fans benefit from the thrill of not knowing who is going to win until the very last moment.

It is true that large groups in a race are more dangerous, but there is more to it than just racing in groups. Jason Dupasquier died in qualifying, struck from behind by a rider following some way behind. He was not part of a large group.

But it is undoubtedly so that the larger the group, the more chance there is of something going wrong if a rider crashes. Spreading the race out into smaller groups may not prevent such accidents from happening, but it might help reduce the chance of it significantly.

The recent races in Moto3 have been a case in point. Austria, Silverstone, and Misano all saw the field pulled apart, as one rider, or a small group, managed to pile on the pressure and prevent slower riders from just hanging in the slipstream and sticking together in a group. There have been crashes in these races, but fewer have been heart-in-mouth moments where you hope that a fallen rider will not be hit by another bike.

Large grids also increase the chance of large groups forming. Grids in the WorldSSP300 class contain 42 riders. The Moto3 class has 30 riders. After Hugo Millán's death, European Talent Cup grids were reduce to 30 riders.

Should grid sizes be reduced? That is not so simple to do. Do you exclude more riders from entering, especially at the junior levels? Or do you split grids into separate races? If you do split them, how do you ensure that they are fairly split, and that the results between the two races are comparable? How do you draw up an equitable and realistic championship table, when many of the riders will not have raced against each other?

There are no easy and simple answers to this – if there were, they would have already been implemented, as dead motorcycle racers are not in the interests of the promoters, being very bad publicity. Each answer raises more questions, creates new dangers and risks.

Finally, should 14-year-old kids be racing Moto3 machines or their equivalent, motorcycles capable of 200+ km/h? As I pointed out before, Dean Berta Viñales was killed at one of the slowest parts of the track, so speed is not always a relevant factor.

That doesn't mean that allowing young kids to race high-speed machines at full-sized race tracks is a good idea, however. Kids in the grip of puberty are still having their brains formed, and do not have a full appreciation of the risks involved. But that is also a generalization: some kids are smarter, more mature, more aware than others. Some do understand, some don't.

It is undoubtedly true that the only time that motorcycle racing hits the mainstream press in a lot of countries is when fatal accidents happen, especially to young riders. Motorcycle racing is a niche sport in a large part of the world, and so the only interest from most media outlets is in the salacious aspects, the crashes, the deaths, the drugs, the tax dodges.

And racing deaths fit into a preexisting trope that motorcycles are dangerous, so crashes get reported to reinforce that. Kids and adults die riding horses, in high school football, in rugby, in cricket, in athletics, water polo, cycling, and more. Deaths in motorcycle racing fit the narrative, and so get reported. And we, as motorcycle racing fans, notice it more, because it matters to us. I haven't read about deaths in equestrianism, mainly because I have never read anything about equestrianism.

Should kids be riding motorcycles at a young age? The problem is that people tend to take up sports when they are very young. And the increasing professionalization of sport means the younger an athlete starts, the better their chances of success later on. What age is appropriate for riders to start racing? Should kids only ride MX bikes? What age should they be allowed to start riding on track? When should they be allowed to switch from minibikes to full-sized machines?

There is more outcry when a youngster dies, and it makes more headlines. But that is also seen as black and white, where there should be far more shades of gray. A 14-year-old kid dying is a tragedy. Is it more or less tragic than a 15-year-old? Or a 16-year-old? Or a 19-year-old? Will the death of a 15-year-old get more or less bad publicity than the death of a 16-year-old?

The number of deaths in motorcycle racing this year raises a lot of questions. Difficult, awkward questions about the nature of motorcycle racing, and its current trajectory. To pretend that there are any easy answers to these questions is a mistake. The issues are complex, and need to be treated as such.

That does not mean these questions should not be addressed. Everyone involved in the sport has a duty to try to make it as safe as possible. That includes the fans, who have to understand that close racing comes with a higher associated risk of death. Do they want to accept that? Do the riders want to accept that? Does the sport want to accept that.

Should I not try to answer some of the questions I have raised here? I don't pretend to have the solution, or even any good ideas. Is the current format of racing likely to increase the chances of a fatal collision? Probably. Perhaps making the bikes harder to ride will spread the field out, but how much difference will it make?

Are grid sizes too large? I suspect they are, but I have no answer to what size the grid should be. Is 24 too small or too large? How does reducing grid sizes from 40 to 30 impact the chances of a fatal collision? Or from 30 to 24?

Should youngsters be allowed to race on track? For me, this is the hardest question to answer. Age and inexperience are a factor, but any line you draw is arbitrary. Then again, the same can be said for the age of consent for sex, for drinking alcohol, for smoking, for riding a motorcycle, driving a car.

I don't think raising the minimum age for Moto3 to 18 would negatively impact the world championship, but what about the feeder classes for Moto3? Should the minimum age for the FIM CEV Junior World Championship also be raised to 18? And what about the Red Bull Rookies?

Any decision taken on age limits has knock-on consequences all the way down the chain of the sport. Age limits in Moto3 can't be seen as separate for the minimum age for minimoto races, the minimum age for riders to leave the dirt for the asphalt.

Motorcycle racing is dangerous. That is the inescapable truth which we face. The fact that it is dangerous raises some hard and ugly questions, to which there are no easy answers. I wish there were.

What the sport of motorcycle racing needs to do is to continue work on making the sport as safe as possible. That will involve hard moral choices about who should be allowed to compete, on what terms, and at what venues. And about what level of danger, what level of fatalities, is acceptable.

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As you say, lots of questions, no easy answers. As a race referee here in Canada I've been involved with half a dozen racing deaths over the past four decades -- oddly enough, none of them due to a rider crashing and being hit by another bike. It's never an easy situation to deal with, to say the least. Ugly, sad, and nasty at best.

As for limiting grid sizes, there's an easy way to do it without limiting access to talented riders. The AMA dirt track series does it, we used to do it here when our 600 grids were large enough to merit it, and even Moto GP has a version of it. You pick a safe number of riders to be on the track, say it's 30. Then the top 28 qualifiers (or 26, or whatever number you want) automatically go to the final, and there's a race (or qualifier, as in Moto GP) from which the top two or four or whatever move into the final.

Smaller grid size seems like it would emerge from a triage of risk management strategies as a useful starting point. But the large size of entry-level classes serve that important role of being the wide mouth of the funnel, giving the most riders the chance to evolve the skills and racecraft to prove their fitness to move up. How to keep the funnel as wide as possible?  The current concept of a smaller grid by limiting entrants at the track doesn’t help that. I’ve enjoyed the heat-race format in other forms of moto-racing for qualifying as both entertaining and an opportunity for a large number of riders to have a “real” race experience instead of the shenanigans we often see in qualifying sessions. In the entry-level classes, instead of Superpole and a race on Saturday, run Saturday’s events as a series of short heat races. If you have 48 contestants (a large-mouth funnel), two 6 lap races of 12 riders in the morning and two more in the afternoon. Races score reduced points, but they are real race experience for the riders, sponsors, and spectators. Sunday is a full points race for 18-24 riders.

This was my first thought. There will always be deaths in racing and the death of very young riders makes us ask many questions. I am working on this same idea, testing it. Watching Grand National Flat Track with its heats, semis, LCQ and main proves to me that the process is valid for finding the best on the day and the best over a season without ever turning 42 or 30 or even 24 riders loose at the same time.

My only thought too, 2nd heat. We did it when 600SS was a crowd. Worked great. Lots of backmarkers for the fast guys too though, not the safest thing either. But fun!

Living fully is good. I regret risks not taken. Working with the dying for 5 yrs at a big hospital confirmed it. We ARE all getting out of here the same way. Personally length of life is just one measure. Pliable envelope of life getting massaged is beautiful.

Just listened to this 4x, poignant here...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3OXzgV_eqMw

Except now you've created a sense of urgency by shortening races, which would lead to riders making high risk maneuvers increasing the odds of a bad outcomes. I think the way forward would be to slow races down and make consistent pace be the factor that wins races instead of bravery and commitment. The only way to truly eliminate motorcycle rider deaths in this day and age is to not race at all. At least not physically. I guess this is where e-sport/VR could be the way of the future.

This is all very sad and I hope for no more fatal accidents but the show must go on. Motorcycle racing is not a game like throwing or kicking a ball. The skill these riders show in the face of the danger is what makes this sport special. I wouldn't want to arbitrarily reduce grid size or force an age restriction if the requisite skill is there. Not sure anything can be done. There is a good argument for the safetye of the old two strokes. The power weight raio of the 125cc class has a high skill level that spaces the grid out but with less traveling mass of the bikes. I don't see them ever coming back but just a thought. 

 

 

... an author suggested as part of new racer training, stressing the importance of staying low to the ground after a crash, not trying to sit up immediately. The idea was to avoid riders being struck full on in the head or upper body, instead reducing impacts to glancing blows or motorcycles passing over the prone or supine riders. I've tried to find the article since then but it may never have been digitized, as this was back in the print days.

Condolences to all impacted by the Dean Berta Vinales' tragic incident. It is shocking every time.

Thank you, David, for putting it all perfectly into words. There are no answers but we must ask the questions on the off chance that we can lessen the danger to some  degree.

I think the young racers could wear "flak jackets" like NFL quarterbacks wear. Protects the ribs/torso area. Or their back protectors could extend to come all the way around to meet in front. That might mitigate the damage a racer suffers when run over by a motorcycle in some instances. Nothing will eliminate all risk but this would be simple and easy to implement.

I, like everyone, would like to wave a magic wand and make the consequences of motorcycle racing conform to some limitation acceptable to us. I do know for me when the ultimate penalty is in play I care so very much for these guys, even the ones I don't like at all, that I do not want them injured at all. I know very well what it costs to fall off at speed and all I can come up with to say is some of us get lucky.

Dean Berta Vinales died doing what he loved. He ascended to the heights of his profession by age 15, heights 99% of us never ascend to. I am certain he was where he wanted to be doing what he wanted to do. I regret I won't get to follow his career but that is a regret for myself. I don't believe young Mr. Vinales had any regrets but it is just so unutterably sad...the penalty does not fit the crime... :-((

I don't believe there is a solution. It's just risky, we know it, and we do (or did in my case) it anyway. I'm now 60 and try to be open and objective when considering these sorts of things, however back in the day, if you were telling me when I was 9 years of age that I couldn't race, I would have done it anyway. I know that because it's what I did. I was too young to race motocross locally, so Dad just changed my age so I could. My brain was in mx mode 27/7 and it's what I had a need to do. Over the years I broke bones, got hurt, and raced knowing full well that I will get hit or fall at some stage. It's just what happens. You wear all the right gear to minimise injury because you know you need. Your mates get hurt, they repair. You break, you repair. . . . until you don't or grow up LOL. IMHO the racers know exactly how risky it is and as long as reasonable safety measures are implemented that's about all that can be done.

My personal humble opinion is that all this could perhaps have been avoided.

My take is that he was hit by riders in the 2nd group, more than one second behind him. Not sure how it happened but Dean was left by the accident in the middle of the racing line, most likely the first ones in the group behind him saw him, others could not and so ended up hitting him.

What if we had an automatic yellow flag, software generated, if a rider airbag goes off and the yellow flag is communicated to riders in their dashboard and helmet?

It seems to me that it would allow to avoid being hit by the group behind. It would not work for nearby riders but in case of a gap it would work.

Also, it would be technically feasible, today.

Sure, a few false positives could happen from time to time but then human override would fix this in 30 seconds or so and anyway better to be on the safe side.

 

Two things in common with Dupasquier and Vinales compared to the deaths of Simoncelli and Tomizawa is that the latter two were struck by riders immediately behind them, while Dupasquier and Vinales (from some comments I've seen regarding his death) is that there was a gap, albeit small, to the rider/s behind that struck them. Beyond the riders who have passed away from being struck there's been plenty of incidents of riders coming very close to it (see the O'Halloran and Mackenzie crash in BSB recently).

I think one thing the sport should be looking at is a way to notify riders as soon as possible and in as obvious a way as possible after a crash that a rider or riders are on the track. A specific flag for marshalls, trackside lights, a notification to the dash sent wirelessly (not via the timing loops) specifically warning of a rider on the racing surface with a procedure to immediately roll off with serious penalties for riders who don't comply, much like yellow flag penalties in qualifying.

Not a perfect solution but when you see incidents like Dupasquier's where you had riders with no idea what was on the other side charging onwards over a crest you have to wonder if just waving yellow flags is enough anymore given the technology available at hand. Must be horrible for the marshalls knowing that there's nothing more than can do than wave a flag and hope.

You make an excellent point. The aviation industry developed TCAS to avoid mid air collisions when circumstances put two aircraft on an intersecting trajectory.

Let's challenge the clever clogs of the motorcycle race engineering world to develop something similar.

Sympathies for all those lost, and those left behind.

It is the same with every tragedy. Media loves to sensationalise it. Make it look worse that it is. The same way it makes me angry, as a racing enthusiast, how the media covers racing, is the same way it makes me angry how the media covers a variety of different issues. I'm not gonna mention them here because this isn't the venue for that. 

That is why it is important to not jump into a bandwagon unless you know what you are talking about. Most of the opinions you get from the media are skewed towards one side of the story and it is not born out of a genuine concern for the affected. 

American Flat Track has a huge Pro 450 singles class with a few young riders (16 is the min). They break the entries into heat races and only the top few from each heat gets to race in the 'Main Event'. This reduces the grid to a mangeable size. The heat races are short to conserve time. Maybe something like this needs to apply to road racing's small bike development classes? Since the sport is proving to be one of the most deadly there is, I think all riders should be legal adults. There should be zero national or international professional classes allowing children to race. Should children be allowed to race the Isle of Man? How is Moto3 or WorldSS300 any different in terms of deadliness? Regarding arbitrary rules, so be it if it reduces the risks of tragedy.

rholcomb, I do agree about the age limit. But.

I finally went to a flat track race for the first time in my life, the 2016 Santa Rosa Mile. A 17 year old and a 20 year old died in front of me as I watched in the stands. Flat track runs on county fair horse tracks with fences instead of runoff. Not a good example.

Yes that was a terrrible race and a terrible track. And yes flat track racing has its own history of deaths. Often the deaths are the result of a fallen rider getting run over or hitting a poorly protected fence. My point was that they have a system to reduce the size of the grids. 40 kids racing in 2 or 3 elbow-to-elbow groups strikes me as a bad thing. 

No one is talking about running Moto3 or SS300 on horse tracks, but simply exploring the idea of a heats and main system to reduce the number of riders on track at the same time...that since most observers agree that a swarming field of young, sometimes very young, riders is dangerous. I was just talking to a multi-times 500cc world champion who put it this way..."There probably isn't and won't ever be a perfect solution, but, for sure, 42 SS300 riders on virtually equal machinery is a formula for just what is happening." 

 

We're not talking about back-woods racing here. We're talking about the supposed pinnacle of the sport. Taking a shot at using qualifiying races to settle a final isn't a bad idea in terms of keeping the numbers at a reasonable level isn't out of the ballpark by any means.

Don't know if running heats and semis and even a LCQ would work....Would it make things more hectic or would it give riders a chance to duel with riders of similar ability in less of a huge swarm?  It kind of goes against the image of GP or WSBK racing, but if it helped to prevent the kind of accidents we have been seeing, it might be an idea...although we should recall that Jason Dupasquier died when he crashed in a Q2 session with only 18 bikes on track. And of course, Marco Simoncelli was killed in Sepang when he was part of a break-away lead group. I don't think we can ever eliminate the danger of a rider falling directly in front of another rider. Nobody wants to solve this problem more than Dorna and I am sure they are talking to riders and ex-riders and listening to everything being said. I think, given the circumstances, that they have to take some step or steps at the end of the season. I was on the Isle of Man the day 6 riders died. That was in '68, and I had ridden up from Spain because I wanted to see Santi Herrero on the Island. After that TT week the Spanish Federation prohibited Spanish riders from riding the TT or even the Manx. Herrero's close friend Angel Nieto, with whom I had the privilege of commenting with for four wonderful years, said that that ruling could have ended up costing him a championship, (it didn't) but it just might have saved his life. He always thanked the RFME (Spanish federation) for taking that, at rhe time, very contraversial decision. Now there is some quiet talk of national federations unilaterally raising the age limit for their riders in Moto2 and SS300. The bad thing is that I think many of us knew and were saying this to each other, but off air. The combination big grids of virtually equal bikes ridden by very young and very talented riders with sponsors and teams and sometimes parents pressuring them was very likely to end badly. We have seen three fatalities in the entry classes...Moto3, SS300 and European Talent Cup Moto3 plus some near misses...all in the last four months. And we will be "lucky" if we manage to end the season without another very serious incident.

 

  

The 60s were a "few" years before my time; I had never heard about the Spanish federation prohibiting participation at the IoM. Not an easy decision to make even back then. Now with all the money involved it would probably be impossible (money trumps all, it is no controversial thing to say).

Physics cannot be cheated, as David said. Unless every rider starts going out dressed like the Michelin man, or airbag coverage greatly increases in area and inflation volume, it's a very hard problem to solve. I know I don't need to tell Dennis Noyes any of these things; you've more experience in roadracing than I will ever get to see! And you surely see behind the scenes with how much work is going into this, as no one involved wants to see this happen. Thoughts on increasing minimum age? That's not a solution per se, but the optics are slightly better than "multiple children killed in top-level motorcycle racing this year."

Why not? Would be interesting to hear the opinions of others on this idea. 

to acknowledge the challenge faced and not rush into "offering" solutions. if only we would admit more often that we have no clue and use that as a starting point in our efforts to find a better way of doing things

I have been a silent reader on Davids marvelous site for +10 years. I seldom contribute but this post reminds me if a time I did back in 2010 after the deaths of Peter Lenz and Shoya Tomizawa. Sincerely I think things have gotten worse since then....

2010-10-09: like everybody else, I have been trying to deal with the 2 deaths of the past week that remind us that our beloved sport is still a dangerous one. I was shocked and sickened by the death of Peter Lenz. Shoya Tomizawa’s has just made the sadness even deeper.

The subject of this post however is about an issue that I think many have been too quick to pass over and definitely needs more reflection, and that is the age of both riders.

IMO the “He died while doing what he loved most” that always comes up to de-dramatize the events can barely be applied to Shoya and not at all to Peter.

We should understand that our sport is also a spectacle and a business, and over the past years we have seen how very talented riders get pushed up the ranks as quickly as they can go. Perhaps too quickly.

Obviously a talent and drive like Peter’s is a unique gift that deserves to be allowed to blossom. His parents already did all they could to harness the talent and direct him, but I also think the whole sport as a whole has a responsibility to care (note that I am not saying “protect”) for the youth. And lets face it, Peter was still a kid.

As a lot of others, I had discovered Peter in videos circulating the web. An incredible talent, a child who spoke like a racer. A miniature Edwards or Rainey or Doohan. I must say that knowing the injuries he had to endure from racing last year already had me thinking if he was too young to go through that. I could neve have imagined that he would lose his life on a track.

Being hit by another rider is the part of track racing that simply cannot be made any safer. The impacts Shoya received were brutal, but I cannot stop thinking that his small size and slight build probably contributed to him not being able to survive the injuries. We have all seen how Dani’s small size makes him more injury prone. In Peter’s case, how can the body of a 13 year old boy be expected to fare in a big crash.

Has anybody spotted the change in Marc Marquez from last year to this year? Surely his growth spurt and strength are a better protection to him now than anything Dainese can make…

Look at Nicky, Colin, Randy, Jorge. The guys are strong as bulls.

Maybe we really should wait until young riders grow-up before putting them on track.

Why are we not discussing the IoM deaths in the same context?

It does not escape anyone how dangerous racing on the Island is. Perhaps the improved safety of tracks and protective clothing is misleading, and we are ignoring that a track can still be too dangerous for the youngest racers.

I don't want to see people get hurt or die from racing motorcycles and it's a tragedy for these riders to die so young. I can't imagine how hard it's going to be for Maverick Vinales to suit up this weekend after the loss of his cousin.

After 40 years of racing I decided to stop this year. I've been hurt several times but overall I think I've had a fairly low number of crashes for the length of time I've been racing. My goal had been to continue racing until I was 80 years old but the thing that persuaded me to stop is not that I've broken multiple bones. It's the fact that I've had four concussuions (only one from a racing crash) and I don't want to develop any lasting effects from them. 

I can say that part of the attraction to racing for me is the fact that it's a mental challenge to think clearly in a high stress situation where I could easily get hurt, but I think for a racer to be successful they really have to put the relative danger out of their mind while they are on the bike.

But really, if racing weren't dangerous I don't think it would quite have the attraction for the riders or the fans. Not that anyone wants to see riders die, but I believe it's the lure of watching or doing something that isn't "safe". I tend to compare the risk racing to the risk of riding a roller coaster. For both, the participants get to go fast and experience the thrill of speed and turns but only one carries an appreciable risk of getting hurt. I personally get bored quickly riding a roller coaster more than once. But racing a motorcycle? I've put thousands of laps in at some tracks and it has never gotten boring. Racing would certainly not be the same if there were no risk. 

I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to make racing safer. But we should be careful about changing the nature of racing so much that it changes the essence of the competition itself. Ask any competitor or fan what their favorite racing moments are more often than not that it's the racing that was flirting with disaster that is the most memorable.

What would be the point of racing if it were completely safe? I don't see it. How safe is too safe? I don't know.

People have to assess the risk and decide for themselves whether the risk is worth the reward and be prepared to accept the consequences of that choice.

I will miss racing. I have loved being on the track and competing but I do have a bucket full of memories that I treasure. But I did make the choice that the risk is no longer worth it for me.

 

 

 

 

...are not going to stop these accidents happening but it will reduce the chance of it happening. They could halve the grid size and have a fatality the very next race but over many races it must result in less deaths from rider/bike collisions. I really don't think it will detract from the riders experience.

I agree and would like to expand on your last statement.

Anyone claiming heat races or whatever will detract from the competition and entertainment need to stop and remember we're not talking about changing the format for MotoGP.  We're talking about entry level and feeder series.  At the top levels there may be concessions made to keep more risk because at that level the racers themselves and we as fans want to know who is truly the best of the best, and because at that point a rider knows enough to choose for themselves.  But when dealing with children most sports I know of prioritize safety and participation far above competition and entertainment.  Plus, even talent scouts know that for young riders race classifications aren't often the best indicator of future success.  Young racers will not be hindered in their development by prioritizing safety over competition and entertainment.

I happen to work in the space industry and despite much work to make launching people into space safer, the amounts of stored energy and the release rates of that energy make it a risky business.  In recent time, we've had a good run with SpaceX, but each launch carries with it risk.  Ditto on Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic.  

At some point you just do the best you can with the money/technology you have, and the rest is what we call accepted risk. 

I'm often struck by the similarities of my day job and my weekend passion ...

 

This is a sport and people freely engage. The risks are part of the attraction. I often chose not to push harder because I had work the next day. The pressure of their talent and the sponsors at this level create higher risk acceptance - indeed they effectively demand it. Risk tolerance is also engendered by the organisers. As said above these are often immature people or, at least, with little worldly experience that enables them to say "You must be joking". If slow riding and aggressive moves were punished by something meaningful like a (multiple) race ban the risk tolerance would reduce and a safer environment ensue. Points for safe riding could compensate (it's all about small things) and create a culture where some things are just not done. Maybe a bit like heading footballs or low tackles. Also, these are high profile events and it is accepted that life has risks, and people die every day doing routine things. I do not advocate ignoring these tragedies, but keeping perspective and making safe riding an expectation, not something that is optional.

Youth becoming immersed in competitive sport at an increasingly younger age is a trend in recent times. It is important that the child is living their dream of who they want to be rather than adopting the dream of the person a parent wants them to be. I have no answers for how to make motorcycle racing safer for the younger generation. Life seems to have an element of randomness and uncertainty that cannot be accounted for. And the human fascination with the unknown, such as death or the fundamental nature of reality, continues unabated. One might think that these recent tragedies would drive the message home and give the young kids something to think about. But neither Edwards or Rossi quit the sport after they involuntarily collided with Rossi's pal Marco Simoncelli in 2011. How close to home was that one? Rossi did not let up at all and even fought for the championship in 2015. A lot is said about the undeveloped brains of the youth, the lack of experience and the disbelief that a tragedy might befall them. But isn't that the exact mindset a motorcycle racer has to adopt in order to compete at the highest level? Motorcycle racers must be getting something out of the activity that offsets the inherent risk to take part in it. Who can say what the correct way forward is? Racing motorcycles is engaging with powerful forces in an attempt to control chaos. Kinda like life with a capital L.  

I fear my opinion will not be liked but in reality there's no way of making motorcycle racing "safe" unless we switch to virtual racing, where if you get killed in the track you only need to restart the game. Motorcycles are inherently dangerous just to ride, now imagine racing. I've witnessed death on the track as well. As for the youths, a minor is a minor and is under the responsibility of his parents, one thing that could be implemented is ban minors from racing, just like they're banned from drinking and smoking. Or at least don't allow them on World Championships. Other than that, if you're an adult and you want to get into a track and race other folks then it was your decision and as an adult, and adults often make decisions that end their lives in many other ways, that will help to mitigate the bad press we get when a teenager loses his life on a sanctioned event.

I can't see a way to avoid loss of life on racing, every time I put my helmet and lined up in a grid surrounded by a horde of other hungry motorcycle racers, I knew it could be the last (maybe that's why I was so slow) but strangely, I got addicted to that feeling.

What I don't want to see is the dumbing down of our sport because of these tragedies. We need to accept that racing can be lethal and that's the nature of this, and prolly that's why we love it and respect our racers as some sort of super humans (which they are)

Density is the controllable variable.  Simple logic tells us that more riders on track increases the likelihood of competitor collisions.  In contrast, these types of fatalities are rare in the premier class due to the limited number of bikes on the track.  The cause and effect are pretty clear … in the junior ranks where large, aggressive packs of riders are the norm there is an increased likely hood that when a rider crashes one unfortunate rider behind will have "nowhere to go."  Autosport made this a central element in their coverage.  It is a puzzling omission here.

I think major organizers (e.g. FIM, Dorna, MotoAmerica) should put their heads together, appoint a committe to investigate the issue and produce a report backed by hard evidence.  I know there are already safety commissions and such but perhaps this needs to be re-organized or a special priority made for this issue of accidents in young and/or feeder series.  A report identifying the most common contributing factors to serious injury and death would go a long way to cutting through all the opinion and rhetoric this sport is thick with.  No matter how well respected the opinions or logical the explanations given, misinformation is rampant on these topics, mostly at the amateur/semi-pro level.  And because injury and death have been reduced compared to past decades, the rare incidence makes it even more likely that anyone looking at just their slice of the global sport is not likely to see all the issues, simply for lack of data.  Coordination is key.  FIM needs to step up and take responsibility to find a way forward.

That said, I agree with many others that things like heat races and gearing changes can be "quick fixes", with increased emphasis on continually improving protective gear.  Age, IMO, is probably not the most correlated factor to injury/death.  I'd also like to get behind the idea of automatic throttle cutoffs when a rider hits the pavement.

Up here in the sticks of northern New York State a 14 year old died playing High School football last week. This young man also raced Junior Sprints (small Dirt Track Racing cars), was good at it and was not averse to danger. A truth of life: Everybody Dies. Some go young, some go old but we all go. You can't fix dying. That's more or less what his family said. I'm sorry if that seems cold.

 

FIM need to implement dashboard warning lights for racing bikes in all classes, to indicate yellow/red flag situations at the specific sector were an incident has occured. Needs to be GPS controlled, so that the yellow light flashes at least 100 metres before the sector and off at the end of the sector.