Until 1894 when a French company designed the basics of what we now recognise as a car, with a passenger compartment, steering wheel and brakes, some cars looked like bicycles and others like mini-trains.
Motorbikes began with the invention of the internal combustion engine being attached to a bicycle. It took about 20 years for the ‘motorcycle’ to become a distinct entity.
Today we recognise a car as having four wheels while a motorbike has two even though their engines have the same underlying technology.
Functionally they appear the same too. It is not unusual to see a motorbike carrying more goods than what a small lorry would carry or having four people riding. There seems to be a perception among many that a motorbike is really just a small car.
The reality is that the maths and physics of the two are quite different and therefore the operation of either obeys different principles despite appearing to do the same job of ferrying people and goods.
A motorbike, physics-wise is like an aeroplane in being stable only when moving. When standing still, it requires the support of a stand or the rider.
An aeroplane is like a car when parked but requires being at a certain speed in the air to avoid stalling and crashing.
So both aeroplanes and motorbikes from a standstill require rapid acceleration to reach a decent speed at which they are stable and to decelerate rapidly when coming to a stop to avoid crashing. So both an aeroplane and a motorbike need very good brakes.
The rapid acceleration and deceleration requires skill and whereas the pilot has the assistant of air-traffic control to give weather conditions and so on the motorbike rider relies on his own sense of perception to map out the environment.
Yet, the requirement to pilot a plane is quite high, while to ride a motorbike is relatively low perhaps because the control systems of an aeroplane are quite complex relative to that of a motorbike.
Despite this, motorbikes kill and injure more people every year than aeroplanes meaning that the behaviour and skill levels of motorbike riders are poor. Blame our primary school maths and science teachers for this.
The simplicity of operating a motorbike means that the lack of safe motorbike riding practices is down mainly to the behaviour of the riders when on the road. They over-estimate their skill levels, fail to take into account the surrounding environment and assume that they can defy basic laws of physics and maths when riding. In developed countries half of all single motorbike injuries are associated with excessive intake of alcohol.
The reason many of us take alcohol is to impair our senses so that life does not look so miserable. Half the country lives below the poverty line so escaping this reality even for a few minutes is a desire expressed by many. Nevertheless riding a motorbike with your five senses less than optimum is irresponsible.
There are some common situations that motorbike riders face beyond failing to control the motorbike on their own. In our country motorbikes ride on the left, right, a metre in front and tailgating cars, the only place you do not find them is sitting in your back seat.
When the vehicle in front turns left, accidents occur because drivers of cars look out for other cars, perceiving a lack of a car and not the presence of a motorbike often sitting in the blind spot, when turning.
Part of the job of the motorbike rider must be to anticipate this and prepare to take evasive action. Behaving like a car at junctions helps, slowing down and tucking in behind the car, rather than thinking, “I can slip through”.
When accidents like these happen the rider and his passengers are often injured, either the legs or the head and neck because the rider attempts to jump off the bike and ‘run away’ in the process the bike slides into a horizontal position, the hot engine, and heavy metal trapping the legs underneath.
A motorbike does not steer and brake well unless it is in a horizontal position or is being tilted at the correct angle and speed to escape ‘stalling’. Head and neck injuries occur when the rider comes into contact with the car or the road.
Thinking that since Mercedes-Benz in 1959 released the first car with crumple zones will help reduce a head injury is false thinking in terms of choice of car to be hit with.
Studies show that wearing bright clothing, a helmet, having the headlamp on day and night, not drinking and riding and avoiding tail-gating significantly reduce motorbike accidents and therefore injuries. But first we need to take the up the issue of motorbike safety seriously.