Usually, the only time you read about motorcycles in the mainstream media is when someone dies. Such was the case during this year’s Mugello Grand Prix. Jason Dupasquier, a young Swiss man — barely 19 years old, in fact — died during Moto3 qualifying. Though it almost never covers motorcycle racing, CNN thought the passing of Dupasquier newsworthy enough to put it right at the top of its homepage. TMZ, which normally doesn’t cover anything bike-related unless it involves Keanu Reeves, gave his passing a grim headline. Were it not for the solemnity of the situation, one would want to scream “for shame!” A young man devotes himself entirely totally to sport, yet his dedication — indeed, his whole sport — only becomes newsworthy in his dying, mere sensation fuelling message editors really want to reinforce: that motorcycles are dangerous.
And indeed, they are. Having now ridden powered two-wheelers for some 50 years, I have a collarbone that will never quite be the same which attests to the fact that one is much safer bowling or taking a bath than on a bike. And no one who has ridden a motorcycle need be reminded of the statistics — you’re about 35 times more likely to die on a motorcycle than driving a car — to realize that motorcyclists are more vulnerable than drivers.
Indeed, I don’t think that there’s anyone on this planet — certainly not my dearly departed mother, who worried constantly about my choice of transportation — who doesn’t understand the relative dangers of riding a motorcycle. What I am trying to say is that, while those “motorcyclist dies” stories may be tragic, they are hardly news.
But that’s not what sticks in my craw. No, what really frosts me is that, in not reporting the details of the fatalities, the mainstream media seems to want to perpetuate the myth that simply falling off a motorcycle automatically results in a fatality or at least gruesome enough injuries to warrant making the six o’clock news.
Nothing, at least in MotoGP racing, could be further from the truth. Yes, in fact, young Mr. Dupasquier did fall from his motorcycle. But so did numerous other riders: In 2020, there was about 42 crashes per race weekend across the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes. In fact, there were 722 crashes in MotoGP last year, the vast majority of which resulted in nothing worse than mild muscle ache and severe ego bruising.
No, what killed poor Mr. Dupasquier is that, while tumbling on the track, he was struck by another motorcycle, a KTM driven by Ayumu Sasaki, who was unable to avoid the rider in front. Motorcycles — especially Moto3 racers, which weigh a mere 84 kilograms — may not have the deadly momentum of a two-ton automobile, but getting struck by one moving at 100 kilometres an hour or more, with no more protection than a leather suit, is obviously a recipe for disaster.
In fact, of the five racers — again, across all three MotoGP classes — who have died in the last two decades, three have perished as a result of being hit from behind by another bike. Besides Mr. Dupasquier, in 2011, Marco Simonicelli was famously struck by Colin Edwards and close friend Valentino Rossi at Misano — since renamed Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli — after he crashed at Turn 11. And, in 2010, Japan’s Shoya Tomizawa fell at Misano’s famed Curvone and was struck by the motorcycles of Scott Redding and Alex de Angelis.
Even Luis Salom, MotoGP’s most recent fatality before Mr. Dupasquier, (sort of) falls into this category. Officially, his 2016 death is classified as a result of the limited run-off at Barcelona’s famed corner 13. But, in fact, he was struck by his own motorcycle tumbling behind him. Only Daijiro Kato, who died as the result of hitting the wall at Suzuka’s Casio Triangle chicane in 2003, succumbed to injuries that didn’t involve being hit by a motorcycle.
The truth is that simply falling off a racing motorcycle has become amazingly safe — but still amazingly scary! It’s still gut-wrenching to watch Michelle Pirro’s 350 km/h practice crash at Mugello in 2018. But, after being flipped over his Ducati’s bars in what might be best described as a 200-plus mph endo, his participation in the race was only prevented by the concussion he suffered from his high-altitude tumble.
And multiple world champion — and MotoGP’s most prolific crasher of the last decade — Marc Marquez did, in fact, race after crashing at more than 330 km/h. Incredibly — because his RCV211 was heading for a guardrail also at Mugello — he didn’t so much crash as jump off his Honda. Two days later, he set the fastest lap in the Mugello GP and was comfortably in second place before he crashed again. Indeed, Mr. Marquez’s season-ending injury last year was not the result of crashing his RCV211 in Turn 3 at Jerez, but that he, like Mr. Salom, was hit from behind by his own bike.
The fact is, thanks to modern equipment — like high-tech helmets and airbag-equipped suits — motorcycle racing is phenomenally safer than it once was. The fact that no one has died in the last 20 years without hitting, or being hit by, something is truly incredible. If the tragic passing of Mr. Dupasquier is to have any silver lining at all, it would be if more motorcyclists — and not just racers — realize that “all the gear, all the time” is more than just a catchy sales line. Perhaps if more of the mainstream media carried that message, all motorcyclists would be safer.