Straight Talk Advice

Sport bikes popular, but deadly, for young riders

May 21, 2008

DEAR READERS: As some of you know, I lost my beautiful son, Jarrad, in a motorcycle accident last August. We all lost him. May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. It also marks the beginning of the motorcycle sales season. Popularity of high-performance “sport bikes” has skyrocketed, especially among 18- to 29-year-olds, and rider deaths are at record highs.


My brother, Tom, is dedicated to changing the way motorcycle permits are issued. Below is a speech he gave to the Redding, California chapter of MADD last week.



LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: My 18-year-old nephew had a fatal motorcycle accident last summer. You may be thinking this accident was due to alcohol. It was not. It was, I believe, due to two things: 1) he was on a sport bike; 2) current licensing rules award motorcycle permits with only a written test.


Who in the audience has noticed sport bikes on the roads? I don’t think this type of motorcycle belongs in traffic, but this is America, sport bikes are legal, and it’s my guess they are here to stay.


The current US motorcycle permit process is deadly. Jarrad’s accident is a textbook example of why our country needs to adopt the “graduated licensing system” proven in other parts of the world to reduce accidents and save lives.


Jarrad Cole was a star basketball player at his high school and was starting college at California Maritime Academy in just two weeks. Jarrad had no motorcycle riding experience. He went to the DMV, took a written test, and was given a motorcycle permit. He then purchased a used 2003 Suzuki GSXR 750. This is an extreme sports bike. It weighs 366 pounds, producing 141 horsepower. In comparison, the 2006 Harley Davidson UCEG weighs 788 pounds and produces 65 horsepower.


Jarrad had the sport bike for 30 minutes; he was practicing in front of his father’s home and was simply shifting from first to second gear. When the clutch released, the bike reared up throwing him into a retaining wall.


Jarrad never regained consciousness. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital where he died minutes later of internal injuries. Jarrad was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident.


The performance of the current generation of sport bikes is completely insane for street use. I remember when I got my learner’s permit at age 15, my Kawasaki 125 made 24 horsepower and weighed 250 pounds. I thought it was pretty fast and I rode it hard. Had it been a 141 horsepower GXSR 750, I’d be long gone. Experienced riders find this bike pretty frightening in performance, and that’s with years of experience.


These bikes are not designed for learning. But because the law allows it, many new riders assume they can handle sport bikes and Jarrad found himself totally unprepared on a machine that accelerates faster than an Enzo Ferrari.


I hope Jarrad’s accident can save lives. Many people want a graduated licensing system, as used in England, making it illegal for new riders to ride powerful sport bikes until first proving themselves, in steps, on lower horsepower bikes.


I appealed to the Yamaha and Kawasaki dealerships in Redding and to Wayne Curtain at Harley Davidson headquarters about supporting a law change. Everyone is very sorry, but no one wishes to get involved. So, here I am talking to you. I hope you can help.



Tom Forcella, Redding CA



Dear Readers: The next step for my brother is MADD national headquarters. As we all know, when MADD gets mad, things happen. If you are a parent like me, who never wants (or wanted) to see my kid on a motorcycle, I hope you will take the time to support the “graduated licensing system” by posting a comment on our website or writing to our mailing address.

  1. By Anonymous on 05/22/2008

    Hello, I came across this page when googling some information on motorcycles.
    I just read through your article. I am saddened by your loss and my heart and prayers go out to all of you involved. It is such sad thing to hear about.
    At the same time I would like to clear some things up regarding this letter.
    To begin, I completely agree with a tiered licensing system for motorcycles.
    We must realize that we do live in the United States, and it is a freedom that we have which also involves a lot more responsibility, and even more from us, the experienced motorcyclists.
    In regards to the GSXR 750; 141hp is very deceptive number for the power generated. I found an article stating this amount (the first response to the google search (2003 gsxr 750 horsepower) but I know it’s innacurate.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9TBnZBAVzc

    Here is a video of a 2003 GSXR 750 putting out ‘only’ 118hp on a dyno. While this is still a lot, I think it is especially important in situations like these not to exaggerate or over inflate figures, as 141hp is actually much more appropriate number from 1000cc motorcycle.
    Furthermore, I think it’s important to realize that any sane motorcyclist would agree that a 750cc sportbike is a poor choice for a 1st motorcycle. Did you recommend against this and he got it anyway? A serious question as I refuse to let any friends of mine starting out to get anything with more than 600cc (although I always recommend something smaller).
    I am writing this response because I ride a sport bike and I get a lot of criticism for it, from all types of riders. I get a bad rep and a bad name for the lifestyle choice I have made.
    I have been riding for nearly 30 years (I started when i was 14) and I want to make it clear that most of the motorcycling community has experienced a loss such as yours, and we continually do what we can to help others out and pass our knowledge.

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  2. By Janet S-E on 05/24/2008

    Hearing about Jarrad’s accident makes me sad all over again but hearing about the possibility of enacting some change seems like a positive step toward an event one feels so helpless over.

    It sounds like your brother is attempting to get a graduated licesing law enacted in the U.S. and is beginning by taking it to MADD after having little luck gaining the support of motorcycle dealerships.

    I am up for stuffing envelopes or writing representatives. I am sure there are others who would like to be constructive in Jarrad’s memory.  Keep us posted on how a grass roots effort might help.

    Janet

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  3. By Tom Forcella on 05/25/2008

    Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for your prayers and support on our loss. It is involved riders like you that can make the tiered licence a possibility.

    I also want to thank you for your input on my HP numbers. I am am not trying to be deceptive. I am using the horsepower numbers provided to me from Suzuki Dealerships. Also Bikez.com rates it at 141 HP.

    http://www.bikez.com/motorcycles/suzuki_gsx-r_750_2003.php

    There is really no way to determine HP just by cc’s. CC stands for Cubic Centimeters, which is the unit used to measure engine size by measuring the volume of the bore from the top of the piston at the top and bottom of its’ stroke. Generally, hp increases with CCs, but not always, especially in cross applications. Carburetion, stroke, valve lift and duration, intake, timing, and other things affect the HP. That is why two different engines with the same CCs might have a large difference in HP.

    I think the Dealers are quoting crankshaft HP and you are quoting me rear wheel HP on a dyno.

    Beacause horsepower ratings are so hard to determine, I will take your advice and use HP figures that are lower, from the dyno, as you suggested.
    Thank you for your help, yours and everyones advice is welcomed.
    I am schedueld to talk with Senator Tom Torlakson, this week, and to our local County Safety Prevention Council, the following week.
    Tom

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  4. By Tom Forcella on 05/27/2008

    Dear Janet S-E,
    Great- this is just what I needed today!

    I will keep you updated on my progress.
    Thanks-

    Tom

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  5. By michael on 05/30/2008

    I feel for your lost. But maybe you should put the blame elswhere, instead. The motorcycle didn’t kill your son. He did it himself. How come as a parnet you didn’t have him at least take a motorcycle course. Having a bike like that for 30 minutes, and trying to do wheelies was irresponisble of him. Please get your facts right.
    Mike Miller

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  6. By Glenn on 06/02/2008

    I am sorry about the lost, but then I don’t think trying to put the blame on a bike is right. He had no experience, and yet decided on a bike that was way over his head, never took a motorcycle training course, and basically had no common sense as far as his abilities. Let’s put the blame where it really belongs, on himself for thinking he could ride something beyond his skills, for the parent that let him do that, and for not taking a training course. We need to be accountable for our actions and accept the consequencies for our own actions. If you want to do anything please don’t place the blame on an ianimate object. Pass a law that says as a permit learner you can only ride a 250cc and smaller bike, that you need x numbers of hours practicing, that you need to take a sanction course, but banning superbikes is not going to save anyone you can also get killed riding a 6HP moped.

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  7. By Tom Forcella on 06/03/2008

    Dear Michael,
    You make a valid point. “as a parent why did you not have him take a motorcycle training course?” Most parents would- However, because trainig is not required by law, some parents and new riders, think is optional.

    Are you a hunter? Did you go through hunter safety course? To compare the motorcycle permitting process, and hunter safety, would be like saying- okay here is a shotgun, go practice shooting for awhile. Come back later and we will have you do the training. Some things I learned in training; always treat a gun as though it is loaded. Keep your finger off the trigger untill you pull up on a target. These things I learned in training, made me a safer hunter.  Training first, permit second.
    Tom

    Tom

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  8. By Tom Forcella on 06/03/2008

    Dear Glenn
    Don’t worry, despite my nephew’s accident, I could not get a ban on Sport Bikes, even if I tried. This is a free country, and Sport Bikes are legal.
    The law you talked about, limiting motorcycle size, a “Graduated Drivers License,” is a big can of worms. It is too restrictive, complex, and hard to enforce.  It is just to much. I can not get agencies behind me on it. Because of this, I am dropping the GDL
    My only focus now is to make motorcycle training required, before motorcycle permits are issued. Many agencies are in favor of training before permits, and they are helping me get the law changed.
    Training will save lives.
    Tom

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  9. By Warren Woodward on 06/03/2008

    “Jarrad’s accident is a textbook example of why our county needs to adopt the “graduated licensing system” proven in other parts of the world to reduce accidents and save lives.”
    No, this misguided campaign is a “textbook example” of some loser working out his grief through the rest of us – trying to gain some semblance of control in his pathetic life by controlling the rest of us.
    Graduated licensing systems “reduce accidents and save lives” the same way helmet laws do – by reducing the number of riders on the road.
    It’s no surprise the dealers and Wayne at H-D wanted nothing to do with this campaign. Europe went to a graduated system and sales were hurt. The graduated system also has the effect of turning people away from motorcycles permanently. Who has the patience to wait years before they can buy the machine of their chosing? Additionally, in Europe, each license along the way costs a lot of money, turning it into another revenue stream. 
    Another consideration: limit riders to a certain cc bike and watch them as they get around it by hotting up their machines. Here in Hawaii, kids can get their 30 mph mopeds to do 80!
    http://www.thereporter.com/features/ci_9446003

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  10. By Steve Walker on 06/04/2008

    Kudos to Tom Forcella for being an advocate of mandatory rider training. It is absolutely the best approach for protecting the lives of motorcyclists, and for protecting the integrity of the sport of motorcycling.
    I advocate for the same thing in Oregon. I’m glad I discovered there are others of a like mind. I know Tom has the support of some of the critical players in the discussion in California, as I do in Oregon. Hopefully, these two coalitions can bring meaningful change to this important public safety issue.
    I urge the California riding community to get behind this worthy effort. After all, it is far better that changes come from within, than have restrictive laws be mandated from without.
    Thanks Tom!
    Steve Walker

    Eugene, OR

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  11. By Tom Forcella on 06/04/2008

    Warren,
    You make a good point, I had not considered people “hotting up” their machines, this also a safety issue. I was origianlly for the European “Graduated Drivers License,”  But now I am convinced, I do not think it will work in America.
    Many people like yourself have explained to me that it is too restrictive, complex, and hard to enforce.
    My only focus now is to make motorcycle training required, before motorcycle permits are issued.

    Many agencies are in favor of training before permits, and they are helping me get the law changed.
    Thanks, I am always learning.
    Tom

    Reply to this comment

  12. By Tom Forcella on 06/04/2008

    Steve,
    Steve and I, both urge the California riding community to get behind this effort!
    Tom

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  13. By Kyle Miller on 06/05/2008

    WOW I am behind this effort 100%. If Only I could take these unknowing parents for a ride prior to them approving of the purchase. We think of 141 hp in terms of cars not motorcycles that weigh less than 400 lbs. Unknowing people have NO IDEA how VIOLENT these bikes are. I am 44 years old have been riding since my parents co-signed the loan on my Suzuki gs550t at the age of 15 1/2 . I still ride quite regularly. In the late 70s bikes DID NOT begin to perform remotely close to the standards of todays bikes. Children can not comprehend the effects created by a hard twist on the throttle pipe. At 70 plus mph my Ducati ST4 (916cc) Sport Touring bike when riding with my wife on the back would lift the front tire so fast and violently that had I not had 25 years of riding experience I may not be here to write today. I am quite sure that at 15 1/2 years of age that I would not have wanted someone telling me that I had to ride a 50cc,75cc or a 100cc motorcycle, But as a parent of 3 with a wonderful wife of 21 years I do not see the world through the eyes of a child any longer. I think if we are going to allow the manufactures to bring full on race bikes to the streets of the USA that we need to educate the public and the politicians / legislators. A cc (displacement) limit based on time logged as well as Miles rode works in other countries and would work here. There is NOTHING wrong with training and restraint in an effort to save lives and provide the experience for a lifetime of riding enjoyment

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  14. By Tom Forcella on 06/05/2008

    Dear Kyle,
    YOU ARE EXACTLY ON POINT!

    If manufactures are allowed to bring full on race bikes to the streets of the USA, we need to educate the public and legislators and politians.
    Your response, like many others coming from expirenced riders, is more reinforcement of how the current laws must be changed.
    I meet today at noon with ABATE. (American Brotherhood Aimed Towards Education). I will keep you posted.
    TRAINING FIRST, PERMITS SECOND
    Tom

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  15. By Tom Forcella on 06/05/2008

    To Everyone,
    I met with the local ABATE chapter 61 in Redding today, and explained the need for training before permits.
    This idea has been around for some tome. ABATE is familiar with this it. I am pretty sure they wish to support me.
    With MADD’s and ABATE’s help, this could become a possibility.
    Tom
    Training First, Permits Second

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  16. By Erica on 06/10/2008

    I am terribly sorry for the loss that this family has suffered and I hate to attach a but to that statement (in light of some of the harsh comments already posted).  But how responsible was it for an 18 year old to be on a GSXR 750 with NO experience?
    In order to obtain a motorcycle “license”, riders under 21 have to show proof of passing a “motorcycle rider training course”.  It’s right here on the CA DMV website: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/checklists/mc.htm  And here are the websites for those classes: http://www.msf-usa.org/  and http://www.ca-msp.org/RiderCourse_Locations/ridercourses_locations.htm  I agree that this should be extended to the “permitting” process.  I am a sport bike rider and also a SCUBA Divemaster and I wouldn’t think of giving someone all the SCUBA equipment, no matter how much they wanted it, and send them out in the middle of Monterey Bay with the advice to “just try it out”, then come back and we’ll give you the training.  Why should the responsibility be any less for a motorcycle, no matter what the cc’s are.
    Even riders over 21 are smart to take rider training classes.  The bikes they teach on are small and easy to handle, and they get one used to being on a bike, while learning the maneuvers used on bikes of any size.  The classes are extremely comprehensive, splitting time between classroom and on-bike exercises.  After passing the class, all you have to do is take the written DMV exam; no need to take the riding portion at DMV because you’ve taken it at the class. 
    For new riders, an even safer way to get used to the feeling of being on a bike is to start on a dirt bike.  Starting in a designated Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) area is the safest way to get the feeling for clutch/throttle actuation, and the overall feel of being on a bike.  It’s a shame that this boy was allowed to get on a bike, any bike, without proper training.  Parents have to make sure to counsel their kids on the danger of getting on a very powerful machine with no training.  And sometimes, if necessary, just saying NO.
    Young, testosterone-filled males, or females on, or in any motorized vehicle can be a hazard.  Even as an avid sport bike rider and someone in the motorcycle industry, I cringe when I see some person flying down a busy street on their back wheel.  So much can go wrong and then it’s over!  Unfortunately, some don’t have a sense of their own mortality and the consequences of their own actions.  But, like anything else in life, riding a motorcycle requires being in control and riding to your ability.  It may be that Jared was only shifting from first to second, and not in any way trying to be reckless.  Regrettably, that is exactly what it was.
    I don’t believe the answer is more government-imposed regulations in the form of a “graduated licensing system”, but personal responsibility and common sense.  And the motorcycle manufacturers don’t make enough models to support a GLS.  I not only ride on the street but do multiple track days ever year.  I’ve seen experienced riders on a Ninja 250 have faster lap times than someone on a 1000; all because the rider on the 250 knows how to carry their corner speed.  It’s all about throttle control – any bike can be dangerous until that is learned.
    Again, I pass on my sympathy to the Forcella family.  The pain and guilt must be overwhelming and I understand their need to be proactive in bring about change.  Great good can come from such a tragedy; look at what Candy Lightner did in starting MADD.  However, I feel that their efforts would be better spent in educating kids and young adults about responsible riding, using the “Straight Talk For Teens” website as a great resource, and concentrating on changing the permitting process instead of trying in vain to institute a graduated licensing system.  I wish them much luck and peace.

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  17. By Tom Forcella on 06/10/2008

    Dear Erica,
    Unresponsible or Ignorant?
    Your post about Jarrad and his father being “unresponsible”, is very important me- please let me address it.
    Yes, Jarrad started on a Sport Bike, without riding experience. But he knew nothing.(ignorance)
    Yes, his father allowed it. But, his father grew up riding BMW’s. He had never ridden a Sport Bike. His father, did not realize the raw power of a 750 GSX-R750. The BMW and GSX-R750 are both big bikes, but perform very differently.(again ignorance)
    So what do you think?

    Was it Unresponsible behavior or Ignoranance?
    I think it was ignorance, that Jarrad and his father were ignorant.

    Ignorant of the raw power of this motorcycle(let’s call it what it is) street legal, full on racing motorcycle.
    Training is the answer to this ingnorance. 
    I appreciate your support for training before the permitting process.
    I have written before, your comments , as well as many others have helped me decide to not pursue a GDL limitation.

    I am ONLY working with MRO’s, to require training before permits.
    I appreciate you for posting, and for your kind words.
    Thanks
    Tom
    Training first, permit second

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  18. By Janet S-E on 06/19/2008

    Tom,

    I am just now getting back to the website.  I see your focused has changed.  I am still up for stuffing envelopes, writing letters or helping where I can.

    Keep me posted.
    P.S. Regards to handling a tough and personal issue with many varied responses and ideas.

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  19. By Tom Forcella on 06/20/2008

    Hi Janet SE,
    This article has been circulated to most MRO’s (motorcycle riders Organizations) in the US.
    I am now working directly with MRO’s.
    This column is where it all started, but the MRO’s columns are where the bikers post.
    Best Wishes!
    Tom
    Training first, permit second

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  20. By Al S on 07/12/2008

    I apologize for joining in late.
    About the HP number difference, I think both sounds about right.  One (the higher number) is at the crank, inside the engine, while the smaller number is down at the rear wheel.
    I’m never the fan of blaming the tool.  To me, it’s just refusing to admit responsibility.  At the same time, it’s sad to know that people are dying (or getting hurt) because they don’t have enough information about what they’re getting into.
    The problem is not the bike, but it’s the education and awareness (lack thereof).  People need to stop considering a motorcycle as a toy and that riding is a sport, for fun.  It is not just a heavier and motorized bicycle.
    I do agree with the tiered/graduated license system… on both cars and motorcycles… which also should include a more comprehensive and thorough test to get licenses for both.

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