blank 11/27/13 11:40AM , Choppers, Motorcycle Safety

Chopper Safety... More Accident Prone?

Safe Motorcycle Operation

Chopper style motorcycles have long been popular with a very small underground sect of outlaws, hardcore bikers who owned nothing but two wheels and a bad attitude and a few people who wanted to imitate them.

With the success of shows like American Chopper, Biker Build-Off and the recent success of Count’s Kustoms, the chopper has been propelled into modern mainstream folklore and prompted thousands of people to get their own unique chopper.

This influx of new riders on these exotic, and sometimes cumbersome looking, motorcycles begs a question on safety, which we will look at, to be asked:

Are choppers more prone to accidents?

The very first consideration that should be given when it comes to motorcycle safety in general is that it is much more dangerous to ride any motorcycle versus driving a car. The IIHS has an endless stream of statistics that clearly show that it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle:

l  On a per mile basis, there are 30 times more deaths on motorcycles than in cars

l  Deaths per year are increasing, the numbers have doubled from 1997 to 2011, while passenger cars are experiencing record lows

l  In 2008, motorcycles accounted for 14% of all highway crash deaths, the highest ever percentage for this small demographic since statistics were kept on this

The Hurt Report, a somewhat dated survey from 1981, has even more data to consider. The three statistics above alone clearly show that motorcycles in general are much more dangerous than cars, but what about choppers?

The factors that make a chopper more dangerous

The very notion of the chopper itself is conducive to further danger. The entire point of a chopper is to ‘chop’ off as much extraneous weight and add-ons as possible. Depending on the motorcycle in question, as many are very unique, this can include minimizing safety features to the bare minimum. Eliminating the front brake is a common chopper feature.

To look further at design factors, motorcycles commonly do not have traction control, anti-lock brakes (although this is changing) and only the Honda Gold Wing (a very un-chopper bike) has an airbag as an option. A true chopper style motorcycle would never have any of these non-required safety features, regardless of their inclusion in a factory setting.

A problem with most motorcycles that is exaggerated on choppers is a phenomenon known as ‘Speed Wobble.’ This happens when a motorcycle is traveling at higher speeds and the front wheel begins to wobble or shake. A chopper, with it’s extended front forks, can make this problem even worse. High quality design can lessen this problem.

The mentality of many who ride choppers is also a determining factor. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, speaking specifically on The Hell’s Angels that many chopper owners model themselves after:

"They shun even the minimum safety measures that most cyclists take for granted. You will never see a Hell's Angel wearing a crash helmet. Nor do they wear Brando-Dylan-style 'silver-studded phantom' leather jackets," and "anything safe, they want no part of."

A final thought on chopper safety

The very idea of a chopper leads to it being less safe. Stripping off safety parts is all too common for home built choppers, with even more factory built models including the minimum amount of safety features. Combining this with a ‘devil may care’ attitude leads to choppers being more dangerous on average.

It can, of course, come down to the individual rider and the choices they make while riding. Conservative riding and using of all the safety features that are on it can greatly reduce the increased risk of riding a chopper.


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