As a result of the recent terrible accident in Imperial Valley, CA the ongoing debate
concerning motorcycle safety has intensified, especially in two wheeled circles. As the
wrong-side driver/killer roams the highways in his probably repainted Honda car, we ask
“could the loss of innocent life have been prevented”?
In an effort to reach a consensus on the matter I talked to three of the best motorcyclists
I have known since I began riding in 1955; Ron Jensen, Rod Morris, and Bill Soracco.
The four of us have logged a combined 1,5000,000 plus miles during approximately 190
total riding years on all sorts of surfaces. Two of us have off-road motorcycle racing
experience and one of us has been seriously injured in an unavoidable collision with a
teenage reckless driver in a car. Most importantly each of us has had to avoid one or
more collisions with cars on our side of two lane roads. We all agree that motorcycling
has become increasingly more dangerous with the advent of personal electronic devices
and the explosive growth in the number of vehicles and aggressive drivers on the road.
As a retired law enforcement officer who during my tenure had set up two motorcycle
patrol programs and worked traffic investigations, let me address the subject of
staggered close formation group motorcycling on two lane roads. My panel, and every
long time expert motorcyclist I know, thinks it’s a terrible idea.
The reasons are many but most importantly:
- The riders on the left side of the formation are too close to the road’s center line
and can easily be taken out by an oncoming car running wide in a curve.
- The rider on the left who is required to move to the right quickly to avoid an
oncoming vehicle may collide with a bike on his right.
- A single rider up front who collides with an oncoming vehicle or goes down due to
a blown tire or oil on the road, for example, may cause a chain reaction resulting
in injury and property loss to those riders following closely.
- Large close formation staggered groups are usually populated by heavy cruiser
bikes that do not turn or brake well thereby slowing down the accident avoidance
- On two lane roads especially in the mountains, large staggered groups usually
travel slower than the general flow of traffic.
The result is tantamount to a slow moving, nearly impassible road block.
The recent tragedy in Imperial Valley apparently happened when the impatient felon in
the Honda car attempted to make a long pass on a group of motorcycles thereby
involving an oncoming four wheeler who when forced onto the soft shoulder, lost control
veering back across his lane and into the motorcycle group killing four motorcyclists and
his own passenger. The guilty Honda driver didn’t stop and has not been found. The
circumstances and resultant carnage should prove once and for all that there is only
one way for motorcycles to travel in groups on two lane roads; SINGLE FILE.
To the man our panel agrees that none of us would be alive today had we not always
travelled single file when in groups and with plenty of space between each motorcycle.
As a public service, the webmaster at topgunmotorcycles.com Todd Vosper has agreed
to begin putting up information relating to motorcycle safety. As a retired U.S Marine
fighter pilot (AV-8B Harrier) and expert motorcyclist, Todd will lead our effort to inform
owners and potential buyers of two and three wheeled motorized vehicles. For
questions, comments or personal experiences, please contact info@topgunmotorcycles.
com. We will be glad to communicate and meet with groups or individuals in an effort to
prevent unnecessary motorcycle accidents.
Remember, the majority of motorcycle related injuries and deaths occur in the first
couple of years of ownership. Be safe, be prepared. Good luck.
Incredible Post Script of Sunday 12/05/10 at 4:46 PM
After enjoying a wonderful day of dirt and pavement riding in Northern Baja, Mike
Henshaw and I re-crossed the border at Tecate in a light rain and headed west on two
lane Hwy 94. At 4:42PM, Mike took a left on Otay Valley road and I continued on toward
Jamul. Just east of Jamul on a straight section of road, five eastbound cars rounded a
curve that I was approaching.
Incredibly, the fifth vehicle moved into my westbound lane and attempted to pass the
other four cars. It was dusk, my headlight was on and yet instead of braking and falling
back into line, the now felonious driver increased his velocity as he headed straight for
me at a combined two vehicle closing speed of approximately 110 mph. My choice was
to either die in a head-on crash possibly involving other motorists or to move my agile,
lightweight two-wheeler very quickly onto the narrow, bumpy, off-camber shoulder to my
right. Obviously I took the latter course of action, arriving upright as the felon sped past
me about 6 feet away in my lane continuing to increase his speed. Having survived a
very close call, I maneuvered back up into the road and continued my journey home.
It later occurred to me that had there been several expert riders on good equipment
behind me in single file, we all would probably have escaped. A large staggered, close
formation of heavy cruisers, on the other hand, might very well have suffered a fate
similar to those involved in the terrible Imperial Valley crash.
Incredible Post Script of Saturday 12/11/10 at 9:15AM
While motorcycling westbound on I-8 on the way to meeting Ron Jensen in Escondido I
came upon a large staggered formation of approximately 16 big cruiser bikes traveling
west just below San Diego State College at approximately 55 mph in a 65 mph zone. The
large group was in the right lane but as I began my pass I realized that another
motorcycle, also going 55 mph, was in my passing lane positioned next to the middle of
the formation thereby forcing me into a third lane. I quickly realized that he was an
escort when, after my pass and return to his lane, he sped up and tailgated me to the
end of the formation before falling back to his original middle position.
It appears that even on a freeway, large motorcycle groups are capable of causing
unnecessary danger and frustration for other motorists attempting to share the roadway.
The Imperial Valley tragedy may have been the worst incident of its kind, but it wasn’t
the first and obviously won’t be the last unless something changes. Single file group
motorcycling is and has always been the safest way to travel. It should be the law of the