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MotoGP Burnt Rubber: on safety and death in motorcycle racing

This week's Burnt Rubber is not your usual weekend roundup. Luis Salom's tragic death in Barcelona has reminded Liam of the risks the riders put themselves in the line of.

Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

People die every day riding motorcycles. Whether that is somebody trying to take a turn way too fast, them not being seen by a car driver, or some other circumstance, riding a bike at any level is a dangerous game.

It just happens to be highlighted more when the person who dies rides a bike for a living.

When Marco Simoncelli died far too young at the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix, I stopped watching motorcycle racing until the 2014 season. I'd heard about Moto2 rider Shoya Tomizawa dying at the San Marino grand prix the year prior, but I hadn't seen it. I saw the Simoncelli accident live. I woke up early to watch the race on a Sunday morning, and I witnessed a man die after crashing a bike. I couldn't get over it.

I haven't seen the crash that claimed Luis Salom's life, on Friday June 3rd, 2016, and I never will. I don't want to see it. It will be another harsh, stark reminder that the sport I love so much is so god-damn dangerous.

Yet the warnings are always there around us.

"Think!" signs around the UK road network tell us to watch out for bikers, often placed on corners where bikers haven't been seen and have lost their lives. Three years ago, I was one of the first on the scene at a big smash where a 4x4 hadn't seen a bike coming, and pulled out, killing the rider.

People die. Racers die. Since the start of the Isle of Man TT last year, Franck Petricola, Dennis Hoffer, David Taylor, Dwight Beare and Paul Shoesmith have died on the Manx circuit, Shoesmith and Beare both occuring this weekend - Shoesmith being the 250th rider to have lost their life there since 1911.

Two other road racers have died this year too: Billy Redmayne at Scarborough, and Malachi Mitchell-Thomas at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland. 19 of 28 competitor fatalities in the Dakar rally have been motorcyclists. Bernat Martinez and Dani Rivas died at Laguna Seca in a MotoAmerica race last year.

There is no escaping that riding a motorbike is dangerous, and occasionally deadly.

You're in the hands of two wheels and a lot of faith when riding a bike. If something goes wrong with a car, at least you'll (usually) stay on the ground. Something goes wrong with a bike, that's not always the case.

It is a question of eliminating risk, where possible. After Simoncelli's death, helmets had to be tightly secured to the rider's head. Professional riders have air bags in their leathers now, to protect the neck and back. Safety fences on circuits often have air bags on them to dampen any collision. Chicanes have been added to many road circuits to reduce speeds. But there's so many things that can affect a bike that you can't completely safeproof riding one.

Rain, wind, hail, sun, light, snow, tyres, tarmac, chains, gears...if one of these things catch a rider out, it can be fatal. Sure, if the brakes give up on a road car, it can lead to a big smash, but it's still likely you'll walk away. If the brakes give out on a bike, there's nothing stopping you from hitting something big and hard, very fast.

These odds have led some people in prominent media to suggest road racing should be outlawed.

Every time there's a crash, another voice chirps up and says it's barbaric. To be honest, it can be hard to argue with it. Riding is dangerous and can kill.


The riders know the risks. They know what they are getting themselves in for. They choose to live like this, put their lives on the line, and for the most part, they love it. They enjoy riding motorbikes, and if they're racing, they're usually pretty good at it. They know how to handle the variables. When something goes wrong, everything has been done to prevent it.

You'll also find that many of the people who think bike racing is dangerous and should be stopped are the same people who think F1 shouldn't put halos on the cars because they look ugly.

Yes, motorcycle racing is dangerous, but so is crossing the road. These people know what they are letting themselves in for. They know the risks, and they choose to do it. Nobody is forcing them onto the bike. If someone told you not to cross the road because there's a chance you'll get hit by a bus, what do you do: cross safely or never leave that block?

There'll be inquests and investigations into what went wrong with Luis Salom on Friday, or why the riders at the TT crashed. While those get forensic and impersonal, remember the people who lost their lives doing what they love.

I leave you with this video. The first three minutes are a tribute to Salom, while the remainder covers the races. They seem pretty secondary right now.