Sports bikes popular, but deadly, for young riders

By: Lauren Forcella
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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 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 county 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. 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 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 Web site or writing to our mailing address: Straight Talk for Teens, P.O. Box 963, Fair Oaks, CA, 95628 or