Dan Strickler describes the difference between riding a motorcycle and riding in a car as “the difference between watching the Travel Channel and going on vacation.”
But with the increased excitement comes increased risk, something of which he and his wife, Peggy, are fully aware. The two teach a weekend-long safety class at McHenry County College as part of the Northern Illinois University Motorcycle Safety Project.
“We spend a lot of time on different safety equipment and different things that [motorcyclists] can do in order to help minimize their risk,” Peggy said.
As the temperatures warm, more bikes are taking to the pavement, and drivers and motorcyclists alike need to remember that they share the road, said Bob Ritter, project director for the NIU program.
“The biggest thing is to treat people with the same respect that you expect to be treated with,” he said.
In 2007, five motorcyclists were killed in McHenry County as a result of crashes, and statewide, 71 percent of the 154 fatal motorcycle crashes happened between the months of May and September, according to the latest statistics available from the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Paul DeRaedt, Crystal Lake Fire Department deputy chief, said he knew first-hand how easily a motorcycle accident can turn deadly.
“The first thing I’m thinking [when I get a call] is the worst is going to happen,” he said. “That I’m going to find someone there who’s been severely injured enough that they have to be airlifted ... it has to be proven otherwise in my mind.”
The most important thing a rider can do is wear the right safety gear, such as a helmet and leather clothing, he said. Illinois Department of Transportation data states that more than 80 percent of motorcyclists killed in the state were not wearing a helmet.
“A lot of the injuries that we see out there are head injuries,” DeRaedt said. “The head itself is vulnerable because the brain is contained within the skull so pressure builds around it.”
It’s also important to wear long sleeves and long pants to prevent road burn in the event of a crash, he said.
“I’ve seen young people ... ride around with their shorts on and no shirt and their potential for injury is much greater,” said DeRaedt.
However, one of the most fatal flaws on the road has nothing to do with safety gear. Most accidents happen when a vehicle driver turns left in front of an oncoming motorcycle, Ritter said.
One way to avoid that is for motorcyclists to be aggressively defensive on the road.
“If [I] see a car approaching an intersection, I’m going to drive defensively and assume they may pull out in front of me,” said Peggy Strickler. “I’m going to mentally prepare, or change ... position so [I’m] more noticeable.”
Her husband agreed.
“If I see a position in which I will be out of a blind spot ...I’m going to do everything I can to put myself in that position,” he said.
Jeanne Silvis, 56, of Algonquin recently took the safety class at MCC and said all of the responsibility should not fall on motorcyclists.
“Just as [a vehicle driver] would prepare for a semi [truck] or a kid on a bike, they’ve got to have that frame of mind for a motorcycle,” Silvis said. “I don’t think very many car drivers realize ... what a motorcycle is capable of and not capable of.”
“They are smaller. They are more difficult to see,” he said. “But the bottom line is providing ... courtesy.”