The Strange Conspiracy to Control Motorcycle Horsepower

A recognized motorcycle expert told me about an international conspiracy involving motorcycle manufacturers with a plan to take over the motorcycle industry by selling young riders dangerously uncontrollable motorcycles. Even in the hands of experts, these motorcycles are so wicked fast that they cause deadly crashes. No one has the skill to control them, because they are so fast and powerful. In short, they’re killing our kids.

This was an actual conversation I had with a motorcycle expert sometime in the 1980s, about the time that John Danforth was proposing legislation to ban Japanese superbikes. I think that Senator Danforth was a patsy, set up by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the insurance industry nonprofit. Since its inception in 1959, the IIHS has been focused on promoting the interests of insurance companies through press releases, publishing its crash-test results, and reports from its Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDA).

While the IIHS has almost an ambiance in the press that is somewhere between the federal government and Consumer Reports maxisys elite scan tool, in fact it has never been more than a spokesperson for big auto insurance carriers. The addition of the Highway Loss Data Institute allows the IIHS to effectively quote itself ds808, with statistics tailored to support any claim they want to make. Certain topics have been a consistent part of the IIHS platform since day one.

No one should be surprised that motorcycles are not a favorite of the Insurance Industry, except when it comes to advertising for premium dollars.

In the early to mid ’80s, the IIHS put out a film prominently featuring canyon racing in the Los Angeles Area. The theme of the movie was the shocking speed and danger involved in Japanese superbikes that were being sold to American kids just old enough to drive. The IIHS accompanied the film with seriously flawed statistics showing that the Japanese superbikes were overwhelmingly the source of motorcycle deaths, and they started a whispering campaign highlighting specific instances of death by superbike.

Soon it was commonplace to hear stories. One kid bought a superbike as a first motorcycle, and was killed leaving the shop. Another rider left 150 feet of motorcycle and tissue scrapings leaving Laguna Seca Raceway. A certain superbike averaged two

weeks from purchase before a rider was dead. Even the best test riders were refusing to ride these too fast motorcycles.

The IIHS never gives up. A 2007 IIHS special report regarding “superbikes” claims “these machines are designed for the racetrack but you’ll only find them on the highway. Supersport motorcycles have engines that deliver more horsepower per pound than a typical NASCAR vehicle, reaching speeds of nearly 190 miles per hour, and some of their riders treat public roads like private racecourses.” And an IIHS website FAQ repeats the sportbike libel:

“Motorcyclists who drive supersport motorcycles, which make up a small fraction of registered motorcycles, are overrepresented in fatal crashes. The driver death rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles for supersports is about 4 times higher than the rate for motorcyclists who ride cruisers, standards, or touring bikes.

“The driver death rate per 10,000 registered motorcycles for sport motorcycles is about 2 times higher than the rate for drivers of cruisers, standards, or touring bikes.”

Senator Danforth was contacted for, but did not want to recall his interaction with the IIHS for this article. It is hard to blame him. We invite the IIHS to respond to this column.

Michael Padway and Associates
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