Motorcycles sure have their issues. Every year, we raise them at Canada Moto Guide and every year, readers argue the pros and cons and nothing ever seems to actually change. We think of them as “hot buttons”: Loud pipes, as Zac is railing against this week, and lane-filtering, as he wrote about last month, are two of the most polarizing challenges facing Canadian motorcyclists. There are others, of course: speed limits, Sikhs and their turbans, proper training, correct gear, all guaranteed to start a conversation and keep it going well past the time it should all be settled.
Interestingly, though, there are a couple of issues affecting us that were resolved long ago in very different ways, and they give us a lesson in what might happen with today’s concerns. Helmet laws and top-speed wars used to be a big deal, and while the first was settled by the government imposing legislation on us – end of argument – the second was dealt with voluntarily by the industry with a far more satisfying result.
Don’t get me wrong with helmet laws: CMG’s view is that riders should always wear a proper helmet, just as they should always wear All The Gear, All The Time. To ride without a helmet is just dumb, and selfish. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like to do so every now and again. My own personal rule is that if I’m in a helmet-free state, no more than one day in a year, I might ride without a helmet. It feels pretty good on a country road, not too fast, with sun on my forehead and wind in my hair. But I know I’m far more likely to be killed if I fall off the bike and that’s just selfish, so I set my own rule of only once a year. To be honest, it’s been several years now since I last rode anywhere without a helmet, but I still like to have the choice. I’m glad Canada has a mandatory helmet-use law in every province and territory because otherwise I’d be tempted to be stupid more often.
The top-speed wars were more contentious. In the 1990s, most of the motorcycle manufacturers were competing hard against each other for the bragging rights of creating the fastest production motorcycle in the world. In 1999, Suzuki came out with the Hayabusa, the first easily-purchased bike capable of more than 300 km/h, and Kawasaki let it be known that the upcoming ZX-12R would be even faster. Legislators in Europe, however, were far less impressed and suggested that such motorcycles would be banned if they became any more powerful; consequently, all the manufacturers agreed to a voluntary limit on top speed of around 300 km/h, and the Kawasaki was toned down to keep its speed just a few km/h below the Suzuki, which was itself slightly detuned. Instead of pure speed, the manufacturers accepted they’d reached a practical limit and started focusing more on handling, response and comfort.
The point to all this is that the voluntary acceptance of limits is far preferable to the heavy-handed imposition of law, and we would be wise to remember this for the other challenges facing motorcycling. As Zac points out this week, many Canadian jurisdictions are considering blanket limits on motorcycles as a way to silence those with loud pipes, as has already happened in parts of Quebec; if we don’t make the decision for ourselves to stop pissing people off with overly loud pipes, then lawmakers will just prohibit all motorcycles from entire regions, whether they have loud pipes or not. This is the last thing any of us want – can’t we all agree on that?