With the spring and summer months upon us, more and more motorcycles are beginning to appear on the road

The snowfall and frozen temperatures have shifted to clear roads and rising mercury. 

Enter the motorcycle season.

In recent weeks, motorcycles all over New York state and the rest of the northern U.S. have been uncovered and hauled out of garages in preparation to hitting the road. 

It’s an exciting time of year if you ride, according to Rochester resident and Canandaigua Motorsports employee Megan Wood, who has experienced life from a motorcycle for the last 16 years.

“A lot of us will wait for a few rains to clear the salt off the roads because the salt can be dangerous and it can be bad for the bike, but there’s a lot of us who can’t resist it,” Wood said. “The very second we have a day above 40 degrees, we’ll hop on and take it out.” 

With more and more motorcycles showing up on roadways these days comes the concern for motorcyclist safety. The push for awareness is displayed on bumper stickers and signs stuck in yards across the county, including several signs in front of Canandaigua Motorsports that state “Look twice, save a life.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released numbers earlier this year that show a total of 4,295 motorcyclists died nationwide in crashes during 2014. 

Across New York state in 2014, statistics show that on average throughout the year, there was a fatal motorcycle crash on state roadways every two to three days. 

To help raise awareness, May has been labeled Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month with the hope of slowing down these numbers. 

 

The journey begins

In 1999, Wood started working at Canandaigua Motorsports. With her employment at the dealership came a clear-cut goal — learn how to ride. 

She had one minor spill during the learning process, but approximately a year later, Wood was licensed.

“It’s pure elation,” said 36-year-old Wood, who now serves as Canandaigua Motorsports’ marketing manager. “It’s like flying. It’s a perfect melding of you and your machine.”

That's a typical sentiment from those around the shop, including fellow employee Richard Baker, who started riding when he was 16 years old and living in Ireland. 

“It’s a thrill,” Baker said. “It heightens your senses.”

If you ask Baker what steered his interest into riding, he sums it up with two words — Joey Dunlop, a world-champion road racing motorcyclist from Northern Ireland. 

Aside from casual riding, Baker delved into the semi-professional world of motorcycle road racing himself. One day during his semi-pro race days, he wiped out and broke his ankle — an injury that required reconstructive surgery.

“When I got back on the bike after the first accident, I was very cautious,” Baker said. “I was very timid. I had to build up confidence.” 

Regardless of the amount of confidence and awareness developed, motorcyclists are forced to place a tremendous amount of faith in those behind the steering wheel.

“There’s drivers out there who just have a moment where they’re not paying attention,” Wood said. “When you’re riding a motorcycle, you have to be on your guard 24/7.” 

The Traffic Safety Management and Research’s Traffic Safety Statistical Repository found that in New York, there were 4,750 total crashes in 2014 resulting in 142 deaths. 

Preliminary numbers released for 2015 from the university-based research center shows that the number of crashes dropped to 4,693 last year. However, the numbers of those killed increased to 152. 

Of those recorded catastrophes, one crash struck close to home. 

 

Motorcycle down

The night of Sept. 16, 2015, Steven Lester, 49, of Manchester, was driving his motorcycle on Route 96A in Fayette, with his girlfriend, Patricia Perryman, 47, of Canandaigua, on the back.

The pair were returning from a day trip on the eastern coast of Seneca Lake. 

It was shortly after 7:50 p.m. when a pickup truck driven by 43-year-old Earl Wilson crossed the center line of Route 96A and struck Lester’s motorcycle head-on. 

Mr. Lester and Ms. Perryman were found dead in a field off the road after being ejected an estimated 60 feet from the impact site, according to Seneca County District Attorney Barry Porsch. 

Wilson was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving while intoxicated.  His blood alcohol content was .23 percent at around the time of the wreck, according to his indictment. 

Mr. Lester was a regular customer of Canandaigua Motorsports, and also worked next door to the dealership at Farnsworth Chevrolet, Wood said. 

“It’s devastating,” Wood said. “Especially when it is someone you have seen at least once a month for almost 15 years.” 

As Wood added, motorcycling is not for the faint-hearted. 

Those driving and riding a cycle are vulnerable to the dangers of the road — and more so than those behind a steering wheel. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says motorcyclists are 35 times more at risk of having a fatal accident than drivers in a passenger car. 

Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero provides an outline of tips motorcyclists should follow to keep as safe as possible while on the road — from making sure to wear high-quality riding gear designed to protect the rider in the case of a fall to always wearing an approved helmet.

Helmets are approximately 37 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 

Povero also stressed to never drink alcoholic beverages and ride a motorcycle. 

Aside from the legal ramifications, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Highway Loss Data Institute, 30 percent of fatally injured motorcycle drivers in 2014 had a blood alcohol concentration at or about 0.08 percent. 

Wood noted that Canandaigua Motorsports offers a new rider seminar, with the next class beginning at 6 p.m. May 25 at the dealership location at 2366 Route 332, Canandaigua. 

 

NY motorcycle crash summary 

2010: 5,570 total crashes, 180 fatal

2011: 5,336 total crashes, 168 fatal

2012: 5,916 total crashes, 164 fatal

2013: 5,190 total crashes, 164 fatal

2014: 4,750 total crashes, 142 fatal

Numbers made available through the Traffic Safety Management and Research's Traffic Safety Statistical Repository

 

 

Motorcycle thefts by state in 2015

California: 7,221 thefts

Florida: 4,758

Texas: 3,403

South Carolina: 2,160

New York: 1,902

New York Insurance Association published by The Associated Press