How Motocross Riders Don’t Die All the Time

The same applies to motorcycles. They use bigger footpegs than before, to give guys more platform, and the suspension is so much stronger—but in turn, guys jump them further and jump them bigger. So once again, gravity comes into play! [Laughs] It’s great when you’re good, but when you crash, you crash.

CS: There is such variation in crash energies and motorcycle helmet certification—and when I say helmet certification, I mean the same certification for all motorcycle helmets, whether street helmet, scooter helmet or motocross helmet. They tackle the worst crash you could have, the energies that you are going to see that might actually survive. And they kind of set the standard around that. So, historically, helmets have been manufactured to pass this standard which is quite energy efficient.

There’s now a lot of focus on low-speed energy, protecting the wearer from low-speed collisions, mid-speed collisions. A new injury system is rotational, where your brain actually rotates inside your head. And it can cause tears in connective tissue, which can lead to concussion, brain injury, that sort of thing. So we do more extensive testing as part of a development process. Ultimately, you get a product that will help protect you in a wider variety of accident types.

Jeremy Appleton, Alpinestars: Safety has followed the development of technology with bikes and tracks, every moment. With body armor—because motocross is such a physical activity, whether it takes place inside a stadium, where it’s hot, or outside, during the summer months — riders were reluctant to wear a lot of close protection. Simply because it increases physical stress. It’s hot and heavy.

So, with the advent of improved materials and better design and production techniques, we have much lighter, yet improved body protection. Thus, riders can now wear impact protection shields under their jerseys. In the past you may have seen runners just wearing basic plastic protection over their jersey. It just kept them from being heavily bruised, from all the rocks and dirt being pulled from the bike they were following.

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That seems like a remarkable amount of nothing, in terms of protection.

JA: Things have changed, especially in the United States. With the advent of these huge Supercross air tracks, we have also introduced neck protection, as we are seeing more and more — and unfortunately — catastrophic neck injuries. Paralyzes.

Is the increase in crippling accidents attributable to something specific?

JA: the [faster] bikes and jumps undoubtedly helped, simply because riders travel faster, fly higher, and the margin for error decreases. Because speed and height are more difficult to control.

But the biggest problem was landing badly or losing control and then being thrown off the bike from a bad jump. Seeing runners being thrown into the ground headfirst with their body following their head — it’s like a spear dropping. And the human neck is simply not designed to withstand massive compressive forces.