Waikato biker deaths 'a tragedy'

Six motorcyclists have been killed and two more critically injured on 
Waikato roads  between January 5 and March 9.
Six motorcyclists have been killed and two more critically injured on Waikato roads between January 5 and March 9.

A sudden spate of what police are calling "hideously tragic" motorcycle deaths has been a stark safety reminder for other Waikato riders.

"It affects all of us when we hear of a motorcycle death," said Hamilton Motor Cycle Club's immediate past president Bruce Delaney.

"Makes us all realise how vulnerable we are on the road."

Yesterday police named the sixth motorcyclist to die on Waikato roads this year. He was Trevor Frank Blyde, 63, who died when his sport bike, a Suzuki Katana, collided with a four-wheel-drive vehicle on State Highway 39 near Ngaruawahia on Sunday.

Waikato road policing manager inspector Freda Grace described the recent spate as avoidable.

"It is hideously tragic this number of people have lost their lives in avoidable circumstances. Instead of focusing on blame or cause, police urge people to focus on how to prevent such tragedies from occurring."

All six riders were male, and the majority of the accidents occurred on weekends when motorcycle enthusiasts are out enjoying the good weather.

The last time there were six motorcycle-related deaths in three months was in the period December 2009 to February 2010.

Te Aroha woman Karyn Blair's husband, Ross, died as a result of a collision with a truck and trailer at Wardville, near Matamata, on March 8.

She said she was in shock and "utter disbelief" when she was informed Mr Blair - an "incredibly experienced" and safety conscious rider - had been involved in a crash.

"He's always made sure he was dressed appropriately and he would not even drive down the driveway without a helmet on." Mrs Blair said her husband warned her about the intersection where he was killed - and she said road users needed to take time to look and follow road rules.

Ms Grace said some riders were on bikes that matched their ambitions rather than their abilities. Police advised motorcyclists to make sure they were seen by wearing high visibility gear and travelling with lights on.

Mr Delaney said the deaths were "an absolute tragedy". He said he had covered hundreds of kilometres on his bike over the past two weekends without seeing bad behaviour on the roads.

For him the spate of crashes brought up more questions than answers and he hoped investigations would provide some clarity.

"I think people would like to know what's causing it. A lot of people have got a lot of feelings and a lot of guesses but at this stage it is sort of guesswork . . . It will be really good for everyone to know what the main contributing factors are of these accidents."

Many modern bikes had a number of safety features such as ABS brakes and traction control but they accelerated faster, although they didn't necessarily reach higher speeds, he said. He thought motorcyclists tended to complete more training courses than car drivers.

Hamilton Motorcycle Centre owner Heath Boddie said Waikato motorcyclists were having "a real bad run".

"We're knowing the people that are going down and it's not good at all. Motorcycling is a fairly small community in New Zealand and most people know people that know the rider."

As the main roads became busier, many riders had been slowly turning to country roads, he said.

"That's where they're coming unstuck, with other traffic not expecting them to be there."

Adventure-style motorcycles, which were better for riding off main roads, and cruiser models were also becoming more popular than sport-style motorcycles, he said.

Safety-wise, awareness of surroundings was essential, Mr Boddie said. "Things can happen quick and it doesn't matter if you're on a bike or in a car or anything. Everyone's just got to be very vigilant."

Riders had to watch at every intersection and ask themselves, "What's that car going to do?" he said.

AA road safety spokesman Mike Noon said there was no sure solution to prevent motorcycle crashes. But he thought the safety message was getting through.

"We've just had a really bad run." With additional reporting by Harry Pearl


Every time there is a Waikato motorbike fatality, Hamilton Motorcycle Riding School director Ward Fischer wonders if it's someone who has come through his school.

Motorcyclists are vulnerable on the road and have to leave themselves time and space to make decisions, he said.

"You only get one chance and it has got to be the right one every time."

The motorcycling community sometimes had a "knee-jerk" reaction of blaming the other parties involved after crashes, he said, but it was an opportunity for riders to look at what they could do to protect themselves.

Keeping up with the latest developments in riding was a major, as well as having quality safety gear, he said.

Helmets should be "the best helmet that you can afford, and then some" and a bright colour which would be visible to motorists, he said.

Choosing the right bike also required serious consideration in terms of size, weight, power and the rider's experience.

Riders should be aware of their limits and those who were older should be aware their reaction times will be slowing.

The pre-crash stage was about being vigilant and looking ahead to prevent any incident and the in-crash was the moment of impact. The post-crash phase, for example being thrown off the bike, was often where the most serious injuries occurred and safety gear really came into play, he said.


Advice for motorists

Stay on your guard.

Be aware of who is on the road around you.

Never assume what a cyclist is or is not going to do.

Advice for motorcyclists

Keep up to date with new motorcycling skills and knowledge.

Know your limits.

Choose your bike carefully – size, weight, safety features.

Waikato Times