Editorial: Hannah Montana shows many in America still don’t get it about motorcycle safety

by Jeff on April 4, 2009


By Jeff Cobb
Motorcycle Safety News

With stereotypical pop-culture conceptions being fully played up, the April 3 headline read: “Miley’s Motorcycle Must-Have.”

Dazzled by her stunning moto ensemble, the writer said, “Miley Cyrus revved up her star style last night in a teal dress topped with a black motorcycle look — at the world premiere of the ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie.’”

My comment: Snappy looking outfit, but don’t really fall off a motorcycle dressed that way. And, yes, I realize this is Hollywood, it’s only a fictional fashion outfit, and all that, but they could have given her leather pants and she would have been just as stylin’.

I am sorry if I sound like no fun. Really, that is not true.

If I take a passenger on a ride, we always have fun, but she has to wear one of my helmets, leather jackets (real moto-leather), and at least jeans – or better – some leather track pants I have, plus gloves.

Yup, even in the summer. The jacket is ventilated, and the breeze is usually cool enough.

My feeling is taking a minute to put on some real gear is my way of looking out for my friend. If something happens, I owe it to her to have her best interests in mind. And I know what road rash can do.

Really, the way I look at it is, if I know better, and someone still gets hurt when they were trusting me, I share in the responsibility, and I really do not want that on my conscience.

It’s not that complicated. I see it as being smart, and doing the right thing.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Rich 04.04.09 at 2:29 pm

This is a late April Fools joke, right?

Jeff 04.04.09 at 3:11 pm

Take it any way you like. Art imitates society.

Malc 04.15.09 at 2:15 am

Hi Jeff,

I think, perhaps, you’re taking this too seriously . . .

You make the distinction with your blogging Vs journalism. Please don’t include ‘fashion news’ in journalism!

For what it’s worth, jeans with ripped knees used to be ‘stylish’ and trendy – now that really is ‘biking’ fashion! What next: fashionable broken collar bones & gravel rash?

Anyway, best of luck with the site!


Jeff 04.15.09 at 6:28 am

Hi Malc,

Thanks for your feedback. As you know, my site is to raise awareness for all kinds of motorcycle safety issues. Am I taking this too seriously? How could you suggest this when I tried to anticipate someone accusing me of this by saying right up front that I realize this is make believe and about fashion. I acknowledged this was Hollywood stuff, so that is not taking it seriously in that sense.

Secondly, let me explain where I wrote that I distinguish between journalism writing and editorials. What I meant was when I pose something as straight news, I cite sources, do not speak as coming from me. It is by definition, a report, and I keep my spin out of it. On the other hand, when I write an editorial, I reserve the right to comment from my own opinion about what ever I write on. Some blogs are pure opinion. This site is more journalism content by far. But as for this editorial, I blatantly titled it an editorial, so I’m free to speak subjectively here. I did not diverge from my policy of distinguishing opinion from news. This is definitely opinion.

So what am I hoping to accomplish by deliberately “taking seriously” an uber-popular young woman who plays dress up with moto fashion that everyone realizes she may never really use to ride in?

When Rich above suggested this was a joke, I considered taking it down and forwarded this link to four friends: One a PR guy for the AMA, another a highly experienced certified motorcycle safety instructor, another a Ducati and Japanese sportbike riding engineer who has five daughters, and another my best friend, a Marine reservist.

They all said leave it up. I considered taking this down because I realize it could look like I am over-reacting. But I said no, I’ll leave it up anyway and take any heat that might come.

Fact is, the U.S. has some ambiguous values when it comes to what constitutes proper clothing to ride. Lots of images come to mind.

I think of the women who will try to look hot on the back of their man’s bike wearing bikinis. While I can appreciate this, ultimately I think it sends the wrong message. And if she were my woman, I’d make her wear safety gear if she rode with me, because I’d want her safe if something happened, and we crashed.

I also think of a woman I saw last year in Center City Philadelphia zipping past the busy traffic in her business suit and no helmet on a scooter at like 35 mph. I thought, man, she thinks that scooter is just a fast bicycle, and does not realize she could get killed in a heartbeat with all the out of control people she is mixing it up with.

I’m told in Europe safety fashion is different, and in cases, the opposite. If you have cool leathers, or a nice looking textile suit and helmet, that is something to be proud of in some circles of rider culture.

So, I’ll give you this: yeah, I am taking it seriously, but I am doing it for a reason. The reason is we have vague standards and in my opinion one reason why a designer gets away so easily with this fashion statement here is that the U.S. culture accepts it without blinking an eye.

Did you read where last year I interviewed the international sales manager for Dainese, minutes after he had left Valentino Rossi at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? He took the time to talk with me about motorcycle safety because everyone knows it’s an issue. I asked Mr. Nalesso which country has the worst regard and awareness for motorcycle safety? He said it’s the U.S., no question, among all developed nations. Several others say the same thing.

So, yep, I’ll take Hanna Montana seriously if I need to. Thanks for the comment.


Malc 04.15.09 at 9:20 am

Ok, fair cop. And thanks for taking the time to post a full reply.

For what it’s worth, I’m a fairly well qualified instructor too – probably one of the few Brits to be a UK instructor and for the MSF concurrently! I was certified through the USAF when there was still a heavy presence over here.

“Fact is, the U.S. has some ambiguous values when it comes to what constitutes proper clothing to ride. Lots of images come to mind.”

Yes, I’ve seen EasyRiders magazine, etc. But believe me, go to Spain and see what it’s like there. I spent a couple of weeks there two summers back, and – OK, I didn’t stray far from the pool ;) – most riders I saw had little or no gear, and many didn’t wear helmets. I think I only saw one rider and passenger in leathers. Mind you, with the temperature at 36C at 9pm the night we arrived, even a vented suit would be ‘boil in the bag’ territory.

However, I wonder if the ‘message’ can be pushed to hard? Some people you’ll never ‘get’ – I doubt the ‘lifestyle’ Harley rider is going to change their ways, and the ‘squid’ element will take any notice either.

Then there are others who’ll sneer at us ‘safety’ types, and some of what we do doesn’t help our cause. For instance: I recall from my MSF days a complaint to the MSF/RiderCoach magazine because they published a photo of someone sat on a bike WITHOUT PROTECTIVE CLOTHING AND A HELMET!!!

What? Errr . . . “Hello!” It’s just a cheesy photo of someone who’s in the news – they’re not riding the thing . . .

Another f’rinstance:

“Code said these days he does not street ride as much, but when he does, he will even wear track gear when he expects to really ride hard.”

Ah . . . so on occasions when he doesn’t expect to crash, he won’t wear track [ie 'good'] gear?

Ever heard of risk compensation?

Sorry if this comes over as a rant – not meant to ;)



Jeff 04.15.09 at 10:43 am

Sure thing Malc,

I took time to reply also because you’re the second person to raise any objection to my angle here, so I figured I should explain more.

Not sure if I’ve said this anywhere else, but I’ll confess I never used to be a “safety type.” When I was younger, I’d make snide or sarcastic remarks like “safety first!”

I am old enough to remember seeing introduction of initiatives like seat belt laws, air bags, passive restraints for auto safety, and so many other initiatives to make life safer in other arenas, like in restaurants, public walkways, on and on, you name it.

When I was younger, I used to say if the west here in North America still had to be “won” and pioneered by today’s generation, I am not so sure as many people have the temperaments or risk tolerance to do it.

For instance: imagine you are a young person in 1810, and you want to leave Philadelphia and travel to, say, almost unknown territory that would later be named Missouri or Colorado or some place. You have maybe one or a few horses, a wagon, what provisions you can carry, a rifle or flintlock, whiskey. Do this with no real knowledge of who you might meet (native Americans who might not like you), bandits, wild animals. Do this knowing if you fall and hurt yourself, you have little effective medicine, and no one is coming to your rescue …

In today’s society, in many arenas of life, people insist on almost a rubber coated world, as it were. No risks are acceptable when people start to think about it. The more “civilized” we get, the more this demand will increase, I suspect. Or so it would appear, I don’t know.

Motorcycle safety is one arena however where the message is not so unified or consistent. In fact I see huge glaring inconsistencies.

Not unlike Keith Code (I learned that also like me, he came from Pennsylvania) I’ve crashed enough that I do not want to risk road rash or a busted head any more than I can help it. I am still a high risk taker, but I am not crazy enough to disregard safety when I can have any degree of control.

And by the way, the Dainese guy did acknowledge other European countries had tons of people who were just as unsafe, as you described. But overall, big picture, he was clear that in his opinion, the U.S. is the worst among developed nations …

And as for who will listen to me? Absolutely, I don’t think some will. Others may. I try not to sound pedantic or like somebody’s mother or something. I acknowledge people have the right (and should be willing) to take risks. But I do think there is room for the voice of reason when it comes to trying to mitigate or manage those risks.

In general, I think there is increasing positive pressure for MC safety issues. The general push I already mentioned insisting on increased safety in other areas of life is being instilled in the newer generations. They want to have fun, but some of them don’t want to crash and burn either, and they might listen to common sense.

The U.S. military agrees with me too. I just finished writing a long article not yet published on them, and interviewed Pentagon officials, and many others (including the top ranking safety chief for the USAF, Maj. Gen. Frederick Roggero). Motorcycle safety in the 5 branches of the U.S. military is their #1 non combat safety priority for 2009.

I think that’s very telling too: They invest how much money, time and energy in finding recruits, training them to drive a tank, or airplane or fix them, or what have you? Since the military is in greater control of its people, it insists they wear gear and a helmet. Their personnel do not get to demand “Let those who ride decide.”

Nope. When you sign on to the military, they make those choices for you.

As for Keith Code, I did not mean to imply he won’t wear gear all the time. My impression is he does more than not, if not 100%.

I don’t read you as a rant. No problem.

Congrats on being so well trained in MC safety. That’s good.


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