MSF: Motorcycling Naturalistic Study

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Motorcycle Safety

In order to enhance the safety of motorcyclists, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) has launched the first-ever Motorcycling Naturalistic Study.

During the year-long study, 100 motorcycles will be used, each one featuring special data-gathering technology designed at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).

The first bike/rider participating in the Naturalistic study rode off from VTTI last week on a motorcycle equipped with data-analyzable technology, such as the Kawasaki Versys above.

The MSF says “Each of the 100 bikes, routinely being ridden in real-world traffic, and equipped with an array of data acquisition systems, will provide comprehensive, real-time, near-crash, pre-crash and actual-crash information that is unprecedented in motorcycle research.”

Dr. Sherry Williams (MSF Director of Quality Assurance and Research) says: “Our priority with this research is to observe the participants on a day-to-day basis. We’re installing unobtrusive cameras and recording devices on the bikes so the participants soon forget they’re being recorded. We can learn a tremendous amount by just observing their normal, routine riding behavior.”

Sponsored by the MSF and administered by VTTI, the MSF 100 Motorcyclists Naturalistic Study is the first of its kind. Similar to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and VTTI’s 100 Car Naturalistic Study, this groundbreaking research will track 100 participant-owned motorcycles for one year and approximately 500,000 total miles.

The MSF reports that Each motorcycle will be equipped with extensive data acquisition systems, which include five color cameras, a GPS, accelerometers, gyro, forward radar, machine vision lane tracker, brake lever and pedal input, and more.

Dr. William says: “This research offers much more valuable data than going to a crash site where the bike may have been removed. With this research, it’s all recorded and sequenced, so the video will coincide with the brake pressure and accelerator readings, etc. We will get a very rich picture, where you can see the input from the rider and how the bike is reacting.”

Three different locations will be used for outfitting, tracking and data collection from the 100 motorcycles over the coming year. In addition to VTTI in Blacksburg, Va., the other data collection facilities are the MSF headquarters in Irvine, Calif., and the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) in Orlando, Fla. These locations are ideal because they offer a variety of riding conditions and traffic densities, the MSF reports.

Tim Buche (MSF President) says: “We are very excited about this pioneering research. In the United States each year, the vast majority of riders travel more than 25 billion miles collectively and they ride safely and without incident. But riders have not been scientifically observed in a natural setting. And this naturalistic study will allow us to learn from these riders and then incorporate those findings into our rider education and training programs and other safety countermeasures.”

VTTI collaborated with NHTSA on the preliminary feasibility study that laid the groundwork for the MSF 100 Motorcyclist Naturalistic Study. VTTI is recruiting 100 anonymous participants based primarily on their age and model of motorcycle owned.

The study will track two age groups each – one in the 21-to-34 age group and one in the 45-to-64 age group – on seven motorcycle models from five brands. Motorcycle types include sport bikes, cruisers and touring bikes.

The MSF is a not-for-profit organization sponsored by BMW, BRP, Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Piaggio, Suzuki, Triumph, Victory and Yamaha. For safety information or to enroll in the RiderCourseSM nearest you, visit or call (800) 446-9227.

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One of the few moto journalists based on the East Coast, Ron Lieback joined the motorcycle industry as a freelancer in 2007, and is currently Online Editor at Ultimate Motorcycling. He is also the author of "365 to Vision: Modern Writer's Guide (How to Produce More Quality Writing in Less Time).