I was totally lost for words on Monday morning when I heard about the death of Steven Lenoir.
We’ve all been reminded way too frequently of late that it’s totally tragic when anyone loses their life but I feel that when a professional athlete in the prime of his or her career dies doing their job then it seems to be a million times worse.
While everyone is quick to rally around and show respect for the fallen I feel that the motocross community as a whole is far too willing to embrace death and serious injury as a part of what we do – something that just happens – and we even glamorise it to a degree.
In most walks of life if something bad happens then people look at why and then try to formulate a workable solution so that it doesn’t happen again – or if it does then the outcome is somewhat better.
This is true for pretty much everything from someone slipping on a spilled substance in an office to dying behind the wheel of a Formula One car.
I don’t have actual stats to back this up but it seems that while most motorsports are generally becoming safer, motocross seems to be just as, if not more, dangerous than it’s ever been and although death has always been a thing in our sport it seems to have become more prevalent in recent times.
Of course, this may just be the power of the internet spreading such stories. Most of motorsport’s governing bodies have made major steps to improve safety over the years.
If you look at rallying for example the super-powered Group B cars of the 1980s were quickly outlawed, MotoGP promoters Dorna are forever monkeying around with engine size and circuit requirement for good reason, the F1 brigade are forever improving the safety of its cars, safety equipment and circuits while even speedway tracks now have mandatory air fences.
But what’s changed in professional motocross? Ummm, I suppose that back protection is now mandatory and the other big move towards rider safety has been ensuring that GP riders don’t have hair flowing out of the rear of their helmets.
Other than that it’s pretty much the same as it’s always been…
Okay, so those 500cc two-strokes – that were deemed to be too much for mere mortals – were phased out but as motocross bikes have gotten better over the years thanks to tyre, suspension, chassis and motor development, the speeds at which it’s possible to achieve have still increased massively.
We’ve all seen those TV ads that state ‘Speed Kills’ and with minimal searching I found that according to the World Health Organization you’re 20 times more likely to die in a car accident at 50mph than 20mph.
While crashing a motocross bike isn’t at all the same as being in a car accident, the sudden stop is more similar to what an MX rider would experience compared to a road racing accident say where the rider will more often than not slide.
So that stat’s still very relevant.
It does seem that limiting speed somehow would help make things safer but how that’s achieved without diluting the enjoyment factor of the sport – for both participants and spectators – is a question that I don’t have a definitive answer for.
One thing I know for certain though is that grand prix motocross in the early ’80s – when speed, traction and the size of jumps were all much lower – was much more attractive to paying spectators and riders were even queuing up to try and qualify to race in them!