Monday, July 8, 2013

The motorcycle industry's charitable efforts are full of shit, er, misguided

This is a repost from last spring. I'm putting it back up again, because again, with the recent injury to AFM veteran Dave Stanton, I'm reminded that as motorcycle riders & racers, the one charitable cause we all need to back is spinal injury research.

However, before you read on, there's something I want you to do: go here, and PayPal $10 to Dave Stanton.

Here, then, is what I wrote in April 2012 (which is itself a rehash of one of my old columns from the Road Racer X web site, but I'll keep harping on this until as a group, motorcyclists focus our charitable efforts on something closer to home than Toys for Tots or Pediatric Brain Tumors.

It's been a bleak early season for the World Superbike Championship in terms of injuries. A fellow Canadian, SBK racer Brett McCormick just barely dodged a paralyzing injury at Assen, throwing a huge downer on what had been a fairy-tale story. (McCormick showed up in Europe last fall to ride all the SBK contenders' bikes at a press day, as the representative of a Canadian bike mag. He ended up being recruited by the Effenbert team to ride in the European Superstock championship and was then upgraded to SBK.) Being sidelined for several months so early in the season is a bummer for the Canuck, but at least he'll make a full recovery.

Kawasaki rider Joan Lascorz has been relocated to Institut Guttmann, a Barcelona hospital specializing in the treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries. It remains to be seen just what degree of recovery Joan will make; Institut Guttmann is a world-class facility, but the hospital's logo, in which the 'G' is formed out of the wheel of a wheelchair, makes it clear that serious spinal injuries are still resistant to treatment.

The so-called 'back protectors' that most of us wear offer some protection from impact, but little or no protection for the sorts of compression, extreme flexion, or hyperextension injuries that result in spinal cord injuries. All they really do is give you a false sense that you've taken a step to protect yourself.

Leatt and Alpinestars, which make neck braces for riders of sit-up-and-beg-type motorcycles are, presumably, working on similar devices for  road racers and sportbike riders. And the increasing availability of 'airbag' racing suits shows that companies are actively working on improved injury prevention strategies.

That's great, as far as it goes. But.

For the foreseeable future, all motorcycle riders and racers will continue to expose themselves to high risk of spinal injury. The only thing we can, collectively, hope for is progress in treating those injuries. And that hope is not forlorn; there's a real chance that spinal lesions that currently cause incurable paralysis will be healed in our lifetime; there's promising research on several fronts.

IF THERE IS ONE CHARITABLE CAUSE WE SHOULD ALL CONTRIBUTE TO, IT'S SPINAL CORD RESEARCH. For most of us, a paralyzing injury is the ultimate downside to our sport; something we fear more than death itself. And yet (or, I suppose, because of that fear) the motorcycle industry seems determined to pretend that there are other causes we should support.

So Kyle Petty's big charity ride collects funds for a sick children's summer camp. And every fall, there's Toys for Tots runs. There are rides to raise money for pediatric cancer research, Bikers Battling Breast Cancer, and a Ride For Autism. (I guess most of the participants in those rides are Harley guys who don't even wear crash helmets; they have less to fear on the paralysis front, since they'll typically be killed by brain injuries.)

Leaving aside the obvious criticism that it should be a ride against autism, not for it, I'll point out for the nth time that sending sick children to camp, gathering toys for poor kids, and defeating cancer or autism are all great causes.

For other people.

Riders for Health is probably the highest-profile charity for the helmet-wearing set. Yes, getting health care delivered to people who need it in Africa is great, too. We should support Riders for Health enthusiastically.

After we've found a cure for spinal cord injuries.

Motorcycle riders and race fans should support spinal cord injury research, and that's all we should support, until technology to heal those injuries is widely available. I'm pretty skeptical of Red Bull generally, but I admire Red Bull founder Dieter Mateschitz for -- almost alone in the world of action sports -- confronting the reality of spinal cord injuries face-to-face.

Red Bull's Wings for Life program collects money for spinal cord research and distributes it to researchers working towards a cure. If someone knows of a better umbrella group specializing in spinal cord research, please let me know. Until then, contribute to Wings for Life here.

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