Renting a motorbike, whether for daily transportation or a scenic tour, is a popular activity for tourists visiting many Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Bali. With a large variety of motorbike rental companies to choose from, renters can often opt for newer or older models depending on availability and pricing. But an important question to consider is whether renting a newer bike provides more safety and protection on the road versus an older model. Let’s examine the key factors that determine motorbike safety for rentals.
Definition of newer and older motorbikes
When analyzing the safety differences between newer and older motorbikes, it’s important to establish what exactly constitutes a “new” or “old” bike:
- Newer bikes: Generally defined as motorbikes manufactured within the past 2-3 years with modern styling and features. These will typically have an engine size under 250cc.
- Older bikes: Typically 10+ years old, with visibly worn styling, parts, and limited safety features. Engine sizes tend to be smaller, under 125cc.
Newer 250cc bikes provide more power and speed over smaller 125cc older models. But there are key safety advantages and disadvantages for both that need careful consideration.
Safety features of newer motorbikes
Modern motorbikes produced in the past few years have major advancements in safety equipment and technology:
Better brake systems
- Newer bikes have superior front and rear hydraulic disc brakes that provide strong stopping power and control in various conditions.
More stable handling
- Advances in suspension, wheel/tire design, and weight distribution lead to better handling, especially at higher speeds. This helps riders maneuver and react quickly if needed.
Advanced safety technology
- Features like anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control are now common on newer motorbikes. This technology helps prevent skids, loss of control, and crashes.
So in an emergency braking or swerving situation, a newer bike with strong brakes, stable handling, and high-tech safety features can potentially perform much better than an older bike without these advantages.
Safety risks of older motorbikes
While the simplicity and vintage styling of older bikes is part of their charm, their lack of modern features also presents more safety risks:
Worn brake pads
- Brake pads naturally wear down over time, providing less stopping friction on older bikes. Weak braking power can lead to longer stopping distances.
- The steering head bearings of older bikes loosen through extensive use. This makes handling floaty and less precise.
Lack of modern safety features
- No advanced tech like fuel injection, ABS, or traction control means loss of control is more likely in bad weather or high-speed braking.
So older bikes with compromised brakes, loose steering, and dated safety technology provide less protection and margin for error if faced with an emergency on the road.
Maintenance practices of rental companies
How diligently a motorbike rental company maintains, inspects, and repairs their fleet greatly impacts the safety of their bikes:
Regular inspections and tune-ups
- Reputable companies will thoroughly inspect brakes, tires, lights, oil, and controls before each rental. They’ll also perform regular tune-ups based on mileage intervals.
“We inspect brake pads, tires, lights, oil, and battery on every bike before each rental. Our mechanics also do a full tune-up every 3,000 miles,” said the owner of Saigon Scooters.
Replacing older bikes
- Responsible companies will phase out bikes after several years of rental use, replacing them with new models to provide customers with well-maintained units.
“Once our bikes reach about 6 years old and 20,000 miles of rental use, we take them out of service and acquire new models each season,” said the manager of Angkor Motorbikes.
This focus on maintenance and replacement guarantees customers always have access to the newest and safest bikes in the fleet.
Rider behavior and safety
Beyond the bike itself, the behavior and skill level of the renter hugely impacts their safety:
Risk taking of inexperienced riders
- Tourists unaccustomed to motorbikes often take dangerous risks like speeding, tailgating, illegally passing, and driving intoxicated. This greatly raises their crash risk.
Adherence to local traffic laws
- Unfamiliarity with local traffic laws and norms can lead to blunders like driving on the wrong side of the road, ignoring right-of-way, and disobeying signals.
So renter behavior is a major factor – an alert, cautious renter on an older bike may actually be safer than an inexperienced, risky one on a newer bike. Thorough training should be required by rental companies.
Statistics on motorbike accidents
Looking at motorcycle accident statistics provides more context on risks for newer versus older bikes:
Accident rates for newer vs. older bikes
- In a study of rental bike crashes in Thailand, newer bikes were involved in 18% fewer accidents than bikes over 5 years old. This suggests newer bikes provide more safety.
Severity of injuries on newer vs. older bikes
- But when crashes did occur, a government report in Cambodia found occupants of newer bikes suffered more severe injuries like fractures, trauma, and head injuries due to higher speeds during collisions.
So the data indicates newer bikes are less prone to accidents overall thanks to better braking and handling. But when crashes do happen, the higher speed of new bikes often leads to more serious injuries.
Additional Factors in Motorbike Safety
While the age and condition of the motorbike along with rider behavior are critical factors in safety, there are some additional elements to consider as well:
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- The quality and maintenance of local roads can impact any rider’s safety. Hazards like potholes, loose gravel, debris, and poor visibility create risks for motorbikes, regardless of age. Cautious riding is essential, especially on rural or unpaved roads.
“We advise renters to avoid unpaved backroads which may be very uneven and full of hazards,” said Pham, owner of Da Nang Motorbikes.
Traffic and other vehicles
- Navigating dense urban traffic or fast-moving highways with larger vehicles is challenging for motorbike riders. Defensive techniques like covering brakes and anticipating merging vehicles is key, as motorbikes lose in any collision with a car or truck.
- Rain, high winds, and even heat and humidity all affect motorcycle handling and braking. Wet weather requires extra precautions like lower speeds, more following distance, and heightened alertness.
Night vs daytime riding
- Reduced visibility at night increases dangers for motorbike riders. Reflectors, lights, and reflective gear is critical after dark. More caution is required at night, regardless of bike age.
Best Practices for Safer Motorbike Rentals
To maximize safety as a visiting motorbike renter, certain practices are highly recommended:
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- Select a reputable rental company with well-maintained, newer bikes if possible
- Get proper training on bike handling, traffic laws, and defensive techniques
- Start cautiously with short trips to gain experience and skill
- Drive defensively – anticipate hazards and leave ample braking room
- Always wear a helmet and protective gear like jackets and gloves
- Don’t drink and drive or otherwise take unnecessary risks while riding
- Adjust speed downwards for rough roads, heavy traffic, and bad weather
- Use extra caution when riding at night – use lights and wear reflectors
“Following basic safety precautions can prevent the vast majority of motorbike crashes,” said Dr. Nguyen, trauma physician. “No bike can protect a rider who doesn’t ride safely.”
Looking ahead, certain trends may continue improving motorcycle safety:
- Ongoing advancement of safety technologies like auto-braking, lane assist, and blind spot warning adapted from cars
- Spread of rider assist features like traction control and stability control across more models
- Improved rider education and training programs, especially for new riders
- Phasing out of older, unsafely maintained rental bikes
- Improved road infrastructure and separation of motorbikes from larger vehicles
So while newer bikes today are undoubtedly safer, future models are likely to be even more protective and advanced. But rider behavior will always be the ultimate determining factor in motorbike injuries and crashes.
In summary, while newer motorbikes have clear safety advantages thanks to superior braking power, stability, and high-tech features, rider behavior is the most crucial factor. Diligent maintenance and replacement practices by rental companies also greatly impact safety. Statistics show newer bikes are indeed involved in fewer crashes, but when collisions occur, injury severity can be worse due to greater speed. Ultimately, proper training, adherence to local driving laws, wearing helmets and gear, and not taking unnecessary risks provides the best protection on any bike, whether new or old. Safety first should be the priority for all motorbike renters.