Motorcycles are back on the road, but riders and state traffic officials have concerns

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That familiar, low rumble. The smell of gasoline and hot rubber tires.

All signs that motorcycle season, at long last, has returned to Minnesota.

And the roads are busy.

“Yes, they are very open,” says Julie Dickey, a rider from Pine City. “I’ve noticed that a lot.”

The warm weather brings joy for motorcycle lovers — but also danger on the roads.

The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office says a 32-year old motorcyclist riding without a helmet was “severely injured” when he was struck by a pickup truck Saturday morning in Lent Township.

Investigators say the pickup’s driver, a juvenile, failed to yield to the oncoming motorcycle at the intersection of Athens Trail and Route 135.

A release says the juvenile was not hurt.

“I have concerns about people speeding, excessive speed that I see every day,” said Steve Gorman of Roseville.

This time of year brings out a surge of bikers onto roads and highways.

“You can’t blame anybody who rides for wanting to get out and take advantage of it,” says Office of Traffic Safety Director Mike Hanson. “We always have this kind of transition at this time of year. Both the riders and the other motorists have to relearn how to look out for each other.”

But the "stay at home" order has added a tragic twist.

Authorities say traffic in the Twin Cities has dropped by 47%, and by half in the rest of the state, but highway fatalities have doubled.

Public records show there were 28 traffic deaths statewide between mid-March and early April. During the same period in 2019, there were 13 traffic-related fatalities.

"The reduced traffic levels, the roads seem to be a lot more open and free, but that doesn’t mean we can stop paying attention,” Hanson said. “We’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of fatalities that we’ve been experiencing. And that doesn’t match the decline of the number of vehicles we’re seeing on the road.”

Experts say speeding, aggressive or careless driving and blowing through traffic stops are the leading causes of crashes.

The Minnesota State Patrol says between March 27 and April 13, its troopers issued 78 tickets for speeding at 100 mph or more. Last year, during the same time period, the State Patrol issued between 10 and 20 tickets in that category.

Authorities also say there have been at least two deadly motorcycle crashes in recent months.

That concerns Dickey.

“Fewer cars and more fatalities … are you worried?” she was asked.

“Yes, I am,” she replied. “That means people aren’t paying attention at all.”

Gorman, a motorcyclist who also drives a truck, is also troubled.

He worries about the safety of other motorcycle enthusiasts, not just from distracted drivers, but from speeding fellow bikers.

The roads quieter, but not necessarily safer.

“I hope to God down the road I don’t see these guys laying on the side of the road,” he says. “Killed the way they’re driving when they come flying like that, at 100 mph on those bikes, doing wheelies and stuff like that."