Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Sea to Sky Highway: A beautiful but potentially risky route for motorcyclists, says injury researcher

Researcher and motorcycle rider advocate share tips for staying safe on this surprisingly unforgiving route, including the importance of protective gear, safe driving practices, and defensive driving.
McGeachie says that if a rider is experienced and the rules of safe riding are followed, the Sea to Sky is an enjoyable ride, but it is also “surprisingly unforgiving.” 

In the wake of recent motorcycle crashes on the Sea to Sky Highway that landed at least two riders in hospital in the past week, an injury researcher and motorcycle rider advocate remind all who travel the road that it requires riders and drivers to have their wits about them. 

Dr. Ian Pike, director of the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit, says the stretch of the corridor along Highway 99 is “a beautiful but risky route” that requires drivers and riders to take all of the appropriate precautions. 

Pike said that beyond our recent rash of crashes, motorcycle rider injuries and deaths are a concern. 

In B.C. over the last five years, there have been about 6,570 hospitalizations a year and between 30 to 35 deaths a year.

On the Sea to Sky Highway — West Vancouver through Whistler — there have been 300 motorcycle crashes over five years, Pike said.

“These are tragedies that do not have to happen.”

Middle-aged riders over-represented

A specific concern is the injuries happening to middle-aged male riders, Pike said. 

About 25% of all motorcycle injuries and deaths happen among those who are 50 to 59, he said. 

“Remembering that they had a bike when they were a teenager, they’re approaching retirement and thinking, ‘You know what, I’m going to get myself another bike. I used to love it.’ And they might have the disposable income to do just that,” he said. 

The problem is, riding isn’t as easy as they remember it, Pike said. 

“It takes a tremendous amount of skill; you’ve only got two points of contact with the road,” he said. 

“They haven’t driven a bike for a while. Estimating speed, distance and closing distance particularly can be a problem. So, we’re very concerned that it’s an older rider that’s over-represented in the data.”

Types of injuries

Pike said, generally speaking, the types of injuries motorcyclists sustain are characterized as blunt force trauma.

“When a motorcyclist either crashes into another car or an object or drops their bike, they’re typically doing this at some pretty fast speeds. Their body hits the ground or another object, and that results in trauma from the force. So we see some really unfortunate injuries, in particular, head and neck-related injuries,” he said. 

Pike said, as one might expect, more motorcycle crashes happen on the weekends in the summer — July and August.

Tips to stay safe

Pike, who rode a motorcycle himself when he was younger, said that riders should know that it is a high-risk activity. Thus, all safety precautions should be taken. 

Travelling at a safe speed and for the conditions, giving ample distance between the rider and the next vehicle, and ample time to stop if necessary are key. 

Every rider needs to wear all of the correct equipment, he stressed. 

“From the neck to the toe, they should have all of the appropriate motorcycling protective clothing, including body armour for elbows, knees, hips, and a good pair of riding boots,” he said, noting it isn’t a pretty sight seeing folks who have hit the pavement without protective gear. 

He noted these days, there are airbag jackets that are similar to life jackets for boaters. 

“When you become separated from your bike, the jacket inflates and it provides distance between you and the ground, but it also provides protection for the neck. It inflates up around as a collar as well. And so it gives an added measure of protection,” he said. 

If there is a passenger on the bike, that person has a “huge responsibility,” Pike said. 

“The pillion has a responsibility to be aware of what’s happening on the road just as much as the driver, and to be able to assess if evasive action is necessary, and usually that’s just being able to shift the weight appropriately.” 

He added that a passenger on a bike should never distract the driver with conversation or otherwise. 

He recommends the rider and passenger practice in a parking lot prior to going out on the road together. 

For all riders, he said it is important to drive defensively, assuming that the other vehicles don’t see you. 

Riders should remember to drive in the middle of the lane (not to the right) to prevent other vehicles from trying to pass. 

At the same time, his message for other drivers on the road is to respect motorcyclists. 

“Be extra cautious, give them extra space and give them extra time,” he said. “Motorcycles are road users; they deserve the space.”

Motorcycle riding increasing

Paul McGeachie, executive director of Motorcycles OK, a motorcycling advocacy group, notes that motorcycle riding has been increasing in popularity, especially during the pandemic. 

According to data from the Motorcyclists Confederation of Canada (MCC), sales of all varieties of motorcycles were up by an average of almost 7% since 2020. Street bike sales were up by more than 18% in 2021, though they stabilized to pre-pandemic numbers in 2022.

McGeachie says that if a rider is experienced and the rules of safe riding are followed, the Sea to Sky is an enjoyable ride, but it is also “surprisingly unforgiving.” 

He has ridden it himself and calls it a “super highway.”

"Fine-tuned over decades, but it is still a road that demands respect and higher-than-average operator attention," he said. 

He adds to Pike’s advice, saying that weekend and holiday volume is a red flag in the corridor. 

“Avoid those times. If you must ride then, make it as early as possible,” he said. 

Like Pike, he stressed that speed is the enemy.

“There are still some deceiving corners. A riding partner who knows the road, helps,” he said, though he cautioned against group rides. 

“They can trigger bad habits. Combine that with weekend and holiday rides and it’s a nightmare for everyone,” he said. 

Like Pike, he said that proper gear is a must for every rider. “Being a super highway, you could be in for long slides if you come off your bike," he said. 

McGeachie said the Sea to Sky Highway requires all a rider’s skills, ideally gained from a proper training course. 

“Perhaps no roadway in the province brings to light the need to have your riding act together,” he said.