This weekend’s Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship round at Atlantic Motorsport Park could usher in a new era in motorcycle racer safety.
Just over 600 feet of the 1.6-mile circuit has been covered with 150 bags, each one roughly 64 cubic feet in size and filled with a wide range of plastic recyclables. These innovative soft barriers are expected to protect riders in a fall, similar to the air fencing that is seen at many venues, be cost effective, be suitable for both car and motorcycle racing applications and add a level of environmental consciousness to the world of motor sports.
The soft barriers are the brainchild of Andrew Murray, one of the founders of the Atlantic Roadracing League, which runs motorcycle road racing at AMP. Murray, however, is quick to give credit to motojournalist Frank Wood and industry veteran John Bickle for planting the idea.
“Four years ago we were at Calabogie Motorsport Park [near Ottawa] and John Bickle and Frank Wood mentioned the idea of having recyclables in a barrier,” Murray explained. “I’ve been kicking around the idea ever since.”
Murray approached the municipality of East Hants, the region in which the AMP circuit lies, and was referred to the Resource Recovery Fund Board of Nova Scotia (RRFB), which handles recyclables and waste in the province.
Murray presented a proposal for the safety barriers in April and earlier this month he was approved for $7,500 in funding for the project.
The bags are made of a material called Triflex, similar to that used in tarpaulins. According to Murray, they started life as feed bags for farm animals. They are filled via a small Velcro flap in the top. The bags were filled in Halifax by Miller Waste and then transported to AMP by Murray.
“It took 20 trips to transport them,” Murray said. “It took me a week and a half, with the help of my dad. We had some in place for the regional last weekend, and on the Saturday night a lot of the racers helped place the remainder.”
The bags are filled with plastic recyclables such as milk containers, flowers pots, or plastic bags. Essentially anything that falls in categories two through seven of the common recycling standards can be put in the bags. They are linked together so nothing should be able to get between them, and they are too heavy for anything to go under them.
Murray’s soft barriers have been approved for insurance purposes. The next steps are to get endorsement from the Federation International de Motocyclisme (FIM) and the Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA).
“I have no safety concerns,” Murray said. “My biggest issue is the longevity of the bags and their potential to be damaged. And I need the FIA to say that the barriers aren’t dangerous for car racing. That is important because it would mean we don’t have to move the bags.
“Before this, we would buy 1,000 hay bales at a cost of $3.50 each, and by the end of the year they’d be useless. Plus, we’d have to move them for car events, because they’re dangerous for car racing. Bales would get damaged when they were being moved back and forth, and that would add to the cost as well.”
The environmental component is also key for Murray. This spring’s Italian Grand Prix MotoGP World Championship event featured the launch of the KiSS Mugello (Keep it Shiny and Sustainable) project, part of an effort to promote sustainable sports.
“There is a movement to make race tracks more sustainable,” he said. “And with these barriers, you could sustain the bags through the track’s own recycling.”
Murray emphasized that the bags in place this weekend are simply the initial version of what he expects to be a development process. As with any safety innovation, he hopes his soft barriers are never tested, but expects them to be up to the job if they are.
–By John Hopkins