IHOPE I can make a candid observation about race without being confused with John Street. The former mayor was talking municipal politics. I'm talking motorcycles.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University examined the circumstances of nearly 70,000 motorcycle accidents from 2002 to 2006, and found that three black riders died in those accidents for every two white riders.

The really stunning part? The trend held up even though the black riders were more likely to be wearing helmets than their white counterparts.

First and foremost, the study's authors think it has something to do with health care. Namely, black riders might not have the access to it, or as high a level of it, as white riders. Or maybe they don't have health insurance at all. So maybe, as a result, they get on the bike more vulnerable physically.

It's none of those.

In reality, if you get wiped out in a motorcycle accident and get carted into an emergency room anywhere in the U.S., they're going to treat you - whether you're an illegal immigrant or Evel Knievel.

I'm thinking it's simpler than that: White riders drive Harleys. And black riders choose faster, smaller, more dangerous European-built sport cycles.

The study's authors do hypothesize that sport cycles "are associated with greater speed, and speed had been established clearly as a risk factor in motorcycle mortality. Although empiric evidence on the role of motorcycle type is lacking, it seems likely that it is an important factor in exploring this disparity."

They make those observations, however, only after discussing potential disparities in insurance coverage, medical treatment and helmet use.

"Future research," they conclude, "is needed that explores motorcycle type, and its influence on injury morbidity and mortality and racial disparities."

Well, I've got the perfect laboratory in which to conduct that research. The gang from Hopkins ought get out of Baltimore and onto the Boulevard. Or I-95. Or try to survive a day driving the speed limit on the Schuylkill.

Driving home from work, picking up the kids or heading to a Phillies game, I'm likely to encounter a white guy coasting by on a Harley or a black guy careening past on a Hayabusa. Or a Ducati. Or some other foreign death craft whose name I can't pronounce.

I've never seen a white guy on a cruiser weave between two cars on a highway. Or been passed on the shoulder by what looks like a pill on wheels, only to notice that familiar Harley orange and black logo.

No, when somebody suddenly rips past my bumper without so much as a turn signal or a courtesy wave, it's usually a black rider and always a sporty bike.

There's no racial animus here. Nothing discriminatory. It's just the fact of what I see out on some of the most hectic roads in the region.

It's also the reality in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which for decades has been the motorcycle capital of the country. Every May, hundreds of thousands of bikers make their way to the tourist town for a series of cycle-related rallies. The biggest of them are the largely white Harley-Davidson Week and Black Bike Week (also known as Atlantic Beach Bike Fest), which immediately follows.

The dichotomy exists there - truly Ground Zero for motorcycle enthusiasts - just as it does in the Delaware Valley. And it has to be considered in any discussion of why riding a motorcycle is apparently safer for whites without helmets than it is for blacks who wear them.

It's not health insurance. Or helmet laws. It's the bikes and the way they're ridden.

Listen to Michael Smerconish weekdays 5-9 a.m. on the Big Talker, 1210/AM. Read him Sundays in the Inquirer. Contact him via the Web at www.smerconish.com.