Riding motorcycles is dangerous. I spent my childhood listening to my mom tell me that you buy your son a motorcycle for his LAST birthday, the last few years enduring stories from well intentioned people about the kid they knew in college who died riding a bike, or, my personal favorite, the facepalm inducing tale of my wife’s hairdresser who was dragged twenty feet through a field, on his face, while off roading a CBR600, wearing shorts and flip flops…. No shirt. He looks great now, but you know, less so back then.
There’s no arguing the point. Every time I throw a leg over my bike and start the engine, I’m assuming some level of risk. How much risk, I think, is up to me. There are several safety factors I can mitigate before I have to accept that the cosmos can punch my ticket anytime it likes. Things like appropriate gear, i.e. Helmets, gloves, and protective clothing. No, not just 501’s, something with Kevlar, and padding if you can fit it in. The technology exists to enhance your riding safety, so why not use it? It’s expensive, you say? This is true. It’s ninety degrees out and too hot for an armored jacket? Also true. But I would argue that leaving ones face in a puddle on the side of the road is probably worth a little sweat and spending a few hundred bucks on a decent helmet. Even this face.
So get some decent gear. That’s easy, but what else? I think I’d call it mindset. Mindset on a motorcycle is twofold. Once you leave the relative safety of your driveway, you have to assume that everyone on the road is actively trying to kill you. As much as I’d like to sit back and zone out while riding down what looks like a quiet road, I scan. I watch intersections, look through corners and every few minutes I check my six. I don’t just watch the car in front of me, but the car in front of him, and I keep a minimum of three seconds separation. If I stay ahead of the traffic, I can increase my survivability. Let’s be honest for a moment about who is on the road in America: Stressed out, distracted, Facebook posting, Wazers who, after they hit you, simply won’t understand why they never saw you before they pulled out in to traffic. They’re out there people, and they are trying to end your life. So I scan.
Who are “they?” In my few years of motorcycling, I think I’ve successfully identified the demographics of folks, who may be terrific people, but are most likely to kill me on the road:
The elderly. That’s right kids, Grandpa has glaucoma and neuropathy, and even if he could see you he damned sure isn’t going to slow that Lincoln land yacht down in time. The only upside is, he’s probably going pretty slow, and it’s not personal, he’s a threat to everyone.
Soccer moms. That’s going to offend people. Sorry bros, it’s the truth. Every minivan I come across in traffic seems to have a big sunglassed mom in the front seat, on a cell phone looking vaguely annoyed. This lady, while doing the admittedly admirable and thankless job of raising children, is simply not paying attention to anything happening outside that sharp mint green Toyota Sienna. When she hits you, she’s probably more pissed about getting little Jimmy to practice late.
The Prius. Sorry mom, more truth. Socially liberal folks in their gas sipping (I hate that phrase) hybrid, even WITH hands free Bluetooth technology, pose a real threat to the motorcyclist. Why? To be honest, I’m not sure. Looking in the window you can see them shouting into whatever microphone is hidden in the dash so as to not hold their phones. I think that’s great, by the way. No, I can’t hear you, but thanks for not distracting your driving by holding your phone. Now please call me back when you get home. I don’t get it, but I’ve had enough encounters with the Pri-i to consider this fact.
Teenagers. I’ve been there man. Just ask my driving record. Speeding tickets, accidents, you name it. As a younger man, I did plenty of dumb ass things in cars, and on a couple occasions, was surprised I survived. Only, I couldn’t blame a cell phone. That dumbassery was all my own. In the 21st century however, lack of experience paired with social media are the weapons of choice for this predator. Yeah they’re the future of our country and all that, but let’s not accelerate the attrition rate by weeding out the motorcycle riders.
Just today, while on my way home, in the span of about ninety seconds I witnessed two acts of unspeakable stupidity, so appalling that if I hadn’t been paying attention, should have killed me. I was coming up a hill behind three cars, all of whom were taking the exit going north onto the freeway. As I’m watching them stack up for the ramp, a green minivan, appears going the wrong way, up the on ramp. The driver had a cell phone in one hand and while nearly hitting all three of the merging cars never saw me as she entered my lane. I had plenty of time to adjust, so I came to a stop and leaned on my horn, while she passed in front of me without so much as tapping her brakes. Not forty five seconds later, from the left another driver in a corvette convertible started rolling into my lane looking the opposite way. I hit the horn again, they looked surprised and stopped. “Where did he come from?” I could see them saying. A minute and a half, and if I hadn’t been looking, I’d likely be in the hospital. Yeah, I get it. It’s dangerous.
So what’s the other part of motorcycling mindset? Call it, moto-zen. When you survive something that makes you wonder if your affairs are in order, youve got to let it go. Yeah I know, that’s a tough one. I struggle with it from time to time and on a couple occasions have opted to stop, get off the bike and collect my composure… All while looking for a new pair of shorts. Road rage is a real and dangerous thing these days and on two wheels, you are destined to lose any kind of ill conceived confrontation. So man up, and don’t be provoked by the lunatic good ol’ boy who just swerved into your lane while his Stars and Bars flag dislodges from it’s loosely attached truck bed flag pole. As one of my instructors once told me: Suck it up, walk it off. I’m not great at this yet, but I’m trying harder not to take attempted vehicular homicide so personally.
Hard on the nerves is right. So why do we do it? With the ever looming threat of multiple assailants, skin graphs and a grizzly end, what makes riding a motorcycle so appealing?
How much time do you have?
It’s for all the rides away from traffic. For the rides on long deserted roads with amazing scenery. It’s exploring a place you’ve never been because, in a car, you wouldn’t think of it. It’s being a part of the environment you’re riding through, not just staring at it out a window. Things like, smelling the pine trees up in the mountains, or just some dude’s grill when you’re hungry. It’s catching an apex just right and throttling out of a corner. It’s the rumble of your engine. Hell, it’s even the bike wave. It’s a million little things that do so much to fill the soul. I usually snicker with derision at the “thrill of the open road” cliche. I mean really, it sounds ridiculous, right? Sure, but after a few years of riding I have to admit, it’s a thing, and it freakin rocks.
So yeah motorcycling is dangerous, and does have its nerve wracking moments but those pale in comparison to how much good it can do for ones soul. Get some good training, some solid gear and a bike, and go forth and have an adventure. Even if it’s just meeting your buddy for lunch.