I’m not usually one to mix topics on this blog; meaning that I stick to motorcycle related topics. To that end I’m going to try and discuss what’s on my mind today using motorcycles as a metaphor.
We all know that there are different kinds of riders; not just in what we ride, but in how we ride. We also know that what we ride does not necessarily determine how we ride. I know slow sport bike riders, ADV riders who have never been off-road and we all know the old guy on a Goldwing who sneaks up on us in the curves and smokes us. There are also motorcycle owners who are more interested in owning a bike than in riding a bike. So what we ride does not determine how we ride or that we ride, but in many cases does contribute to the image that we want to portray to others.
The reason that I bring these distinctions up is that I find a similarity in motorcycle riding and riders to how people behave. I won’t take the leap to say that what and how we ride reflects our personality. However true that may be it’s not what I’m talking about here. More that the outward appearance of people, what they show to the world, can contrast with who they are and what they believe. In other words just because a person owns a screaming 1000cc sport bike does not mean they like to ride fast. It’s the idea that they have the potential to, and therefore give the impression that they can, go fast. Having the potential and the appearance however do not make it so. For some that’s fine.
Riding takes commitment but there are several levels as I see it. The casual rider who owns a bike and rides it occasionally. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Motorcycle riding is, at its heart for all of us, an activity we pursue because it makes us feel good. If that means that a rider only takes their bike out when it’s the most pleasurable for them to do so then who are any of us to judge that as a bad thing. The hobbyist is more dedicated to riding and may ride more often. For any number of reasons the hobbyist dedicates more time to riding than the casual rider and often plans rides in advance rather than waiting for the weather and schedules to fall into line. The enthusiast I equate to riders who commute, tour or have more time to dedicate to riding. They have made a serious commitment to riding and see it as more than just a leisure activity but an integral part of who they are. The final level of commitment is the professional. This is the person who has taken the final step to make riding their way of life and their livelihood.
These levels of commitment generally correspond to a level of acceptable risk on the part of the rider. The more involved in riding, the greater the level of risk that is accepted. Even just getting on two wheels a rider accepts a certain amount of risk. Risk in riding comes in many forms. There are the obvious forms of physical danger that are inherently increased from the general public by simply getting on a bike and riding it. Risk also comes from a lack of understanding and appreciation for riding. It can come from bad habits and bad advice. One source of risk that’s often overlooked is our own predisposition to riding, our perceptions and assumptions of what riding should be and our unwillingness to let go of these to incorporate new information.
Mitigating risk through education is the best option, in my opinion, as long as that information is accurate and taken in context. A rider may read in a riding skills book that the best way to reduce injury or avoid an accident is to perform a controlled hard breaking maneuver. This reduces the riders speed if they are going to collide with an object or may prevent a collision altogether. But what if the rider does not also read that hard breaking while in a turn reduces traction and can cause tires to slide possibly resulting in a low side crash? This rider may try breaking hard in a corner only having part of the information and end up crashing their bike. This has two consequences, the first being that the rider did not avoid an accident and may get injured. The second is that the rider may inaccurately determine that the information regarding braking was false and not return to the skills book to get the whole picture. This forms a prejudice against the subject that may be spread to other riders when asked for advice on how to avoid an accident.
Get all the information first. If something does not go right while riding, go back to the source and study it to find out where things went wrong and how to correct it. Do not pick and choose what information you think is important or not before reading all that you can first. Riding based on half truths, myths and other peoples opinions can be dangerous and may lead to the spread of false or inaccurate information. Through learning from others, studying to validate opinions received and to get new information, being humble, and realizing that there is always something to learn, these issues can be lessened or removed altogether. There are no shortcuts. A commitment to riding well takes practice and learning. As they say in the military: “Trust, but verify.”
Motorcycling is governed by two sets of laws: Those imposed by the government and the natural laws of physics. Breaking the laws of the government may result in a fine and can be inconvenient. These laws are in place primarily to establish boundaries around riding that ensure we are all working from a common set of rules and expectations for acceptable behavior while riding. Try to break the laws of physics and you will always loose, always. They are unforgiving and never changing. It is important to learn and understand what the laws in your state are for riding. It is essential to understand the physics or natural laws that govern how a motorcycle works. Some of these natural laws are self evident, others are more subtle and can even be counter intuitive. This is why studying the immutable forces that act on a motorcycle is so important. With out understanding the context in which a bike navigates natural laws, riding obtains a level of mystery where superstition, myth and assumption can create a very dangerous environment.
Whatever level of commitment you have. Whatever image you want to project. A lack of understanding the commitments you’ve made, the risk that you have assumed, and the laws (both governmental and natural) of motorcycling, will catch up with you. The consequences can be painful and a learning experience if you’re lucky, fatal if you are not.
Whatever kind of rider you want to be, I encourage you to read as much about motorcycling as possible. Listen to the advice of other riders, but validate that advice with information from reputable and reliable sources. Be willing to accept the truth when it’s presented to you. Be Humble. Most important, remember that you ride because it makes you feel good. It’s the reason we all ride. Don’t spoil that for others by defining for them what riding is and then trying to impose that view on them. Especially when it’s uninformed and exclusionary. We are already separated from the general public as riders. We do not need to be further separated within that group by each other.