As motorcyclists go, I am in the ranks of the relatively inexperienced. While in high school I was the proud owner of two of Honda’s finest, a Super 90 and a 160 Scrambler, hardly the macho image producers of today’s super bikes and heavy cruisers. I scooted around Waynesville on these diminutive iron horses (ponies, actually), enjoying the low speed trips to work and school. The business of raising a family as a working man left me with little time and money to indulge this fascination with motorcycles in the early years after a stint in the Army and and while a young trooper. Later I said, and later is now and I am enjoying the open road on my recently acquired second Harley Davidson, replacing the Heritage Soft-Tail Deluxe with a velocity red tourer, the Street Glide. Springfield, Missouri is a great point of origin for motorcycle junkets, and I am enjoying the break-in of the Glide with jaunts into the Ozark hills. The calculated risk of riding a motorcycle (you are 27 times more likely to die in a motorcycle crash than in a car crash) is offset by the sights and smells of the countryside, enjoyed at relatively low speeds and and with an awareness of just what, exactly, can happen when you drop your guard. Let’s have a look at this business from a rider’s perspective.
In 2015, 4,976 motorcyclists were killed on America’s roads. There can be no question that a number of these good folks were killed through no fault of their own, such as when rear-ended by a car while waiting for a light at an intersection, however; the vast majority of riders contribute to their own demise by failing to recognize the events that are particularly dangerous to them, which has prompted this discourse. Statistically speaking, most motorcycle fatalities occur during daylight hours, no surprise as that is when most riding occurs. A whopping 37% of fatalities occur in a curve, where speed and inattention will earn you a ride in an ambulance. Excessive speed is a contributing factor in just over 35% of fatalities, although 30% of all accidents occur at speeds less than 30 MPH. The age of the rider is a negligible factor, with the average age of riders killed being 42. It isn’t surprising that inexperience is a big contributing factor with riders with under 6 months experiencing crashes at an alarming rate. Flatly stated, alcohol and motorcycles are a deadly mix. An astounding 42% of riders killed on motorcycles had a BAC of .08 or higher. Drinking and riding are the equivalent to climbing into the back of a van with a handful of Seconal capsules and a smiling Jack Kevorkian.
My personal philosophy when riding is that if it is a vehicle that you can see, and if it is occupied by a driver, it presents a threat and extra vigilance is indicated. So, you ask, what are the issues that seem to surface in most motorcycle crashes. Here we go!
1. Oncoming traffic. In this age of cell phones and other perpetual distractions, take nothing for granted here.
2. Turning cars.
3. Panic stops. A factor mitigated by ABS and linked brakes. My insurance company LOVES ABS brakes.
4. Gravel on the roadway. (Yesterday, I noticed a substance on the road ahead of me and braked in anticipation. It was animal fat, obviously spilled from a tankage hauler as he was entering the road, from a side road. This could have been disastrous.) Gravel and sand are very unforgiving when you are surprised by it.
5. Speed into a corner. Experience is key to negotiating twisties.
6. Opening car doors in an urban environment.
7. Changing lanes. Motorcycles are not easily seen by vehicles changing lanes.
8. Vehicles behind you.
9. Wet roads.
10. Drinking alcohol
11. Animals, both domestic and wild, in the roadway. Hitting them is one thing, the loss of control avoiding them is often more devastating.
Weaving and generally tempting fate with cute maneuvering in traffic also takes it’s toll on motorcyclists. I was surprised to note that California is the only jurisdiction in America that permits lane splitting by motorcycles, yet another dubious distinction for the Golden State.
I enjoy motorcycling and work hard to mitigate the risks associated with it. The enthusiasts that I associate with are far removed from the one percenters that earn their noteriety with shenanigans and stupidity. We are the folks who wear helmets, boots and gloves and, in my case, a dorky neon reflective vest that has Harley Davidson emblazoned across the back. I love the smells of the countryside and the rush of the wind as I enjoy the multisensory experience that cycling offers (notwithstanding the occasional slamming odor of a road kill that is aged to perfection). I realize that I won’t be able to jerk around a 800 pound Harley forever and am already damned careful how and where I park it when I stop for a cool drink and lunch. I am also very aware that you cannot mitigate what you don’t know anything about……
As long as I can………I will smile at the cough of a big V-Twin as it comes to life, and the anticipation of the adventure that is about to unfold.