Monday, September 8, 2014

Editorial: Addressing the myth that motorcycles are dangerous

"Aren't motorcycles dangerous?"

I get this frequently from friends and family whenever the subject of my motorcycling first comes up. Even for those who have ridden in the distant past, albeit in other countries, I get the same question. For many, it is a question stemming purely from the lack of experience, having never even ridden on a motorcycle before, much less been at the controls of one. Others are coming purely based on the image that motorcyclists get in the media, mostly in the form of Sons of Anarchy and high-speed chase videos where things end poorly. Whatever the impetus, I take the opportunity to try to educate the person a bit on riding and precautions I personally take.

To start, there is all of the gear I own. This includes several different sets of helmets, pants, boots, jackets, and gloves, all intended to be used in different types of riding, but all designed specifically for motorcyclists and are armored accordingly. I review with them the protective nature of the gear, including how the materials are designed to resist abrasion and provide crash protection. On top of that, I also talk to them about some of the safety features that my bike has, such as ABS brakes. Of course this is just the start.

Additionally, I talk about the training that was involved in order to get my license. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation course that I took required a focused effort to learn a number of motorcycle specific safety skills that are intended to train motorcyclists to be defensive riders. That included class time to provide training on the mental aspects, which requires a rider to change their entire approach to road use in order to safely navigate the roads. While this training is not required, it is often offered as an alternative to the traditional licensing process and offers more than just the physical techniques needed to operate the motorcycle.

Finally, I talk about how motorcycling has made me a better driver. I am increasingly more aware of my surroundings now, whether on the bike or in the car, and I now do head-checks for all lane changes. This is also reflected in my treatment of other motorcyclists as well, giving them extra space to maneuver, especially in CA where lane-splitting is allowed.

Of course, I am but one rider. And while motorcycles are inherently less stable than a vehicle with four wheels, it offers a freedom that even the best convertible cannot. That is the trade-off that most riders understand when we decide to ride. By itself, the motorcycle is no more dangerous than any other inanimate vehicle. In the hands of the right rider, the motorcycle is a wonderful way to experience the world.

As for being dangerous, sure, but then so are cars and red meat if you are looking purely at the numbers.