Are Motorcycles Too Dangerous? Why I Ride A Motorbike Despite The Risk.
As with most motorcyclists, I am regularly asked why I pursue such a risky pastime. Riding a motorbike is inherently dangerous. Tens of thousands of riders die every year. Here in Canada, you are 14 to 15 times more likely to die on a motorbike than in a car. The stats are likely similar elsewhere. You can quibble over exact numbers, or which factors play the biggest role, but the key point remains — bikes aren’t for the faint of heart.
I know all of this. And believe me, I am not a man with a death wish — far from it. I have a family I adore — a wonderful wife, a dog, and three kids who still very much need their dad around. I also have a successful business and career I enjoy, a group of lifelong friends and …you get the idea. I’m nowhere near ready to depart this world. And yet I still choose to ride. Why?
It’s In My Blood
I got my first bike when I was twelve. A beautiful bright red brand-spanking-new 1979 Honda Z50 mini-bike (bike folks will know this is a cult classic. Oh how I wish I still had mine). It arrived completely out of the blue. I was flabergasted, as up to that point my parents had not been in the habit of bestowing large, life-altering gifts upon my siblings and I.
About a month prior to the mini-bike’s shocking arrival in my backyard, we’d been visiting some of my dad’s friends and their similarly-aged son had a mini-bike that I’d been intrigued by. That was all it took. Looking back, I think my father saw what he viewed as an opportunity to “man up” his incredibly meek little son and jumped on it. My Dad was essentially John Wayne — 100% burly dude who spent his life working on drilling rigs — and I was an intensely shy, spindly little twig, and pretty much the only kid in all of Canada who didn’t play on a hockey team growing up because I was too terrified of being body-checked into oblivion. So when he saw me show interest in something with some masculine chops to it, he pounced.
And it worked! I loved that little mini-bike with all my heart, just as I’ve loved each of the larger ones that followed. Many riders will tell you a similar tale, of getting a chance to try out a bike during their formative years and experiencing a sensation unlike anything they’d experienced before.
It’s Fun As Hell
There are special moments in life when you feel incredibly alive. Standing at the top of a mountain getting ready to descend a harder run than you’ve ever skied before. Your wedding day. The birth of a child. Insert your own experience here. Whatever it is, it’s exhilarating. Often, the exhilaration of those special moments is spiced with a healthy dash of fear. Too much fear and the meal is ruined. But if you hit the proportions just right, yum. For me and many others, riding a motorcycle allows you to create that special dish on a regular basis. That’s a pretty magical ingredient to be able to stock your pantry with.
When I’m on a bike, I don’t think about deadlines at work. Or my mortgage payments. Or the overdue school forms sitting in a pile on my desk, or any of the other thousand other bits of detritus of daily existence. Instead, I’m thinking of lining up that next corner. Or better still, I’m not really consciously thinking of anything at all — my body and subconscious mind are instinctively taking care of the dozens of calculations, observations and physical adjustments that happen every second when you ride. Meanwhile, my “day brain” is free to just float — enjoying the feelings coursing through my fingers, my legs, my torso, feeling the wind in my face and watching the world fly by. Bliss.
It’s A Community
Non-riders may not be aware of this, but when bikers pass each other on the highway, they typically give each other a little wave. Often it’s subtle, just a little flip of the fingers or a quick “peace” sign with the non-throttle hand or even just a nod. But it’s an acknowledgement that the two of you are out there, a self-selected minority of kindred spirits riding free in a broader, more boring world full of “cagers” (car and truck occupants). The wave signals respect, and acknowledgment of the shared adventure.
Beyond the wave, riding a bike is an incredibly easy way to meet people. Pull up at a gas station, a coffeeshop, a roadside cafe. Chances are good, someone will amble over and ask you about your bike, tell you about theirs or one they once had. And when you walk inside, your gear will instantly mark you as a rider. More conversations ensue. Motorbikes are conversational firestarter. If you enjoy meeting new people, bikes make it easy. And if you already have friends that ride, riding together will cement those bonds in a way a dinner party never could.
I”m A Gear Addict
One of my earliest memories is from when I was about four years old and was carted along with my parents to visit an elderly couple they were friends with. Those folks had an adult son in his early 20’s who was a paratrooper in the Canadian military. He wasn’t there that day, but his jumping helmet was — a classic open-faced white motorcycle helmet. I got to look at that helmet. I got to hold that helmet (very very carefully). I was utterly smitten. Flash forward about four and a half decades and not much has changed, except that I now have more ability to indulge my inner toddler’s shopping fantasies. Helmets. Jackets. Boots. Gloves. Goggles. Jerseys. Riding pants. I love them all, and have more of each than I probably should. As the Japanese de-cluttering experts like to say, all of this stuff “sparks joy”.
Accepting & Managing The Risk
That’s a partial list of the things I love about motorbiking. But none of it changes the fact it’s still a relatively high-risk activity. Less than some extreme sports (hello fixed-wing flying suits, free climbing) but more than taking your Volvo to the neighbourhood Starbucks to be sure. I have chosen to ride anyhow because in life, you’ve got to pick your spots. The world is an arbitrary place. There’s nothing to say that if you avoid everything and spend your days hiding in your living room that you won’t be struck down by lightning, an errant car crashing through your front window, nuclear war, or diabetes exacerbated by your stagnation. Before I’m done I want to be able to say that I’ve truly lived while I was here. For me, motorcycles further that goal.
Having made the decision to ride, I don’t discount the risk. There tend to be two types of riders out there. The first kind will blast past you on the street in a blur going 30 or 50 or more over the speed limit, often wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers while they do it. The Emergency Room doctors refer to those as “Donor Cycles” and that is not the scene for me. The second type of rider will be riding like a fellow traveller instead of a lunatic. They will look like they are outfitted for a NASA mission, with space boots, a proper helmet instead of a beanie, Kevlar-lined jackets & pants reinforced with armor in the impact zones, hard-knuckled gloves, and neon yellow reflective swashes all over the place. This latter group has a motto “ATGATT” — All The Gear All The Time — and is the tribe to which I belong. I also know my own limits and don’t try and ride beyond my capabilities. I don’t drink and ride. And I ride defensively, with a mindset that every car on the road has half a mind to kill me and it’s my job to ensure they don’t succeed. None of that guarantees me an accident-free future, but put all those things together and I feel that I’ve done the right things to bring the risk associated with motorbiking within acceptable limits. Others will no doubt assess the risks and rewards somewhat differently, but that’s how my own personal calculus adds up. And that is why I ride motorcycles, despite the risk.