All Rights Reserved © 2014 Thomas W. DayDuring an Experienced Rider class late in 2014, my group of smarter-than-typical riders seriously discussed motorcycle gear, riding fast on public streets, and taking risks. The only barely-competent guy in this normal group commented, "If you're not going fast you're not riding." His bike of choice was a classically overweight, underpowered, unmaneuverable hippobike, so I had to assume that his version of "going fast" would be less-than-impressive, outside of his noise output. Still his comment inspired one of the other riders to say, "Watching my kids bang around the house reminded me that I was no longer made out of magic and rubber and I gave up serious off-road racing when I turned 30." The "magic and rubber" comment really stuck with me.
As my wife and I were near the end zone of getting our house in Little Canada emptied out and ready for sale, I took a walk around our old neighborhood. On the way back home, I flashed back to a decade ago when my grandson was in the early stages of learning how to ride a bicycle. One afternoon after riding to our neighborhood playground he was "racing" me back home when he target-fixated on a group of mailboxes and plowed into them pretty close to full speed. He was, of course, helmeted, gloved, and wearing a little protective padding. I wasn't far behind him and after I'd checked him over, determining that he had nothing more than a big scare and a few scratches, we rode the rest of the way home fairly subdued. While we were putting up the bikes and gear, we had another talk about where you look when you're riding a bicycle: "look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go." In what seemed to me like a few minutes, he'd gone from scared and crying to having forgotten about the crash altogether. The next time we rode to the park, he was back to racing me and every trip after that was uneventful. If I had that same crash I'd probably still be in a wheelchair and scarred for life; helmet or not.
Thinking about that crash reminded me of the series of horrific crashes Garry McCoy demonstrated for the movie "Faster."
McCoy did not get away harmlessly when he crashed. Between 1998 and 2010, when McCoy finally retired from racing, Garry broke an ankle and a wrist and spent more time than any sane person flying through the air with pieces of his motorcycles scattering in the winds. When McCoy crashed, he crashed spectacularly. But he raced at a world championship level for 18 years and even when he didn't run with the fastest guys he was always fast and fun to watch. Racers know that old saying about motorcycling, "there are riders who have crashed and riders who will crash" is a fact. If they've been riding near their limits for any time at all, they've already joined the "riders who have crashed" group, more than once.
Once you've done the "flying through the air" thing, you will become far more familiar with the risk involved in riding a motorcycle. Even if you're properly geared up, AGAT from head-to-toe, you'll most likely still be sore the next day and more aware of how slight the margin between seriously broken and almost broken can be. When my grandson crashed his bicycle all I could think about for a few hours was how easily his crash could have been something awful for him and our family. Some of that was due to my own familiarity with crash consequences. In various off-road racing incidents I've broken all of the toes on my left foot, all of my left side and several of the right side ribs, a couple of fingers, and both clavicles (one on a bicycle). Not one of the crashes that resulted in busted body parts was even close to being one of my most spectacular endos. Just a little bit of bad luck and/or poor timing turned what could have been nothing but a good story into a few months of painful recovery.
When I see riders wobbling down public roads in their "biker underwear" (any outfit that doesn't qualify as AGAT), oblivious to the risk they are taking and the possible consequences of that risk, I'm reminded of my wife's observation, "They're having fun now." It's not difficult to imagine how quickly that fun can turn into disaster. I've seen what happens when skin meets asphalt at speed. It's ugly, painful, and a little disgusting. I've seen a skull turned into something more like a poorly shaped pillow that sagged weirdly into the road. I've crashed my bicycles at 2-25mph, wearing the usual bicycle "gear" and left a whole lot of myself on the road or trail. Even when the road rash barely breaks the skin, if there is enough of it it still hurts a lot and for a surprisingly long time.
Motorcycling is risky. So, it's fair to say that every time we gear up and swing a leg over a motorcycle, we're assuming risk. With that assumption, it's also fair to say that every time we swing an unprotected leg over a motorcycle we're acting stupidly and pretending the road isn't hard and unforgiving, that mechanical parts don't fail unexpectedly, and that we're unlikely to make a stupid mistake that could result in a crash. There is also the less likely possibility that someone else will do something stupid and crash into us. So, motorcycling without taking the barely-reasonable precautions of going AGAT and being sure our skills are sufficient for the machine we've picked is clearly stupid. So, before you open the garage door and roll your machine into the driveway, I'd recommend asking yourself, "Am I a risk taker or just a moron?"