Aug 8, 2011

What A License Means

Last night, I was in a non-motorcycle related meeting with three other middle aged guys and after the meeting broke up we all ended up congregated around my motorcycle, the WR250X. All three of the meeting participants had motorcycle licenses and used to be motorcyclists. Two of them still owned non-functional motorcycles. This would be an example of the "180,000 Minnesota motorcyclists" often cited in pro-motorcycling propaganda.

All three of those guys are competent, intelligent men who would probably be decent riders if they rode. However, they make a solid case for changing the idiotic state of national motorcycle licensing. Nothing about having passed a remedial riding test 5 to 50 years ago says anything about a rider's current capability. That's true for any driving license, but considering our outrageous mortality and morbidity rates it's particularly true for motorcyclists.

The subject of motorcycle technology was the reason for the little post-meeting parking lot gathering. All four of us had a stake in our opinions. The oldest guy was an English ex-pat retired physician with a nationalist penchant for all things Brit, especially mechanical things. When I described the WR's fuel injection, he eulogized the "great British carburetors" and their superiority over all things Japanese. Having experienced the wonders of SU (MGA & MGBs), AMAL and Villers (Triumph & BSA & other assorted marginally functional Brit bikes), I'm less than convinced that the Brits can build anything that can hold fluids of any viscosity. The other two guys weren't particularly ethnocentric, but they are of the "old bikes are best," anti-electronics crowd. I am, obviously, all for as much modern tech as I can get my hands on, afford-ably.

I also ride my motorcycles (except the Sherpa which is just not interesting after the WR). At the end of the shade-tree mechanics' meeting, I realized that possessing a motorcycle license is as much an indicator of motorcycle-capability as having health insurance protects me from bankruptcy if a life-threatening disease were to strike. None of these guys would try to pass himself off as an expert motorcyclist, but they would all feel confident in their ability to ride a motorcycle because they all possessed a license that gave them the legal right to ride. If motorcycling were in some what like driving a car, that might not be catastrophic. But motorcycling provides at least 100-times the opportunities for disaster as driving a car. Our licensing system is dumb and needs to be reworked.


Paul said...

Old bikes are best if you've never experienced how good the new stuff is. Which of those guys is willing to go back to a car of the vintage they seem to feel is "best"?
It's fun to bop around with an old car or bike, but if they haven't been updated in any way they feel real old real fast.
I've met countless guys that come up and talk about how they used to ride, but unless they're obviously physically unable to ride anymore I don't want to listen.

Anonymous said...

I disagree somewhat. Yes, skills are important, but so is judgment. Look at all the dumb accidents car drivers get into while texting or talking on the phone. They would be much safer drivers if they just had some judgment. Lately we have had a rash of 20 somethings smearing themselves down the road on their motorcycles while going outrageous speeds. The remains of the bikes indicate that they hit at insane speed. No sense.

T.W. Day said...

I guess "somewhat" of a disagreement would be accurate. I don't know how you teach judgement, but it would be a great program to install if it were possible. In general, we're not doing too well in that area all over the US these days.