Jul 28, 2016

Riding to Get to Keep Riding

NOTE: This one snuck up on me.  This was a response letter I wrote to an MMM reader 3 years ago and it never ended up getting sent because spent too long composing it. I have no idea how it ended up on the blog, but a couple of years ago I probably decided I'd dump it before I couldn't. 

You probably got at least one thing right [The reader claimed motorcycling on freeways was particularly unsafe.]. You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a traffic situation where motorcycling is "safe" by any definition of the word (Webster's uses "secure," "protected", "out of harm's way," "harmless" and such words as synonyms). I'm unconvinced that an average rider can ever be as "safe" as an average car driver in normal traffic situations. I don't think most of us ride because we think it's safe; part of the deal is the risk. If you want to be safe, take the bus.

Apparently, it's very possible that "training" as we define it may be an fantasy attempt to create "safer" riders, since motorcycle insurance companies are (according to what we heard last week at the MMSAC) are dropping discounts for riders who have received "training." The MSF honchos, two years ago, cautioned us against trying to correlate training with safer riding. It appears that something is not as it appears in the training world. Rider Magazine has been talking about this for a couple of years. It's not new news.

I think we always get the government we deserve, so if government has let us down "we have met the enemy and he is us." I don't know where you got that, but it was an interesting leap in something. However, regardless of your paranoia, it's (I think) logical that, if we (motorcyclists) don't manage to get a grip on the fact that we are a microscopic fraction of traffic and a substantial (10% I heard this summer) component of fatalities, we're likely to lose the tolerance of those with whom we share the road. Do you see a lot of snowmobiles on the road today? How about dirt bikes, horses, carriages, tractors, or lawn tractors? The way society and democracies work, if you don't have a social value to offer, you lose clout and privleges (it appears to be less than common knowledge that driving on public roads is a privledge, not a right). Currently, it's hard to estabilish how motorcycles provide any more transportation value than any of the historic vehicles I listed above, all of which can no longer use public roads (outside of incredibly restricted application for farm implements). I commuted about 40 miles today, starting at a little before 8AM and returning at 5PM, pretty much rush hour, and saw one other bike on the road. Who would it inconvenience if the two of us were banished from the highway? There was a lot of smoke and bullshit said when one dinky US manufacturer who can't meet EPA or safety standards in the US, let alone the rest of the world. It's not like many would notice if one of the US bike manufacturers vanished, let alone a tiny one. We've tossed more and better paying jobs into India in the last year than Harley will generate in the next decade.

As a dirt biker, I saw once practically unlimited access to public land and undeveloped land vanish to today's state of practically no off-road availability; in a portion of my lifetime. Motorcyclists get a good share of the blame for that loss, since motorcyclists (including me) abused practically every land use privilege we once had. You still see that biker hooligan attitude often on private land and the resulting enforcement of tightening riding space. We have no one to blame but ourselves for what we've lost.

Only a math-phobe would imagine that our current society has any foresight, so I'd probably agree with some of your rant on that subject. We're in debt. We're the world's worst polluter. We're chewing up natural and human resources as if we don't even know there will be generations after our own, let alone care about them. You could call that shortsighted, I'd be hard pressed to credit us with any vision capacity. I think humans are pefect evidence that there is no such thing as intelligent design in genetics. We're dumber than ants, as a species.

As for US corporate execs, they clearly don't care about their companies' futures and have no reason to do so. They pay themselves for non-performance and doing fatal damage to their corporations and the public invests in their worthless stocks to let them know we're too dumb to know better. We've been here before, at least a couple of times in the last century. They aren't smart enough to conspire toward any long term goal.

Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha were all but out of the motorcycle business in the 80s because of declining profits and inclining liability. Darwin could probably remind us of why that didn't happen, I can't remember. Probably a "feature" of being old. Honda and Suzuki got into cages. Yamaha broadened its products into everything else, but has had a steadily declining income for almost a decade. Kawasaki builds ships and construction equipment. They've all hedged their bets on motorcycling and, based on the fraction of their product line that they import into the US, I'd say they're not putting a lot of effort into our market's future.

One of the concepts/goals that was introduced into the MMSAC last week was "zero tolerance" for motorcycle highway deaths as a possible goal for the state. That sounds radical, but it might be the kind of approach we need to take to remove ourselves from the sights of outside regulation. Personally, I'm unconvinced that self-regulation ever happens in society, but it would be cool if it did with motorcycling. If we set out, as a class of folks who participate in this activity, to eliminate all motorcycle traffic deaths and did everything we can, as a group, to achieve that goal it seems to me that there could be all kinds of positive results from removing ourselves from the traffic death equation.

One might be more folks would consider riding "safe" and ride occasionally. The more of us there are on the road, regularly, the more of a share in traffic management we can claim.

That's my take, any way.

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