Every weekend, I’m treated to parades of unskilled, noisy bikers wobbling through our small tourist town. Typically, 4-to-20-some bikers will ride, in staggered formation no more than 20’ apart, at 50+mph into town, often rolling through stop lights and signs because most of the riders are incapable of making basic traffic maneuvers: like stopping and starting competently. While the bikers, I’m sure, have images of the rest of us envying their “freedom” and bald domes shining (scroungy ponytails waving) in the sunlight, I am always reminded of herd animals grouping together under the flawed theory of “safety in numbers.”
There is a good evolutionary reason why antelope, gazelles, water buffalo, and cattle pack together in dangerous situations. The “good” part of the reason only applies to the young, fit, and quick. The predators will quickly identify the old and crippled and go for them, rather than waste their precious energy on the hard-to-catch young, fit, and fast. A pack of motorcycles all jammed together in an idiotic “rolling bowling pin” formation is, by default, a herd of old and crippled herbivores.
For decades, whenever we pass bikers in pirate underwear, my wife says, “They’re having fun now.” What she means, of course, is that those characters are so unaware of how precarious their existence is that they are blissfully unaware of how close they are to death, dismemberment, and general purpose mangling. If “ignorance is bliss,” pirate parade participants are some of the happiest people on the planet.
In the August 2019 issue, ABATE’s Ed Berner wrote “I’m tired of my brothers and sisters dying on the road because drivers are distracted or just don’t give a crap about anyone else.” When 30-40% of fatal motorcycle crashes are single vehicle incidents, you have to question that analysis. Knowing that more than a quarter of motorcycle crash deaths are solely the fault of bikers, you’d be statistically clueless to imagine that the other 60-70% of fatal motorcycle crashes are primarily the fault of cagers.
Mostly, I believe motorcyclists are dying out of disability: drunken driving behavior and a fair amount of their own “distraction” while they wobble down the road. Bikers are pretty much willingly hopping onto suicide machines dulled with “learned helpless syndrome” created by loud exhaust noise that causes mental and physical fatigue, distraction from useless and dangerous pack-formation etiquette, loud sound systems, on-bike cellphone use (hands-free and otherwise), handicapped by the mostly functionally-disabled motorcycles bikers choose to ride, and the general-purpose resistance to obtaining decent riding and defensive driving skills. Complaining that the suicide machines are actually doing the job they were designed to do isn’t any sort of solution.
Until retiring this year, I had been an MSF/MMSC Motorcycle Safety Instructor since 2001. I have taught dozens of what we used to call the “Experienced Rider Course” (ERC): now more-accurately relabeled the “Intermediate Rider Course” (IRC). Many of those classes were booked by biker clubs, often ABATE chapters. The hallmark of teaching those courses was too often excessive noise and general rider incompetence. Out of all of those courses, I only saw one rider on a big Harley who could actually handle that motorcycle competently and he was a retired motorcycle police officer with a stock exhaust and a mostly-stock motorcycle (He did have some Iron Butt farkles.). All of the other biker characters usually plowed through about half of the IRC exercises as if the cones were merely suggestions. Often, they would just park to the side of the range until the “impossible” exercises were finished.
At the opposite end of Berner’s death-and-destruction tale has been my 50-some-year association with motorcyclists (different folks than “bikers”). Counting the last two decades of hanging out with motorcycle safety instructors and the rest of my life with off-road racers, motorcycle journalists, adventure motorcyclists, motorcycle commuters, and Iron Butt riders, I have not personally known a single person who died riding a motorcycle. I have witnessed three motorcycle deaths in the last 50 years and two of the three were 100% the fault of the motorcyclist and the other was at least 50% due to the incompetence off the motorcyclist. I didn’t know any of those bikers. The riders I’ve worked and hung out with are, at best, entertained by the biker cult and, more likely, disgusted by the whole incompetent macho pirate-parade silliness. Among my friends, you won’t find a single bike with ape hangers, straight pipes, disabled front brakes, gynecological-exam-position road pegs, handlebar stereo systems, paddle-boards, or useless chromed geegaws. No novelty helmets or bowls, no chaps, no vests, gangster patches, or bandanas. No trikes, either. Those people depend—first, second, and last—on their riding skills, the capabilities of their motorcycles, AGAT, and unwavering focused attention on the road and other road users for their safety; not idiotic and useless legislation, billboards and bumper-stickers, or self-defeating “advocacy groups.”
Like my favorite t-shirt says, “If loud pipes save lives, imagine what learning to ride that thing could do.”