Monday, August 07, 2006

Hazards R Us, Part II

I want to clarify something from the Part 1. I mentioned new riders. There was no intent to cast aspersions on these folks. There are a lot of people exploring riding for the first time. I see them in my classes every week. There's bound to be a learning curve. The rest of us just need to be aware of that fact. One of the best things more experienced riders can do is to mentor the newer ones. Impart the one important piece of wisdom: Never ride faster than their guardian angel can fly!

New riders who have taken training usually know to stay within their limits. I don't generally consider them to be hazards to the rest of us. No, the new riders I'm mostly referring to are the ones who have these kinds of attitudes.

"I'm a man, I don't need no stinkin' training!" Or,

"I used to ride when I was a kid. You never forget how".

Long un-used skills rust like tools left laying in the yard. Muscle memory fades. It happens after a winter lay-off. What do they expect will happen after 25 or 30 years? That's providing there actually WERE skills in the first place. You can't convince me that untrained riders automatically know the right things to do. Riding skills are not some God-given gift bred into a man's ( or woman's ) DNA. Whether a rider is young and brash or having a mid-life crisis, nobody is "Born to Ride".

Having very little real skills combined with the attitude that they already know everything makes for a very lethal cocktail. Sometimes the damage is limited to the rider. Increasingly more often, though, other riders are becoming involved in the statistics. There's more of the "bike hits bike" while riding with a group.

Motorcyclists are starting to become their own worst enemies.

In California, there's roads that are well known as being sublime for motorcyclists. Places like the Angeles Crest Highway. We're starting to see prosposed restrictions and outright hostility towards all things two wheeled. I've talked to law enforcement people who are tired of cleaning up the senseless carnage. Those riders who just want to go out and relax are carefully timing rides to avoid the army of "squids". You can't blame them. The number of motorcycle crashes in California rose 31 percent while the rate for other vehicles went down.

There's increasing hostility from car drivers. Some is just going to happen due to psychological factors we won't go into here. Some is jealousy from being stuck in traffic while watching riders split lanes to make progress. Some is warranted. You've seen riders squirting in and out of traffic at high speeds. Recently the Oregon State Police arrested a rider for doing 128 mph on the freeway while making aggressive moves through traffic. What cracked me up is that the rider swore he was being reasonable!

Look at it from a car driver's point of view. They're getting ready to change lanes and do what they're supposed to. Suddenly there's a bike beside them. You can't argue that there's an increasing number of riders going too fast and acting erratically. These riders think they're good when it's actually the bike that's good. Their skill levels sorta suck and the bike can quickly get them in over their heads. Not all drivers are so innocent, either.

SUV's block any chance of a visual lead. Drivers are eating, talking on the cell phone, having "out of body" experiences, reading, and whatever. Sometimes all at the same time. Do you start to see the deadly mix, here? I've talked about the "cleansing of the gene pool" but it doesn't stop there. Like I said, other riders get hit and killed. And guess who gets the bad publicity for all of it? Yep, it's the motorcycle riders and we all end up being lumped in the same pile.

There has been a sort of interesting backlash. More so to Harley riders. At least the stuff I've heard about. I thought you might find it interesting, too.

This isn't meant as a blanket statement that encompasses all riders of Harleys. This simply comes from my hundreds of thousands of miles on a bike. In my experience "Harley" people have been, how shall I say it, a rather "closed" group. In other words, I feel like I'm being snubbed because I don't ride the same bike and wear the same gear. Now there's signs that this group is turning on each other.

There's a man named Mr. Bennett. He belongs to a Harley Rider's club. This man has been riding for most of his 59 years. Recently he had a scrape with a novice Harley rider. The new rider ran into the back of Mr. Bennett's bike while waiting at a red light. Here's a quote from Mr. Bennett I saw in the New York Times.

Noting that some of his peers have found a new group to snub, he says "They don't wave to new Harley riders now".

I'm not sure how they know for sure, but it's an intersting concept.

Harley riders no longer trusting Harley riders? A lot of them are putting on more gear than ever before. I see full face helmets fairly regularly, now. I see more protective gear. Has self-preservation finally gained a toe-hold over being "cool"? The tide seems to be turning.

Mr. Bennet says he's taken a defensive approach to the new reality. His Harley is customized like a Christmas tree. There are no fewer than eight lights in front and nine in back, some of them blinking. "Visibility is key to avoid being hit" he said. Mr. Bennett's not just talking about being hit by cars, either.

When you add in high-profile people who crash while being irresponsible, the picture gets worse. Arnold Schwarzenegger hit an SUV when it pulled out of a driveway. Arnold needed 15 stitches in his upper lip. Arnold didn't have an endorsement. I heard he stayed off his bike until he got the endorsement. That happened about mid-July. Not soon enough to avoid the bad publicity, but better late than never.

Ben Roethlisberger suffered a broken jaw and other injuries in a collision with a car in Pittsburgh on June 12. Ben had no motorcycle license or helmet. I read recently in Sports Illustrated that Ben mugged for a Campbell's Chunky soup print ad on July 26. Afterwards he said "I feel like I look pretty normal". What? Nothing about feeling sheepish?

So what can you and I do? We have to step up. If motorcyclists don't police themselves we'll be regulated out of existence. Besides that, I think we have an obligation to try to help the sport. Like I said above, mentor new riders. Share your experience and skills. You never know how much good you will be doing them. Push or shame returning riders into taking training if you see problems. I hear all the time about how taking training has probably saved a life. If somebody's being a jerk, tell them so. I'm positive all of you personally are classy ambassadors of riding. ( that doesn't mean you can't go out and have fun! )

Like it or not, all of us are lumped together. Let's see if we can make a positive difference.

Miles and smiles,

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