Ouch! Isn't there a better way?
Every once in a while I win an argument but in such a way I wish I hadn't. A while back I put up a couple of posts about gear. How do I convince riders of the value in setting egos and peer pressure aside? How do I get through to them the need to wear good gear? How do I make them see the consequences that could easily become their reality? It's like beating my head against a wall, sometimes. I've saved an old full face helmet for just such fruitless endeavours.
There's this woman who came through a class of mine last year. It's not her real name but I'm going to call her Ruth. She'd never ridden before. No problem there. It was a beginner's class. Ruth came to class with her own helmet, a half shell. It wasn't a novelty type helmet and met our policy standards for use in class. I always hope to influence a rider's choice of gear during the course of a weekend. People have to chose for themselves in the end. Ruth had also purchased a brand new cruiser. Surprisingly, it was a Honda 750 Shadow, not a Harley. It had never been ridden before. A friend had trailered it to her house.
So here we are in class. Ruth has absolutely no coordination and very little ability to process things quickly. I actually took her out of class on the first range day. She was a safety hazard and my professional judgement told me she wasn't going to get better anytime soon. I kindly explained how the class was a chance to explore and discover. In my professional opinion, she should find another hobby. I know it sounds harsh. My integrity demands of me that I be kind but honest. Sending someone away with only a "feel good" experience doesn't do them any favors.
Usually I never see these folks again. As luck would have it, though, I was to encounter Ruth on several more occasions. She'd purchased the bike from the dealer I frequented. Ruth told me that she had sent the bike in for a custom paint job that reflected the college she favored. I asked Ruth if she had purchased a full face helmet, yet. I received an indignant response to the effect that there was nothing wrong with what she had. After Ruth left, the salesman told me that Ruth had asked his dad to teach her to ride. They were sort of family friends. She'd never told him about our range side conversation. That's probably why she left so quickly when I showed up.
The salesman told me that during the very first lesson Ruth had dumped the bike in gravel and scratched up the fancy paint job. None of us could figure out why Ruth was so determined to do this. As far as anyone knew, she didn't have a husband or partner at all, let alone one who rode. There wasn't a group of riders that she hung out with. It seemed to be her own thing. I shrugged and went about my business.
A couple of months later I encountered Ruth at another dealer. Her bike with the damaged paint job was parked outside. A guy was with her. He was the one who rode the bike with Ruth as passenger. Ruth was still clutching her half shell helmet. I sort of chided her to look at full face helmets. I was more concerned now that I knew what was going on. I didn't want to come out and say she was such a danger she needed all the protection she could get. Maybe it should have been said but it was still her choice.
The reason she was there was that she was blaming the bike for her ineptness. Ruth was convinced that another brand of bike would make her problems go away. I took the sales manager, who is also a friend of mine, aside and explained the situation to him. He'd already heard about her. A guy who is a motor cop had passed on the story of how she'd hired him to teach her to ride. This guy was a casual friend of Ruth. She'd offered $75 an hour for private lessons. After the second lesson he'd told her it was a lost cause and gave her back her money. Thumbs up to the dealer for acting responsibly in the matter. They weren't going to just take her money and hope for the best.
I saw Ruth once more. She came back to class. I switched assignments so Ruth would be in someone else's group. Maybe a fresh approach would be good. She failed miserably but at least she wasn't quite the same safety hazard as before. The half shell helmet was still around although with a couple of scratches on it.
Ruth crashed this last weekend. My neighbor happened to be telling me about it. He's a county deputy and was on scene. Greg was coming home from his shift and saw me working on the CB900. In the course of conversation he mentioned the accident. When he described the bike with it's unusual paint job, I asked him for the gal's name. It was Ruth. Seems she was riding out by herself. Ruth only has a permit and isn't supposed to have been riding alone in the first place. Her story was that a deer had jumped out in front of her. Greg told me there was a fifty foot skid mark from the rear tire then the bike fell over and slid some more. Ruth was wearing that half shell helmet. Her face hit the road and was pretty messed up from the initial impact and the consequent sliding along. It was a tragic result of really poor skills and equally poor gear. There was also no jacket, by the way. Ruth was riding in a short sleeved pink t-shirt and jeans.
I hate it when things turn out this way. My initial reaction is to wish I'd been more obnoxious about arguing for better gear. It wouldn't have mattered, I know. People have to keep the right to make their own choices. Along with that comes the obligation to suffer the consequences. It's the old "You can do whatever you want as long as you're willing to pay the price" thing. It's small consolation but I know I did whatever I could including telling her I didn't think she should be riding at all.
Maybe one of these days the medical profession will develop a vaccine to prevent the "That will never happen to me" disease. At least for every Ruth there's quite a number of riders doing fine because of what I've shared. That doesn't make me feel any less for Ruth, though. It's all the success stories that keep me passionate about training riders. I just really hate to win an argument like this.
Miles and a painful grimace today,