Extreme Endurance Racing: Death and The Edge

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Extreme Endurance Racing: Death and the Edge

Belgian rider Eric Palante died last week in the 5th stage of the Dakar Rally in Argentina. Palante was a veteran rider — one of the best in the world. Last year, Dakar rider Thomas Bourgin was killed in a collision. At the 2013 Isle of Man TT, rider Yoshinari Matsushita was killed during a practice run. In its 102-year history, the TT has claimed 240 lives. Motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport, but these two races are the extreme edge of the motorcycling sport, where even the best of the best may be felled.

Eric Palante
Eric Palante

Photo by Chile Satelital

Safety concerns are always an important issue in these races, and questions are naturally raised after fatalities, but outside of the controlled environment of a race track, there is a limit to what can be done.  The danger is inherent.

Contrast this with the upcoming Olympics, where competition is colorfully packaged in the most palatable and banal possible manner. Sure, at the level of the athlete, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of a lifetime of utter, unflinching dedication, but at the level of the institution, it is the cross-breeding of politics and advertising. Incredible physical achievements made boring by marketing monotony and tedious hype.

Yoshinari Matsushita
Yoshinari Matsushita

Photo by Laurent Cartalade

Events like Dakar and the TT do not have mass appeal like the Olympics, and the fame of these riders is very limited, even among bikers. It would not be fair to say the danger is the appeal for fans. It’s not the thrill of possibly seeing a crash (this isn’t NASCAR) but the exhilaration of watching the testing of the limits of human mental and physical acuity and stamina. It’s the people who are awed by those limits, understand the challenge, and who ride themselves that love the sport.

Like the day sailor who follows the races of half-mad solo around-the-worlders or the recreational pilot with a signed photo of John Glenn on his wall – however humble our own limits may be, some of us dream of testing them.  We admire those who transcend the atmosphere we breathe.

Isle of Man TT
Isle of Man TT

Photo by Phil Long

These are not Walter Mitty fantasies, but a reaching upward and outward. Very few of us could or would actually want to tackle these motorcycling Everests like Dakar and the TT, but the fact that some people really do that inspires us.

In spite of all our precautions and prudence, there is always some danger on two wheels. We feel it. We take no joy is seeing a great matador be gored; our thrill is when he deftly grazes the bull’s back as the beast passes by. We respect the bull, but we do not root for him.

Dakar
Dakar

Photo by Moto Racing Live

As devotees, we often feel like we know these people, and news of these deaths is tragic.  Especially because it is such a special interest, it sometimes feels like a very personal loss. We also know that, if we were called on to eulogize them, our first line would be, “He died doing what he loved.” In truth, a better remembrance would be, “He lived doing what he loved.”

Thoughts?

  • William Connor

    I like that you changed it to “He lived doing what he loved.” A more accurate description of riders. I would rather die like this than in my old chair with slippers on, sipping Metamucil and remembering the good old days. It’s not death that scares me it not being able to live the way I want to that really really scares me. Probably why we all wave to each other, that other rider is the only person who gets it. Godspeed to all we lost this year, may they hit every apex in whatever afterlife they believe in.

  • Naccache

    I despise people who wish to ban things they believe are dangerous. Like William Connor has written below my post, these people died doing what they love doing. And to be completely frank about it, they’re grown people! If they want to risk their lives then that’s their business and no-one elses.

  • Gonfern

    I Have never agreed more with any article on this site.I LOVE watching Marc Marquez going sideways into a turn or watching Guy Martin wrestle a speed wobble over a crest, 2 inches from a brick wall. But watching Simoncelli’s helmet roll down the track made me sick for weeks. We feel for these guys. We feel for us. It could easily be us. We understand why they are out there and we understand that no one wants to die doing this. No one dies doing what they love. We do what we do because we enjoy life, and I dont know about anyone else, but nothing makes me feel more alive than clipping that apex with my knee and feeling the front end wiggle as the throttle is fed in and the front wheel starts to float inches off the ground.

  • TP

    Bravo

  • zion

    By far, one of the best pieces written on RideApart.

  • Ben Mcghie

    Excellent article. Lovely sentiment, perfectly expressed. Thank you.

  • Jack Meoph

    When Jefferies died, I was gutted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Jefferies What a talent. And the great Joey Dunlop’s passing was also a heartbreaker. I really wanted Dunlop to retire and enjoy the life of a living legend, because he deserved that ending.

  • Fred

    i couldn’t agree more.

  • Kruz B Oliver

    There’s always a fine line between doing what you love and risk acceptance. I think that most of us that ride know the risk, do the best to mitigate that risk, and accept the risk because of the passion we have for the road. I talk a little bit about this at RevCorner.com in an article called, “Justifying the Risk.” Most of us never push our bike’s to the limits that these guys do. And I think what they do should be respected and treated as an art. Prayers for the fallen riders, Hopefully one day advances in rider protection will be able to significantly lower, or eliminate these risks. .

  • Andy Scott

    Very well written article, Carter. Thank you for the outstanding piece.

    (Not to mention it is all one page!)

  • http://www.lonewolfexpeditions.com/ Chad Berger

    Great story!
    The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. Mark Twain

  • Piglet2010

    I root for the bull – after all, he is the only one forced to participate in a bull fight.

    • Mariofz1

      Indeed

  • Mariofz1

    Very nice article…agree on everything except on the part of the bull….I have rooted for the bull before, cause I knew what was done to the bull before the fight….