“Never fear a motorcycle, but always respect it,” said my dad to an adolescent me. With a firm tone and extended index finger he coached me as I sat stiff-armed with my hands on the bars and unblinking wide eyes locked on him.
[Edit Note: This piece was originally written for a non-motorcycle magazine. Their editor asked for a story explaining why we ride motorcycles, despite the risks. We decided to share it with you, unchanged from the first edit. Share it with a friend who doesn't like motorcycles or think they're too dangerous.]
Fear should never be confused with respect.
He shouted a few more instructions and then shoved me as I released the clutch, sending me off with one big slap on the back. Fearing a motorcycle can get you hurt, but respecting one can make you feel more alive than a car ever can.
My father lost his brother to a motorcycle accident when he was 23 and two of his father’s friends had already became amputees. So, why was he teaching his only son how to ride such a dangerous thing, encouraging young love that today is full grown? I can’t answer that, but I’m thankful he did.
Many of you four-wheel suburbanites think riding a motorcycle is this dangerous, careless action--that’s an irrational fear. People are still scared of flying despite the fact that you have a better chance of dying in the car on the way to the airport than in a plane, why? Because, if you breakdown on a plane you can’t just pull over to the curb and wait for AAA. Similar to how a fender-bender in a car would equate to a life-threatening accident to me on a motorcycle.
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Yes, the statistics say there are more motorcycle than car deaths, but that’s not a fair estimate of the risks. To quote a bad movie, Biker Boyz, when the young hot shot makes a bold attempt at a stunt, the experienced rider, played by Laurence Fishburne, tells him he could have been hurt, his response, “Could’ve got hurt getting out of bed.” So, does it stop us from getting out of bed? As a man I respect and former boss, David Freiburger, once wrote, “Since Sonny Bono died skiing into a tree, should we stop all skiing or should we cut down all the trees? No. The passions of the many outweigh the losses of a few.”
Unfortunately media portrays our niche group as an evil, dangerous lifestyle, catering to those fear-mongers who attend a NASCAR race just to watch a wreck. The general media muckrakes the scary side of motorcycles in an effort for ratings. Skewed statistics and media paint a scary picture of motorcyclists and blur the actual risks involved.
Motorcycle death and accident statistics don’t show inexperience or careless action. According to 2008 CDC statistics, almost a third of rider deaths involved drinking. Riding a motorcycle makes you alert and uses all of you. You feel the elements, shift your body to steer, your eyes scan the road ahead, and all of your limbs are used for controls. You can’t put it on cruise and lean the seat back, riding takes all of your attention. So, even a couple drinks can really impair your riding.
Another large portion of deaths came from riders without helmets, as not all states require them by law. No gear, no respect (for the motorcycle).
A car is an extension of your house, your office, your life, but a motorcycle is an extension of you. You trade your risks on a motorcycle. Every day you risk being late, getting lost, spending too much on gas and going insane--I don’t experience those problems. When I leave to ride, unless I’m commuting to work, I only have a vague idea of where I’m going. No GPS or smart-phone directions, because if I get lost, great. I’m on a motorcycle, my day can’t be bad. It’s a mental release that for many is vital to survival. I don’t stress about traffic or directions when I’m riding. It’s a personal experience that has sometimes become a spiritual experience. Even in a pack of other motorcycles or a crowded highway, I ride alone.
Getting in a car is like waiting, not living. Sit in traffic, go to point B with the windows up and A/C on listening to a boring talk-show host and stress about the day. Getting on a motorcycle tears away the modern world, no music, skip traffic, alert, riding away from your thoughts and stresses with the twist of the throttle.
Most of my friends ride, which means we always have something to talk about. Subsets and cliques of bikers seem intimidating, but some of the nicest people in the world are bikers, because you can’t be all that mad if you’re on a bike. Like the old cheesy bumper sticker, ‘you never see a Harley in front of a psychiatrist’s office.’ And remember, you meet the nicest people on a Honda (that was Honda’s ad campaign when outlaw bikers grabbed media attention in the late ‘60s).
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I wave at other bikers no matter what type of bike they ride. It’s nice to have a sense of identity even within a large group, but I ride the bikes I like to ride, because that’s what I do. Not because I wish to fit into a particular subset, but because that’s the bike I want. At the same time, it’s comforting to know that you’re not alone in your deranged obsession with everything two wheeled.
I’ve had many close calls on a motorcycle. Sliding the curb at 50 mph shooting sparks onto my friend behind me. Laid down a handful of dirt bikes and nearly missed a couple cars on the road. I ride every day I can and find excuses to go get lost on a bike. I believe you have a better chance of avoiding an accident on a motorcycle rather than a car and I’ve had far more accidents in cars than motorcycles.
For a goal oriented person, riding is constantly a challenge. Every time I leave my house I learn something new and push myself harder. Not necessarily faster, but better. Every day it brings something out of me that nothing else can.
Fearing a motorcycle or not respecting one can get you hurt. No helmet, drinking and careless behavior loses your respect for a bike, but riding sensibly and smart can keep you alive, better than anything on four wheels.
Why Do You Ride?
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