I am with the Sage of Concord here. Speed is often the answer, not caution. And quite often the desired result is not safety, either, but the kick of daring that ice to give way.
Considering that I have been in trouble in this forum for suggesting that it should not be necessary to remove your helmet when filling your bike at a gas station, and admitting that I ride to the front of traffic queues, I expect this little diversion on the subject of safety to raise some ire. But I live for such thrills.
Safety is a beast with many heads, just as danger is. And just as some of danger’s heads provide our most visceral thrills, so some of safety’s offer only beige boredom. This can be a problem because human beings are not designed for beige boredom. They are designed for great things, for towering achievements and for perilous journeys. For having fun.
Think I’m joking? Okay, let’s try a little experiment. Imagine being an accountant in an office with a lot of other accountants, doing accounting day after day. Now imagine being a pirate on the windswept main, cutlass in hand, lusting for the gold and the charms of those on the galleon just coming into view.
Which of those pictures made your heart beat faster? If it’s the former, I can’t help you though I wish you the best in the cardigan-wearing safe life you are refusing to live to the full. Tacitus, who knew a little about the subject, said that “The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise”. Okay, fine, perhaps it is not unreasonable to pass on the great and noble enterprise, and to opt for safety instead. But it’s no fun, either.
And that is the word that brings us to motorcycling: fun. Here are some more motorcycle words: risk-taking, excitement, adventure, daring and of course… danger. Nobody – or at least nobody I have ever spoken to – took up motorcycling because it was safe. That’s good; it shows their perspicacity because it isn’t. They might have bought a scooter to deliver Uber Eats, but they didn’t buy it because of its inherent safety.
Delivery riders are, of course, entitled to as much safety as society can provide. So are motorcycle highway patrolpersons, motorcycle paramedics, sheep farmers and dispatch riders. Anyone who uses a motorcycle as part of their job, who has to ride one to earn a living, should be able to expect as much safety as is reasonable. But these people are motorcycle users, not motorcyclists.
Motorcyclists, my friend, are people like you and I who have deliberately chosen to plant our posteriors on the saddles of these frightful machines. Many of us might deny that the thrill of danger has contributed to that decision. To them I say: can you really claim that there wasn’t even a soupçon of a catch in your throat when you first saw your rampant steel steed? My suspicion is that an honest person will admit to that thrill. And why not? After all, motorcycles are dangerous. If you kid yourself into thinking that all the efforts of all the safetycrats in the world will make them anything but, then you are kidding yourself. Nothing can make motorcycles safe. Safer, sure. But safe? Nope.
Safety is not the be-all and end-all of life, anyway. That is not to say that efforts to increase your personal safety are somehow wrong. By all means learn how to use your motorcycle properly. Learn the proper operation of the brakes and the response of your bike to their deployment. Do a course or two in handling and cornering.
Here, though, is an interesting thing: riders who do these courses often do not increase their emphasis on safety. What they do is take more risks, secure in the knowledge that they know how to cope with them. They still ride to the same desired innate level of safety, they are just faster. Or they take on gnarlier terrain or whatever. They have more fun.
Consider the results of a study I undertook for a government department intent on reducing the number of crashes by its riders. Anyone who did crash was sent to do a training course. As time went by after the course, the crash rate of these people approached and then passed that of their untrained colleagues. They were forgetting the safety messages, but still using their new skills to ride more adventurously. And crashing, due to overconfidence.
For us it is fun to stretch the envelope, to see just what you and your bike can do. It helps if you know just how far you can go (a riding course will help with this), and I have nothing against someone who rides at nine tenths because that’s where he or she feels comfortable. Just as long as they don’t feel too comfortable and turn motorcycling into nothing more than transport.
And before I go, let me just point out that freedom — even when it involves very thin ice indeed — is inextricably linked with risk-taking. Listen to Emerson: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” And skate that thin ice!