Fear.

Motorcycle accident, Balham. By Drew Leavy. License

You have to learn from the mistakes of others. You won’t live long enough to make them all yourself.

(Unattributed)

When you think of riding, the elephant in the room – or if you prefer, the SUV at the intersection – is the prospect of getting killed, or seriously injured. Motorcycles are dangerous, so the received wisdom goes.

Well, in some cases, definitely. You can go on Wikipedia and discover that “Motorcycle riders aged below 40 are 36 times more likely to be killed than other vehicle operators of the same age.”(“Motorcycle safety,” 2016). You can find all sorts of information, anecdotal and peer-reviewed, that might persuade you to not even look at a bike, for fear you may spontaneously self-combust.

I didn’t want to turn this post into a statistical dive, mostly because I find that too hard, and I’m lazy, and honestly, it’s been done to death by more qualified people. Have a look around the work for yourself: The reality is, there’s a lot you can do to help your dice rolls, and most of it is training and attitude. Every ride is a lesson. The biggest risk, assuming you are appropriately protected and aren’t riding like a twat, is still other road users.

IMG_2711, by Killbox. License

Like most things in life, you can go a long way to helping yourself with the right approach.

If you spend any time on YouTube “researching” (looking at crash videos, like some knobber totalling his GSXR on Mulholland Drive) there’s a chance you will scare yourself away from riding. I watched – and of course cannot find it now – a video wherein the narrator strongly advised not looking at crash videos for exactly this reason. Likewise, the Reddit board /r/motorcycles tends to have a notable focus on accidents. People like the drama.

I take a different point of view. Look at them, don’t shy away from it, because it could be you. Try to understand what happened. Recognise and accept that it can happen. Knowledge and training the rational part of your mind can help keep the anxiety reflex – which is dangerous – away. It surprises me even now how, in times of stress, much my body tries to fight me when on the bike. Nearly all accidents contain useful information that will help the rider build a good mental picture on the street. Also note that in a large number of cases the rider makes a full recovery. Here’s a classic example, similar bike to mine:


If you’re new to riding, you’ll probably wonder how on earth such a thing happens. Ride a few thousand miles, and you’ll understand exactly how it happens.

The other side to this is, we see what we want to. For all those Mulholland Drive bike crashes, there are plenty of cars filmed doing worse in exactly the same place. You have probably known more people that were killed in cars than on bikes.

you start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.

(Unattributed)

This is one of the truest things I’ve read about riding. I wish I knew where it came from; it appears to have originated in Aviation; another pursuit terribly unforgiving of errors. You will have close calls when you start out. As a novice, you are so occupied with simply controlling the bike that situational awareness is very poor. You won’t signal, you won’t cancel signals (you will usually leave them blinking for about 38 hours), you won’t do enough shoulder checks. You’ll stall on hills, you’ll nearly run wide at stupidly low speed a few times. You’ll nearly run wide at stupidly high speeds a few times.

For all that, and well beyond the fear, it’s like nothing else. Concentration and relaxation doesn’t come naturally to me. On a bike I feel completely relaxed; it is practically therapy. YouTuber TnP puts it well:

You ride motorcycles? Seriously? I mean if you want to live, if you like living, why would you ever get on a motorcycle?

Has anyone every said that to you? have you seen that attitude come up in conversation with family, friends, for that matter, strangers?

Yeah, me too.

I have lots of responses, but here’s the core of it: If you want to live, if you like living, why would you not get on a motorcycle?

(nutnfancy, 2014)

Hell yeah.

Where Do You Want To Go?

After spending amounts of time researching bikes that neared the definition obsession (a recurring theme…), I stepped back to think about what I was doing. I was forty-one in 2015; why did I feel the need to get a motorbike? Was this an early midlife crisis?

Midlife Crisis...
Me IRL

Possibly. The fact I was in my forties and taking up riding was not unusual; in fact it’s in line with a trend that was identified in 2003 – more people of my age were buying motorcycles (“Table 4 – Motorcycle Owners by Age in the United States for Selected Years, 1985-2003,” 2009). Of course that isn’t particularly meaningful, and merely gives credence to the idea I was mere weeks away from buying a sportscar and shagging my secretary.

Getting back to the point, back in the day I used to go to a friends farmhouse to ride one of his many dirtbikes around all day. I liked riding in the family car and being driven about along rural country roads by my dad, just for the sheer enjoyment of it. I’d been very into bicycles when I was younger, and this was something I’d definitely lost with over two decades of city living. It never occurred to me this isn’t an interest everyone shares, and I’ve met a few people that don’t get it at all. It’s summarised better by the YouTube personality TNP (nutnfancy, 2015):

…They look at driving as a burden.
…Myself, I am a pilot by nature, that’s the way I was born. I love piloting jets, I like piloting cars, I like piloting motorcycles.

I’d been in the USA for three years and lived a short walk from work; I hadn’t even bothered converting my UK license; it was one of those things to do, among a great many. Now that I had moved out of town and had a reason to drive again, I got a taste for it. This was a also a new place and outside of the city, I hardly knew it. I felt very much like something old had woken in me.

Driving around in the car again, on my own, I’d been struck by how wasteful it seemed. Not unlike the author, It was big, expensive to run, and not getting any younger. A bike fitted that desire for individuality and immediacy to the environment that a car could give you only on the right day.

My wife, for her part, was extremely supportive from the word go. She considered me careful and responsible. I had to consider I’d possibly fooled her in this respect, but I loved her vote of confidence. Either that, or she possibly wanted me dead.

There was nothing stopping me, was there?