To Stride With Death

My wife and I love Geek and Sundry, in particular the Dungeons and Dragons show Critical Role. We were watching it last night and @matthewmercer made an off-hand comment that he doesn’t allow @Marisha_Ray  to ride a motorcycle. I have to assume this was a mutual agreement, considering who they are. More importantly, as a two-wheeled aficionado who is still alive after ten years, I have to politely protest that point. D&D is a form of therapy for a lot of people, and lovers of D&D should understand what it is to stride with death for a moment and better know her. Ironically, @VoiceOfOBrien created a gorgeous blightscape of a campaign last night, complete with gruesome mortification that drives home the point I’m trying to make here. 

While statistically you are more likely than not to kill yourself in a motorcycle accident, this is a case where the numbers lie their ass off. First of all, the incidence of unlicensed riders getting into accidents are much higher for bikes. Second of all, the actual number of motorcycle deaths accounted only for 13 percent of all motor vehicle deaths in 2015. So where are all the other deaths coming from? It’s not like you’re going to kill three other passengers along with yourself if you ride drunkenly into a tree. If you try to ride drunk you’ll likely highside at low speeds into a curb, or grab so much throttle you wheelie out.

There is a very simple explanation for the reputation of motorcycle riders as organ donors. First of all, yes, it is a very dangerous activity. Second of all the thrill of a motorcycle attracts some very young and very stupid riders who have a lot to prove. Combined with a trend of motorcycle companies banking on race-spec bikes to make a lot of money, and you have some dumbasses on bikes they can’t handle and natural selection weeds them out. There are plenty of grizzled riders on bikes that have operated for well over thirty years.

The point of a motorcycle is not to stroke your ego with gasoline. Riding a bike is a microcosm of life itself. There is an infinite number of ways you can protect yourself from death. I say protect, not avoid, because like life there are times when everything you can do is not enough to avoid an accident. Avoiding Death is literally trying to avoid someone you eventually have to talk to, like the doctor, your spouse, or other people. When I see people like my grandmother unilaterally declare motorbiking a pointless, suicidal activity, I think, well the life you want me to live isn’t worth living then. Sorry Ah-Ma.

Instead of avoiding death, motorcycling allows the rider to experience death without actually dying. It’s like flight– people don’t stop flying just because it’s dangerous. But you don’t perceive the danger when you’re encased in the fuselage of a Boeing 747, despite there being little agency or indeed survival if anything does happen. Motorcycles are the opposite. You’re constantly seeing everything, and constantly responsible for the danger around you. If something does happen, there are options and choices you can make in the split second of knowing you’re fucked. And, the preparations you make like wearing protective gear or not driving like a maniac matter towards whether or not you walk away from the accident. Try throwing yourself to safety when the fillanges stop working 30,000 feet in the air.

Currently, the motorcycle industry is doing a very good thing by realizing longer-lived riders can buy more motorcycles. The bikes are becoming more control focused, with lower high speed, higher torque, and with plenty of entry level bikes that simultaneously take the bite out of someone’s ego and introduce them to the excitement of riding. Somebody like Marisha Ray who I assume is relatively new to riding can pick up a stylish scrambler or a low displacement rice rocket, take the safety course and start riding while running little risk of losing control. With ABS, traction control, and more options that suit the female body, it’s easy to get into riding if you have the right mentality for it.

Being responsible for your own safety is important. It builds self-esteem, helps you make good decisions in the heat of the moment, and improves your driving in a car. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to wear a helmet, which reduces your chances of injury in an accident by 67% and fatality by 34%. Hand and foot protection are the next things you need, because they’re the first things to hit the asphalt. A good jacket will protect you from road rash, and armored options go further to protect from bludgeoning impacts and sharp things in the road. It’s equally important to look after your ride. Keeping up with consumables like tires and fluids is just the beginning. There’s a running joke that Ducati has turned riders into mechanics since the company got started, since they are so unreliable. But Ducatistas are some of the most devoted to their bikes! That’s because a temperamental L-twin demands attention, and ultimately that attention translates to experience. And experience keeps you safe.

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