On Balance  

It's riding season

es it is, it’s riding season out there.

Sun’s out, mercury’s above the freeze-ya-stiff level, buttercups are blooming, and there’s even some traction to be found, in patches between the piles of sand.

Of course, for some of the truly determined, riding season is all year long around here, but for most of us, this is it.

When the world starts to dry out and green up, we can come out to play.  Every day now, I’m seeing more riders doing just that. Hooray, enough of winter already.

But why, Bill? Why do you even want to ride, let alone actually riding? All you ever write about is how we’re all gonna die (theme song for the article: Country Joe and the Fish, the Vietnam Song), so what’s up?

Related conversation goes something like this: why don’t you write about all the great stuff about riding, the reasons people should want to ride, instead of all that negative safety and misery guts stuff?

First things first, there really isn’t anything quite like being on two wheels, slicing through space on the sweet edge of balance and momentum.

Plenty of people have written enough pages about the delight of balancing the elements of mass, momentum, and traction; the purity and discipline of controlling the forces at the edge of chaos. 

There’s a rich and consistent vein in all that writing, one of shared experience of the joy, and the freedom, found only on two wheels. So that’s why I ride — the total joyful focus and immediacy of the thing.

But, not being a pure hedonist, there’s the practical side of things to consider too. If it’s worth doing, then it only makes sense to find ways to do it again, right?

That’s where all the safety stuff figures into it. I plan to be on two wheels as often, and as long, as possible in this life. Not getting killed seems like an important practical part of that plan.

Besides, we’re not all gonna die, at least, not riding. Not even close. Every year, the riders just in B.C. alone cover millions of kilometres on their bikes, and very  few of us wind up in hospitals or morgues.

Overwhelmingly, the experience is good, and we get home safe. Even when we’ve done some dumb stuff, still, momentum’s your friend, and it all kind of works out for us.

While I do go on a bit about the bad side of the statistics, the fact is that probability is actually on our side. We’re probably going to be just fine. Whatever, and wherever, we ride.

Most of us. But, make no mistake, we still have work to do to make sure motorcycling isn’t a death sport for anyone. The annual fatality count (35) can, and damn well should, be zero. Nothing else is OK.

Another way of looking at the probability tables, when it comes to motorcycling, is to consider how life generally works.

In general, there’s no single Big Deal you can put your finger on about most things. Say you get a better job.

Was it some one thing you said in the interview?

Was it some single thing you do really, really well?

Not likely. It was probably a combination of factors that put you in the right space, with the right skills, on the right day, talking to the right person in the shop.

Same thing with rider crashes, only backward. The wrong thing, in the wrong space, at the wrong time. 

We always focus on some particular aspect of what happened when a rider went down (“Speed!” “Alcohol!”), but the reality is always going to have been more complex.

A bit too much corner speed

A slippery spot on the road

A crappy helmet

Brakes or tires not quite up to the job.

An unfamiliar bike.

A bit of alcohol or happy weed.

It doesn’t just add up. There’s a multiplier effect.

To keep the already good odds on our side, we need to reverse that multiplier effect. That’s the safety equation.

Each time we take one of those risk multipliers out, we make a much bigger reduction in the overall risk than you’d expect if you’re just considering that single factor.

Because it’s how that one factor magnifies the dangers of other factors that really blasts us out of our safety zone.

Some FEMA research out of Norway really illustrates the point. They found that most fatal crashes were on stolen bikes.

And, that those crashes almost invariably involved impaired riders. Not all stolen bikes crash, nor do all impaired riders. But put the two factors together, and the probabilities suddenly and dramatically tilt against life.

 I said I love to ride. My focus on safety isn’t to suck the life out of riding, it isn’t to be a killjoy. It’s to preserve the joy. And I do that by reversing the multiplier effects, because the research tells us that’s the way to keep the odds on our side.

Shiny side up!


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About the Author

Bill Downey is a retired professional social worker in support programs for people with congenital or acquired physical and cognitive challenges, who was also a volunteer firefighter and a BCGEU health and safety advocate.

For many years, he has been a motorcycle riding coach/instructor with Kelowna Safety Council who spends too much time studying international traffic safety research and not enough time doing all the outdoor things a boy from the Okanagan should be doing.

He has lived a very large portion of his life on two wheels as a commuting and travelling cyclist, but, for the extra challenge, he is also as a motorcycle commuter.

By nature, he has a balanced approach to all things.

[email protected]https://kdsc.bc.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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