On Balance  

Pandemic and motorcyclists

A line from the movie “Moonstruck” comes to mind at times like these. It comes up when there’s a big (Italian) family brouhaha about who’s sleeping with whom, and the tension’s running pretty high in the room.

Grandpa breaks in and says: “Somebody tell a joke!”

Well? Sound about right? Had enough bad news?

Now, overwhelmingly, people tend not to snort laugh and wee a little whenever I try to follow the Instructor’s Guide, Section 2, “Introduce Humour.” So this isn’t that; relax.

It’s like puzzles, which I’ve always hated. Rubik’s Cube and comedy both require a certain intellectual deftness I do not possess. And yet, here’s the oddest thing: I seem to spend my life endlessly poking away at one or another project that turns out to have all the hallmarks of puzzledom. Lots of bits and pieces that should fit together, but in my hands keep feeling like they’re from warring galaxies. 

Usually this results in plenty of comedic entertainment for those more gifted at whatever I’m “learning lots” about. Or it would, except I learned a long time ago to live well away from others, and to lie extravagantly about the ease and simplicity of doing whatever it was I made such a dog’s breakfast of for hours.

Or days --------. I work very slowly, partly out of fear of once again totally destroying whatever it is this time that’s almost useable, but just needs a little adjustment. I cling to my torque wrenches like the wretch adrift in the sea clings to his life raft.

Guess this is a big part of why I’ve enjoyed helping people figure out motorcycling. I feel more at home with folks who are scratching their heads a bit, and maybe even on the cranky side of frustrated and pee’d off about whatever isn’t working for them, than I do with the prima donnas and the naturally gifted wunderkinds.

There’s a thing. In mountain biking, and before that skiing, it’s always been that the most gratifying downhill runs were the ones we had to work for, to sweat the climb. When we’re learning anything, especially motorcycling, we’re climbing. When we’re climbing, we’re learning, getting the feel of the slope and of how we’re doing today, and how yesterday’s ride is affecting and informing how we deal with today’s monster.

My hope about the students I get to spend time with is that they’ll hang onto some sense of how much it matters to always struggle a bit with riding. That they’ll have joy and success with it, have happy confidence. But also that they won’t settle into being too relaxed and confident about it all. There’s more to learn, and if we don’t keep at least one ear to the wind, one day it’ll blow us right sideways.

Isn’t that a moment, eh? There you are, buzzing along in the left lane, and whoosh! In the blink of an eye, you’re in the right lane, going, “Whoa, that could’ve been messy!” Or it is.

This is what the current pandemic is doing, well and truly blowing us right off our regular day-to-day track. Now everybody’s getting some basic motorcycling lessons, being well schooled in issues of vulnerability. We’re finding out that a lot of things people thought were OK, or as good as they needed to be, were actually crap, and left lots of us at stupid levels of risk.  Exposing neglected vulnerabilities. Whoosh.

As vulnerable road users, motorcyclists have been put-put-puttering along, neglected in the shadows of traffic safety for a very long time. So I figure here’s an opportunity to use the public health lessons that everyone’s getting on the nightly news.

Fact: the virus is at its worst where too many people are jammed into too little space, with everyone hurtling along not actually paying much attention to basic safety, and no barriers to keep us from exchanging fluids. Especially where some of those people are old, or they have serious health conditions.

Well? Sound familiar?

“Vulnerable road users.” It’s a term you recognize, if you took a riding course and managed to stay awake during the theory part. It means we’re more exposed to serious harm if anything goes even slightly pear-shaped on the way to grandma’s house. It makes sense because like others in the category (say, pedestrians and cyclists), there are no airbags and such around us when that happens. Very high ouch factor.

But the problem with being labelled “vulnerable” is really well illustrated by what’s going on with the virus. It turns out it’s been too easy to assume that whatever’s happening for our vulnerable seniors is just hunky-dory, because they’re having a nice relaxing ride in their care facility, out of sight. Vulnerable, tragically, has been bureau-speak for “expendable.”

We’re not cyclists. Nor pedestrians. We need safety provisions (research funding, data sharing, infrastructure, regulations, monitoring, training, equipment) that are adequate for, and specific to, our needs as users of motorized cycles, motor vehicles, not theirs. Our nice relaxing ride isn’t an excuse for officials to ignore our safety needs.


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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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