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On Balance  

Together now – but apart

So that was Mothers’ Day. We went with buying hanging flower baskets from the local nursery, instead of the more artistic option of planting our own in retired helmets.

Granted, the old farmhouse porch looks good with the baskets, but I still feel like it lacks some flair, the “riders live here” statement that the helmet posies would have made.

Thing is, we do like to find ways to connect with other members of the riding community, don’t we? Consider the “Rider’s Wave.”

We don’t wave at everyone else driving a pickup truck. But on the bike, we do wave a Hello! to other riders, because motorcycling in this country is a very social activity.

Riding’s something people choose to do as a way of belonging, more than just a way of getting from here to there.

I had to get used to that when I got involved at the teaching level. At the beginning of a course, because personal motivation is central to the learning process, we ask students:

  • Why are you here?
  • What’s your purpose for learning to ride a motorcycle?

The answer, to my surprise, is very typically: “Because Fred rides,” or “my buddy's/girlfriend's/family friends ride,” something along those lines.

I was expecting way more stuff about the actual riding, the exhilaration of being on two wheels, the immediacy of the human-machine interface, that sort of thing. Or maybe even hating golf.

But, no. It’s the social interface that people emphasize. A lot.

Foreign concept for me. I ride to be on my own, getting somewhere I need to be, on two wheels. Which is pretty much like breathing, it’s so key to how I function.

And doing stuff alone, well, always have. Never occurs to me to phone somebody else and make a date to cycle, ski, run, hike, or ride a motorcycle. I just go.

From a safety perspective, though, there are problems with this. There’s a real potential for falling unobserved on one’s brain and not getting rescued for a week or two. These can be bad things.

Instead, for safety’s sake, we discourage people from following my example, and encourage them to do what apparently comes more naturally for most folks. Do outdoor risk activities socially.

Safer motorcycling, then, looks like it should result directly from the very reason many, maybe most, people ride in the first place. Shared adventure.

And, on the face of it, this would seem to be so.

Scanning media reports, and trolling through statistical summaries and crash causality analyses, what you find plainly indicates that crashing a motorcycle is directly related to riding alone.

“The motorcyclist” who stuffed his front wheel between a truck’s rear duals, or “the motorcyclist” who lost control and left the road on a corner, “the motorcyclist” who collided with a turning vehicle, and so forth.

“The,” singular, only the one guy on a bike here. No other riders around.

Clearly, and for good reason, the crashed/injured rider is the predominant focus of media reporting, crash investigation, data collection, and causation analysis. This has the effect, though, of creating a body of information that strongly suggests that bad things happen only to soloists.

This is pretty heavy support for riding as a social activity.

However. Data analysis, done well and thoroughly, demands the asking of a critical question:

What’s missing?

What’s missing from the picture above is that riding is predominantly a social activity, not an individual one. People ride in pairs and groups.

We rarely ride to commute, or for other individual purposeful trips. Around three percent of motorcycle trips are that sort of ride. The rest are recreational, and when we recreate, we tend to do it together. Like golf.

The failure, then, of so much of what is considered about how and why things go wrong for riders, is that the broader picture, the social context, of the ride is lost in the description and the later analysis.

The other riders who were with our crashed rider are not reported, nor considered, as having even been there, let alone as having had a significant influence on the circumstances and outcomes.

But they were there. And that influence is known.

Turn to page 21 of ICBC’s “Learn to Ride Smart,” the official study guide for riders. The section’s called Personal Strategies, and the focus is on avoiding impairing factors. One of which is Peer Pressure.

The guide correctly states that other riders will, one way or another, encourage us to take bigger risks than we can safely manage. Long, tiring rides, and high speed, aggressive riding are well-known group sports.

People get hurt because of them, but that factor disappears from the later analysis.

Let’s put it back in. Riding socially, we exercise our duty of care to each other by dealing with the red mist up front.

  • Separate the group.
  • Relax the schedule.
  • Get together at identified rests or destinations.
  • Leave each other road space and time to look after our safety first.
  • First one to the coffee shoppe, not the last one, buys the pie.

On the road, space from each other makes the heart grow much fonder, and beat longer, indeed.

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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



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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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