by Victor Wanchena
All modes of travel have risk. We are all aware of this. If you travel, you are exposed to some risk. It doesn’t matter if you’re walking along an English lane or riding in a rocket-powered car driven by a monkey. Granted, the monkey in the rocket car exposes you to more risk than the leisurely walk, but each one has its dangers. Compared to automobiles, motorcycles expose you to more risk of injury or worse. This is a reasonable statement that is validated by our own experiences. Most motorcyclists will freely admit that they are more vulnerable on a bike than in a car. No surprise there. We also accept this as part of motorcycling. It is the price we pay for the rewards we reap.
Our society has also grown gradually more risk adverse. A natural progression given the prosperity of our nation versus other parts of the globe. As a highly civilized and industrialized nation, we have the ability to lessen the dangers we face. It’s interesting that motorcycling has grown and prospered in the face of this aversion. In fact, in some cases we celebrate the risks involved with motorcycling as badge of honor. They become part of the allure and adventure for motorcycling.
What peaks my curiosity is how we, as motorcyclists, deal with this risk. We recognize it. We accept it. And in some cases we celebrate it. But what we don’t do is acknowledge where it comes from. Many of us have a hard time acknowledging that the majority of this risk comes from us, motorcyclists. We adopt cute nicknames for the dangers we face, like calling automobiles drivers “cagers”. And we accuse them of a great conspiratorial agenda to target motorcyclists. This simply isn’t the case. Drivers are often inattentive, but not intentional. I believe this attitude that drivers are “out to get us” stems from our desire to transfer the source of this risk away from us, motorcyclists. It is rare that we are introspective enough to see our role in near-accidents. Instead, we over dramatize these incidents and draw parallels between motorcycling and aerial combat. The Red Baron is out there stalking us, waiting for his moment to pounce. I admit it’s not easy to admit our own culpability, but the reality is it’s the source of much of the risk we face.
Like any rational person I want to minimize my risk and move past the “they’re out to get me” attitude. My solution is now to view the road and traffic as a series of obstacles. I have really drawn on my experiences in observed trials competition to do this. The flow of traffic is not a battery of missiles all pointed at me. Instead, I see logs and rocks; small obstacles that I need to negotiate. It isn’t combat, it’s just a series of challenges I need to overcome. It took me some time to reach this view of traffic. It’s funny how a slow bike in fast traffic and riding trials helped change my perspective. My reward is a calmer, Zen-like approach to riding. I accept the risk and I see my role in minimizing it.
We will never be able to scrub motorcycling clean of all risk. Not if we’re lucky. Motorcycling would lose a lot of its luster if it were completely sanitized for our protection. But we can lessen odds and accept what we cannot change.