Silver City, New Mexico
When I enlisted in the Marine Corps Infantry, I was surprised with the responses I received when others learned the news. Most, probably envisioning me marching away to war, expressed concern for my safety, a handful indicated they were proud of me, and the vast majority tried to relate: “hey, I have a cousin in the Army. He says he likes it, I guess.” A few, however, blurted that I was going to get myself killed. Thankfully, that reaction (a disconcerting one) was rare. But when I purchased a motorcycle, it was the norm.
“So you just got a motorcycle, huh? Well, you’re gonna crash and die.”
An incredible number also felt compelled to tell me about specific incidents where that had happened, too. It was always somebody distant to them, like the husband of a cousin’s neighbor’s niece. Invariably, something horrible had taken place. That, too, was disconcerting. It was always bad news…
“You got a motorcycle? Yeah, I just had a patient who ground his entire lower body to a nub when he skidded off his bike doing 100mph on a back road. Have fun riding.”
“You got a motorcycle? Our prayer requests in Bible study yesterday were for the surviving family of a man killed when he was riding his motorcycle on his farm.”
“Motorcycle, huh…..you ever seen that video of Evil Knievel hitting the pavement after his jump? I think he broke every bone in his body – at least twice. It was heinous. He looked like a rag doll.”
“Yeah, my cousin bought a bike, but he crashed it on his first ride and now he’s in a wheelchair.”
“One of the neighbor’s kids used to ride, but then he wrapped himself around a tree and died. I think he was about 20.”
“Well, bikes are neat, but I’m too afraid to ride. I’m terrified that somebody will open a car door and I’ll go flying off. Have you seen that movie where there’s this scene….the guy landed in an intersection and got run over. It was pretty cool. But I don’t want to ride a bike, though. Too risky.”
I even had one person offer to pay me NOT to purchase a motorcycle. Naturally, I declined.
Yes, it may be dangerous, but so is life itself. Besides which, there are number of measures one can easily take to mitigate the risks – beginning with a motorcycle safety course, leathers, and a motorcycle helmet. Furthermore, most other risks can be drastically reduced if riders set aside their pride, ignore the compulsion to exceed the speed limit, and simply enjoy the road. That you have a bike – a sleek, powerful beast with lots of shiny parts – is showing off enough. Respect it, be hyper-vigilant, and you’ll be just fine. You have a greater risk of injury riding a horse (according to the Hughston Sports Medicine Foundation).
In looking back on the whole ordeal, I’ve reached the conclusion that the first thing that comes to mind with a non-rider is the dangers of motorcycling. Thus, that’s what comes out of their mouths. For a rider, however, is the freedom, the road, the roar of the pipes inside your helmet, and the known fact that people in their boring little cars are staring at you with envy. All their kids are waving, too, much to the horror of their mothers. Maybe everybody’s a killjoy because they’re jealous that I’m going to have a lot of fun and they’re not.
And here’s the best part: Now only two years after purchasing my first motorcycle, nearly every person who said something negative about riding has since gone riding with me and thoroughly enjoyed it – to include the person who offered to pay me to not buy the bike. At least one has purchased a bike of his own, and several more have expressed interest in buying them in the future. I win, folks. Well, motorcycles win. (I will note that one passenger kept peering over my shoulder to monitor the speedometer, but I think she still had fun.)
There’s something about a motorcycle that’s almost universally appealing. Something about the way it hugs the road in curves and bolts up the long inclines that cars struggle to climb. Or the deep rumble as you cut through tunnels and under overpasses. Maybe it’s the subtle statement that, “I can go fast if I want to, but I’m happy just relishing the ride.” All you naysayers, we’ll win you over yet. And then, we’ll see you out there on a bike of your own. You can’t help it; it’s just fun.
About Ben Shaw, the author