Every so often I get a message from someone who’s had their first crash or close call, and now they’re intimidated to get back on the bike. Or, the incident stirred concern within the family, and the rider wants to know what they can say to their spouse or parent to convince them that riding is safe.
With no cage, seat belt, or airbags to protect you, the simple, brutal fact is that riding a motorcycle is not safe. You intuitively know that, without reading the stats, but here are a couple anyway. According to the National Safety Council, motorcycles are 3% of the registered vehicles on U.S. roads but account for 17% of occupant fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that motorcyclist fatalities are 24 times the rate per mile traveled of deaths of people in cars.
It’s easy to ignore that reality until your first incident, and then the veil falls. The “it won’t happen to me” naiveté is gone. These newly spooked riders have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge and can no longer deny that this thing they enjoy doing could injure them, or worse.
They’re hoping for some sage advice or better yet a silver bullet that will ensure their safety and restore the ignorant bliss they once enjoyed. There is no panacea, however, so I’m left with the unpleasant responsibility of reinforcing their newfound awareness. My response usually reads something like this:
I’m sorry to hear you’re scared, but the reality is that motorcycles are dangerous, so your concern is warranted and healthy. There are myriad factors that we can control to help limit the risk (get proper training, wear the best gear, make smart choices about when/where to ride, remain sober, ride defensively, etc.), but there’s no denying that when we get on a bike instead of into a car, we are ratcheting up our chances of injury and death. It’s an unfortunate truth that you need to address, both with yourself and with your loved ones.
Of course life is full of risk, but when we choose to ride, we’re choosing to spoon more of it onto our plates. As my father used to say, “You could fall down the stairs and die tomorrow.” He was right, and yet it was a motorcycle accident that scrambled his faculties and left his family reeling. I don’t fault him for the choices he made, but his experience and my own accidents certainly influence the choices I make now.
Similarly, I hope that my candid response to these riders helps lay the groundwork for an honest assessment of their risk tolerance. Motorcycling is certainly fun, but it needs to be taken seriously, and we should address the risks head on so that we have a better chance of enjoying the ride for decades to come.