Why Motorcycles are Safe
Short version: because everything is relative.
I came of age in the 1960’s, which was, for those of you too young to be there (most of you), a time of tremendous social, political and philosophical upheaval in society. The availability of birth control pills altered sex from an act of procreation to the possibility of a mutually enjoyed intense experience. An explosion of drug awareness and availability made marijuana and a vast array of many other drugs common and easy to obtain. The Vietnam War brought massive protests everywhere. I missed out on all of it.
Why? Because my main focus (other than career and family) has been motorcycles from 1962 to today. For the first five years I did not own a motorcycle and got by with occasional rides from fortunate friends. I spent every moment available reading about motorcycles and thinking about motorcycles. The benefit of this, which I did not realize at the time, was that by the time I FINALLY purchased my first motorcycle at the age of 20 I already knew a fair bit about riding techniques and safety gear. Keep in mind there were no rider courses in existence at that time, at least that I’d heard of.
This all ramped up when I obtained my first motorcycle in 1967 – a 1965 Yamaha YDS3 250cc two-stroke street bike. For the next few years my leisure time and focus and spare money went toward better equipment, better motorcycles, fuel, and more frequent and longer rides.
Of course, the wise people counseled me that motorcycles were dangerous. All of those people are now dead.
How dangerous were motorcycles compared to having sex with a multitude of partners, many of whom you might not know that well? How dangerous were motorcycles compared to using illegal drugs purchased from someone you did not know at all, and you had only their assurance of what you were purchasing and what the effects might be.
I had a short-term romance with a beautiful young woman that ended over her assertion that LSD was harmless. She was wrong.
Cautionary tale: Len Bias. Len Bias was a wonderful young man who aced college while starring in basketball. He graduated and signed a huge contract with the Boston Celtics. At a party to celebrate he accepted the offer of a snort of cocaine. What could go wrong? He had a heart attack and died.
Many took part in massive demonstrations. The riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968 featured thousands of people as well as tear gas, riot police, and dogs. At the time I was enjoying my first long distance motorcycle trip.
And there was the Viet Nam war. Several of my high school classmates spent time there, and some did not come back. In 1969 I went into debt and purchased an (almost) new Honda 450 Street Scrambler. The logic was that I had just been declared 1A, and the local school district’s appeal had been denied. I had slid through college on a medical deferment due to two University of Minnesota doctors fibbing and declaring that I had a heart murmur. The Army eventually demanded a second opinion, and the doctor the Army paid for found me fit for duty. The school district appeal was based on a second fib, that I was the only person they could find that could teach junior high English and be the head tennis coach. Not too surprising that a draft board 1300 miles away was not swayed. So, I was about to be drafted, and logic dictated that I purchase a new motorcycle. It would seem likely that the Army would allow me to finish my first year of teaching, and then I would be off to basic training. Then I would be sent to Viet Nam.
Then I would die.
In a 45-minute-long phone conversation, my father used every argument he could think of, fair and foul, logical and emotional. At the end, he said “But I have never been in your situation, so maybe you should buy a motorcycle.”
The next month Richard Nixon held the first draft lottery. Men from 18 to whatever would be drafted in the order that their birthdays were drawn. Mine came up # 334. The war was over for me. I would not die in Viet Nam and was free to return to the risks of motorcycles.
When it comes to motorcycles, I prefer to think of risk rather than danger. The difference is that risk, in any endeavor, can be reduced with training, experience, focus, and equipment. That is true of sex and drug use as well, I suppose, but seldom applied.
I am one of the very few politically liberal people of my age who has never smoked marijuana. I’ve inhaled secondary smoke from others who were indulging (legally), but it did not seem to affect me. I’ve also been drunk a time or two, and decided the hangover was not worth the high. I don’t think I am missing out on much.
Not that I was perfect. A pretty good crash in 1969 that was totally my fault that destroyed the Yamaha and broke my shoulder. It taught me the perils of unchecked testosterone and arrogance. All in all, a cheap lesson that has served me well ever since.
When my children were teens they were not all that interested in motorcycles, although my son had one for a couple of years as an adult. They did enjoy rides on the back of mine, and I made sure they had a helmet that fit, a sturdy jacket, boots, and gloves.
If I were a parent of a teen today who wanted to get into motorcycles, I would make sure he or she had good gear, took at least one rider course, and started out on a smaller sized street bike. After a year or two there might be a progression to a larger and faster street bike or a dual sport if interest in dirt riding had arisen.
That would make sense, because in a world of random violence, ecological disasters, unchecked gun mania, disease, drugs, and more – motorcycles are safe.
Ride fast, ride safe, and ride often.
David Preston Copyright 2018