Motorcycle Safety – Luck versus Everything Else

Motorcycle Safety – Luck versus Everything Else 

An interesting response to the last essay came over the Facebook transom.  The author, (I think – it was not all that clear) felt that motorcycle safety was a matter of luck.  He managed to denigrate my ability to think, write, and use logic in an impressive paucity of words.

He does have a point, which should have been mentioned.  All motorcyclists who have ridden for years can recount an instance or (usually) several, where disaster was avoided primarily by luck. I have twice lost the front end of the bike in a pile of gravel in a corner and did not crash when I probably should have. Skill?  No.  I could fill many pages with similar stories.

And yet there is more to it than that. This is not the first time I have received this criticism, an experience surely shared by others.  There seems to be a human tendency to reduce the apparent success of others to luck, perhaps as a way to bolster our own self-view.  The success of Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos?  Luck.  The successful brain surgeon or attorney or any other job or activity category?  Luck.  It ain’t that simple.

A number of years ago my wife and I were invited to a dinner in Seattle that featured Andrea and Barry Coleman from England, the founders of Riders for Health – now Riders for Life. I received a call from a woman I did not know and she said she was hosting the Colemans.  She asked them who to invite and they said Susan and I.  I had been raising money for RfH for a few years with some success, but this was a great honor.

Most of the people who attended this dinner listed “philanthropist” as their job title. The dinner was held in a grand older home in an exclusive area of Seattle, and the dinner was prepared by the house staff. I had never attended such an event in such a home.

One of the guests was the head of PATH, another charity in Seattle (he later moved on to the Gates Foundation). I had worked with him before on charitable efforts and considered him to be the smartest person I had ever met.  We really enjoyed chatting with him in a social setting.

One of the guests was a prominent brain surgeon who overheard our conversation, which was about (surprise!) motorcycles.  He asked me how long I had been riding, and I replied “48 years.”   He then asked, with a condescending smirk, when I had last crashed a motorcycle.  “1969.”

He did not like that answer at all, and responded with a sneer, “You must be very lucky.”

At this point Andrea jumped in to the conversation.  She may look like the loving grandmother she is, but in her youth Andrea was a successful professional road racer.  Her family has motorcycle road racing history going back to literally the first ever motorcycle road race held in England. She launched into a passionate rebuttal, getting into rider training and experience and equipment, and more.  In a short time her husband changed the subject, as Andrea warmed to her topic and the brain surgeon grew ever more comfortable. Putting potential donors in their place is not sound business practice for a charity.

I enjoyed it immensely, of course, and even more (I can be small-minded) the hostile glares directed at me by the brain surgeon for the rest of the evening.

So yes, luck can and does play a role in the safe operation of a motorcycle, but it is not the most significant role and it is fatuous to write off the success of others to mere luck.

Ride safe, ride fast, and ride often.

Copyright 2018          David Preston

About david

I am a 73 year old motorsports nut who lives in Snohomish, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Rocket 3 (2020) and a 2016 Ford Focus ST. What else would you like to know?
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1 Response to Motorcycle Safety – Luck versus Everything Else

  1. Patrick says:

    Luck is just a juxtaposition to the contextual odds of something happening either good or bad… Motorcycling is sort of a means of ‘natural selection’ and demeanor plays into the factoring of the odds of surviving any ride alive or without bodily injury…

    Just like anything that can put one’s life in jeopardy or bodily harm outside of slipping in the bath-tub, in motorcycling, the odds of a random event occurring that precipitates a crash, increase as factors outside of the rider’s control increase, and the speed at which a crash occurs, increases the potentials for bodily injury… simple fact… Protective gear does not indemnify one from bodily injury or death… it just mitigates some of the potentials for these things.

    I think you can see that even in the most safe environment of a race-track, there is a fine balancing act in regard to respecting the physics of motorcycling and the control of one’s demeanor, in getting to the finish-line alive and unscathed… Nicky Hayden’s demise happened bicycling on the street and Marco Simoncelli was killed due to his lack of respect for the physics of motorcycling and his demeanor, in my opinion.

    Motorcycling is more dangerous than ever, due to factors involving traffic and power/speed. The technologies that can be applied to a motorcycle in-order to make it less dangerous are limited… This is why we see the Yamaha Niken as an evolution…

    There is a quote attributed to Louis Pasteur: “Fortune favors the prepared mind…”

    Having a good mind-set most certainly improves the odds of returning home alive and unscathed… Another quote that has relevance is this one from some sage individual: “Shit Happens! “

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