A blast from my past called this weekend, wanting to talk about his summer’s misfortunes. We’ll call him “P” to protect his ego and our relationship. In early August (2019), P was sailing down a country two-lane, minding his own business, and assuming that Minnesota country roads are, somehow, safer than urban freeways and byways. (Statistics consistently demonstrate that this is a motorcyclists’ delusion. In 2018, for example,31 of 57 or 54% of the state’s motorcycle fatalities were in areas with populations under 10,000 and the majority, 22, were in rural, unpopulated areas. 913 motorcyclists were injured that year and 49% of that total were injured on those same low population roads.) 2 motorcyclists were killed and 102 were injured in the state’s over-250,000 cities; the Twin Cities, in fact. P, oblivious to the hazard of country roads, was riding somewhere between 55 and 65mph on a sparsely-populated stretch of the road, when a pickup pulled into his lane, partially shielded by a downed tree next to the driveway the pickup was exiting from. Mayhem resulted and P ended up with a multitudinous-fractured femur, a broken back, and a separated shoulder.
Fortunately for P, he was wearing actual motorcycle gear including a full-face helmet and armored jacket. As he said, “I didn’t spill a drop of blood.” Unfortunately for P, he has a long recovery ahead of him and he is not fond of physical therapy. He’s been here before. Several year ago, he was riding in fairly congested traffic and, bored with the pace of movement, he was occupied trying to read the call sign of a passing small airplane when he struck the stopped car in front of him. He flew over the car and, while he was airborne, he decided, “I don’t want to hear Tom lecturing me about not wearing a helmet while I recover from this” and he shielded his head with his arms just before tumbling into a ditch. The end result of that crash was a severely massacred pelvis from which he has yet to fully recover. To his credit, P took total responsibility for both that crash and his less-than-complete recovery. He also started wearing a full-face helmet and, at least, an armored jacket when he rode. A life-long Harley guy with a long history of spectacular crashes, the bike he crashed on the last two times was a big BMW touring bike.
I’ve ridden with P, maybe twice, but definitely once. We met at a small town a few miles from his place, for a Fourth of July fireworks show. Afterwards, for whatever reason, we decided to go back to his house before I headed back home. Both of our spouses were riding passenger on that trip. P immediately took off in the dark, on familiar country roads, putting some distance between us. I made a half-hearted effort to keep him in sight, but I do not ride fast, ever, with a passenger and since I knew where we were going I was not particularly upset to make most of the trip “unguided.” Since then, he’s often reminded me of that incident and of the fact that he was a “lot faster” than me on those mostly-gravel country roads. I do my racing, when I do it, on closed courses and I am never impressed with people who imagine racing on public roads is something to brag about. My wife would make short work of me if I ever play-raced with her on the bike.
Like many motorcyclists and bikers, P’s problem is that he imagines that he is seen, because he is a big guy riding a “big bike.” While P’s BMW didn’t have loud pipes, P has ridden bikes with minimal muffling for most of his life and always deluded himself into thinking physics is his friend when it comes to sound and defensive riding, he suffers the false idea that people are looking for motorcycles. Even in a fairly motorcycle-friendly state like Minnesota, there aren’t enough motorcycles on the road any given day for a typical cager to have any reason to be watching for them. When we don’t amount to 0.001% of the total traffic on good days, asking drivers to “Start Looking for Motorcycles” is as silly as asking them to watch out for unicorns. Bicycles, pedestrians, old men on power wheelchairs, and kids on tricycles are far more likely things to be looking out for than motorcycles; especially motorcycles approaching a blind intersection (or driveway) at 60-65mph.
This is exactly the kind of situation where motorcyclists have to be watching out for everyone else. Even if, as in P’s case, the cager gets the blame for the crash, P might still be crippled-for-life or dead . . . but in the right. The price for being right is higher than I want to pay. To be clear, I am not afraid of being dead, but I practically terrified of being maimed and crippled. During the brief period when the MSF’s Basic Rider Course actually talked about risk management, I used to tell my motorcycle students that any crash short of a tree falling on you or a tornado blowing you to Kansas was the motorcyclist’s fault for not anticipating and avoiding the situation. If you think everyone else is looking out for, or responsible for, your safety, you will be disappointed and, probably, hurt or killed.