Thursday, March 15, 2007

Brush It Off

Every day there are a few more former riders. These men and women lose interest, fall on hard times, give in to pressure from well-meaning (but misguided) family members, or - worst of all - let the fear get them.

I met a gentleman a while back who was a new rider. He bought a brand new Yamaha R6 as his first bike. The R6, for those of you who don't know, is a high performance bike. It's got a powerful motor, and powerful brakes to match. To ride it "reasonably" in normal traffic requires a light touch. I'm sure a newbie with tremendous self-control can learn to ride on a bike like the R6, but it's likely to be a frustrating, and sometimes terrifying, experience for most.

This particular fellow applied maximum braking at a stoplight one day, and locked up his rear wheel. At some point the rear wheel regained traction, causing the front and rear wheels to realign themselves.

If you've had this happen (and stayed on the bike), you know it's not a pleasant experience. I had it happen while merging on to the freeway once.

The difference is that when it happened to me, and I didn't fall off, I continued riding. Apart from analyzing what I did wrong (never let off the back brake when skidding), I didn't give it a second thought. It was a learning experience.

My pal, on the other hand, rode home shaken, parked the bike in his garage, and never took it out again. He eventually sold it, and someone got a hell of a good deal on a barely ridden R6.

Another gentleman I know rode gnarly old bikes exclusively for quite a while (likely because he could afford them). He claims he had fun crashing those bikes. Indeed, he says that crashing a bike into a 8 foot snow drift is an absolute blast. He thoroughly enjoyed finding the absolute limits of his bikes, and when he crashed, he got up, brushed himself off, and rode on.

Personally, I prefer to avoid crashes. I've done it, and it's not fun. On the other hand, most of the time it's not the worst thing in the world. The last time I crashed a motorcycle was when I was a teenager. After I picked myself and the bike up, my only concern was "what if I'm not allowed to ride it anymore?"

As such, I came up with the thoroughly lame story that I'd just tipped over going 5 miles an hour. Yeah. I skinned my arms from wrist to elbow, and rubbed my legs raw under my jeans going 5 miles per hour when I tipped over on grass. And my brother and all my cousins, who saw me fly off the bike, do a great Superman impression, and finally stop 20 feet or so from the bike, I'm sure they told my mom that I tipped over going 5 miles per hour too.

I doubt she bought it.

Anyway, the next day I was out riding again. I started wearing a helmet, though.

A frequent question I get from non-riders (and former riders) is "don't you get scared?" Well, of course! I don't let the fear take over, though. Yes, people have tried to change lanes into me. But people have tried to change into my lane when I'm in a cage, too. The difference is that I can easily dodge the clueless on my bike. In that way, riding is less scary - I know EXACTLY how much space my bike needs.

Some people, however, have a close call in traffic and decide that they're done. They let the fear win, and go out and buy an SUV because then they feel "safe." Personally, I'd rather feel responsible and in control of my own well-being than "safe."

It seems to me that there are two kinds of riders: the ones who brush it all off and get back up on two, and the ones who give up.

I wonder about those who give up because they got scared once. Didn't they ever fall off their bicycle? What do they do when things don't go their way in the rest of their lives? What do they do when they lose their jobs? What do they do when they screw up, or make mistakes?

It's ok to be shaken after a scary or painful experience, but letting the fear get to you, and giving up on something otherwise enjoyable decreases your quality of life, and that of those around you. Yes, your fear has an impact on others. When you tell someone "I gave up riding / flying / walking / self-employment / pizza / puppetry, it's just too scary/dangerous," that person may very well adopt your fear - even though they've never experienced what scared you first hand. They'll repeat your fear, as their own, to someone else.

Eventually, we end up with a society where everyone is afraid even though nothing bad has ever happened to them.

So don't give in to the fear. When you crash, get back up, brush yourself off, take what you can learn from the experience, and finish your ride.


Combatscoot said...

I got scared and sold a bike once because I low-sided on a curve after hitting a puddle of two-cycle fuel. After a few years riding sidecar bikes, I realized they were even more dangerous, and definitely more expensive. How could I have scared so easily? Oh,well. You live and learn.

Steve Williams said...

Good post Lucky.

I suppose we never know for sure how we will react until faced with something. I have had one close call when I was almost rear ended by a van while sitting at a traffic light. My heart was in my throat but after I calmed down I mostly was angry with myself for not paying better attention.

I'm not scared when I ride but I am aware of the risk and act accordingly. I like to think that if I had a serious accident I would get back on the scooter. Who knows though. I layed the Vespa down on the road in the snow and my heart pumped a bit but I felt that little crash was expected. And I wasn't going that fast.

A Yamaha R6 as a first bike is nuts. As is probably any big V Twin bike. Learning to ride skillfully takes time and being able to manage the bike. Starting with something huge and powerful would be tough.

Steve Williams
Scooter in the Sticks

Surly said...

Great post. I took the liberty of expounding on your theory and got a little rambly.

Bill Sommers said...

This was good. It's the same with a lot of things, that a moment of fear can rob one of countless moments of enjoyment. Giving up and moving on becomes too easy.

It's like the old cowboy adage that "If you fall off your horse, you need to climb right back on, or you'll always be afraid". Not too many walking cowboys in the old westerns.

Have fun,

Anonymous said...

I'm a new rider (for the second time) at 53. Got a smaller 250cc for nightly comute to work. Took the safety course. Last night I locked up the rear tire at a quick stop at a light that turns red for no reason. Fished a little right but straightened out OK till stopped. Heart beat never changed. I expect to make mistakes and expect mistakes from other drivers as well. I'm sure I look like an idiot at times when I'm lugging the engine up an incline or turning the throttle at a stop sign while I'm in nuetral. I'll make all the classic errors and maybe even invent some new ones. But I do it willingly as opposed to reluctantly. As soon as I get some spare change I want to take up the trumpet as well.