Thirty-two years after I bought my first motorcycle I got t-boned and, once I was mobile enough to visit my parents and tell them of the collision, my mother said “I suppose that is it for you and motorcycles then.”
My response was that I had done nothing wrong and was as prepared as I could be to reduce potential injuries by always wearing the best gear I could. There was nothing I could have done to avoid the collision and the likelihood of another one happening seemed relatively small. I planned to work as hard as possible to recover from my injuries and be able to ride again. In fact, I was motivated to ride even more than before because you never can tell when something bad might happen, so it seemed wise to enjoy riding as much as possible while I could. Needless to say, Mom wasn’t totally impressed with my answer.
But balancing risk is something we all do in all aspects of our lives based on our individual experiences and our tolerances for dealing with the results of our choices. Many people believe that throwing a leg over a motorcycle is one of the riskiest things a person can do while lots of people feel that the rewards they get from riding far outweigh the risks involved. A lot of people have given up on riding after experiencing a big crash or close call and that is perfectly okay as they have made a decision based on their own risk tolerances. One should never ride beyond their abilities or out of their comfort zone.
One of my favourite riding related quotes comes from the late Neil Peart and recognizes the potential for bad outcomes while also acknowledging the personal responsibility to limit the possible occurrences. In his book Far and Wide, Peart wrote about a crash he’d experienced while on tour with the rock band Rush in 2010. Like me getting t-boned, Peart felt he had done nothing wrong and wrote that his philosophy is “Whatever happens, it must never be my fault.”
One of the things that gives me pause to think about is seeing a vehicle with a flat tire on the side of the road. I have no way of knowing if the affected tire was in good condition or not or if there was something on the road that punctured it. Here again, a flat tire should not be my fault (as long as I’ve made sure the pressure, tread, rims, valve stem, etc are in good condition before riding), but it can be very problematic if it happens at speed when you only have two underneath you. It is because I want to know about the condition of my tires that I pay close attention to the road surface while riding and have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) on my bike to warn me if the tires are getting outside of safe parameters.
Riding through the mountains in Canada and elsewhere is another example of balancing risk and reward. The scenery can be absolutely stunning and life-affirming while at the same time potentially deadly. Seeing the devastation that occurred in about a minute and a half at Frank, Alberta is a stark reminder of the risk involved in mountainous areas but it doesn’t have to be a mountain that comes down. With heavy rains in recent years it seems like more mudslides are closing roads and affecting travel. One thing that often catches me out are the signs proclaiming that an avalanche area has ended. It seems I see more of these than the signs warning of the start of an avalanche area!
After decades of riding I thought I’d figured out my comfort zones and understood my tolerance for risk but a vacation trip up the west coast of the USA introduced a new twist I had never contemplated. Just as we approached our hotel in Lincoln City, OR we noticed a new-to-us road sign. This sign announced something that was totally foreign to us and yet, the hotel I had chosen when planning the trip just happened to be on the right side of this sign. Staying in a hotel on the other side of this sign would definitely have put my risk tolerance levels to a new kind of test. Being safe from a potential tsunami has now been added to the things I consider when making trip plans along coastal areas.