atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#7755: Trying to be safe on the bike

I'm still kind of annoyed by this guy on a full dresser yesterday.

"Full dresser" is usually something like a Harley or a Gold Wing with all the trunks and fairings and gewgaws and gimcracks that make the thing into a motorized sofa. In this case it was a Harley.

Rode the bike back to work after lunch; so on my way home I find myself being, essentially, tailgated by this guy on his full dresser. I guess 40 in a 35 wasn't fast enough, and at his earliest opportunity he goes blowing past me. No helmet or gloves, naturally.

I've been riding motorcycles--on and off--since I was a teenager. When I was younger, I frequently rode without any gear, not even a helmet, because I was stupid. Balancing that was the fact that I was riding a 90cc dirt bike missing one of its compression rings (and ergo not exactly making peak power) and I was riding it around my back yard and (infrequently) on trails, so I was not going very fast. But in 2011 when I decided to start doing motorcycles again, it was with the intention of riding on the road, and so gear was essential.

I chronicled my efforts at getting the dirt bike functional again starting here in June of 2011. The dirt bike was basically usable, but had been sitting since my last foray into motorcycles...which had been in the early 90s. So it was going to take some doing to make it functional again.

The result of my efforts? The dirt bike now started a hell of a lot easier than it ever had before, in my experience. Somewhere I've got video of myself trying to start the thing in 1993. It was a bit of a process. But after my work in 2011? Switch on, fuel on, choke, kick, brummm! It would start on the first kick (or maybe the second) and the engine would warm up and be ready to ride in a matter of seconds. Rather than me having the kick it like a rented mule for ten minutes and then nurse the throttle and choke while it puttered and coughed for another five.

Then I got my license in August of that year; and in September I bought Og's motorcycle, which had sat in his shed ever since he got it fixed up (after buying it at a garage sale for $25). He used the proceeds from that sale to build an AR-15. I'm still not sure who got the better side of that deal--meaning it was probably a perfectly fair bargain.

So, with all the introductory material out of the way--

One of the big rules of motorcycle safety is not to ride the wrong bike. There's the obvious point that you should be able to ride it comfortably, but beyond that, you want a bike you can handle. 350 lb man on scooter, probably bad idea. 16-year-old who just got his license on Hayabusa? Also bad idea.

Another big rule is not to ride too fast. Look, if you ride at twice the speed limit, other drivers won't be expecting that, and you'd better have your head on a swivel and some really good brakes on your bike. And extremely good reflexes. Sure, your bike has an insane power to weight ratio, but that doesn't give you a "get out of physics free" card.

The complementary rule for that one is don't ride like a dumbass. Ride with traffic (instead of through it), keep both wheels on the ground, and indicate your turns.

And of course ATGATT: All The Gear All The Time. You may never need to wear a helmet--nearly all motorcycle helmets end up being retired and replaced without so much as a scratch--but if you ever do need one it will be too late to go back and get it.

If you habitually ride your bike in shorts, sandals, and a tank top--well, you might very well get away with it, even for your entire life. But if you've guessed wrong, you'll leave skin on the pavement--or worse.

Myself, I am guilty of riding without gear...but when I'm doing that, it's because I'm taking a bike for a quick test-spin, around the block, at speeds no higher than 25-ish. Even that really isn't all that smart, but it's a matter of degree. What I do not do is to get out on the main roads and go 35-40-45-50 like that.

And of course there are two types of riders: those who have dropped the bike, and those who will. I am hoping that I have already landed in the former category.

Remember when I decided to take the bike to get my hair cut, after work, only it started raining? I pulled to the side of the road to try to get the towel out of the trunk to put across my lap (not really thinking it through, since the rain landing on my legs would just soak the towel before re-soaking my legs). Got too far over to the right, and--going maybe three miles an hour--the front tire skidded off the edge of the pavement into the mud. I hopped off the bike as it rolled onto its right side. Bike: dropped. But not damaged, and I was able to pick it back up.

(As an aside, the helmet and jacket kept my upper body nearly completely dry. Everything below my jacket was soaked right to the skin.)

And finally--it should go without saying--do not ride while intoxicated. But also, don't ride when you're too tired, or when you're not feeling good, or any time you're not able to concentrate.

Riding a motorcycle is not as safe as driving a car. But you're not at the mercy of random chance, either; your choices are a big part of how safe you are.

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