My Motorcycle Riding Wake-Up Call

Meride1As I reflect back on the circumstances that led to the motorcycle crash that I had on 31 May, I have tried hard not to second-guess with a lot of “what ifs,” but that is very hard to do. I tend to overthink things.

But as I prepare to ride my Harley to the shop for an inspection, service, and repair, I have had deep and serious moments when…

…I wonder a lot about deterioration of riding skills and my physical strength and stamina that happens with age.

rp_Judge.jpgI have made up for the slight loss of visual acuity and slower reflexes through experience. With more than 34 years of riding under my boots and leathers, as well as having served as a motorcycle safety instructor for over a decade and a training coach for some motorcops, my experience level and knowledge is much better than, for example, the typical squid kid who rides a crotch rocket in shorts and sneakers (and a full-face helmet.)

But I really have had many more than second thoughts — third, fourth, and fifth thoughts — about riding again.

After a lot of soul-searching and conversations with other experienced riders, as well as with my spouse, the statement that I hear the most often from experience riders is, “it’s not IF you go down, but WHEN.” So true. And for the first time in 34 years of riding, I had my “when.” And I don’t want to have a “when” again.

I got fairly lucky with “only” three broken ribs and no other injuries or abrasions because I was wearing quality low-friction riding gear when I crashed.

While I still feel that injury and I still cannot sleep like a human on a bed due to mild but persistent discomfort that keeps me awake, I have pretty much recovered from those injuries. I have placed orders to replace my damaged gear (Chippewa harness boots and SuperSeer Helmet). But I can’t order up a replacement for my riding skills and abilities to ride at certain times of the day and also on certain roadways, as well as alone.

Bikelights2In the last few years, I have noticed that riding in the dark is harder for me. I cannot see as well in the dark as I once did. Even with very bright LED lighting that I have on my Harley, having significantly improved my view of my riding path (as well as others being able to see ME), my peripheral vision has narrowed. That worries me some when I cannot see people in cars as well to my left and to my right.

Since car drivers always say when they hit a motorcyclist, “I didn’t see him,” I find that the reverse being true is worrisome. As a biker, I have always had to watch for drivers who don’t pay attention and are fiddling with hand-held wireless devices while driving despite laws against it. (Those laws only apply to other, less skilled, drivers, donchaknow.)

I went to see my eye doctor, and while she said that my visual acuity is still 20/20 for distance, it is true that my peripheral vision has narrowed from what it was just five years ago. So I really can’t see cars to my left and to my right that well any more.

Referring to the remark “riding on certain roadways…,” I am specifically referring to major interstate highways that web through the suburban area where I live. People in the DC area have always driven like crazed demons on our interstates at speeds greater than the posted speed limit. They swerve, cut people off, and rush-rush-rush just to get somewhere faster. I never liked driving on interstates because keeping aware of everything around me was taxing on my energy level and nerves.

I have pretty much reached an age where I become exhausted when I ride on interstate highways. I get wiped out from all of the work required to maintain a safe riding position and speed on a highway as well as avoiding those crazy, ignorant, “faster-than-thou” cage drivers. Actually, big trucks are not the problem, because truck drivers are rather safe operators. It’s the self-entitled boomers driving middle-age-crisis powerful yuppiemobiles who make me really nervous.

RideNov2013bI also do not feel nearly as carefree or safe riding alone. I think for at least the rest of this riding season, when I ride, I will ask someone else to ride with me, or go on group rides with my riding club on weekends. That’s not to say that I will never ride alone again, such as a quick putt to run errands, visit family, or go to a meeting (in daylight.) But I will be more likely to find ways to ride with at least one other person when I possibly can.

So that crash was a “wake-up call.” Am I being too cautious? Maybe. Am I letting my over-thinking cause fears? Yep, probably so. But at least for now, I will be more restrictive in how, where, and when I will ride. I am not giving up, but I am also taking less risk.

I will let you know when I am back on the road again. Just another few weeks….

Life is short: self-assessment and realism happens as a guy matures.