According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 5091 motorcycle fatalities in the U.S. in 2008-more than any year since 1975. Meanwhile, there were fewer automotive fatalities in '08 than any other year in that time period. After 40 years of riding, I'm the sort of coward who plays it safe. If you don't, here are 12 ways to drastically increase your chances of dying.
1. Lose the helmet: NASCAR drivers wear them to race again next weekend. Kids wear them on bicycles because mom wants them home for dinner. Football and hockey players survive puny, 20-mph collisions all afternoon, but your unprotected skull is hard enough. Smack it against something solid and you're toast-or hamburger.
2. Wear basic black: How many times has some policeman presiding over a motorcycle accident heard a driver say, "I never saw him, officer"? Why stand out in bright colors like white, red, orange or yellow when you can peg the macho-meter in black leather? That's the color your family and friends will wear to your funeral.
3. Go naked: Okay, it's against the law to ride in the nude, but to really wow those hot ER nurses, strip down to a T-shirt, cutoffs and flip-flops. Beauty may be skin-deep, but nothing impresses a medical professional like road rash down to the bone.
4. Start big: Rookie riders in Europe and Japan are required to learn the basics on something small and manageable, but you don't. Life is short, and the best way to shorten it further is with inexperience and 180 horsepower.
5. Be a night rider: Nighttime is the right time, because that's when four-wheelers can't see so well. Especially the ones who just popped a few cold ones after work. One little bike headlight makes you half as visible as the two on a car. Every time the sun goes down, your odds of becoming a statistic go up.
6. Have one more for the road: Toss back enough liquid talent to slow your reaction time and dull your senses. If you're really lucky, you'll just end up in a nice, safe jail cell with a DUI conviction and no driver's license.
7. Cut class: What's with these motorcycle-training programs anyway? We'll never crack 10,000 deaths per annum if instructors have their way. Real life is the best education-followed shortly by real death.
8. Go faster: Newton's laws of motion say you're less likely to die at 5 mph: not enough kinetic energy, no equal/opposite reaction. Crank it up to 70 or more so even a little mistake will have major consequences.
9. Let it be: Forget preventive maintenance. Checking the oil, tire pressure and chain tension could actually prevent an accident, so don't. Imagine the thrill of seizing an engine on the Interstate!
10. Let it rain: One tiny contact patch steers the bike and does most of the stopping. Another puts the power down. Boring? Just add water. Snow and ice are even better.
11. Loud pipes waste lives: Remember that thundering V-twin that set off car alarms as it passed? Ditch your muffler so oncoming traffic will hear you and be extra careful. Actually, they won't, but ride like an immortal anyway 'til some cage driver proves you're not.
12. Bring on the E-'stractions: Talk to and text everybody in your cell phone's address book while you ride. If that's too difficult, clutter your cockpit with a GPS receiver, satellite radio, MP3 player, radar detector, etc. and let them lull you into an electronic trance. You'll never see what hit you.