Flying cross-country in a Cirrus SR20 isn't much different than road-tripping on your Harl
Airplane pilots are generally an adventurous, skillful and paranoid bunch. That's why they make good motorcyclists. For years, flying and riding have been cross-over sports with participants accepting equal amounts of risk. Effectively managing these risks enables pilots to keep filling pages in logbooks and riders racking up miles on the odometer. Unfortunately, all bets are off when the risks aren't managed properly, as was the fate of three U.S. Highland executives who perished when their Cessna ran out of fuel last July. Assuming you don't do anything stupid like weave in and out of traffic or fly into a thunderstorm, the risks are manageable on both pavement and air. Do you consistently have a solid plan to up the ante on safety for your riding missions? Consider the pilot's approach...
Every good pilot has "personal minimums," and so should every motorcyclist. For example, a pilot might postpone a trip if an unfamiliar destination airport is forecast to be low overcast after dark. Flying an unfamiliar instrument approach at night, in ugly weather, is about as risky as flying gets. Similarly, the timing of a recent road tour would have put me in the middle of twisty mountain terrain late at night. One of my personal minimums on the bike is to avoid unfamiliar roads after dark. Half-heartedly, I decided to park the motorcycle until dawn instead of pressing on. Moreover, if you are fatigued from miles and miles on the road, resist the temptation to keep going. Professional pilots have a fixed number of hours they can work in a given period. When that time limit expires, it's time to put the airplane away.
The argument of who watches weather more closely-pilots or motorcyclists-will never be won. Taking the pilot's approach to weather in planning trips can work to your advantage. It's all about what pilots term "situational awareness." Monitoring the weather along your route means watching weather patterns and systems move across the country a couple of days before your trip. Before you hit the road, have a final look at a radar picture to see if there's inclement weather in your path. Newer GPS systems have integrated XM Weather-an extremely valuable tool for pilots and motorcyclists alike. Understand, too, that if your road trip has you cruising through the mountains, you can bet on changeable weather and changing your clothing.
How you maintain your motorcycle says a lot about your preparedness. Aircraft are required to undergo thorough yearly inspections to be deemed airworthy. Whether you wrench on your bike yourself or bring it to a trusted mechanic, set and follow a maintenance schedule. Good pilots perform a thorough pre-flight inspection. My pilot mentality has me looking over my motorcycle with a sharp eye before throwing a leg over. Sad is the pilot who took off without securing a fuel-filler cap, sending gallons of critical fuel overboard. Sadder yet is an acquaintance who lost his life when his sidestand extended at speed. A closer pre-ride inspection could have revealed a broken spring.
Initial and recurrent training is critical for motorcyclists and pilots alike. Sure, thousands of hours/miles add up to experience, but without regular training don't bet your life on successfully handling an emergency situation. Maybe it's a track day, an advanced rider course or spending time in a closed parking lot practicing evasive maneuvers. A pilot's view toward training furthers skill and confidence.
Motorcyclists and pilots enjoy equal amounts of satisfaction when they safely return from a challenging trip. A solid connection between man and machine requires vigilance, skill, concentration, preparedness and healthy amounts of respect for risk. Why not add some pilot mentality to your next road trip?