Motorcycle Riding - Perspectives - Up To Speed

Full Circle

Looking back with nearly 23 years of hindsight, the piece-handwritten during a college trip to Lake Tahoe and re-written from memory during my interview with then-Editor Art Friedman a month before I was hired here-manages to make a reasonable point despite the cumbersome prose.

"Have you asked yourself lately how well you ride your motorcycle?" I wrote. "Forget that the knees of your leathers are worn through or that your bike's Pirelli Phantoms [hey, it was 1985!] are worn more at the shoulder than the middle. What's really important is how in control you are-how you react to mid-corner gravel or a car pulling out in front of you in a fast sweeper. Do you grab the brakes? Maneuver around the car? Or fixate on it and take on-the-spot diving lessons?

"The answer," I wrote, "obviously depends on the situation-your speed, the distance you have to work with, the condition of the pavement, etc. But can you process all that info quickly enough to save yourself the pain and cost of an accident?"

Eventually I got to the point, which had more to do with motorcycling's reputation among the public and government regulators than a collection of riding tips. I wrote that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was at the time investigating the ATV industry, which had suffered a rash of ugly incidents, many of which were being sensationalized on TV. Whether those incidents were linked to personal irresponsibility (likely) or an actual safety problem (less so) was beside the point. "The point," I wrote, "is that a governmental agency is looking into it-and if they are looking at ATVs, what's to stop such agenciesfrom looking at streetbike safety?"

Missouri Senator John Danforth (R-MO) answered that question soon after I'd written those words, proposing legislation that would have affected the streetbikes you could buy in a highly negative way. Luckily, Danforth's entire premise-that high-horsepower superbikes were killing riders at a rate higher than smaller, less-powerful bikes-was ass-backward. Because Danforth was knee-jerking in a typical politico fashion, he acted on emotion and never did any research. If he had, he'd have learned that smaller-displacement motorcycles were damaging bodies and lives more often than bigger, faster bikes, which were less affordable to younger, less-experienced riders-riders who tended to crash more due to inexperience, a testosterone overdose or both. A handful of TV media dolts fanned the flames with irresponsible, sensationalistic "reports" showing a minority of clueless riders in action, wheelying- and crashing-their way across America's TV screens.

Danforth's folly lost energy quickly once the facts got out (thanks in part to a story Dexter Ford wrote for Motorcyclist at the time), and things settled down for a good, long time. But here's the problem: I'm seeing a similar swell of bone-headed riding and media attention lately, much of it fueled by a new generation of mostly younger riders who don't seem to give a rat's ass about the fragile relationship we have with mainstream Americans, not to mention a media hell-bent on portraying us in the worst possible light. Having gone through the Danforth scare, it's easy for me to imagine the next step: a fresh wave of proposed governmental/legislative intervention, with a "We'll-save-you-from-yourself" do-gooder mantra held out as justification for such meddling.

Sadly, there's not much we can do, really, except ride responsibly, set a good example, shame the idiots verbally and socially when we are unlucky enough to come in contact with them, keep watch for the inevitable wave of anti-horsepower Big Brotherism-and be ready for a fight when it appears.