Safe Riding Strategies - Lean Angle

Boneheads In Excess

Many apologies if the following rant rubs you the wrong way, but I'm one pissed-off soul right now. (You're surprised, I can tell.) I'm chapped at the shocking ineptitude of the folks I share L.A.'s freeways and surface streets with each day. And I'm even angrier that these unskilled, irresponsible and just plain dumb-ass drivers are able to continue killing and maiming hundreds of innocent riders, drivers and passengers each day.

Scott Reif was one of those riders. Scott, a talented Honda R&D; employee who I had the privilege of working closely with during my years at American Honda, was killed last week by an elderly man in an SUV who turned left in front of him. Scott had just returned from a day of testing and was just a few miles from home when the crash occurred. He had recently celebrated his one-year wedding anniversary, and was just 43 years old.

Hearing the news made my blood boil. And it reignited passions I've always harbored about what I see as this country's lackadaisical attitude about driving as well as government's "control" of the system. Bureaucrats institute onerous regulations every day in the name of public safety, yet nothing constructive ever seems to get done to help stanch the flow of irresponsible driving, which kills thousands each year. Heck, it takes a year to become a licensed hair stylist-while the right to wield a 3500-pound, 120-mph weapon and endanger thousands of lives with it on a daily basis takes just a couple of simple tests to acquire. Something's wrong here.

To put some meat on those bones I called James Baxter, president of the National Motorists' Association (a guy who knows the American driving/riding environment like the Clintons know spin). But what he told me isn't what I was expecting. Stricter driving standards aren't just highly unlikely (the social, cultural and political reasons for this are substantial), statistics say they'd probably have little effect if adopted. "Proficient driving or riding is all about attitude," Baxter told me. "The vast majority of folks know how to drive, know the rules of the road. Most just choose to ignore them."

So if things are going to remain ugly out there, what do you do? You accept the fact and deal with it.

Which brings us back to that set of unassailable strategies that'll help keep you free of compound fractures (or worse): Imagine that everyone wants you dead. Even if they don't (sometimes it's hard to tell), you'll be one step ahead if they drift into bonehead-mode. Take nothing for granted, and trust no one. Never assume folks will actually do what they should do. Perfect "the scan." Become proficient at processing at high speed a range of bike, traffic and road-condition information (see Technique, July 2000). Ride with the brights on (during the day). You'll be much harder to miss. Watch drivers' heads. Where their head goes the sheet metal often follows. Assume the position. Learn how to best position yourself in traffic so you don't get clipped. Watch your back. Don't get nailed from behind at stops.

Bottom line? Ride well. It's more important than ever these days.