Motorcycles, Life and FEAR of the Unknown

I was gathering some information on a safety related site about single vehicle crashes and riding away without reporting an accident and this comment was made:

“When I took a first aid class a while back, they spent a lot of time discussing the legal trouble you can get into trying to help someone. Pull someone out of a burning car and fail to handle a spinal injury properly and they end up paralyzed you can get sued even if you saved their life.”

The conversation progressed to:

“Just be careful about doing anything more than not letting someone die. If somebody is not going to die anytime soon, usually better to wait for the professional.”  

Which is actually sound advice.  I’m an “aid and comfort” sort of guy, hell, I’ll even light your smoke while we wait for assistance.  I would address the stuff the Boy Scouts taught me:  ABC  Airway, Breathing and Circulation.  To listen to some folks in the conversation you should live in constant fear of being sued, so much fear that (and this is a quote):

“When we had a boat and I took a lot of friends out, I considered getting my captains license to make sure I was doing my best to operate the boat safely. I was advised that could be a bad idea. As just some shmo with a boat I am held to a lower standard than a licensed captain, even if I am not charging anybody for the ride..”

Again, it’s probably sound legal advice and fine except the idea that you’re better off knowing less.  Are you ever really better off knowing less?  I think they call that “willful ignorance”.

Heck, by taking basic first aid this gentleman appears to have learned a “best practice” which is “lifesaving measures only”.  Don’t be resetting bones, or grabbing that fishing line and a hook out of the saddle bags and stitching things up, open heart surgery is a bad idea, as is any invasive procedure.  If someone has arterial blood spray a tourniquet may be in order.   See, every rider should have basic first aid training.  Should you have a Combat Livesaver rating?  Probably not.  True story:  was teaching a experienced course when a rider fell.  He lay there on the ground a moment so I asked the line of riders “Anyone here with advanced medical training?”  A young man said, “Yes”.  I asked “Where?”  He said “Navy”.  I said, “Come with me Corpsman.”  Worst fear was that something more that embarrassment was holding this crashed rider to the ground; I didn’t want to roll this guy over without a pro there.  Luckily our rider’s pride was the only injury.

So, what should you know and do?  Get a little training.  Go to the local Red Cross–they’ll know where you can get absolute rookie training.  What new parent doesn’t want a 16 year old baby sitter with some Red Cross certification? Maybe you and your riding buddies should get some too!  Why?  Because often at crashes riders want to immediately take off their helmets.  I’m fine with that.  But if you can’t get up?  Maybe leave it on so you don’t wrench your neck getting it off?  If your buddy asks you to “Take off my helmet, would ya?”  Maybe you’re better off saying, “We’ll let the paramedics make that decision.”  Like plenty of areas of riding knowing what you don’t know is very important.  That means taking a course which you can even do online.  Learn a little something and find out what you don’t know so you can do the right thing.

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Thoughts on the Fall

I got to teach a late season class the other day. The wind blew a constant 15-20mph all day. My face got remarkably wind burned. The “feels like” temperature was 41 degrees, which doesn’t sound that bad but definitely is the sort of thing that can impair your physical skills and mental acuity. Remember, hypothermia is when your core temperature falls which can lead to the “umbles” like mumble, stumble, bumble, fumble…tumble…Don’t underestimate Mom Nature and her ability to wick away warmth.

However this isn’t a warning about the dangers of the cold, this is about the first line of George Orwell’s “1984” which goes:

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Somewhere back in the cloudy recesses of my brain I remember my eight grade english teacher pointing out the disparity of the words ‘bright’ and ‘cold’ being used together to create a powerful descriptive phrase. Teach had it right, George had nailed it. I know this because as I was riding home from that chilly class at noon it was, indeed a bright, cold day. And I liked it. A lot. I was dressed appropriately, I wasn’t trying to set a land speed recode, and the fall sun was low enough to cast a wonderful side light I hadn’t seen in a year.

Riding can be a wonderfully visceral thing that can assault and caress all of our senses at once. We smell diesel, fresh cut grass, sometimes orange blossoms or that truckload of manure half a mile ahead. Wind bats us around, knocks down gas mileage or can give a gentle push. The atmosphere rushing over us will cool and refresh us as well chill us to the bone. Water. I like riding in the rain, it’s pleasant and immersive in its totality of sensual overload, perhaps that why I enjoy it so. Smell, sight, taste, feel–it’s all there. Toss in the heightened awareness you have due to the enhanced potential for trouble…and you’re downright alive! If I could bottle that feeling I would give a big swig to everyone who asks, “Why do you ride that thing?”

The point of balance between summer and winter and winter and summer is officially called the Equinox, occurring around the third week of March and September; respectively this is the beginning of Fall and Spring and when the amount of daylight and night are equal. At the equinox you get as much dark as light. For me the flavor of a ride is found not in being monochromatic but in it’s well-rounded-ness, its ability to touch all the bases. The best rides aren’t the ones that were blindingly hot or violently cold. The best rides aren’t all about being all turns or enjoying a lack of traffic. The best rides have the best mix of light and dark, they are equal parts challenge and ease, light and dark.

It’s one of the reasons I enjoy the fall. From struggling to get a bike running to waiting for it warm up riding in the fall is a time of transition that can present all type of challenge and pleasure. I love the gamble you often make selecting gear–what is too much? How much is not enough. The lick your finger and stick it in the air, hope you guess right on the weather calculation is a great time too. Clear visor or smoked? Will the sun be low enough to need glare protection or will it simply be gone?

From surface conditions to route/time/visibility selections fall is a wonderful time to ride, an immersive baptism you get before you have to put up your favorite vice for a month or two. Fall shouldn’t be a season of dread it should be a celebration of separation as you use all your skills one last time before hibernation.

Be Safe.

Inclusion or Exclusion?

I have been in a private message conversation with a gentleman about how to handle motorcycle riders who want to take an alternate path to learning to ride.  To his mind there really is only one path:  professional instruction, followed by buying a 250cc motorcycle, followed a  long and tedious regime of secondary streets and parking lot practice.

OK.  I’m probably over stating his position but it’s a pretty typical answer that’s given when someone ups and says, “I want to learn to ride.”

The discussion we’ve had is how to handle someone who, in the face of what is clearly a reasonable course of action, says, “Cool.  But I’m going to get a XYZ1000 and my buddies will show me how to do it.”

To many safety advocates that kinda ruffles the feathers.  How do you answer that question?  On line we often find well intended folks who grab hold of that safety mind set that says train, go small, build into it and then amp it up into a benevolent lie–something like:  “If you start on a literbike?  Figure on being a statistic–don’t blame me when you’re a quadriplegic!”   There’s this attempt to sound like a safety pro that quickly turns acrimonious and, frankly just kills the conversation.

Think about it a moment.  A new or aspiring rider comes up and asks your opinion.  That says “I value your opinion” don’t it?  And sometimes it means “I have this bad idea–back me up will you?”  Once in a while it may be someone looking to pick a fight but that’s truly rare.  So whaddaya do?  If it’s a truly bad idea do you encourage?  Evade?  Engage and destroy?  Run away maybe?

Often on the web I see well intended experienced riders go directly to a strafe and kill, scorched and salted earth thing where ridicule and (bad) black humor shows up and you get the “Hey, buy life insurance and name me the beneficiary” kind of thing going.  It discounts the questioner and clearly devalues them.  I believe it’s a bit of a defense mechanism internally designed to push away so no emotional investment can be made–if you quickly and decisively end the conversation with denigration then you don’t have to risk forming bonds.   It’s akin to that self sabotage teenagers have when the insult someone they’re infatuated with so they don’t risk later rejection and pain.  No risk?  No reward.

And that may be the problem.  Motorcycling is a risk management business and not everybody can stand the same risk.  Personally I’m never going to tell you that you’re a future statistic and that if you really loved your family you’d sell that crotchrocket and get something more muted.  Why?  Because if you’re sharing a life long dream with me I’m not going to piss on your campfire.  I’m a good guest.  I want to get to the place where I can get a couple of ideas into your head like keeping the engine map set on “RAIN” for the first couple months or seriously looking at what the insurance will cost if you have to have comprehensive because you’ve got a bank loan.   When someone tells you a bad idea you don’t have to open with, “Boy.  Are you stupid!”  How about a “Are you sure you wanna do that?”  And if they are?  Rather than unzipping and unleashing on the fire in cloud of steam and indignation why not see if you can help alter the course to the most reasonable path?

Unfortunately the fellow I was discussing this with essentially said, “I can’t fix stupid.  Why bother?”  Which is fine.  Ride your own ride.  However, don’t we owe it to the new an aspiring to help them not make the mistakes we made?  And if they’re fixed on it don’t we have responsibility to at least help mitigate the risk with sound advice instead of condemnation?