Monday, March 3, 2014

Four Horsemen of a Biking Apocalypse

"Motorcycling is not inherently dangerous. It is, however, EXTREMELY unforgiving of inattention, ignorance, incompetence and stupidity!" A. Nonymous

Last year a couple had a spill while out riding with us.  It occurred on a smooth, dry road on a warm and sunny afternoon. The rider was seen entering a constant-radius bend at a speed well under the posted limit and at which the bend could be safely negotiated.  He ran wide off the paved portion and gravel shoulder and ended up in some bushes.  Given the temperature at the time - much warmer than what we had been experiencing in the UK - plus the fact that he had taken lunch about an hour previously it’s most likely he simply lost concentration.

Fortunately any physical injuries – mostly to his passenger - were relatively minor and the bike was largely unscathed.  The most serious damage appeared to be to his pride.  He said he’d been riding for well over three decades without an incident.  He believed himself to be a good rider.  Was he?   Before we answer that let’s look at four words in the last sentence in the first paragraph above.

Did the incident happen due to inattention?  The evidence would support this.  Was he acting stupidly?  Definitely not.  He was carrying a passenger - his wife - whose safety he was very much mindful of.  Were ignorance or incompetence factors?   Let’s look at that more in more detail.

Among the many words used to describe the term ignorant are untaught, unschooled, untrained and uninformed.  35 years ago it was enough to pass a very simple on-road test to gain a motorcycle licence.  Ride around the block without falling over, come to a controlled stop without striking the examiner and presto, you’re good to go.  See you again?  Only if you do something really, really bad and a judge decides to suspend your licence.  Which is not very likely.  The vast majority of traffic convictions are dealt with by fines, not meaningful practical education.

So, a driving or riding licence is a permit to drive on public roads based on a one-time low common denominator test.  Is any further training or evidence of ongoing skill development required to retain your licence?  Nope. 

What happens after you’ve passed the test for a drivers licence?  Before too long you begin to believe that possession of a licence means you’re a good driver or rider.  How is this reinforced?  Partly through confidence gained over time - basic control functions become unconscious actions - but mostly due to lack of consequence.  “I haven’t hit anything” or “I haven’t had a spill” must mean I’m a good driver or rider.   Nothing has happened to me. I must be good.  Ignorance really is bliss.

Which all too often leads to the blame game.  You hear this all the time.  People who have had accidents will almost always tell you it was at least partly someone else's fault. "They shouldn't have put that telephone pole there!"   

The nonsense goes on.  The ride or tour leader is “going too fast”.  "Car drivers are out to get us." "Where did he come from?" And my all-time favourite, "Loud pipes save lives."  Really?  Sorry, it wasn't apparent that someone else was in control of your bike.  

The fact is that those who play the blame game are all too often themselves incompetent. The core of the problem is that their self-belief and the reality of their competency are not in sync.  Not only are they unwilling to admit there is something they could learn, for the most part they are unlikely to do much about it anyway.  “I haven’t had any accidents (lately) so I must be good”. 

You are the only one in control of your vehicle.  How is blaming others going to keep you safe?  How is purposeful ignorance going to make you a more competent driver or rider?

So how does one become more competent?  By definition if you will; by becoming less ignorant.  The first step is to admit there is room for improvement and the next step is to take action and do something about it.  You don’t have to play the blame game or suffer in silence.  Help is available!  Enhanced driving or riding courses are widely available.

How do we measure competence?  With evaluation and testing. That’s how school works and while it may not be perfect we’ve yet to come up with a better alternative.  Riding a bike is not at all like driving a car.  They don’t steer the same, they balance on two wheels and they can fall over.  When bikes fall over machines becomes damaged and people get hurt.

Riding for 35 years without any ongoing training is no different than reaching adulthood without a formal education. You don't even know what you don't know. Has your riding education progressed beyond a junior or primary grade?  Could you pass an advanced driver or rider test?  Well, you couldn't possibly know until an assessment was done by someone qualified to do so. 

It would be nice to have a dollar or pound for every less-than-competent rider who has said to me, “I’m thinking of doing that (taking training).” or "I've been riding for years. I know what I'm doing".   And so, year after year the same fears and the same inadequacies, compounded by habit, continue to manifest themselves.  Shoulda, coulda and woulda are words not normally used by competent advanced riders.   

Our man above - an intelligent, pleasant and well-mannered fellow - thought he was a good rider.  He wasn't; self-belief and reality were at odds.  In terms of riding ability ignorance and incompetence were factors in his spill.  Combined with only a few short seconds of inattention it led to injury and damage. Further to that, and this is truly regrettable, it completely soured any further relations we might have. 

Last year we had the great pleasure of seeing six Peak Riders take the RoSPA(ii) advanced riding test, the highest measure of civilian road riding available in the UK.  Five made Gold and one Silver. These people share some common traits.  They take full responsibility for their actions.  They ride progressively and predictably and are in complete control of their time and space. They are always seeking to improve their riding.  They are a joy to ride with. They will take a re-test every three years. 

Motorcycling is not inherently dangerous.  We ride bikes because it makes us feel good and very much alive. The more you know the better it gets.

ii RoSPA - Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (UK)

Mike Moloney © 2014
www.peakrider.com

www.facebook.com/peakrideradventure

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