There are many different reasons why people ride motorcycles.
- For some, it’s all about the mechanics of owning a bike—literally the mechanics. It’s a joy to spend hours in the garage performing maintenance like changing the oil, brake pads, clutch, and the chain (or shaft) drive. Kind of a peaceful ritual that dials down the stress of that 40+ hour work week and culminates in a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.
- For others, it’s simply the exhilaration and challenge of taking a high performance, agile machine out on the road.
- And then there’s the notion of belonging…camaraderie…because “Hey, motorcycle riders like us? Yeah, we do things like this. We simply get it. If you don’t ride, you wouldn’t understand.” There’s pride in association, which creates an image, and maintaining an image is valuable, important, and fun. It’s why we have hobbies and passions in the first place.
While it’s impossible to develop an exhaustive list of why riders ride, the fact remains, they all face the universal, often subversive threat of going beyond their limits. This threat is 100% objective and not an indictment of skill level, intent, or natural ability. It’s the REALITY that any rider’s mental situational report (SITREP)—the cognitive, up-to-the-millisecond evaluation of what’s going on around them—moves not at the speed of the bike, or at the speed of thought, but rather at the speed of the unexpected.
And reacting to the speed of the unexpected when you’re stretched beyond your limits is a sport fraught with peril, because the margin of error is zero.
Which is why—when considering limits—it’s important to remember a few famous quotes:
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” – Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson
“No plan survives contact with the enemy,” – Strategist Helmuth von Moltke
With motorcycles, there are situations on the road that are unfair and dangerous. Situations we should work to fix, so riders can walk away from them safely, if they can. No minivan drivers on mobile phones. Mandatory reeducation of drivers to check their blind spots before changing lanes. Public service announcements reminding everyone not to fuss with their navigation while their vehicles—regardless of type—are in motion. And please, trees? Don’t fall. And startled wildlife? Don’t dash.
But when we focus on external forces and tie them directly to our well-being, we give up agency, a.k.a. control of what little in life we can control. And when we give up agency, the hard-won privilege of being in charge of our own destiny (or motorcycle) is surrendered to the whim of our worst enemy but greatest hope—chance.
Which is never a safe bet.
Instead, we can decide to take action. And that starts with conducting a SITREP well before we get on the bike. It’s tough sledding, because we have to be honest with ourselves to obtain an objective assessment of our abilities—and human beings are terrible at being honest with themselves.
But here’s what to consider when evaluating your limits. It’s worth the read…because your life hangs in the balance:
Aging—It happens. A few things to look out for include slowed response/reaction times, more “close calls” than ever before, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and weakness when handling a motorcycle within any context. There’s no shame in hanging up the helmet.
Physical Limitations—Whether fighting the flu, a pulled muscle, soreness, or stiffness—if you can’t comfortably ride, get off, and stay off, the bike. Your body needs time to recover, after which you can re-evaluate. Motorcycle riding requires physical strength and agility, as well as quick thinking. If you’re not up to the task, you run the risk of collision.
Mental or Emotional Distractions— Riding a motorcycle requires mental clarity and acuteness. If you’re sad, frustrated, angry, tired, or managing chronic conditions like anxiety and depression, it’s hard to focus on the world around you, so you lower your chance of survival when the unexpected arrives. (And it always does.)
Weather Conditions—Rain? Sleet? Snow? Wind? Sunshine and 82-degrees? In the Pacific Northwest, who knows? The key is to know your skill level and steer clear of riding in unfamiliar conditions. Advanced training courses can increase your weather riding range, while the proper safety gear is the best insurance money can buy.
Impairment and Speed—Fun is fun. But leave the bike behind when alcohol is involved—that’s what ride sharing apps are for, regardless of your age. Same rule applies to speedometers: save the upper regions of the dial for the straightaway sections of the interstate in Montana (where you’d still be legal) instead of the “curve ahead” sign on that beautiful (but deadly) coastal road.
But let’s go back to having that plan right before you get punched in the mouth. While it’s true no plan in the world survives contact with whatever enemy exists within our environment, it’s doesn’t mean we should go ahead and skip planning and preparation. Consider another fun quote, which in this case is an anonymous, slight re-wording of something General George S. Patton once said:
“Train like you fight.”
Ongoing training is an important solution. Stay up to date with the changes in laws, technologies, and best practices. This benefits all riders, regardless of age or skill level. But maybe even more importantly, look at training as self-mandated continuing education. Training courses cover the entire spectrum of experience— from “Intro” to “Experienced,” the latter of which focuses heavily upon what’s most important—maintaining your hard-won privilege of being in charge of your own destiny through skills that can defeat your worst enemy—chance—when it shows up on the road.
Besides, this is a sport that affords all those great feelings—a sense of peace, accomplishment, and satisfaction; or exhilaration, or even belonging. Those are hugely beneficial mental heath attributes worth fighting for. In fact, scientific studies on riding a motorcycle and mental health show you are less likely to suffer from anxiety, headaches, heart attacks, memory problems, and insomnia thanks to your passion and commitment to love the road on two wheels.
While it’s impossible to develop an exhaustive list of why riders ride, the fact remains, they all face the universal, often subversive threat of going beyond their limits. Make sure you understand yours today, so we can see each other on the road tomorrow.