I had this uncle. He was one of this countries most respected doctors. He had done med school at the University of Chicago. After med school, intern, residency, etc. he went to work at Johns Hopkins University for many years before returning to the University of Chicago. He was tops in his field of anesthesiology.
He also was a bit arrogant, as many doctors can be, and he hated motorcycles.
“I hear you purchased a murdercycle,” he once grumbled after my parents told him about my first bike.
“Oh no,” I replied, “It’s a little motorcycle. Nothing special, just something to get me around.”
“Yeah, well it’s still a death machine on two wheels. Do you know how many motorcycle accident victims I see coming through the emergency room every year?”
My uncle then proceeded to spend the next 45 minutes giving me a lecture on body trauma injuries, head trauma injuries, and just about any other trauma injuries he could bring up. He concluded with one of my favorite lines. “Do you know what we physicians call a motorcyclist who doesn’t wear a helmet? Organ donors. Because after they’re braindead we can still harvest the organs for someone else.”
Don’t get me wrong. He truly was a great guy. He loved the academia of what he did; he loved the challenge, he loved the problem solving and deep down inside I think he truly loved humanity — he wouldn’t have been a doctor if he didn’t. But I loved the motorcycles and I wasn’t about to give up riding because of his, or anyone else’s opinion on the state of road safety in America.
However I did promise to wear a helmet and I still do to this day.
But I find myself becoming more and more annoyed by all the prognosticators who feel the need to tell me about how dangerous it is on a motorcycle. When I had wiring problems with my first bike, the chopped Honda 350, I took it to a guy in my town who was willing to redo the wiring for me. I purchased a new wiring harness and showed up at his place with harness and bike.
Sometime between our discussion on the phone and my arrival he had experienced some kind of transformation that I can only describe as something on the level of a religious conversion. He began to lecture me on the dangers of riding. Seems he had been in an accident himself (at some point long before we discussed the rewiring, mind you) and he was now having second thoughts about restoring my bike to running condition. He concluded his 15-minute diatribe by informing me that he could no longer bring himself to fixing my bike. He didn’t want the responsibility.
Well gee, he could have called me back before I hauled the vehicle to his house. At the very least, we could have had this discussion before I unloaded the bike from the pickup truck.
For one brief moment I felt as if I was back in Cincinnati where I occasionally encountered the soapbox preachers who stand on the street corners and shout out how all us sinners will burn when the world ends tomorrw. I thanked the reluctant repairman for his time and got out of there fast.
Yep, I know. Riding the motorcycle can be a bit risky. So can driving a car. How many times have you almost been creamed by someone on a cell phone while driving around in their way too big SUV? But come on, seriously, eating red meat involves a certain amount of risk, and the same can be said about fish.
Our love affair with sweets also carries a risk if you constantly overindulge.
My point: I know riding is risky but I become more vigilant on my motorcycle than other vehicles I ride or drive (with the exception of my bicycle). I constantly tell my kids that you always assume that every driver on the road is an idiot — this is my way of prepping them for their diver’s license.
“Even if it’s you?” they ask.
“Even if it’s me,” I reply.
My oldest son once questioned if I wasn’t just overgeneralizing a bit. I explained that not all drivers are truly idiots but if you assume they are then you put yourself into the right frame of mind for defensive driving. Assume they are idiots, watch them like they are idiots and take evasive action when they act like idiots.
Yep, riding comes with risk but we do what we can to reduce the risk while still having some fun.