“Got the wings of heaven on my shoes…and we’re staying alive, staying alive…” (the Bee Gees).
A motorcycle connects you to the world on a pathway to everywhere. It’s an unlimited opportunity for adventure that keeps you alive on every corner you lean into, every mile that zips by a few inches under your feet. North America has what is arguably the best system of roads in the world, a miracle really, all bought and paid for. Why not make use of them on two wheels?
Well, it’s the literal sense of “staying alive” that creates a big weight on the balance scale, tilting it away from riding a motorcycle. There are just too many stories of wreck and ruin.
That’s why I like Sonny Barger’s book Let’s Ride. He’s the one who lays down the hard truths about the dangers of riding and suggests some physical and mental rules to keep you on the list of the living.
Sonny Barger is a 78 year old veteran of motorcycling, a 1957 founding member of the Oakland chapter of Hell’s Angels. When your life is on the line, it’s worth listening to someone with a visceral approach to living, and for motorcycles, Sonny Barger is that person.
“When riding on public highways, I recommend adopting the attitude that every single person on the road is a sociopathic serial killer who has just escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane. This might seem a little pessimistic, but you’ll live longer if you assume everyone else on the road is a homicidal moron whose sole purpose is to kill you.”
Ha! He didn’t say they are trying to kill you, he said it’s useful to think they are. Yes, the language is over the top, but it’s this line of thinking that I remember most about the book. The potential danger of other vehicles has stuck with me.
Not sure where I heard it, but I like the saying, “Any light danger, once thought light, is no longer light.” I’d be inclined to use that kind of language, but whatever it takes to get you to pay attention, in the moment, to the various ways you can be killed. You need a plan, an escape route, to avoid them.
In this wary scenario, a distraction can be lethal because it diminishes your ability to sense approaching danger. The distraction is occupying the conscious, main thinking thread in your brain, leaving your life in the hands of background processing that must then interrupt you in time. Don’t count on it.
In addition to many critical safety tips, Let’s Ride has an abundance of useful information on engines, bike types, how they work, how to ride, evaluating a used bike, buying a bike, advanced riding, maintenance, and the culture of motorcycling. It has the street credibility that’s good to have in a source of riding advice.
I like to think you should “step into” some problems and back away from others, or at least go around them. Motorcycle safety, the idea that you could get hurt on a bike, is an issue you need to step into and deal with. There is a threshold of behavior that qualifies you as a safe rider and you need to stay on the good side of that. If you find yourself crossing over to the other side, it’s time to stop riding. Let’s Ride can help you see where you’re at and where you need to be.