Motorcycle Safety & Driveability/Worried Wife

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Question
Hi Pat. I will be soon (hopefully) a new rider for the first time in my life at age 45. Taking the MFS course is a no brainer for me since its very important to me that I learn to ride safely and proficiently. I have one huge obstacle in my way......a very worried wife. She is very unhappy with my decision as she thinks that I will surely be maimed or killed. What can I do or say to calm her worries? The motorcycle accident statistics are alarming but it seems that if you take all the irresponsible riders (drug/alcohol impaired, risk taking, incompetent, etc) out of the stats, riding becomes relatively safe. Am I wrong?

Your quote below is very provocative. I would like to believe its true.

"There is no crash conceivable, except for the one-in-a-million "Act of God" type crashes (like the guy who died after a dog fell on him from an overhead railroad trestle) that couldn't have been prevented by the motorcyclist."

Do you know what accident stats would be for police on motorcycles? I would think their stats would be more accurate for those of us that ride responsibly. Also, do you think a 250cc bike would be too small for a guy that's 6'1, 215? Any recommendations?

Sincerely,

Barry

Answer
First, you should have your wife take the MSF course with you. Even if she never rides a bike, it will remove a lot of the mystery around it.

Second, buy the best protective gear you can afford, and make sure it's hi-vis: white helmet, yellow/red/blue/white jacket, motorcycle pants, good boots and good gloves. If you insist on black leather, buy a bright orange/yellow safety vest. Buy this stuff before you buy a bike, then go bike shopping with what you have left.

She is right to be worried. Riders are very vulnerable, regardless of how safe and in control they choose to be. Even a slight mistake can have life-altering consequences. (This is why the riding gear is critical.)

On the other hand, motorcycles are like handguns. They're just machines, inanimate metal objects, that do what you tell them. In the hands of someone who has been trained and respects what the machine can do, it's a great tool for work or play. In the hands of someone who doesn't care or doesn't understand the consequences, it's a deadly weapon.

It is true, there are almost no unavoidable crashes. And it is true, that 99% of them can be prevented by the rider--even if it means choosing not to ride that day, or taking another route, or pulling off the road to recollect yourself.

Look at it this way: about half of all crashes are single vehicle. That means the rider is totally responsible in half the cases. In multi-vehicle crashes, both drivers share responsibility. Now we're up to 75%. A smart rider can outthink the remaining 25% of car drivers and avoid putting themselves into a bad situation.

The key is to know your limitations, and be careful not to ride beyond them or overestimate your abilities. There's nothing wrong with being inexperienced, you just need to allow yourself more time and space to operate.

A 250 would be too small for you. For a first bike look for a 2-cyl up to 650cc, a 4-cyl no larger than 500.

If you like the way I think about this, buy the book "How to Ride a Motorcycle." It'll get you over all the little humps during your first couple years riding. The book would actually be better if it was titled "How to BE a Motorcycle Rider." You won't regret buying it. And, make your wife read it.

I think she's mostly concerned because motorcycling is unfamiliar, all she knows is what she sees on TV and out on the road (idiot kids, arrogant gang members, etc.) There is a whole, wonderful culture of riding out there that is "our little secret."

A last thought: maybe she's worried because she knows you better than you know yourself! And I gotta tell ya, the person most at risk out there right now is the 45 year old male who rode a bike way back when and now wants to get back into it (now that the kids are moved out and the dog's died and there's lots of money in the checkbook) or who wants to ride for the first time--midlife crisis/newfound thirst for adventure kind of thing.

You've been behind the wheel of a four-wheeled vehicle for the last 30 years, you've had a couple of fender-benders and survived, you've maybe gotten comfortable with the idea that you can have a drink or two and still drive okay. Hopping on a motorcycle with that attitude is SUICIDE. Safely negotiating a motorcycle in traffic is comparable to juggling chainsaws while riding a unicycle. Just riding the thing is tricky enough, and then when you throw crazy modern day traffic into it, that the chainsaws. The trick is to do it gradually, and not try anything to tricky too soon.

NO drinkin'. Wear the gear. Stay off the main roads for awhile. Keep it slow. Take the class. Read up. Practice. EASE yourself into it. Do it right and it'll be a passion you'll have for the rest of your life.

Pat

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Pat Hahn

Expertise

I can answer questions related to motorcycle safety: knowledge, skills, technical, or theoretical. I am especially familiar with the concepts of risk management, hazard awareness, crash avoidance, and traction management as they pertain to motorcycle riders. Please do not ask me to troubleshoot your mechanical/electrical problems ("Why won't my bike start?").

Experience

I'm an MSF-Certified Instructor (12 years), author of the motorcycle safety books How to Ride a Motorcycle, Ride Hard, Ride Smart, and Maximum Control; co-author of Motorcycle Track Day Handbook, and Public Information Officer for the State of Minnesota: I coordinate public information and education for the Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center, a project of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. I am also communications director for the State Motorcycle Safety Administrators and serve on the NHTSA team that provides motorcycle safety program technical assessments to states.

Organizations
Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Minnesota Motorcycle Safety Center, State Motorcycle Safety Administrators
Check out my website at www.motorcyclesafety.state.mn.us Of particular interest is "Safety Tips"

Education/Credentials
BA Communications/Organizational Management

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