What would you categorise yourself as being: A Rider?, A Motorcyclist?, A Biker?…etc… What riding mentality or riding style do you consider yourself to have: A Racer?, A Cruiser?, A Tourer?, An Off Roader?, A Learner?, An Advanced Rider?…etc…
Riding motorcycles, motorbikes, scooters, mopeds, trikes…means different things to different people and under the umbrella of the motorcycling community there are many groups and many different ideas and in many cases these ideas conflict with each other.
If we start with the common denominator which is there is a mode of transport that has two or three wheels, and for many riders, that is enough to have a common bond, to say hello to a stranger who is also a rider..to start a conversation about bikes or roads, etc.
But beyond that is where the preferences and ‘divisions’ start to show themselves and many will lean towards a certain style of motorcycle or style of riding or even towards a certain lifestyle…and this is where sometimes there is a perception that some riders are motorcyclists…and some riders are bikers…and some are scooterists…etc.
If we consider, for a moment, the motorcycle as a mode of transport instead of a lifestyle choice then the other common denominator is the level of risk vs the level of enjoyment that each rider will commit to and need to consider. There is the potential for hazards, accidents and injuries that other modes of transport or road users are not subjected to, that also need to be factored for.
For some riders…safety is everything, riding ‘correctly’ is paramount and riding is a skill and science that has to be practiced, etc. Some would also see this as ‘too dry’, soulless and where is the fun element?
For some riders…the thrill is everything, riding for speed, racing on roads, performing stunts, etc. Yes there is a risk, but that is part of the thrill and enjoyment, but there is also a disregard for safety of themselves and other road users.
In between these two polar approaches is where most common riders sit and will tend to accept varying levels of risk and adapt their riding style to counteract that risk. But do riders of all persuasions and preferences approach risk management in the same way.
It is very easy to underestimate risk, or rather over estimate ones own ability. It is very tempting to see others do something and assume that ‘I can do it too!’. When we see track racing, sometimes it is easy to overlook that these riders are the fraction of a single percent of the riding elite. It is easy to overlook that the riding conditions & track surface are very much a controlled environment, the motorcycle has either top quality or prototype components that have been repeatedly tested for track racing and the motorcycle has been set up with suspension, tyres, etc purely for a single race or single practice session. But, one of the greatest things that is easy to overlook is that each pro rider did not suddenly achieve their skill and status. It has been a series of incremental steps that has improved their riding skill and decision making in the racing environment.
Just as in the off road disciplines, simply getting on dirt bike, does not make you a dirt bike rider. Whether your preference is motocross, enduro, freestyle motocross, speedway, etc….each rider will incrementally improve their skills by practising in controlled or semi controlled environments. Yes they will take their share of spills and broken bones but the elite riders are a tiny fraction of the off road total of riders.
Over the last 25 years or so there has been easier access to coverage of motorcycle racing in all of its forms, and the emergence of the race replica or sports bikes has enabled a whole generation of rider who with relatively little money can, now achieve 200mph on the road or thereabouts, but not only with sports bikes riders but virtually all motorcycle types and riders have the potential to go a lot faster and seek greater thrills with relatively little effort and with confidence that their bikes will not breakdown either.
But does any rider now have a greater awareness of risk or are they able to differentiate between what they are seeing at a race track and what they a faced with on the road. Are riders now better risk managers and can they handle the greater performance of the motorcycles coupled with the ever present, or in some cases increasing, hazards on the roads.
Probably, with improved training and testing, the riding standard may have improved slightly and with greater access to information, an ‘informed’ rider will probably have better control and greater skill, however accident statistics are still high and fatalities are still unacceptably high.
So if riders are potentially better and motorcycles are more reliable and ‘better’ & ‘easier’ to ride and possibly even safer to ride with the implementation of ABS, traction control, dual linked brakes and improved braking systems, improved tyre compounds and patterns, etc, then why do accidents continue to occur at a high rate.
Well, there are a few factors, one being the number of motorcycles in use has increased, therefore the accident statistics will maintain at a higher level. The other major factor is the rider’s motorcycling philosophy and their approach to risk management!
Just because the motorcycle has the power, it does not mean that it has to be used…well certainly not in the road application. Just because tyres have improved, it does not mean that they have to be pushed to the limit and beyond, etc.
Riders can become better risk managers, by improving their hazard awareness and perception of developing and potential hazards.
Riders can consider riding motorcycles as a skill that has to be practised and constantly improved upon, and always looking to improve their knowledge.
Riders need to improve their motorcycling decision making processes and base those upon knowledge and the environment that they find themselves in. The skill of riding is not only limited to the physical control of the machine, but also when and why those control inputs are required.
Riders need to temper excessive risk taking with increased safety margins. This does not mean everyone should ride at a snails pace and never venture out, but it does mean that riders should place greater emphasis on the management of risk and be more selective when using higher speeds and manoeuvres that require greater risk taking.
Riders should not be complacent or over confident in their own abilities or place their safety in the hands of other road users. Taking responsibility for your own actions and the interaction with the actions of other road users should be a priority. Having an over reliance on protective equipment to keep a rider injury free, or assuming other road users, must or should see and avoid motorcycles, by either wearing or not wearing bright clothing, or always make space for motorcycles does not lend itself to sharing the road and again this shifts the responsibility away from the rider.
Riders should always consider the potential of being involved in an accident and consider how to minimise injuries. By being more selective, by making better riding decisions, by improving and practising skills, etc will improve the ability to avoid an accident. By wearing motorcycle protection…and being consistent with wearing it, by having knowledge of how it performs and its limitations and riding in a manner that can optimise the performance characteristics of that protection will significantly reduce the severity of injuries, if a rider ever does have an accident. Where a rider chooses not to wear protection, then a serious attempt should be made to change the riding style to allow for a much increased safety margin.
I have not mentioned speed limits, nor abiding by the rules of the road, because a motorcycling philosophy goes beyond what a rider is ‘supposed‘ to do. It should encompass all elements of safety and risk, riding skill and mentality and what is found in the riding environment. It should still be about enjoying the ride and all the other benefits of riding and meeting like minded individuals. It should be about having fun, riding safe and living to ride another day!
Not convinced by this motorcycling philosophy? What is your motorcycling philosophy?