Statistics show that the likelihood of an accident occurring declines the farther away you are from home. About a quarter of accidents happen within a mile of home. This is due in part with being in your comfort zone in a familiar area where you know all the roads. People drift around on autopilot close to home.
With that in mind, think of all the times you’ve just had to go down to the store for milk, so you hop on your bike and go. We’ve all done it. I have melted sneaker on my pipes to prove it. I’ve gone out in a t-shirt and vest because, it’s just down the street a couple blocks. I’ve ridden without a helmet; that was the norm until Pete Wilson imposed a helmet law.
I’m not bragging. I’m just saying I do the same dumb things everybody else does.
In 2014, I upgraded everything. My 30 year old leather was toast. My boots were of the cowboy variety. My gloves were dirt bike gloves. My helmet’s ‘use by’ date had expired.
It’s amazing the deals you can get online. Kangaroo hide gloves that fit. Sturdy riding boots that are stylish (if you like that black leather and stud stuff) and a replacement Hein Gericke leather that only needed a zipper to be a $600 jacket again.
I also bought a new helmet, but it turned out to have a fake chin guard that was just a piece of wind-breaker hardware. It would not protect your face in a crash.
So, speaking of crashes, I had one. I can’t discuss the details; suffice it to say it was a typical low speed impact. I tucked in just before, and noticed how very effective the helmet was in absorbing the shock. Really, you could do that all day and nap at the same time. I was impressed.
The helmet protected my head, and now I can get one with a real chin guard. They’re only good for one whack, you know. Use once, throw away.
While I had some trauma from the impact, I left no hide on the pavement. Feet well protected, kangaroo hide gloves, jacket with armor in the shoulders and elbows, kevlar jeans. You can’t do better than this. The experimental air bag jackets look stupid. Where will you bounce after it inflates? You’d be playing “car billiards” in the slow lane.
DOT approved helmets are only good for up to a 30 mph impact. Surface streets are often slower, with unregulated intersections, so it’s a good idea to stay with the flow of traffic.
Still, it’s also a good strategy to make sure some car or pedestrian is running interference for you. Don’t be the first into the intersection. Let a cage take point. For some reason, people see pedestrians and cars more than they see motorcycles. Of course we’re invisible, we know that. So let the lady with the baby buggy deter oncoming traffic before you make your move.
My other piece of advice, something I once knew and then forgot and now I remember it again, if you see no way out of a collision, do not try to ride the damn bike through it. Let go of both handlebars and tuck in. Hopefully, you’ll be uninjured. The common injury from hanging on to the bars in a futile effort to control your destiny is a broken wrist. You don’t even want to think about the forces imposed on that complex joint to tear and break it. Tattoo “LET GO” on your hands if you have to, but remember to do it if you have to. Your bike’s gonna be broken anyway. Save yourself!
I’ve heard from people who gave up riding after an accident. It scares them away, like the guy on the new BMW we were watching from the sidewalk outside Lightning Express in San Francisco. At the time, we were on Folsom, a one way street. At the signal, the BMW disappeared behind a bus in the left lane. When the light changed, he bolted into the intersection, and was promptly smacked down by a guy running a red light. We ran out and helped him get his bike out of the street and sent him off in an ambulance. He later sent a thank you card, saying he’d quit riding.
I would have quit trying to see through large vehicles blocking my view of the intersection and chalked it up to experience.
I know other guys who quit because they’d been riding xxx number of years and figured their luck was due to run out.
Here’s how I see it. Every year you ride is another year of experience that will help keep you out of collisions. Every ride is a collection of reactions, mind-reading, and defensive riding. The more skill you acquire, the less chance of being involved in an accident.
Oh, sure, there’s the random things you can’t plan for. A stray dog fell off a train trestle and killed a motorcyclist. And a crazy motorist took out a pack of bikers out for a ride. You can’t plan for these things, which Quantum Physics refers to as the ‘X Factor.’ That is the ‘shit’ in the phrase ‘shit happens’. You could say, X happens and be as accurate.
If you don’t want to ride because a piece of Skylab might fall on you, you should probably stick to your cage. If you do decide that’s the thing for you, please watch out for motorcycles. We are invisible, after all.