Riding Dangers - Exhaust Notes

Ferreting through a stack of touring brochures the other day (for my gig at our sister publication Motorcycle Escape), I was struck by the number of stylized action shots splayed across the glossy pages. Most featured that classic image-a lone rider silhouetted against a blazing sun, or on a mouthwatering switchback with the tranquil Pacific at the bottom-worlds away from any vestige of civilization. But those were the good ol' days. Now, it seems, even bikers-quintessential loners if ever there was such a thing are plugged in.

Just look around. Your fellow citizens are driving around in an electronic-induced trance. We're awash in MP3 players, GPS units, cell phones, PDAs-all of us: pedestrians, drivers and riders alike. If you ask me, this explosion of new technology offers too much of a diversion for folks who should be focusing on the road.

I guess I'm just old-fashioned-I still thought cell phones were a nuisance six years ago, but it seems I underestimated the threat they'd become. Case in point-last week, a woman, in heated conversation on her cell, walked across the traffic-choked lane in front of me-against a red light. Since she seemed surprised my Honda VTX1300 came to a screeching halt 2 feet from her leg, I laid on the horn to break her reverie (though giving her the finger would have been more appropriate). She continued her conversation without missing a beat.

I see fellow riders on the grid, too-while riding. And I'm not talking about bike-to-bike communicators on long tours-it's helmet-mounted wireless cell phones in the urban jungle. Hmm, let's see: motorcycling is 18 times more dangerous than driving a car, and driving while talking on a cell phone is four times more dangerous than driving without. You do the math.

The diversions don't stop there; hosts of aftermarket outfits are jumping on the iPod and XM bandwagons, hawking mounts or hardware for the stuff. I've met riders at rallies rhapsodizing over the new TomTom GPS, which I'll admit is way trick, but do I want a robotic female voice (with five-color display) directing me to the next Chevron station? Thanks, I'd rather pull over and read a map

I know, I know, it's my job to stay abreast of the latest gadgets, electronic or otherwise, but when I'm off the company clock, I just don't want extraneous widgets intruding on my peace and quiet-bad enough I gotta carry 30 pounds of electronic gear with me in the field. Don't need headphones in my ears, waypoints on my handlebar or wires running through my torso while I'm off-duty. No iPod, no GPS; no thanks, man. When it comes to the ride, call me a Luddite.

Honda's announcement about rigging 2006 Gold Wings with a motorcycle airbag system is probably what ticks me off most. Do we really need a doting restraint system to remind us we're doing something risky? Let's save airbags for the Accords of the world. Even the most hard-core Hells Angel on a ratted-out chopper will admit riding's inherently dangerous-that's the fun of it. Let's assume we all know this, but accept the risk anyway.

Like many of you, what first drew me to bikes wasn't just the sweet sensation of speed, but the complete solitude and escape from the day-to-day. When I'm in the middle of a Wyoming mountain range and can't get a cell signal, I consider it a blessing. When I step off the bike after a long day, I don't want to disconnect seven wires, three plugs and an airbag. I just want to head into the bar

Don't misunderstand, I believe ABS and EFI are a blessing-anything that makes the machine work better gets a big thumbs-up from me. It's when technology gets shoved at humans that I get ornery. I'm not trying to deny the future. I just don't want it chasing me around everywhere I go-Andy Cherney

Full disclosure: Cherney does own a cell phone, but you can reach him via carrier pigeon at Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.