A Systematic Approach To Safety - Exhaust Notes

I had a disturbing experience a few sundays back. i was attending a monthly meeting of my Blue Knights chapter, and my riding buddy, a retired motor officer, suggested our group start offering motorcycling skills training. He opined that staying alive on a bike in the metropolitan washington, D.c., area is no small task. roads clogged with distracted soccer moms and self-declared ViPs who were due at cosmically important meetings 15 minutes ago make every ride a potentially life-ending experience, not to mention roads strewn with tractor-trailer tire carcasses and construction debris.

Who could possibly argue with my friend's logic? i chimed in that the entire chapter should view Jerry "motorman" Palladino's excellent instructional video ride like a Pro. Palladino, a retired motor offi cer, produces a reasonably priced and effective video based on the eight essential skills of motor offi cer training. As we discussed motorcycle safety in our interminably long meeting, however, I had the feeling that only part of the issue was being addressed. i became aware of what was missing within a few hours.

Later That afternoon i was heading out to a barbecue at a friend's house. Because it was over 100 degrees outside i opted for my air-conditioned truck. while traveling in the right lane of a two-lane highway behind a large moving van doing the 40-mph speed limit, I observed a sportbike merging onto the highway from a ramp on the right. The rider either thought the merging lane continued indefinitely or that he could accelerate past the long line of traffic in the right lane.

He was wrong. He had reached about 70 mph before he saw that the merge lane abruptly ended at a housing development. As he realized he was quickly running out of road, the rider grabbed a handful of front brake, causing his bike to stand vertically on its front rim. this action was so extreme that the downward force of his bike made the rims cut two 30-foot parallel grooves into the concrete road surface. when the front wheel hit the curve the rider was launched over the handlebars and landed 30-40 feet away. His bike cartwheeled end over end in a macabre flight, resulting in its completedisintegration.

I stopped to render assistance, but my efforts were to no avail. Although the rider was wearing a full-face helmet and a jacket with ballistic armor, he didn't survive the crash due to massive internal injuries.

When i recounted the horrific chain of events to the responding officer, he shook his head and dismissed the tragedy with the oft-heard condemnation of crazy kids on crotch rockets. Of course, a case of seriously bad judgment was largely to blame for the rider's demise, but such a dismissal is too easy for many of us. if we assume we are safe because we don't ride like banshees, we are asking for trouble somewhere down the road because we're overlooking the other essential components of safety.

On that sweltering afternoon i was reminded that safety is a function of at least three factors: skills, safe equipment and brains. my officer friend and Palladino correctly stress the importance of good riding skills, and they are certainly critical. clearly, few motorcyclists possess the technical mastery of motor officers, although we could ride more proficiently with a little more focused practice. Also, few people have the wealth of on-street experience and hence the knowledge of motor officers. However, how many officers do you see wearing protective equipment, especially in the summer? most tool around in short sleeves. sure, it's hotter than hell in the summer on a bike, but there are perforated jackets with armor that would not hinder access to their weapons and other items on their duty belts. After all, they do ride in jackets in the winter.

The lesson is simple. motorcycling is a dangerous sport, and we are well advised to employ all three components -skills, equipment and brains- every time we ride. leave any one out of the mix and we put ourselves in greater danger than necessary.

Some will inevitably counter that motorcycling is about freedom and each rider should be able to select his own level of risk. i agree. At the same time, however, very few of our decisions affect only ourselves. i am glad i wasn't the officer who had to deliver the devastating news to the sportbike rider's parents, young wife and children.

When all is said and done there are noguarantees. even if you hone your skills to perfection, ride safely and wear protective gear, you may still run into some bad luck. sooner or later you are likely to experience a close call, even if you are doing everything right and through no fault of your own.

That's a risk we all accept to pursue our passion. But there's no denying that safe riding is closely associated with risk management, and these days i have a heightened and renewed sense of appreciation for all its components.

I hope you do, too.

Frequent contributor John Weinstein is a motor officer in the washington, D.c., area.