True Fact #1: Riding a motorcycle does not make you cool. But it might make you a bit of a moron.
Forget what anyone tells you, whether they ride or not. Motorcycle riding is an inherently stupid and dangerous activity. And I love it, passionately.
In the past decade of motorcycle riding, let's figure, roughly, that I rode about 325 days out of each year. This accounts for vacation time and rainy days. Every other day, I'd be on the bike. This means that I've had roughly 3,250 close calls, any one of which could have seriously injured me, or worse. It never stops, and it doesn't matter how good and cautious of a rider I am (or you are). Most people are terrible drivers, or at least distracted ones, and even if you're reading this and think you're one of the good ones, I can probably guarantee you that you've narrowly missed motorcycles--because of reaching for your radio dial, or talking on your phone, or chatting with others in the car, or simply from having one half-second of not seeing a bike in a blind spot--more than you realize.
That's okay, though. Because it's the motorcyclist's job to know this about you, and to be constantly, ever vigilant. It also doesn't matter how great a motorcyclist you think you are, either. Yeah, you may have excellent skills, awesome intuition and reflexes, and a healthy dose of cautionary and defensive techniques, and that may all make you relatively safer than your average Darwin-challenged squid, but every single one of us has tales of that unexpected split second where there was simply nothing that could have been done, no matter what. And if you don't have one yet, don't worry--you will.
Squid(n): Motorcyclist lingo for a rider who wears little to no protective gear, rides outside his/her own abilities, and generally makes all the rest of us look bad by being an obnoxious, irresponsible douche.
I've been relatively lucky, overall. Despite all the near misses, I've actually only been hit once. In 2004, I was riding home from my job at CGW in San Francisco, and was just getting off the Bay Bridge. As always, I was constantly scanning ahead for potential problems/hazards/assholes. And I saw one: A guy in a red sports car, blabbing on his cell phone, one lane to the right of me. Knowing I didn't want to be anywhere near the guy, I accelerated to pass him. But just as I was almost clear of him, he did what I was dreading and trying to prevent: He merged into my lane without looking. Because I was almost clear of him, and because I was almost half-expecting it, I actually didn't fall down. I felt the impact of the car (I still remember the metal hitting my leg) as he conked me sideways, but I remained upright. Adrenaline kicked in, which was a good thing, because the guy immediately tried to get away, but because he had almost completely stopped I was able to swerve the bike in front of him and cut him off so he couldn't get away.
The rest is a long, boring tale of insurance companies, but the end result is that my bike was considered totaled, and Red Sportcar Boy ended up buying me a better, cooler bike. Because even though I was spooked and shaken and actually did quit for a month or two afterward, I simply had to get back on a bike. I missed it too damn much.
All of which is just to establish, before I spend some time over the course of future posts rhapsodizing about motorcycle riding, that I am not necessarily recommending it or claiming that doing it makes me cool. If you think it's an idiotic and dangerous pastime, know that I'm right there with you. It's just the idiotic and dangerous pastime that I've chosen to be mine.
Next time: Why I Ride: The Good Stuff