Hanging up the Helmet

It’s a dangerous thing we do, this motorcycle riding. And sometimes, with some people…well, it gets to you. Today, while perusing the FJR forum, I saw this post. It’s from a guy whose ridden for years, and has had enough.

At almost 50 years old and after 37 years of motorcycling on almost as many bikes, I have decided enough is enough.

Not long ago I mentioned on here, that we had traveled the length of the country and back to watch some racing through slete, snow and hail. I lost count of how many times I asked myself ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’

On the UK’s crowded roads it’s getting more and more dangerous and the pleasures of motorcycling are far from what they were when I started out. For mainly that reason our rides have become fewer and further between. When I get home I find myself relieved to a degree that we made it in one piece.

Today we went across country to a 70’s bike show. It was a great event and one we shared with an old biking buddy of mine from the very early days. On the way home, he pulled out a lead on me after I got stuck in traffic. I nailed the FJR to catch him up. As I aproached him and slowed to his pace, an Audi sports car pulled out from behind me and flew past at about 70-80mph. This was in a 40. He thought I was racing with him. He then continued to overtake a line of traffic and almost tee boned a car turning across the traffic (who was doing nothing wrong). This would have been a multiple fatal accident if they had connected.

I have seen enough and have arrived home feeling relieved once too often. This combined with a very recent experience that illustrated how quickly a happy life can be ruined. (A close friend was diagnosed with cancer and died 5 weeks later). I have had plenty of near misses and escapes over the years and feel that now is a good time to park the bike and hang up my lid.

We (my Mrs. & me) will still have a great interest in racing, and I will still attend this forum as long as I am welcome. I hope you guys don’t think any less of me for ‘chickening out’ but when the worry of what might be, overcomes the pleasure it really is time to stop.

It’s simultaneously sad to hear this, and to feel a sense of relief at his departure from riding. It’s sad to see someone leave the sport ofter so many years, yet, without the proper mental attitude, you’re endangering yourself when you climb on.

At the best of times, even when the weather is perfect, and there’s no other traffic on the road, you really don’t know if you’re going to survive your ride. A tire blowout at 70 miles per hour, a handful of gravel in the apex of a turn, a rivulet of sand from a drainage runoff, a dog coming out of nowhere, and you may not be going home that day.

But the best conditions are rare in most places. On most days, you have to face the soccer mom in her SUV, talking on her cell phone, who changes lanes right into you. Or the teenager who misjudges your speed and pulls out in front of you at an intersection. Or the older gentleman who looks right at you, and doesn’t see you. or the young guy in a sports car who gets right on your tail.

All of us who’ve ridden on the street have faced those hazards–and more–every day.

There’s a old biker saying, to the effect that, “If you ever throw a leg over your bike, and you aren’t just a little bit afraid, it’s time to hang it up.” That’s good advice, really, because if you are riding on the street, and don’t still feel the incentive to ride as if you were invisible to everyone else on the street, you’ll get overconfident, and bad things will inevitably happen.

But, the opposite is also true. When you throw a leg over, and your first thought is, “I hope I get out of this alive,” then you should probably stop riding, too.

Last year, about 2 months after starting to ride again, I dumped my Harley in a left turn, about 100 feet in front of my house. I dunno how it happened really. I guess I was looking at the turn, instead of where I was supposed to be going, and started to go wide. I hit the rear brake a little too hard, locked it, and low sided. I got back up and rode on in to work. But I noticed I was starting to freak out in left turns. I was refusing turns, and walking through them. Turns that I had made every day for two months. My mental attitude had been shaken. as a result, I became overly tentative and cautious.

If your head isn’t in the game, and you feel a little too much fear, then you really can’t ride safely. You’ll over-react to minor situations, or under-react to major problems, and you’ll go down. Physical skills are only about 70% of riding. It’s the mental skills that make up the remaining 30%, and if you don’t have them, through fear, fatigue, alcohol, or whatever, then you will go down, sooner or later, most likely in a situations that you should have the ability to handle, but don’t, because of your mental attitude.

In my case, I confronted my fear, went back to the parking lot, and undeveloped residential construction areas with roads, but no houses, and I practiced, and practiced. I did nothing but turns, circles, and U-turns. And I kept doing it faster and faster, day after day, until I got my confidence back.

But, sometimes, you simply can’t do that. The weight of experience, seeing others go down, wondering when your number’s up; they all combine sometimes to make you hang it up, at least for a while.

I hope I never find myself in the same position. If I do, I hope I’m smart enough or brave enough to make the same decision the poster above did, and walk away. Because if that’s where your head is, then walking away is the best decision to make. Dragging it out through pride or stubbornness is just an invitation to disaster.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for TechCentralStation.com. Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.