The dangers of the first ride of the year being the last
Spring is a time when many bikers can’t wait to jump on the bike and blast away hibernation’s cobwebs. But a wise old bear offers a note of caution: don’t be the motorcycle accident waiting to happen.
For months of the year, a good many of us park the bike, waiting for the feeling of just riding to come alive again. We fill the offseason with mundane, normal things, whatever normal actually is. The festive season, family, work. We grin and bear them, waiting impatiently for the riding season to arrive once again, so we can be who we really are, bikers.
It’s Tuesday after the Easter bank holiday, and I’ve heard of two riding fatalities in my local area. Sadly, I know both riders.
The early warm days in Spring is when I fear for myself and the biking community the most. Cars haven’t seen us in the numbers we suddenly appear in at the first sign of a warm, sunny weekend. They too haven’t had time to adapt to the sudden change in pace on the roads. It’s all too easy to take our frustrations out through the throttle, feeling they’re slow, we’re slow, particularly when we remember how fast we were before we parked for the winter.
Some forget that those riding muscles they had in Autumn haven’t been flexed for a while. And even if you rode over the winter, when did you last pin the throttle to the stop, leant over so hard Marquez would have nodded out of respect? It certainly wouldn’t have been on the dreary motorway commute in January, or that snatched dry ride in the oddly fair weather of February just gone. If you were lucky, you might have had a track trip over the winter. But that’s not road riding. That doesn’t have roadside furniture or oncoming cars to hit if you if someone else gets it mildly wrong.
But it’s not just the body; it’s the mind that is slow. How many of us recognise that our brains are still to adapt, after all that time off? How many take our safety for granted, missing the small percentages out there that will kill us? How many of us end up in the hospital and have no idea why? How many of us read the road, but fail to read all of the road, with all the little things on it, in it, around it, that isn’t simply the tarmac that unravels out in front of us?
One minute in and the joy of an epic road with no obvious danger in sight is soon shattered by nothing more than rider error, in this case target fixation. The rider’s seemingly minor injuries were enough to require an air ambulance.
I used to say I couldn’t afford to get it wrong as it’d go wrong big time: part drama queen, part youthful ego, part truth. But if I’m honest, the motorcycle accidents, fatalities and mistakes I’ve personally seen over the last few years haven’t been at speeds worthy of the ultimate punishment. They’ve been through misjudgement, through aspirations and confidence blinding them to the need to build up, work out those biking muscles between the ears as much as the ones in the body.
I’ve been on a few rides this year and winced at the riding in front of me. Too many are in a rush to prove they are still the same rider they were before not turning a wheel for five months. The only thing they prove is how to ride like a dick.
But you speak to that rider who isn’t a dick, who rides within themselves, still managing to be effortlessly smooth, effortlessly efficient, effortlessly quick, and they’ll tell you the journey is the important part — getting it right, making the steps and appreciating them, that’s the juice. You can’t blag experience; you have to earn it. You also have to survive and those old fuckers you see taking over the world of biking, they earnt that. They made their mistakes. They have their scars, whether that be their body, their mind or their bank balance.
A close friend made a poor overtake a few years ago and was killed by an oncoming lorry. Every time I ride that road, see those lorries, I take an extra look. I’ve learned something valuable from that mistake. If we learn anything from others mistakes, hopefully, it’s that we’re fragile and yesterday’s ride means nothing if we forget ourselves today.
We all have riding buddies we admire. We all have riding buddies we fear. Fear for. Far too many of us can put a list together of the riders that won’t make it another five years unless they change. People die on the road; statistics are there because of that. Someone has to be the one to die. Is it going to be you or your riding buddy?
So why am I saying this? Well maybe someone will read this and in private recognise something in themselves and think a bit harder about the next few rides, as they get their eye back in. Maybe someone with a bit of experience will be moved to lend a few sage words to someone they know that needs it. Who cares if they might have to swallow some pride should you bring up their poor habits? It’s more important that they make it to the end of the ride.
I speak as a former mindless rider, who made it this far and still wonders how I managed it.
If you need to take a refresher after the winter lay-up, why not consider taking a BikeSafe course with your local police force or advanced riders: https://bikesafe.co.uk/
If you would like to know more about when and how you are more likely to have an accident as a motorcyclist, read this report from RoSPA: https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/motorcyclists/common-motorcycle-crash-causes.pdf
RoSPA has also published a useful PDF on riding safely: https://www.rospa.com/rospaweb/docs/advice-services/road-safety/motorcyclists/ridesafe.pdf