Friday, March 19, 2010

Riding a Motorcycle in Hawaii

Everyone seems to know that Hawaii is just a different society altogether in comparison to the other 49 united states. Why that is, is not totally understood by me, though I'm sure it's remote location and tropical beauty has a lot to do with it.

Hawaii doesn't have a law requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets, and in Hawaii most riders don't seem to want to wear one considering they still have the choice. And in fact, they don't want to wear any protective gear either.

When I visited Oahu this past week, I saw riders wearing only t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. I even saw them ride with only bathing suits, such as the photo I took below. Some of them wear swimsuits while riding down the freeway (Yeah, Honolulu actually has freeways).

motorcycle riding in Hawaii
I'd say that 20% of the riders wear helmets, but of that 20% half of them still wear only t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

In California, even the motorcycle riders shit bricks when they see stuff like this. But there was a time in California, as late as the 1980s, when t-shirts-shorts-flip-flops was how many of us rode. The helmet law that came in 1992, along with a relentless media campaign on the dangers of motorcycling, caused everyone to change their attitude about riding.

Maybe you have to come from a place like California, where people demand other people to live their lives a certain way, to understand how refreshing a place like Hawaii is. It's not that Hawaiian riders don't care about their own safety, it's that they believe their number one piece of safety gear is their brain.

I think that the dense population and heavy traffic of Honolulu causes motorcyclists and scooterists to ride more cautiously. And because there are more motorcycles and scooters per capita on Honolulu than in most US cities, I think the cagers are more aware of them too.

But again, it must also be the pastoral lifestyle of the tropics that makes residents there more relaxed. Folks there don't seem to get their panties in a bunch over motorcycle safety (or lack thereof), the way they do so in other states.

Meanwhile in California, people are telling other people how to live their lives. In California, people get pissed off when someone does whatever they want to do. In California, each person takes it upon themselves to right what they perceive to be a wrong. It never dawns on anyone in California that there's more than one point of view.

Of course I'm generalizing, but then again, that's how it generally is.

I don't know what the accident statistics are with motorcycles and scooters in Hawaii, I could be totally off base on this, but it seems like Hawaii has created a society that automatically lends itself to safety. Just by having people more relaxed, more aware, more friendly, it seems that such a place as Hawaii can get by without helmets.


  1. I have been having similar thoughts about motorcycle safety lately. I am reading a book called "More Proficient Motorcycling". One of the arguments in the book is that skill with evasive maneuvering is important. But, its even more important to develop the skills to not be where the accident is going to happen - almost a sixth sense.

  2. Having lived & ridden in Hawaii (Oahu) for a couple of years in the late 80's I understand what you're saying. It's truly a different mind set. I think that having so many bikes on the road makes people much more aware of them. In 2 years of riding from near Wahiawa to Honolulu on a daily basis I only had 1 near accident. Moving back to the SW, I had damn near that many per week. BTW, we didn't wear helmets there because we loved the scenery & the smell of the salt air that permeated the entire island - except late winter on the North Shore when they'd burn the sugar cane & it smelled like a giant chicken coop!

  3. I've only ridden in shorts once and didn't like it because I felt less confident, like I was a road rash waiting to happen, lol. I can't imagine riding in flip flops, though. I was wearing sport sandals that day and even those were hard to shift with. To each his own, I guess ... me, I'll stick with jeans and boots even in summer (and a half helmet).

  4. C'mon guys - try to remember your single days... you're wearing nothing but your bathing suit and flippers when some flirtatious pretty thing in a string-kini asks you for a ride to a nearby store.. are you really going to go upstairs and get your gear - or simply go with the tropical flow? A trip on the highway without protective gear, however, and I'd have think of a nice way to tell her "you're just not that pretty" ;-)

  5. Hey Steve,
    Glad you enjoyed your trip to the islands. I stated riding dirt bikes when I was 9yrs., do you remember Saddle Back? I switched to street bikes whn I was 18yrs. around 1986 and remember riding w/o a helmet. Of course allot of riders didn't like the helmet law when it was introduced. When going on long distance rides I alwasy roder with full gear, (that was just me) but short rides in the neighbor hood I'd hop on and go w/o the helmet. Now when I started riding street bikes I would nvr ride in shorts let alone flip flops (my choice) and the reason -- a close friend of mind was cutting through a back dirt lot on his YZ to the AM/PM to get some snacks, he'd done this many times, sandles, shorts, tank top. When he didn't return like he usually did within 15min we got worried. When we found him he was limping back (mind you this was bck in the 80's) blood streaming from his left foot. His foot had got cought in the chain when went over a small rut and lost his balance. He wound up loosing two of his toes. So even when I see riders wearing any open clothing they are just asking for it. I still agree that we has humans should be allowed to do as we wish but it turns out that some of us are a bit wiser, it only took one accident for me to realize how fragile we really are. Pluse I love the way helmets look now compared to 20 years ago. You could say that if the Calif. law helped spur the design of helmets otherwise they'd still probably look like cone head helmets.

    One last thing I now live in NC and miss Ortega hwy, 39, and 76. Many good rides now but a memmory.


  6. ON Oahu, there are a ton of tourists and motorcycle/scooter rental companies. The last thing on many of the tourists' minds is safety and proper riding gear. We have the same issues when cityfolk try to touch the bison at yellowstone.

  7. Hey Guys,
    UK rider here. Planning a surprise trip next year for my partner's 50th birthday. She has been riding for two years now and loves it. If you had to pick one island to spend touring for say three days, which would it be?
    Any advice appreciated.

  8. I currently live on oahu for 2 years now and ride everyday to work from pearl city to diamond head and i wear shorts a tshirt and flip flops and sunglasses and ive never had a accident and only a few close calls but they were my fault lol and yes its a mindset thing people are relaxed and there are so many riders that is as comon as cars


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)