Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Safe Riding Versus Unsafe Riding

riding safe versus riding unsafeWhen I left on my motorcycle ride to Alaska a month ago, my wife uttered the same words she says to me every time I take off for a ride, "Be safe!", and to which I always reply, "Yeah, ok."

Even I have found myself mentioning those same words to fellow riders. It's not that I think they're likely to get themselves killed, but just that I want them to think about safety. And their response to me is always, "Yeah, ok."

The fact is that we all try to ride safe. Or perhaps more correctly, we never intend to get ourselves killed. We all know that riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous, and therefore we tend to ride at a level where we feel comfortable and in control.

So if we never intend to hurt ourselves, why must we ask each other to "ride safe"?

Well it's because we all know that we're human and can make mistakes, or have lapses in judgement. We hope that by muttering those words, we did all we can do short of imposing our will on someone.

Not even the Motorcycle Safety Foundation says anything in its materials that it will teach someone how to ride safely. If we're all prone to making mistakes and having lapses in judgement, then the MSF suggesting it will teach you how to ride safely would expose them to litigation.

Safe riding is not anything that can be defined, except for simply that if you return home without incident, then you obviously rode safely.

If you somehow managed to ride your motorcycle down the freeway at 100mph, weaving in and out of cars, and returned home without an incident, then you could point that you rode within your means and was in full control. Yet it just seems logical that if you ride with the flow of traffic, and always use your turn signals, then you're "riding safely".

But obviously we know that isn't true. We know that even the most safety-minded rider can still make a mistake, or will still wake up with wild hair up his ass and give that throttle a good crank. Lapses in judgement is part of what makes us human.

Yet isn't it true we have a tendency to judge people based on that one mistake they made? We never pay attention to the hundreds of times someone made the right decisions and kept their minds focused. We only take notice when they take a fall, and then go on to question their abilities.

I continue to shake my head in bewilderment over the phrase, "Never ride faster than your angel can fly". I'm still not really sure what that means, aside from the obvious that one should ride safely. But specifically, how fast is too fast? If an accident can happen at any speed, and if we can err at any moment, what exactly are we supposed to do?

As it turns out, safety, as well as the lack of, can be found in any activity whether it's shooting a gun, chopping wood, or walking down a flight of stairs. Any of these things can result in serious injury.

Perhaps because of the attention that motorcycling gets as a dangerous activity, it might actually be one of the most safest, if you consider the lengths we go through to ensure our safety. I'd venture to say that more people are killed by heart attacks than by motorcycle accidents. Yet do we ever require someone to obtain an endorsement before ordering a three-piece meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken?

The bottom line is that you can't differentiate unsafe riding from safe riding. All you can do is compare the number of times you returned home safely with the number of times you've been hurt, and then decide if you need to make changes.

So when you mention the words "ride safe", what exactly is someone supposed to do?


  1. When we greet someone we normally say "How are you?" or "How’s it going?". This isn't really a question that anybody really wants an answer to nor is it normally answered properly - it is simply a greeting and a way of two people to engage with each other. I don't think "Ride Safe" is the same category as the person that says it normally does care about the rider and says it genuinely. To me, I think it means ride within your capabilities and in a way that doesn't put you in danger. Exactly what that means is different for each of us, but I suspect that most of us riders know when we are riding safe or not as most of us know how we can influence how safe we are. Of course we cannot influence how safe other people are, nor can we know what they are going to do that might affect our own safety.

  2. As pilots say, any landing that you can walk away from is a good one.

    "Ride safe" is a wonderful sentiment and I would thank anyone telling me so, but it really isn't any more helpful than being told to "ride lucky". I believe saying something like "ride smart" would actually be more applicable to the decisions and considerations we face each ride, reminding us that we control many of the hazards to which we are exposed during our rides. Allows us to have fun, but trusts us to know when to curb our enthusiasm.

  3. How about,"ride defensivly".

  4. Maybe "Ride Safe" is just a synonym for "Love you" and the whole point is not to do anything about it 'cause that's what beckons you back home. ;)

  5. Ride assuming that you and your motorcycle are totally invisible to motorists. Do not be paranoid and think that they are all out to get you, just pretend they don't see you. motorcycle helmet with bluetooth


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...)