Sunday, July 06, 2008

Save On Gas! (While Courting Death ... Or Worse)

Yesterday I spent about 20 minutes on the 401, Canada's largest and most lethal highway. During that 20 minute stretch I encountered a total of six motorcyclists, four of whom were courting nominations for this year's Darwin Award. One was carrying on as if a motorcycle surrounded by speeding hunks of metal was just a benign extension of playing Mario Karts. Two were wearing the legally required helmets -- and a pair of shorts. But the most peeving of these was a guy intent on riding not just his KLR 650, but my bumper as well. I gradually slowed down to 10 clicks below the speed limit, until he lost patience, peeled around me and rode the bumper of the next hapless motorist.

Having miraculously survived three spills, including one that left me standing over my totaled bike, I can say with some authority that most motorists don't have the slightest clue just how dangerous riding a motorcycle can be. To make matters worse, neither do most motorcyclists. This is why emergency crews are outfitted with flat-blade shovels and pressurized hoses (and a benefits package that includes trauma therapy).

I have a couple of friends who work in emergency centers, and they're pretty much agreed: drugs may be the biggest scourge in their workplace, but once the snow thaws motorcycle casualties place a close second. Many of these unfortunates are young yahoos, but there's also no shortage of men in mid-life. In the latter case, what's usually happened is a very large guy dropped a bundle on a very large bike (an oh-so-rebellious Harley, say), then went and dropped the bike on the first run. Welcome aboard, Hoss. Now meet your new wheels.

These are the thoughts that occurred to me after I read this consumer advice piece written by Sam Whitehead. It is, in his words, "an extremely broad and completely unscientific, yet infinitely wise, guide to what you [the first-time rider] might consider when buying a motorcycle or scooter." To be fair, he opens the piece with a recommendation for "some sort of training." Forewarning like that might not be as bold a statement as, "Dear reader, if this piece excites you into the motorcycle showroom, be forewarned the odds are you will live to regret the day you read my words -- or, if not you, your surviving family members." I would have also settled for a subtitle that read, "If gas prices are killing you, wait'll you get the bill from your HMO." But I suppose Whitehead's spongey caveat is enough to cover his butt.

Now that that's taken care of, my only other kvetch is the absence of the Honda 919 -- the bike most likely to entice me back to the dark side. It's not too large to lift up by yourself, nor too small to speed you out of a potential scrape. It's got a pleasant wind-against-yer-chest build, a sturdy wheel-base and tucked-in seating. It's built by Honda, and if my experience of 20 years ago is applicable today this makes it an easier, common-sensical bike to dis- and re-assemble than the other makes. Plus, it's good on gas.

*Sigh* Curious how candy-apple red just makes courting death and personal disaster that much more appealing.


DarkoV said...

I, dear Sir, Have not had the direct experience that you did as far as tumbling through space in a minimal amount of time. But, the testosterone was quickly working its way through my veins in high school when two wheels was the way to go. Fortunately (well at least for my delf-preservation), some of my friends went through the "learning" curve for me. Three got scraped up pretty well, a fourth laid up in the hospital (I like your "If gas prices are killing you, wait'll you get the bill from your HMO.", even though HMO's were only a twinkle in some medical admin scrooge's heart then). A fithe guy, more of an acquaintance, took a 120 ft jump through space when he met a Mustang head-on. He never made it off of the road that day.

Still, it is an awful temptation for this geezer and that Honda 919 looks like a safe corollary of recklessness. Perhaps a suit made from the airplane Black Box is available these days?

Whisky Prajer said...

That unconscious "not to me" reverb can override just about any evidence presented. The memory that keeps me from entering the showroom, though, doesn't come from any of the crashes (and the one that totaled my bike was a whopper -- happened while coming home from a safety course, actually) but from a conversation I had with an older biker. We were comparing experiences, and he finally said, "I mean, riding a bike is fun and all ... but it's not that much fun." Surprise showers, bugs in the teeth, a driving population that's mostly oblivious to you, and all the dumb little things that go wrong because you're straddling a combustion engine with very little buffering, the endless maintenance, the lack of tunes ...

... the lack of tunes ....

No, I'm very, very happy in our family car, thank you.