I met a guy last night, he was in his mid twenties, and as we spoke over other peoples conversations and drank overpriced Guinness, I realized that I have met many guys like this before. I overheard those sweet two words that always pique my interest- sport bike. And so upon hearing this I turn to the man and ask what he rides. “2005 Gixxer 750,” he replies mechanically and pivots back towards his original conversation. I continue listening as he speaks. “I was going over 160 [mph] and the bike has plenty of pull left,” he explains to a captivated audience. “Have you ever done a track day?” I intervene, asking this man who apparently is at ease traveling upwards of three miles every minute. “No man! You need like a full suit and your bike all set up for that…Besides I’d kill my self out there [on the track] with my bike,” he surmises.
Strange statement but he continues. He claims to have also crashed going 90 plus, yet does not wear leather pants, and has high-sided on a wet manhole cover going 20 mph. “No seriously, you should consider riding a track day,” I reiterate, though my cries are never fully heard. “Man I don’t have my endorsement,” he retorts, “you need an endorsement to ride on the track.” “You also need an endorsement to ride on the street,” I say just before walking away. A motorcycle is not a prop, or a way to earn some cheap street cred, and if you think it is then maybe you ought to rethink why it is you got into riding in the first place.
The sad thing is that this sort of thinking is very pervasive to younger sport bike riders; people who have thousand dollar exhausts but not a full set of leathers, or brand name gloves that offer little more protection than batting gloves. These are the kinds of people I see swerving in and out of traffic, doing wheelies on the street with take-off tires; safety taking a back seat to fashion. What can fellow sport bike riders do about this phenomenon?
Firstly, lead by example. There is no point getting on a high horse about safety if you are not wearing weather and riding appropriate clothing yourself. Sadly, people think too little about safety because in an accident, when proper safety gear does its job, it is harder to see what was not damaged. When your exhaust has a hole from a low side, that is pretty apparent, but when your leather jacket saves you from a skin graft, you thoughts drift back towards the hole in your exhaust. I had the misfortune of being in an accident last year with an ’85 Buick going freeway speeds, and while I was fortunate enough to not need a trip to the hospital, that was at the expense of a set of leathers, gloves, boots and helmet. The bike was totaled and the Buick had only a dent in the rear quarter panel. While none of my stuff was cheap to replace, I gleefully did so because the only mark on my body was a raspberry running along my right side. What is most disconcerting is that many new riders fail to see to clear and present threat right in front of them. The lack of proper riding gear draws attention away from the road, where danger lurks.
Second, try a track day. Track days are reasonably priced and the only major expense is proper riding gear, which is something we should be riding around in anyways. Tracks often require: 1 piece leathers (or two piece that zip together), gauntlet gloves, a non-crashed helmet, and full boots. After those purchases have been made you can expect to spend about $160 for the day itself and around $40 for transporting the bike to and from the track. Bring your own lunch and the day will cost around $200 dollars, which is around the going rate for a speeding ticket these days-and much less than a speeding ticket going 160 mph. (Many states have laws mandating full suspension of driving privileges for speeding tickets in access of 100 mph.) On the track, try pushing your bike and yourself to the limits in a safe and comfortable environment.
Third, start creating a culture of safety. Encourage those you ride with to be more safety conscious. Peer pressure works both ways and those you know are going to be more receptive to your opinions and concerns about their riding and equipment than a total stranger. Get some friends and some cones together and work on braking and evasive maneuvering drills in a large parking lot. Or become a safety instructor and start teaching the riders of tomorrow about the benefits of safety today. Whatever you choose to do, just pay attention to what you are saying. There is little point in advocating proper safety equipment if your friends see you bar hopping on your bike.
Fourth, drugs and booze and bikes do not mix, ever. Even though a well know Portland, Oregon bar might say otherwise-the bar offers discounts to patrons who ride to their establishment-there is nothing to be gained with regards to drinking and riding. A good friend made the mistake of mixing bikes and drugs and that was a mistake he only made once. R.I.P. Chris, you were one of the good guys.
In the end, a 2005 Suzuki’s GSXR 750, needs only 850 meters to obtain a speed of 160 mph, but riding is not a race, it is a marathon, and I do not want to see anyone cut their life short because they only budgeted the distance to obtain 160 mph and not the 135 meters it takes stop at that speed. Motorcycling is an inherently dangerous activity, but we need to minimize not exacerbate those dangers.