Safety trumps gas prices any day

  • Published
  • By Mr. Michael Jago
  • 49th Civil Engineer Squadron
Please don't buy a motorcycle to save gas. If that is your only reason for wanting to be on two wheels, you should be thinking about a moped (90mpg) or bicycle. If you need to save on gas, carpool, get a better car or just start walking more.

I say this as a rider of 29 years and an instructor for nine: motorcycles bought to save gas are destined to decorate your garage.

 Riding requires you to consistently hone your skill by riding daily; that means in the rain, cold, dark, bugs, dirt, mud, gravel, roads with ruts, steel decked bridges, in construction zones and in city traffic. 

I see plenty of "weekend" riders destined for the ditch, barely making turns, leaving ruts in the dirt, or not stopping in a controlled manner. Anybody can go fast in a straight line on a fast bike. Stopping, turning, evading hazards and managing traction in adverse condition s takes TRAINING, practice and practice (and more practice). 

Statistics show over half of all accidents are caused by a motorcycle less than six months old. The experience of the rider didn't matter. I am seeing lots of "I rode as a kid, Airman and college student returnees to riding. 

These guys (and gals) are scary. They often don't realize how deteriorated their skills are until they are in trouble. Sadly, I catch an eyeful daily as I see them make poor stops, not be situationally aware or just do bone-headed stunts in traffic. If your friend, spouse or significant other is looking at getting back into riding, get them back into a safety class first. It may not help, but it sure can't hurt. 

If I still haven't dissuaded you from riding, consider this; this morning it was 73 degrees outside. It started to rain as I left at 5:30 a.m. Even at 73 degrees, it gets cold as the light rain soaks in and the wind rips away body heat at 60mph. I am a big guy. At 195 pounds I have a good reserve of heat, but it is not infinite and I got chilled. The rain stopped before I got on the highway as is typical of New Mexico spot showers and I was dry by the time I got to base. I consider this a good ride. If getting wet and cold is a problem, you have a problem with riding. 

Additionally, I believe in leather. The instructor of a short course I took showed a "not for public release" film on road abrasion. The premise was a university test on how long materials lasted when dragged at 30mph under 50 pounfs of weight on a one square inch probe. Heavy pig leather did the best at 1.2 seconds before it was completely worn through. Denim lasted less than a ½ second. Most synthetics lasted in the hundredths of a second -- Think about that. 

I also believe in evaporation. Hypothermia is the ugly sister of Hyperthermia. Pilots know to drink plenty of fluids and try to not cook or freeze in the cockpit. What is with the rider in a t-shirt? No helmet, maybe impact resistant sunglasses (most likely cheap off the shelf zero protection specials) and all too often shorts -- at least on the passenger. There isn't a lot of thinking going on here and I guarantee these aren't daily riders. These are the people I buy my low mileage used bikes from. 

Getting cold, wet or hot is a fact of riding. I know I can use evaporation to my advantage by wearing a leather jacket, gloves, good boots and a helmet even at over 100 degrees. I can always wet my shirt and just about freeze myself as the breeze blows through on a hot day. Skin does the same thing but a long ride will leave you dehydrated, over heated, sun poisoned and feeling sick. I see lots of "grumpy" weekend riders on long hauls around here. Again, these guys generally don't commute to work - it doesn't appeal to them. 

In Arabic the word for wind is the same as for spirit. If you don't believe the wind is alive, you aren't on a motorcycle. 

The wind is your best friend and foe. It will beat you senseless, run you into a ditch, put obstacles in your way, blind you and buffet you. It will also delight you, carry you, cool you and caress you. I believe in the wind. 

So why do I continue to ride in poor weather, high wind, rain, heat and traffic? Obviously I love it. The challenge of the road is endless. The edge is sharp so my skills need to be too. I can see the road at my feet, touch it even. I can see in all directions with no obstructions especially since I wear a full face helmet and the wind and bugs don't get in my eyes.

 I can feel the difference in the air as I ride. You would be amazed how much the temperature and humidity change in 10 short miles. I can smell what is around me in real time. This is not always a good thing, but in a car you have no idea what is out there. I can stop anywhere and explore off road. You can do that in a car, but you will not see as much as you can from the bike in the first place to even to know to stop.

 I have experienced every kind of weather while riding including arctic snow and ice (-20F), rain, gale force winds, and blistering heat (123F). I do own a very nice car for really bad weather, shopping and loads, but it gets to rest most days. 

I don't know if I dissuaded anyone from riding, but I hope you will think about it before you try to justify it by gas mileage alone. If the challenge of riding still appeals to you; I will see you on the highway.