It all started a couple weeks ago when we learned that a friend had been killed. I would like to say we were close friends. But we weren't. We were both in the BMW of Georgia club. We had all been motorcycle marshals together at both of last year's Multiple Sclerosis rides. We got along with him and his wife and could have made good friends since we had so much in common if only given the time to get to know each other. We had tried meeting in the Sept/Oct time frame to spend some time together and see if we could get his wife out on her bike and feeling more comfortable. Unfortunately health, family and holidays intruded and it didn't come to pass. With all of this running through my head I didn't feel his tale was mine to tell. Hopefully I can get my thoughts across and honor him and his values well.
He was killed in a senseless, useless accident by a senseless, useless man. Our friend was a motorcycle rider of old, but had picked up the sport of bicycling recently. When he embraced something, he really embraced it. He had started off on a cross-country bicycle trip in the middle of January. He made it two weeks down the road when someone hit him on some back country two lane road with very good visibility while wearing a hi-viz reflective vest and sporting a red flag on his trailer...at 1 pm on a sunny day. The story of the driver is that he went to pass and the bicyclist swerved into him. The story from the bicyclists perspective cannot be told...
I used to be a bicyclist. Before four-wheeled transportation was an option I purchased a second-hand 18-speed racing bike and rode it everywhere. I look back now and wonder how much my mother may have worried about me when I was off on my adventures. One of the big differences between southern California streets and streets in the South? Width. Southern California was laid out in a grid, allowing for planning and nicely sized roads. Especially in the sleepy bedroom community that I grew up in. The South is known for laying out streets on Indian walking paths and cow trails. They wend and wind around, over and through hills. They are barely wide enough to paint a white stripe on the edge. And sometimes they aren't even that wide.
So bicyclists get very little respect in this day and age of cell phones, fast life, fast cars and people that are no longer capable of walking to the corner market for a stroll in the evenings. Their longest uninterrupted walk is probably from their car to the front door of the grocery market. If they even go to one of those and don't just dine out on fast food for every meal.
Like that popular song of the 80's people don't walk in Georgia. It is a dangerous adventure when blind curves are at the tops of hills. But back to our friend. He was on a narrow, straight, slightly uphill road in a no-passing zone. The [expletive] that hit him has not been charged yet. But his history of 3 DUI's and documented spousal abuse has me pissed that he was even on the road. His version of events does not sit well with me as an ex-bicyclist. But I am not going into that. Much has been said and much more will be done...let that one lay.
His memorial was yesterday. The BMW club had a little go-round with riding vs driving to the memorial, two hours away from Atlanta. Some people felt it would be a sign of disrespect to ride. While others thought the opposite. His wife expressed happiness if club members would ride, so it was planned. Ten bikes showed up at the meeting location and off we went. I was a little leery about riding, but since I knew him best through riding, wanted to pay my respects.
The memorial was very moving and he will be greatly missed.
This is where my personal struggles to tell this come in, and ultimately why I am writing. After services, some of us were going to the house with the family, two were continuing on to Savannah for the day and the remaining four were headed off for lunch. Those of us going to the house were among the last to leave the funeral home. We head up the street and crest a rise and see police cars, blue lights and ambulances. We appropriately move over and merge into the remaining lane. Our leader took a cursory glance and thought it was a traffic stop. My look revealed bikes. Motorbikes that I recognized. Motorbikes that I had ridden down here with only one hour ago.
The leader continued on down the road, but I pulled over and sat in confusion trying to take in what I was seeing. The bikes following me pulled over. The story came out in bits and pieces and I am not going to rehash anything here. But it comes down to two bikes had collided. Who was at fault shall not be known to me as I wasn't a witness to the accident and am not going to speculate. But it is a nasty business when bikes and friends collide. One was carted off to the hospital and diagnosed with broken bones later. The other rode home...
He had complained of an extremely sore-thumb and the ambulance EMT's diagnosed it as not broken. The adrenaline was still coursing through his veins and he wasn't feeling any other ill-effects of his high-side get off. (In very layman terms for those not into the lingo, a highside accident is when someone is thrown over and beyond the motorcycle. Opposed to a lowside when the bike and rider come down together and the bike precedes the rider in the slide.) Highsides can be very dangerous due to landing on head, shoulders or hips. So this guy wasn't feeling the pain. Yet... He was devastated that he had hit is friend and wasn't through the shock yet. He was now just focused on getting home.
What a day and time for this to happen. And the new widow gets to drive by this and see friends in various states of disrepair.
What point am I trying to get to? Safety. Safety for you as a solo rider. Safety for you and others while riding in a group. It all comes down to safety. I mean, as bicyclists and motorcycles we bitch enough about cagers not seeing us. But what is this shit that we aren't seeing and looking after our own??
Talks ensued between a few of us moto-cyclists and some opinions are that the club doesn't do enough to focus on safety. Other riding groups are constantly having discussions on rider safety for group rides: how to ride in a staggered formation, hand signal knowledge, group approaches to curves, gravel in mountain roads, etc. These discussions take place during regular meet ups and before the first helmet is put on in a group ride. It is drilled into your head to "watch out". I am not completely convinced that safety discussions would have helped in the instance. Others felt that it would have helped with the constant discussion being drilled into heads.
This club has some leaders that are not overly concerned with safety. Why? The reason is not known by me as I haven't participated in too many club events. And this is actually one of the reasons why. Stories that I have heard of past rides did not incline me to ride with these people "in" a group. I will meet you for lunch, but don't particularly want you around me in the mountains.
I wonder if this encounter will set a few people to thinking. I don't believe there will be any legal battles and finger pointing with the people involved. They were good friends and I believe ride together regularly. But that is not the case with a group ride that went sour last year with another group we ride with on occasion. Again, I ride with them only when I know the groups are going to be small. I avoid their larger rides as I don't know most of the people surrounding me. And if I don't know you, I don't know your riding abilities. If I don't know your abilities, I am not going to trust you.
That was an horrible instance when conditions and/or abilities were exceeded and bad things happened. People mostly walked away from that and handshakes followed. But as the insurance companies started getting involved (and they had the same insurance company) ill-will set in and clouded memories. A year later and enemies have been made and lawsuits are starting to be filed.
Again...where am I going with this...
Safety. I am a girl. I am a girl riding in a male dominated sport. I am a tom-boy at heart, but could put on the frilly dress and ribbons if I have to. My parents can attest to my tree climbing abilities and mechanical skills at a young age. And there are a couple motorcycle "studies" that I have made in my relatively short riding time: boys and girls are different. Beyond the obvious anatomical differences, girls and boys approach risk taking in a different manner 99% of the time. Most (not all by any means, but most) of the boys see it as a challenge to be overcome at all costs, riding willy-nilly into the sunset with their hair on fire. Girls (again, not ALL) will generally find out as much information about it as they can and approach it cautiously with intent to chip away at it and win. Guys don't need to "learn" about it, they will learn in the doing. Girls will learn, practice, learn some more, practice and watch others and learn some more.
What are the pros and cons? Boys will generally learn something by brute force. They will learn faster, but with a higher cost if they don't learn in time. Girls will learn slower but more thoroughly. The cost can be just as high if they don't learn fast enough. But there could also be a high quit rate as they learn more and don't like what they see. And there is also the danger of never pushing herself closer to her limits, stalling her learning.
I don't have many girls to ride with. The ones I do know fall into two basic categories: have no confidence in their ability and won't push themselves to gain that confidence, or want to beat the boys at their own game. I have difficulty with both. I would like to think that I fall into a middle ground. I want to learn and continue improving, so I sometimes force myself outside of my comfort zone to increase my experiences. But I try to do that cautiously and in as controlled a manner as I can achieve.
In these larger group rides of mostly men that don't ride together often (or in some cases men that don't even ride often), ego comes in and they believe they are expert riders. They think it is a given that they will keep up with the guy in front of them. And even creep up his ass to show he is the better rider. While I sit there and roll my eyes at them puffing up their chest feathers. I let them
All of these safety concerns can be mitigated:
- Ride in small groups (2 or 3) with people that you know well and ride with often. That you know exactly how they ride, how they think, and how they will respond in an emergency situation.
- IF you ride with larger groups, surround yourself with people you trust or keep a distance between you and the guy in front of you
- On any larger group ride, have safety discussions and know that it isn't speed to the destination that is important. If people intend to ride faster, let them go first. (Although, with some of the guys that I know, they will repeat the mantra well, but as soon as they hit the twisties all thought, reason and logic are gone.)
- Ride solo. Which will introduce an entirely new set of safety concerns.
I know it might be difficult to reign in the little voice urging you on to show up the next person, proving that you are the queen, or king, of the road. But think of the consequences. Not just to your bike, but to your person, your job, your ability to take care of your family, your house, your finances, your loved ones if you weren't merely hurt. Actually think of some consequences.
I know most of my blogging buddies are solo or small group riders and I am happy. As far as I can tell from their writings and experiences they are safety minded. So I am probably preaching to the choir. But keep this in the back of your mind as you encounter new riding buddies and begin to assess their abilities. Hopefully we can bring up safety concerns in a non-critical manner and help each other become safer riders. Who knows, some day it may be our own life that we are saving.