Sunday, February 20, 2011

Be Safe

Yesterday was a hard day.  A very hard, difficult day.  I originally didn't have any intention of putting this down in writing.  But other issues cropped up that loosely tied into the first.  So this is going to be more of a piece about safety.  Memorials and safety.

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 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 lie boast and just make it clear that I will be riding at the back.  I don't want you hugging my tail pipe and I don't want you running over me if I make a mistake. I will not be giving in to peer pressure to ride beyond my abilities in the twisties just to show that I can keep up with "the guys".  I am here to ride my own ride and enjoy the view.

All of these safety concerns can be mitigated:
  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. 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.)
  4. Ride solo.  Which will introduce an entirely new set of safety concerns.
Many bike to bike accidents that I have heard about can be attributed to speed and riding faster than your line of sight.  I take away: don't follow too close in the twisties and don't ride faster than you can stop, and this especially applies to twisties and night riding. I know many men that would scoff and say they know what they are doing.  But accident rates are increasing as more unskilled people get on bikes and more unskilled drivers take to the roads.  Each is racing his own race and can have a devastating affect on the other.

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.


  1. Really sorry to hear about your fellow riders mishaps. As someone who used to ride bicycles a lot, hearing about a collision like that generates an emotional response. I've had several friends get hit while riding bicycles and it was usually in rural areas and in all cases, alcohol was a contributer. There really wasn't much more that he could have done to be more visible.

    This is an excellent post about safety, attitudes and consequences. It really reminds me of why I really prefer to ride on my own. I'm afraid that the truck and cage drivers are many times more predictable than other riders.


  2. Sad topic but well said and one can never repeat information about safety too often. I am sorry you have had that going on. Not only the memorial but the crash of yesterday too.

    We have some riders on our local forums that ride beyond their limits, some end up crashing others seem to luck out and are just fine. I avoid riding with them.

    I, like you find myself somewhere in the middle. I like to try and push myself little by little gaining experience at a slower pace than others might but I enjoy riding and if I am left behind, I am good with that to. I'll see everyone at a meeting point and hopefully no one will have crashed along the way.

    I think we are lucky to live in a bicycle friendly area. We have had riders killed in this area and each time it is a stark reminder to be aware.

    Unfortunately we can only do so much to protect ourselves. We can control our actions but not those that share the road.

    Ride safe everyone. Ride to arrive.

  3. An excellent post Lori, thought provoking and sensitive. You raised many valied points, and it is obvious you have put much thought into what you have said.

    Your experince is familar to me so I understand completly where you are coming from. And the reminder to stay is taken in the spirit it is given.

  4. Hi Richard!

    I'm sorry that you have friends that have gone through similar circumstances. Like you, it is emotional.

    I'm in agreement with you about foregoing the group rides and sticking to some slightly more predictable.

    Thanks for sharing and understanding.


  5. Hi Trobairitz!

    From reading your posts I agree that we sound about the same in our approach to learning and improving. I'm really looking forward to see how you respond and improve with the Gladius.

    Isn't it amazing just listening or reading others approach to riding and you can tell you just don't want to ride with them? I know what you mean and know some of those guys too.

    I'm sorry to hear that an area that is so bicycle friendly can still have accidents. It is such a shame.

    Thank you for sharing some of your experiences. Your approach to safety is great!


  6. Hi Raftnn,

    It's always so difficult to lose someone. It pops to mind when least expected.

    Safety has always been high on my list. There are only a few people that I absolutely trust while riding. I'll stick near them. :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences.


  7. Dear Steel Cupcake:

    I deeply regret the loss of your riding acquaintance. There is always a tragic aspect to the premature loss of a life, be it through accident, illness, or the negligence of others. The hurt does seem more grievous when the circumstances were preventible, or shady. Bicyclists face their own unique set of challenges, many of which I shrugged off in my pedaling years long ago. (If I thought of al the aspects that threatened my own safety, I’d never leave my desk chair.)

    The “group” ride is a touchy subject for many, and I think a lot depends on your riding- style/lifestyle orientation. There is contention about the safest procedures to follow even among experts and any group ride should entail a fast review of the protocols before starting out. I know of two riding groups which have had members whack into each other, and I have read of others, where three, five, and eight motorcycles have gone down at a shot. These last collisions made national headlines as there were multiple fatalities.

    I ride with five really close friends who I have come to respect for their moto-prowess and “rider’s awareness,” which is tempered with a good deal of perception. And even knowing our individual riding styles and preferences, you can still find yourself dealing with an occasional surprise. My pal Clyde Jacobs can throw a BMW 1200GT around like it was a rubber ball. We generally buzz around with a couple of car lengths between our machines. Yet after a good day’s ride, I have prepared to cut right, and have looked over my right shoulder, only to find Clyde in my side pocket. I have come to assume that if I can’t see my wingman in my side mirrors — it means he is inside their tightest parameters, which I always confirm by physically looking.

    I find myself questioning the riding attributes you assign to women and men. I occasionally ride with one woman who puts many of the guys I know to shame when hurtling through complex curves, either on the pavement or the dirt. (She is not a Tom boy, but one of the most desirable examples of feminine perfection I can think of.) Most of the guys I know are excellent riders, through practice and experience. And a couple are enlightened, intuitive riders who meld the motorcycle to their respective wills. Yet this is also true of the women too. Maybe it is because I ride with one BMW group, but I am the worst rider I know.

    The group topic is a very interesting one, and I am inclined to focus on it myself at some point in the future. Thanks for posting this today.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • Toad
    Twisted Roads

  8. Steel Cupcake:

    It's so sad when you lose someone you know and the thought that you will never see them again. We don't realize how fragile life is and how we should just cherish the moment and live life to the fullest, for you just never know . . .

    Wet Coast Scootin

    PS: Steel Cupcake, there -- I just had to type it again. It makes me smile.

  9. Riding in small vs. large groups is a theme I’ve encountered over and over again in my moto-centric reading. A conundrum not soon solved if ever. I doubt ever. It’s a beautiful thing to experience when two or three friends of similar riding styles get together and do the motorcycle riding equivalent of synchronized dance. I am fortunate to have friends like that. It’s a conversely terrifying experience when riding in a large group to see riders become confused in a yellow-caution/red-light situation and nearly collide as some panic stop while others accelerate. I have seen such. It’s equally disturbing when you hear of a crash involving a group of riders that you count as friends and ride with on occasion and on this occasion one rider inattentively ran over the other when the lead rider made a decision to brake quickly for an unexpected turn. I have been known to tell a new rider desiring to join me, jokingly but at the same time serious, that, “Rule number one is: Do Not Run Over My Ass!”

    Which style do I prefer? The smaller groups or solo with no pillion. Riding is more readily experienced for what it is when numbers are low. So why ride in a larger group ever? Well in ones riding life he/she makes friends and his/her spouse makes friends often through riding and well, people want to get together and ride, and eat, and etc, - You see the problem. You can be anal about riding to the point of being anti-social or you can give in sometimes and be careful and try to enjoy the social aspect of the whole shebang. And, if you are the rider enlightened about safety and gear and the dynamics of riding, you may be the best ambassador for the sport in the group. You may be the one to quickly help the noob up to speed while avoiding many of the pitfalls. Again, a conundrum. You, the rider with the experience to prefer riding with small groups or alone, may be the one best to subtly instruct and encourage others. Those people in the larger group I and my wife ride with on occasion? Absolutely the salt of the earth. Impossible to not ride with.

    So, often as I can, I slip off for the faster-paced, low number rides for my fix. And if I ever need more time I plan a ride/camp trip. Attendance falls off fast when the camping is thrown in.

    A terrible turn of events in your story and perfectly natural to reflect. Some irony in there somewhere though I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the motorcyclist to bicyclist to memorial to crash to lawsuits and hurt feelings thing. All from a sport we love dearly. Things can go bad quickly and we are reminded.

  10. Lori:
    An exceptionally well-written piece direct from the heart. I can totally identify with your feelings, having lost my best friend in a motoring accident that just shouldn't have happened.

    As for group riding apart from runs with my 5 closest friends, I just can't do it nowadays. There's always someone who is a menace to everyone else and it's simply not worth it.

    And yet motorcycling has such a hold over us that we continue to ride and take the best possible precautions.

    All the very best....


  11. Dear Jack,

    Thanks for your encouraging words. You are correct in that group riding is a touchy subject. And I too have read of many encounters of large groups that have "fallen" all over each other. Some with disastrous results. So like you, I will stick to my group of close friends that I trust. But otherwise, if I do attend larger, I will stick to the back of the group.

    You didn't like my stereo-typing? I can see that. And I was thinking that while writing. I should preface that I ride with a mostly younger crowd. Most, but not all, haven't years and experiences under their belts. There are a handful of guys that I would not lump into my generic description and I would trust with my life. But most of the riders that I know, or encounter at chat locations, are younger without enough experience, IMO. They are of the opinion that they know it all and won't benefit from more training. Those are the ones that scare me.

    I think the differences that we are both referencing is the "experiences" and "practice". You run with a mature crowd that values that. Many of the people in my "extended" groups are not.

    Thank You for the great dialog.

    -Lori/Steel Cupcake

  12. HI Bobskoot!

    Yes, you said it exactly. I haven't lost too many people in my life that wasn't due to disease or old age.

    I, personally, love "Steel Cupcake". I need to get my blog written that explains it so I can start to transition over. You have no interest in utilizing yours? ;)

    -Steel Cupcake. :)

  13. Hi Jonesy,

    You said so much, so well. Many of them points that flitted through my head, but vanished before I could formulate it within my writing. Thank You!

    Thank You for expressing it so well and taking the time to put it down on my page so that I can re-read it regularly.


  14. Hi Geoff,

    I am very sorry for your loss, as well. It is just so difficult when it is senseless, isn't it?

    I try to limit my exposure to the menace's to a minimum. That means few rides with our meetup groups in the summer, just stick with friends or the two of us. We can go back to the groups in the winter since the fair weather riders are crouching indoors. :)

    Thank you for sharing your feelings. This topic is like oil or windscreens...will there ever be a solution. ;)

    Thank You!