Over the course of my riding career, I’ve had some of the most common motorcycling mishaps, like putting my foot down on something slippery at a stop and dropping my bike – in front of a group of people (journalists on one recent occasion). Or tipping over in Meridian, Miss., because I hadn’t yet mastered the art of using the throttle and clutch to keep the bike from falling to the inside of a low speed turn.
I’ve also had my share of unusual experiences. I’ve lost my front end and slid into oncoming traffic on the Angeles Crest Highway, totaling my first bike. Strapped to a backboard, I was helicoptered to a hospital with my only injuries being two jammed thumbs and a sprained ankle. (I think the paramedics wanted to make an example of me when they strapped me down and paraded me in front of the other riders assembled at the road block at the helicopter’s landing zone.)
I T-boned an SUV that ran a red light in front of me on my way to teach a motorcycle safety class. Fortunately, proper maximum braking technique reversed the roles that the SUV and I played at the point of impact – although my first bike was totaled for the second time.
I’ve caught on fire from sliding through burning fuel in a racing incident and had to be extinguished by another racer. In a different instance of on-track gymnastics, my bike high-sided underneath me, giving my billet aluminum foot peg the opportunity to attempt to penetrate me anally, making it difficult for me to walk and even more difficult to sit for more than a week. (The paramedic and I shared a moment as she palpitated my injury trackside as the race continued in the background.)
I’ve felt the adrenaline rush of close calls, like rounding a corner to discover black ice or hitting a pothole at 80 mph at night on the Ventura Freeway, traveling in the close proximity to the surrounding cars the way that only urban riders can understand. When the bike stopped wobbling, both my feet were off the pegs with my left knee hooked over the seat while my right boot dragged on the pavement beside the rear tire.
But none of that compares to the abject terror I felt as I engaged the clutch and pulled out onto my quiet residential street taking my eight year old daughter for her first motorcycle ride. I’d prepared for months. We’d discussed her role as passenger and practiced where she was supposed to look and how she was supposed to behave. She looked like a transformer in her Alpinestars Bionic armor and HJC helmet. She was so wound up she was practically vibrating. I was excited and grinning from ear-to-ear. However, beneath it all, I was consumed with fear.
When she was still nursing and quite cranky in the evenings, I would often take walks with her strapped to my chest in a Baby Bjorn, soothing her as we waited for my wife to come home from the office. During those dusk strolls, I planned multiple escape routes for every car we encountered on the peaceful suburban streets. I was ready for the potential threat that each driver embodied with their cell phone or scalding coffee or undiagnosed heart problem or whatever it was that would have them suddenly crush the gas pedal and careen out of control down the sidewalk bouncing from garden wall to parked car and back, leaving a trail of death behind them. I was prepared for every possible scenario.
That’s what its like being a parent. Nothing has ever heightened my feeling of vulnerability on a motorcycle more than having my daughter riding with me. Risks that would seem insignificant for myself become an event worthy of serious consideration with my daughter. And it’s not just with children. I remember a metallic taste in my mouth as I watched my wife on her first street rides after passing a MSF course and getting her motorcycle endorsement – a feeling Melissa Holbrook Pierson captures exquisitely in her book The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles:
But the rider has never known a fear quite like the one when riding just ahead is the object of deep affection. Flying along in tandem, an invisible wire stretched between them to connect the distance through a moving world, the one looks to the other like an insect clinging to the frenzied body of its prey. The rider, behind, watches this transformed human and sees right through the leathers to the tender skin as it looked while sleep was upon it. In one flash the rider sees how laughably easy it would be for something to happen. It is that pernicious distance between them that does the trick: a few yards that is an unbridgeable gap. Perhaps it’s all projection—that the rider, looking toward the other, at once feels how vulnerable the self truly is.
However, this is where many parents and non-riders stop – at the acknowledgement of these very basic fears. Yes, many things can hurt you. The list of situations you have no control over vastly outnumber those that you do. But isn’t the very instant you bend your motorcycle into a blind turn – like the creation of life itself – a celebration of beating the odds? If you shrink back from your fear – again, very real and even justifiable – what have you saved? Life is a gift meant to be taken out and enjoyed, not locked away for protection.
So, I choose to hone the sensitivities spawned by my natural fearfulness, to stick out my hand out of instinct, not any direct sensation, to stop my child before she steps into the street without looking. I try to teach her to be curious, to explore, but not to do so naively. Rather, enter situations with a watchful eye and an active mind attempting to anticipate what is to come but not to the extent as to miss out on spontaneity.
It’s all a matter of perspective: The risks I’m willing to allow for myself and the risks I’ll accept for my children. The risks involved in a well-lived life versus the risk of missed experiences from being overprotective. Ultimately, the destination is the same for all of us. So, take that step. Ask yourself: Where does this road lead? What adventure is just around the corner?