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Common Tread

There aren't enough of us and we don't ride enough

Dec 16, 2015

How many of your friends are single fathers raising their children without the mother in the household?

Probably not many, right? A single dad raising the kids is still rare enough to qualify as a plot twist on a TV show.

Well, there are more households led by single fathers than there are households in the United States with motorcycles.

Folks, we are rare. And while that may make us feel special, it isn't always a good thing.

The problem of rarity

I believe that many of the problems we face have to do with our sheer lack of numbers. From drivers turning in front of us due to inattentional blindness to lawmakers totally forgetting to consider us when they're deciding how much ethanol should be in the gas we buy or how self-driving cars should detect other road users, we are easy to overlook.

This was something I was thinking about last summer when I was crawling down an eight-lane highway outside a major East Coast city at rush hour, trying to get past the traffic jam caused by a crash. I had plenty of time to watch traffic fly by in the other direction. It was a pleasant summer day, and I couldn't imagine preferring to be in a car. But it was clear I was in the minority in that opinion. So I decided to see just how much of a minority. I started counting how many cars and trucks went by on the other side before I saw another motorcycle. At one point, I was somewhere around 500 vehicles between motorcycles, on a perfect day to commute on two wheels.

To get more specific and less anecdotal, I was listening to a webinar recently sponsored by Powersports Business magazine. Motorcycle Industry Council CEO Tim Buche shared some stats on the motorcycle industry, including the fact that just over 8.5 million households, or just under 7 percent of households in the United States, own motorcycles. (The stat on single-father households, at 8 percent, came from a Pew Research Center report.) More households own RVs than motorcycles, and those things handle like garbage in the twisties.

We are such a small minority of road users, it's not surprising we are an afterthought, if thought about at all, for distracted drivers or transportation officials. There are half a dozen stop lights within a few miles of my house that have no idea I'm waiting for the light to change because who ever imagined the sensor should be calibrated to detect anything smaller than two tons?

We make it worse because we don't ride

We riders make our rarity seem even greater than it is because we just don't ride very much. Buche mentioned another stat that really jumped out and caught my attention: the average miles ridden last year was 2,809. That's less than 250 miles per month. So while there are 10.1 million motorcycles in use in the United States, according to the MIC's figures, most of them are in the garage most of the time, so our numbers appear even smaller.

There's another downside to riding that little. The late Rider magazine safety columnist and instructor Lawrence Grodsky used to tell his students, "Gimme five." He meant ride 5,000 miles a year. If you're not riding that much, he believed, your skills would always be rusty. How many of us pursue any kind of activity that's as complicated as operating a powerful, single-track vehicle in traffic and expect to remain competent at it even if we only get any practice one or two weekends a month?

sunset ride
You say you "don't have time" to ride? You have to go places, right? Go there on two wheels. Photo by Bill Andrews.

The answer? I don't have it

I know. Having identified the problem, I'm supposed to offer solutions. Sorry. I don't have any.

Would we have more clout if there were more of us riding? Sure. But unlike evangelist Lemmy, as described in yesterday's story, I don't set out to convert anyone. I try to set a positive example so people can see I'm having fun riding. I answer any and all questions if asked. I've helped a few people who had never ridden before get started, but only because they asked. The initiative must come from them, not from me, because if it all goes wrong, I don't want to be responsible for talking someone into taking a risk, no matter how much it may seem worthwhile to me.

So I guess the closest I can come to an answer is to encourage those of us who do ride to ride more. Not just more recreational riding, but daily transportation riding. We'll be a more visible presence on the road and, if we ride with awareness and a self-critical approach, we'll be better, safer riders. ("But I have to go for a ride, honey, the guy at RevZilla said it was the only way for me to be a safer rider!")

Really, it doesn't sound like a bad thing to me.