Common Tread

Deadly weekend: You can't rig the game but you can improve your odds

Jun 06, 2016

Three deaths this weekend have me thinking about one of the truths of motorcycling: We can't eliminate the risks of riding, but we can improve our odds, and we owe it to ourselves, and those who care about us, to do what we can to come home safely.

You may have heard about one of those deaths. Spanish Moto2 racer Luis Salom died Friday in a crash during practice for the Catalunya Grand Prix. The other two you didn't hear about. Two riders died in my area, on roads I've ridden before. In both cases, the driver of a car is to blame — egregiously so, in one case — but it was the rider who paid the highest price.

Because we're the ones who pay the highest price, it falls to us take the highest responsibility for our safety. As Lemmy has pointed out, ranting about "cagers" doesn't solve anything.

Case one: classic SMIDSY

On a road just outside the city where I live, a car pulled out of an intersection in front of a rider. He hit the car and died at the scene.

The crash is still being investigated and details are limited, but three things struck me. While charges haven't been filed yet, it appears the driver of the car was at fault. The police noted the rider applied the rear brake (I'm assuming this was determiend from skid marks) but couldn't stop in time. The rider was not wearing a helmet.

Did the rider use proper braking technique or rely only on the rear brake? I don't know and I'm not here to lecture the dead. But this I know: You can't ensure that a driver won't pull out in front of you, but you can learn and practice optimal braking techniques and you can wear a helmet. Those things might have made a difference, and they might not. But they would have improved the odds.

Case two: hit and run

On a rural road about 50 miles away, near where I used to live, a driver of an SUV or truck apparently ran a stop sign and hit a rider. Worse, the driver then left the scene. I can imagine what we all think of a person who would leave a man to die alone along a country road. Fortunately, a part of the truck was left behind, so there's a good chance the police will find the guilty party.

With no witnesses, we can only speculate what could have improved this rider's odds. Again, he was not wearing a helmet. I'm not trying to turn this into another tiresome ATGATT debate, but protective gear and situational awareness are our best tools for staying alive.

Case three: Luis Salom

A racer dying on the track is another thing entirely. Despite the best gear, ample run-off room (though paved, instead of gravel) and Airfence, Salom's heart stopped from the impact of his own motorcycle hitting him in the chest.

Those who want to justify not wearing helmets or gear can point to Salom's death and say, "See? It didn't save him."

And that's true. I'm not talking about guarantees, because there are none. I'm only talking about odds.

For those of us riding on the street, we can't guarantee a driver won't run a stop sign or that we won't suffer a fatal impact in a way our gear can't protect us. We can practice braking and swerving techniques between rides. We can ride alert, constantly scanning, planning an escape route in case that driver does pull out in front of us or the truck behind us doesn't stop in time.

If you were planning a trip to Las Vegas to do some gambling and someone said you could improve your odds with a little effort, you would, right? So why do any less when you're betting your life? Ride smart.

Update, Monday, June 6: When I started writing this article Friday evening, my original intention was to talk about street riding. I was motivated by the two news items about fatal crashes that happened near where I live, on roads I have ridden. But I was also affected by the death of Luis Salom, and I decided to add that out of respect to him. Due to travels this weekend, it was not until much later that I learned about the deaths of Dwight Beare and Paul Shoesmith at the Isle of Man TT, and later yet when I heard about the deaths of Travis Livingston and Noah Evermann in the Baja 500 (plus an 8-year-old boy who was a spectator).

I'm sure many who saw this headline Monday morning thought this article was going to be (and maybe should be) about all those men. That would be a reasonable expectation and that's why I wanted to add this clarification, to explain why one racer's death was included and not the others. It was not a statement on their importance, but just a quirk of timing.