Bullshit and Vanity before Reality.

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Just my little (long) rant/observation on the often misguided and down right dangerous thought process that is pervasive in the “biker” community.  This isn’t a slam on anyone who ride a hog, this is a commentary group think mentality that is encouraging everyone to believe in bullshit to validate vanity.

Let me preface this with a disclaimer :  Do as you wish, its your life, your family, your money…  I generalize the Harley people below as the stereo type of typical HOG riders who wear no protection, and claim BS, and misinformed reasons for such.  I understand that all Harley riders are not like this and if you just dont like wearing a helmet, rock on.  I know many who are awesome at the craft, and also don’t care what the “masses” dictate as being “cool”.  This is specifically for those who speak to the BS concepts of how safety hardware is dangerous when riding as a veiled excuse to just being vain enough to believe it.

The “Biker" Mindset:

People justify why they take risk in almost every activity they do.  You drive a car because the need for groceries outweighs the risk of crashing. You smoke cigarettes because the risk of cancer you weigh as not being as high as that short term fix,  Etc…

In the "Biker” group think aspect comes in when you see most of that community typically shunning any safety hardware when they ride.   This perplexes me as there needs to be some mindset or justification for upping your odds of death or injury by many factors.  No sane person would take an inherently dangerous activity and willingly make it much more for no reason.   So whats the deal?

Masking the real reasons with flawed logic:

I’ve heard almost everything on this topic from people who ride.   Some of which are:

  • Safety gear is distracting and gives a false sense of safety
  • Helmets may protect your brain, but you’ll break your neck
  • Helmets limit your visibility and can cause crashes because of that.
  • You’ll be fucked up anyway even with gear, so why not ride “free”.
  • I’ve been riding for 35 years and never needed one.

Most bikers know those are bullshit or at least misunderstood, but need to say that to “justify” the risk to themselves.  My thoughts on the real reason later.

Realities and Risk:

So even though I am still relatively new to riding, I am not new to risk mitigation and the basic logic of being realistic with the odds.  

Proper safety gear is comfortable, and not distracting.  Buying cheap, shit safety gear can be a problem which is why many experts recommend buying good gear from the start.  A good helmet has great visibility, good ventilation, and is comfortable for riding very long days.  A shit helmet feels like a bear trap strapped to your head…

There are a number of books and studies by MSF and other organizations looking at fatality statics for motorcycles.  They all show that a helmet and safety gear reduces fatal and serious injuries by huge margins.  A helmet actually lessens the movement on the head in an impact with the ground due to it being more even with the chest and back on impact.  

In many cases if you crash and you would break your neck – your head would be crushed without a helmet anyway. 

Where the opposite – where many crashes where your neck and back would be fine, could result in you being a vegetable pooping in a tube the rest of your life from a nice tap on the skull.

Experience does not change the odds:

I see motorcycling very much like a casino.   You know the odds are stacked against you the second you get on the bike.   You know that luck plays a part, but you can do certain things to tilt the odds in your favor or “adjust your luck”.   Experience is one of the key tools to this, but only if its experience doing the right thing.   Just experience doesn’t mean you haven’t spent 35 years doing something wrong and have just been lucky or your number hasn’t been called yet.

When you gamble, you try to improve your odds as much as possible.  In Poker you change up cards, in black jack you watch other peoples hands, etc…  In a car you wear a seat belt, you wash your hands after using a public bathroom (or maybe that’s another way bikers live “on the edge”.)  Etc…  its all about giving your self the best chance to win… or in this case not fail.

Saying that you haven’t crashed or hurt yourself in many years and you don’t need to wear a helmet is like the people who go to roulette tables in Vegas and study the past numbers chart.    Past events have no relevance or impact on future events.  The odds don’t change with time… you have every bit as much of a chance to fail on Day 1 as you do on Day 4000 if you don’t change your tactics.

There is a very thin line between bravery and stupidity.  You see it @ poker tables all the time.  The reckless, and naive think they are being gutsy, living life, being a player… only to lose everything they have by not understanding basic logic and weighing the odds of their play.

What does it take to break yourself?

I read a study last year that summarized that only 10 – 15% of motorcycles crashes are fatal regardless of what gear was worn. (high speed, car/truck vs Motorcycle, etc…)   But that number sky rockets when being protected by only your tattoos and a sunburn.   At high speeds it doesn’t take much to turn your lights out.

Looking at insurance studies and NHSA information from car accidents, even a moderate impact at the base of the skull or the frontal lobe can cause permanent brain injuries, if not death.   On the bodies impact with the ground that 10- 15lb counter weight for a head has a great deal of inertia and the neck cannot control it.  At a minimum a nice tap to the ground with your face will cause skin grafts, and reconstructive surgery.   I know… scars are cool!

In the book Proficient Motorcycling, they highlight a German study that showed in motorcycle accidents, Impacts on the body showed that 65 – 70% of the time impacts happened at the jaw line and back of the head, with other percentages around the rest of the head.  Broken teeth FTW.

Because its Cool:

In the end we all know why many people don’t wear helmets, or gear.  Because its just not cool and they feed pressure on themselves to not be seen as a wimp.  Everyone wants to fit in, and be part of a group.  The “Harley” biker groups are just predisposed to follow others, listen to baseless claims of danger in wearing gear, and “fit in”. 

Harley riders like to profess their uniqueness and creativity, but from the outside, all I see are lemmings for the most part.  Lemmings who have imagined up a reality where they are bad ass, living life on the edge, taking it all in, the embodiment of freedom… And somehow thinking that putting a helmet on instantly removes that thrill.   Vanity can come at a high cost at some point.

My question to anyone who fits in that group:  In that moment where you realize that you are about to have a crash landing… are you going to think about how cool you look?  or “… hmm how am I going to not bash my head on that pavement?”


Squids or  “Squirrely Kids”, or “Douchebags” – is the blanket definition of the crotch rocket kids who maybe wear a helmet, but do it with flip flops, shorts and no shirt.   These also are covered in everything above.  They are probably even more screwed up than the “Biker” groups as they don’t have any false logic, or misguided ideas of safety.  They are just invincible until they are being cleaned off the road.

Squids are the arch nemesis of the Bikers… two ideologies on two wheels who cant understand the other… but both are so similar in how they act when it comes to risk.

My mentality:

There is a good chance I am going to crash at some point, the odds are against me.  I love my wife, and love life in general – I absolutely want to change the equation as much as I can to keep me in one piece while still having fun when that time comes.

So what do I do? 

  • Wear my gear – I bought my gear before I bought a bike!  Helmet, gloves, jacket (nice mesh for summer), kevlar riding pants.  In 100F weather its still tolerable and actually pretty comfortable.  This lets me focus on my ride more than worrying about that chunk of gravel that’s about to launch off a truck tire, or a june bug that’s about to smack me in the forehead.  It also allows for me to ride in all weather without being distracted.
  • Education – I’ve read a number of books, taken my MSF class, and am now progressing through advanced handling and control classes.  This doesn’t change the overall odds, but does give me many more tools to leverage in the case of a challenging situation.  In many cases these classes are teaching me how to increase the margin for error in daily riding, giving me more escape routes to avoid the caggers and animals who are out to get me.
  • Not proving anything – I ride how I want to ride, I could give a crap about whats cool.  I wear a bright high vis jacket, about the most uncool “biker” thing around.  But People can see me, and my odds of someone noticing me in their mirrors are much better.   I don’t care if everyone I ride with is just wearing cutoffs and sunglasses, that’s their deal.   Conformity is akin to just handing it all over to someone else’s judgement.
  • Being realistic – I know that in many situations the kevlar, carbon, fiberglass, foam padding, etc… I wear will not save me from a serious high speed or high impact accident.  So I ride within my limits, and try to keep myself out of that situation with as many tools as I can bring to the table.

I have dropped a motorcycle twice, both at low speed. But still slid on the ground a small bit. My gear took the hit, I felt nothing, got up, picked the bike up, and went on my way. Looking at the wear on my jacket, that would have been a nasty road rash otherwise.  I also had a rock smack my right temple area on my helmet while cruising on the freeway on my way home.  It chipped the helmet and jerked my head back.  The hit was amazingly violent, and shocked me.  It shook me up and did cause a bit of a wobble on the bike.   Without a helmet that would have almost assuredly caused me to at a minimum pull over and seek medical assitance, if not lose control of the bike and compound the injuries.

As someone said “Dress for the crash, not for the ride.”

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