Too Close for Comfort

Knew the road well. It’s in excellent condition. Surface was dry, visibility good, traffic sparse. It happened where the road over the hills begins the climb from the coastal plain. I’d rolled on some throttle to maintain speed on the hill, and rolled on some more just for the fun of it.

Something caught my eye for a moment. Returning gaze to the bike’s path I immediately saw a wheel swallowing sized depression in the otherwise smooth pavement.

Muscle memory kicked in. Haven’t been on an off-road motorcycle since 1985 but the neurons knew what to do without conscious thought: legs drove my hips up and to the rear, followed an instant later by straighting the torso which caused a big pull up and back on the handle bars. Front wheel lifted over the hole, the back went in. Rear suspension didn’t bottom out, so the hole wasn’t as deep or steep as it looked, but I have no intention of returning to test if it could have been ridden through.

One bit of advice aimed at novice pilots is that one starts his flying career with a full bucket of luck and an empty bucket of experience. The trick is to fill the experience bucket without emptying the luck bucket. I just used up some of my luck. Did I learn anything?

I’ve competed and won in motorsports on both 2 and 4 wheels. Took a 2 1/2 day street riding course before leaving the US, earned a perfect score on the bike handling tests. I want to be a cautious rider, I see no reason to ride for fun on these roads, in this traffic on these bikes. I ride careful, but I’m not riding like I’ve got a baby on board enough of the time. Finding the mental space that will allow me to do that has been elusive, though my riding keeps getting more conservative. It took a tragedy to motivate the first significant increase in caution that stuck with me.

About a month ago it occurred to me that I could approach riding like I did flying. The most important thing for a pilot is to make sure the number of his landings equals the number of his takeoffs. In other words, don’t crash. As a glider pilot almost all of my flight habits, plans, activities and decisions were in support of this prime directive.

I know the changes I need to make: increase size of safety margin when passing, increase the minimum time of eyes on target before pulling in front of a moving vehicle, and go the long way around instead of making right turns (left for you Yanks) across traffic. Will I do that more often?

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