Living for the ride
Why bike safety matters
by Marina Giannitsos
“It’s just like riding a bike…”
The saying itself refers to something that becomes second nature — something you can never forget.
But try remembering when you first learned how to actually ride a bicycle. Your envisioned young self may challenge the idea that riding feels natural and easy.
It was probably anything but easy when you first learned to balance yourself on that big-kid two-wheeler — especially after picking yourself off the pavement a few times.
Of course nobody remembers those moments, not until you try riding an even bigger bike… Now equipped with a motor and incredible speed.
Riding a motorcycle is a similar experience to riding a bicycle, but the amount of power involved can create an incredible safety risk to yourself and others when you have no idea what you’re doing.
Instead of scrapes on your knees from falling off, you now have road rash and skin grafts.
However, there are ways of ensuring the risk isn’t as high as it could be.
Just ask Carmen Wenstrom, a fourth year nursing student at Mount Royal University, who first rode a motorcycle a few weeks ago through a two-day motorcycle course.
Even though she had been dirt biking since she was young, Wenstrom decided to go to Too Cool Motorcycle School because she felt it was better to get the basics down before heading out onto the road.
“The school gives you the fundamentals and all the groundwork that you really need to be a safe and competent rider,” she said.
“Overall you’re going to be more confident once you leave and probably in the long run save yourself an accident or a collision, something that could’ve been prevented with just some basic training.”
According to the 2010 Alberta Traffic Collision Statistics report, riders under the age of 25 were most likely to be involved in a major or minor collision. The statistic is also reported in all past yearly reports available on the Government of Alberta’s website, which go as far as back as 1998.
Trevor Dech, chief instructor at Too Cool For Motorcycle School, said there are a lot of reasons why that is, but cites a lack of experience as one of the top ones:
“When you’re young [you think] nothing’s ever going to happen to you, you’re impervious to any kind of pain.”
Dech has been riding for 40 years and teaching for 20. He was 16 years old when he was hit from behind by a car while at a stop sign. He’s had a different outlook on the safety of riding bikes since then.
“It’s the person that rides that’s dangerous,” Dech said. “It’s all about the attitude of the person that’s operating the vehicle, doesn’t matter if it’s a car, truck, bicycle or walking.
“Inherently, because of the lack of protection, [motorcycles] are dangerous, but really, the number one thing that makes it dangerous is the person’s lack of skill and attitude.”
He said other reasons accounting for so many collisions amongst young riders include speed and the “show-off” factor.
“They’re looking around to see who’s looking at them and the moment of inattentiveness someone breaks in front of you and all of a sudden there’s a problem. Then there’s speed; there is that want to go do it,” Dech said.
Reports also state alcohol as a key factor in motorcycle collisions. In fact, the 1981 Hurt Report, one of the most comprehensive studies on motorcycle accidents, states almost half of fatal accidents show alcohol involvement.
Wenstrom said all the stats are alarming, especially since there is little protecting any motorcyclist out there, but she’s confident that with this training she’s well prepared when she gets her own bike and gets out on the open road.
In the end she said her first road ride at the end of the course was an amazing experience, one that trumps the fear of danger.
“It was so great to just get out on the highway and just have the open road, it was beautiful,” Wenstrom said. “It’s really nice to just get into your own space and not have to think about anything else and just go for a ride.”