Motorcycle Death Wish?


Per the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, nearly 80% of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death, as compared to 20% for automobiles. In other words, you are 4x more likely to get hurt or killed if you crash on a motorcycle, as opposed to in a car.

Having been involved in two serious motorcycle wrecks in my life, I understand the risks. In both cases, the bikes were declared “totaled” by the insurance adjusters.

In the first one (back in the 70’s) an ambulance raced me to an emergency room to clean up a generous case of road rash and to put together what the paramedic said was a whole bunch of broken bones. However, the doctor said I only had a broken collarbone, and was surprised when the x-ray showed nothing was broken at all. Ultimately, my helmet scars demonstrated that things would have been much worse had I not been wearing it. In fact, had I not been wearing a full-face helmet, I would have left my countenance smeared along some Pennsylvania pavement.

In 2004, I wrecked again. (By the way, both of these incidents were my own fault). Although the motorcycle was crashed beyond repair, I walked away without a cut, scratch or bruise. (I skipped the ambulance and emergency room adventures). The main difference? Fully-armored riding apparel from head to toe. And in both cases I was also fortunate not to hit anything except the ground. Modern riding apparel continues to improve and offer greater safety advantages. Will that make riding as safe as flying in an airplane or driving a car? No way. If you want even better safety, you absolutely must traverse our world ensconced in a cage with at least 4 wheels – or don’t go anywhere.

Given that as the case, do motorcyclists have a death wish?

Who knows the answer for all, but for me, and for the many riders I’ve spoken with over the years, the answer is the opposite. The lack of a protective cage is what opens wide life and livingness instead of watching it go by like a video game. For a motorcyclist, riding epitomizes life.

I would rather ride every day with the risk variable at whatever rate it may be, than to live at all without riding any day.

For me, part of riding – and living at all – is knowing that any day may be my last. And the alternative to not riding is as certain a death sentence as losing all capacity to sing, dance, celebrate or even breathe.

Many motorcyclists would not expect a non-rider to relate to these words. The brotherhood that riders enjoy involves living a much richer life than could be enjoyed otherwise.

For me, and for the motorcyclists I have met – we love life. We love to ride. It’s pretty simple.

I invite you to add your thoughts below.

70 thoughts on “Motorcycle Death Wish?

  • Amen, the rider still has a lot to do with their own safety. If you ride staying focused and observant of your surroundings all while scanning around you and anticipate the possible unknown’s and you are able to have good instincts and a fast reaction time. Also paying extra attention to intersections, wear you gear and never drink, well then you have just decreased your odd’s of a problem.
    I mean I’ve seen some riders just watch while a car moves over and runs into them when they should have swerved. Or they used the rear brake to stop and not enough front brake. I have been told by some that it would be too stressful for them if they were on a bike that they would be worried too much about all of the drivers out there. And I say stay off of a bike – it’s not for you. But for those of us who can take on the challenge get what its all about. That’s one of the things I love about motorcycling is that it forces you to pay attention. When people look at you they should know that you have what it takes to remain sharp, focused and react. It’s a real sport! And it blows away amusement parks 🙂

  • As the old line goes: “It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on!”

    Doesn’t have anything to DO with wanting to die. Quite the opposite. 🙂

  • Absolutley no death wish more a life wish
    To ride a motorcycle through new places is what living is all about
    I drive my car to a destinatipn
    I ride my motorcycle through it the smells the feeling all part of the ride
    I am 55 and feel like a kid when i ride
    If its in front of you, you can control it so let any muppets on your tail pass

  • I like you have been in two MC accidents, I might add that neither was my fault. The first one I was in the center lane when some idiot cut in front of me without signaling and hit me. I Got thrown from the bike and ended up with a fractured tibia on one leg and a sprained ankle on the other. The second one I was stopped in bumper to bumper traffic when a driver behind me decided to change lanes without looking he did even realize how close he was to me when he turned his head change lanes,and rear ended be with that one I had a sprained back. Both of these accidents were over 20 years ago. I am still riding though.

  • I’m 67 and got a little dual sport last year. A bucket list thing, now or never. I don’t ride at night or early morning when all the critters are moving. Love the back dirt roads and ride slow to smell the roses. Death Wish ,,,,, Hell No !!!!! Riding is therapeutic , makes me feel alive .

  • Life is dangerous and yes, motorcycles are too. We do what we can to protect ourselves short of absurd constraints. For me that means ALWAYS wearing quality safety gear and (trying) not to ride beyond my skill level. That all said, ^&#! happens, mostly in the form of careless car drivers we fail to avoid. I subscribe to a motto I read recently… “I’ll stop riding a motorcycle because of crashes when you stop eating because of e. coli”.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article and the great comments.

  • Not too much to add, I also enjoy riding as much as anyone else on here. I also am aware of the risks that we take every day we ride, but I still head out every chance I get. It is what keeps me alive and gives me peace when I am on the road.

  • Salute…I got nothing much to add on other than this should be elevated to the RIDER’S CREED!

  • George: This is without dough the best explanation I have seeing about this subject. You certainly sound like a very experience motorcycle rider. You hit every point of view I try to explain to my students. What you explained is what if translated to English would be called the reticular thinking. This is nothing more than not paying attention of what you are doing. You put all the points in prospective but most of us forget. The Reticular thinking is what Astrologers, psychologist and psychiatrics call the third eye. This is a sensor in our brain that separates what is important or dangerous to you at that moment. It is what separates what goes to the consent mind and what goes to the unconscious mind. Even if you are a seasoned rider when you get in a car you don’t see as many motorcycles as you see when you are in a motorcycle. That’s because, the rider for you when you are in a car, is not dangerous for you. Therefore you don’t pay much attention. How many times have you being driving, not riding and a motorcycle pass you closed by and you jump because you were not expecting that, then you ask yourself where the F*&% did that motorcycle came from? That’s not counting the number of drivers that have never ridden a motorcycle, like people from the third generation and even young drivers starting out. No matter whether they are, on a car or motorcycle. That is “Reticular Thinking”. Some people call it “Murphy’s Law”. What can go wrong will go wrong. The truth is that things happen when you are not prepare or not paying attention. It’s that simple. In the Boys Scouts of America, they always teach you to be Prepared and to pay attention. So let’s do the Boys Scouts way and “BE PREPARED, PAY ATTENTION, TAKE CARE OF YOUR EQUIPMENT AND RIDE SAFELY”. Someone is always expecting to see you again. I do Accident Reconstructions in Puerto Rico and give a safety driving course that includes Motorcycle, cars and Heavy vehicles. Thank you for your input in this subject. Jose Nieves

  • Riding a bike is dangerous but not a death wish by any means. I’m living proof of it and I’m the most aggressive rider I know! I’m still here and I’ve been out there enjoying the sport for 28 years and around 600,000 miles now. Commuted to work today as usual. Will probably go for a ride of 100 miles or so after work too. Actually looking forward to it!

    Riding has been my life passion. The pursuit of riding excellence has been my ongoing lifes work. Been all over the place and been in various accidents, fault of all things including my own mistakes and unknowns/unexpecteds even seasoned drivers/riders would never expect to encounter. fwiw Stuff is out there from errant deer to you name it. You can talk statistics all you want but bottom line is that the more you ride the more likely you will meet your end doing so. Its pretty much a double edged sword. On the one hand you become “quite good” at the riding. On the other hand, “quite good” or not, you by nature of the miles traversed will be subjected to much risk and danger in all forms alive and not.

    It’s the cards we are dealt and it’s the game we play. “Quite good” in this context refers to bring physically skilled at riding, aware, experienced and defensive too among other things. The physically good is probably the easiest part to achieve. You can go out and practice braking. You can practice cornering. You can practice shifting while braking and cornering. You can practice sliding on the brakes and while cornering. With some practice [LOL] you can become “Quite good” in terms of the physical riding.

    Unfortunately, as with everything in life, you will also need excellent awareness of what those around you are doing at all times. You need to “read” things and “see” things and situations on the road. And this, my friends, comes with experience. Experience comes with mistakes and pain. Some, like me, will be lucky and will survive to tell of it. I’m one of the wildest ones I know and have lost many friends whom were good riders but whom were not as wild as me and they are long gone. Taken too soon by mistakes or uncontrolables/unforeseens too. The stuff is out there and if you ride long enough you’ll find it. Each of them could have used a little luck fwiw. And I have witnessed many riders the continent over make the same mistakes with luck and survive to tell or laugh about it. So sometimes its hard to say or tell the meaning. Is there a plan for each of us and our time comes when our purpose is fulfilled? Is it just random luck or lack of it? I surely do not know but I’ve been one of the lucky ones still here enjoying riding.

    So what can I tell you without writing a book here? You will need multiple sets of gear for varied conditions. A comfortable rider is able to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. Conditions are always changing and if you’re smart so will your gear. You need to be aware of everything around you. Not possible you say? I agree. So, there is the challenge. To be aware of as much of it as possible. Use your mirrors and use them well. Practice emergency braking and turning maneuvers until they are automatic. Then ride faster than the traffic especially on thruways and multiple lane roads. It allows you to be in control but you still need to maintain rearward awareness. Watch peoples heads, peoples hands, peoples behaviors. Are they distracted? Driving erraticly? Driving too slow/fast/road ragers etc… Be ever aware of the blind spots of thems around you. Stay out of those spots at all times. At intersections have an out and pay attention to them coming up behind you. It’s your ass! Stay back out of the intersection at lights. Don’t make yourself a target and by all means do not ever impeded the flow or you will be a target. They will hit you so you flow with the traffic at the very least or you go faster. I say go faster! MUCH FASTER. To a degree within reason. 15mph differential is not unreasonable at my skill level and experience it works well for me. Tailor it to suit YOU.

    You should see everything and yet you will see nothing! Huh? That’s right. You will be scanning rapidly and constantly for hazards even when just going down a country road. If you think back at the end of the road you will remember very little or only a few things of what you saw but you looked at everything searching for hazards and threats!!! Your eyes are your friends so do have 20/20 vision. Make it happen. All your gear should be armored and crash worthy. Don’t forget the motorcycle. Tire pressures are checked, cycle/s is/are maintained. Brakes are good. Etc…. You need to cover your ass here. It’s your life on the line? Don’t want wear full face? LOL OK. But I have been down the road various times to include a high side at 100ish mph that literally trashed my helmet, my faceshield and my top notch gear too and without that helmet I’d be writing this faceless. You do the math. Wear it. Wear it. Wear it always and wear it some more!

    Now… you are good. But… All that being said, you may also be dead already so here is a little piece of advice that I learned the hard way. Hard way as in almost killed by an F150 driver who slammed me at 60mph and my Aerostich [that’s right thank you Aerostich – seriously] literally saved me. You need to have a good horn on your bike and you need to cover that horn same as you cover your brakes at all times. The finger is already on the horn when a situation presents. That horn may actually save you when all the skills and experienced prophecy in the world would otherwise not. If the horn stops that driver it may avert a serious incident which you may or may not have been able to avoid. Use it obnoxiously if you like if ever you feel uncertain in traffic. Make people aware that you are there. If you have practiced like you should have practiced your emergency maneuvers, your thumb being on the horn will make no difference in your ability to maneuver “too” should they fail to hear your horn. This DOES happen. Does happen a LOT.

    Also have a bright headlight and drive with it on bright in the daytime. It helps with visibility and I believe in being seen! I could go on and on, and I have already, about all the things and tricks I have learned and incorporate into my riding and I do many by force of habit without thinking about them at all such as always looking both ways in an intersection before going through – you wouldn’t believe how many people just go straight ahead from a red light without scanning side to side first!!! – but I can sum it up….

    Prepare yourself. Pay attention. Be assertive. Expect them not to see you. Learn to read the traffic. Pay close attention to your rear… almost as close as you do your front. Ride capable bikes and wear very good gear. Leathers if possible and try the perforated. Comfy in the head and a windbreaker over the top makes perforated warm in the cool. Always keep your full face helmet shield clean. Your seeing is the most important thing+++ Remember, what you don’t see will kill you and you may not see what you can’t or don’t expect to see. And I wish you all a little luck too. fwiw From one experienced rider to others. Be careful out there.

  • On 16 Sept 2012 I went around a long left bend, a car came around the bend from the opposite side cutting the white line. No time to try swerving left for me. Result, the front of the car touched my right handlebar brake lever, causing the front wheel to lock up and the bike to swerve to the right. This caused the bike to throw me off to the left and the bike crashed front wheel first into the cars back wheel. Right Fork broken off at the hub, engine casing cracked at the crank, gearbox casing cracked, Crank bent. As I was thrown off before the crash, no injuries. Miracle from heaven. Protection from God. Bike write-off!

  • I’ve had individuals accuse me of not caring if I live or die, but this is quite the opposite! Protective gear is a must for me (except if you ride a Harley, these guys are completely exempt where only a cool pair of sunglasses is all the protection they need) 🙂 I ride a sport bike and on/off road adventure bike.

    Anyway I say that the motorcyclist has everything to do with how each ride turns out! I know some friends that have been riding for 30 years with no issues, but they are smart, well they choose to be smart and you can too! Yes we still have fun but only select the best times to utilize a little horsepower. I don’t ride a 220 horsepower 115 ft. lbs. of torque Hayabusa for nuthin’ but I do ride it like a little scooter most of the time. (except when I need to be more assertive). There’s even times that I don’t make a certain turn that I want to just because it doesn’t feel right, I’ll keep riding and turn around later once this idiot gets off of my tail. You Gotta Know!

    Riding on the street ain’t for everybody, only those who are capable of paying attention. I know those who just don’t have what it takes for that! They are only thinking about what they want to think about instead of their surroundings, hey stop riding it ain’t for you!!!!

    If I have a stressful day I don’t ride, because I wouldn’t be ready to focus!
    Dirty Harry said it best- a Man’s got to know his limitations!

  • I had never ridden a motorbike until I was 60.
    I know there are risks, but I minimise the ones I recognise and back off from those I don’t recognise. My motto is, “If in doubt’ don’t”
    But I must admit I love the thrill of riding, especially if it involves winding roads, good corners and dry roads. I won’t ride without all the protective gear I can afford, if I’m tired or if I’ve had a few drinks.

  • I love the adrenalin in riding, however the most important thing is not to loose respect of my bike. Here in South Africa has become a life style. Respect when getting on your bike is the key word.

  • I ride because it’s exciting. The tougher the weather the better. It’s an adventure. And everytime I ride it reminds me to not get caught up in all the worries of this world. For today, truly, may be my last and I want to be able to say ” I truly enjoyed the ride”!

  • I my self wear all the best gear, & a full face helmet. A MD I know says no, he said the only reason he wears a helmet is because our state law, he wears a so called lid. He said lf I down on my head, I want to die, I don’t want to end up in a rest home, would you call this a death wish??

  • I have freedom wish not a death wish. I ride with full gear and a full face helmet. I seldom push and for the most part I can pass the troopers without worries of tickets, but truth there has been a could back roads that I push it just a bit.

    Now I seen the death wish. Living on a country road with blind hills, curves and Amish and Amish horse crap (really slippers when wet I might add) and deer who seem to get a rush playing chicken with anything on the road. With this in mind I watch some bikers fly down the road, day and night, at speeds where nothing can be made of what is being ridden. That’s a wish! One day I will be helping to pick what’s left of one out of the trees.

    Death wish? No, most just love the feeling of the ride and getting to anywhere that is not where they are at the time when they start the engine.

  • Death wish? No, not really.

    If you had to ride today and knew that you were going to have an accident, would you ride differently than you normally do? Would you wear more or different gear? If the answer is yes, you need to change your riding style. There is a reason for the term,”All the gear, all the time.”

    A motorcycle is only a tool just like a shovel, hammer, or even a handgun. They can all kill if used improperly.

  • Hi, everybody: I do not have a death wish, but who does? I only know that I don’t. Truth be told, nobody knows when the call is going to come for certain. The human race is full of risk takers and bike riders are no exception. The difference is whether you take conscientious risks or crazy risks. Most people would think that stunt drivers are crazy people, but to my knowledge they are a very cautious breed. As an Accident Reconstructionist in Puerto Rico I can tell you the reason of most mayor fatalities in motorcycles collisions is driver error. The majority of the victims are young inexperience riders that never took a safety course on motorcycle riding. The main reason people have collisions or accidents are too much trust in their abilities and actions.
    I myself had an accident in my house that almost cost me my life. I spent 11 days at the hospital and still suffering the consequences of a bad decision. This is a lesson to everybody to take care of their environment and think before taking action. I’m not saying you cannot take risks, but think it over carefully before proceeding and tie the ladder securely before climbing in it. So before you take that long liberating ride with your friends or alone, make sure to check your motorcycle thoroughly and take all your safety gear with you. Living it home won’t do you any good when you most need it. Remember, Safety first. The joy will last a long time.
    Another thing is that most car drivers have never ridden in a motorcycle and don’t know the dangers that are involved. Besides they feel safe covered by the four walls, top and bottom of their car and don’t need to take the precautions you need to take. Here in Puerto Rico they call Motorcycle riders, “Organ Donors”. So long and good safe riding.

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