For old riders is a recurring experience.

Friends, friends of friends, club members and roads companions die in senseless traffic circumstances. Dog or deer jumping out of nowhere, vehicles on the wrong side of the road, diesel-fluids-mud-sand on the surface… hazards are endless as endless is the impact they can have on bikers. Focused attention, longer vision, better planning and restrain could have prevented the crash or reduced the impact, a permanent paranoia when skin and bones are the first to touch. Dying or not dying  is often matter of chance but never talk about death: it brings bad luck.

Sometime, to please the two wheels users and to increase the joy of riding, the authorities spread gravel or sand on secondary roads.  To increase the excitement and keep the level of surprise high, nobody tells you when or why loose material will be spread. On the way back home, sunny cold day, good visibility … well known road and well known corner: taking the line that I knew as safe and fast. What you do not know will kill you and , in this case, I did not forecast an exceptionally large amount of sand-cum-gravel paving the centre of that corner: options left? to attempt a slide or to call back the leaning and open the corner. I went for the second solution, opened the corner ending on the left side of the road. No incoming traffic, no problems, swerve back to the correct lane and forget it.

Forget it? Maybe not so quickly. A vehicle on its own lane at that time and in that place would have brought serious body harm or death.

Little attention, abundance of luck, a near death experience to use as warning and source of meditation. Why not me? Why was I spared?

How many friends riders are ahead of me in the race to death? How many faces disappeared? Dying for the glory in Syria or for greed in Burkina Fasso or for love in Las Vegas or for biking in Provence… where is the difference?

The simple fact is that we do not die “for” or “because” and asking for the reason of death has no sense. Death has sense only for the ones who stay, for the ones that, so far, death ignored and left behind for future harvester.

We keep discussing the reasons and the circumstances of death keeping the memory of our defunct friends alive for a while. Then we keep going without taking lesson as I came around a corner on wrong side without taking lesson.

The motorcyclist symbology is full of death signs, skulls, reapers, crossbones and despite all this it is not good taste to talk about death: one can use such subject for a joke but not for a serious conversation.

If we were honest and simple we would recognise that nothing can take death away from our presence: in a corner of our memory death lives with us, sleeps with us, ride swith us. We often ignore such presence, we call “morbid” to transform the absence into a presence, we like to ignore. Forgetfulness is maybe the price we have to pay to be alive or at least to be unconsciously alive.

I often call the risk of death “dark side of motorcycling” but could have called it “the dark side of life”: dying is senseless but it is at the same time what makes sense of living.

By Paolo Volpara

"Si sta come d'autunno sugli alberi le foglie"

3 thoughts on “Dark side of motorcycling?”
  1. I wrote a review years ago about Melissa Pierson’s book, “The Perfect Vehicle.” I felt that the sub-text of her work was that the dark midnight — and I used that expression — of riding was that a motorcycle was a vehicle that could easily kill you, and if you know that and ride anyway, isn’t that pretty much the definition of a death wish?

    It isn’t that simple, of course: We know the risk, we accept the risk, and we hope that our number won’t be called during the next ride. We have no desire whatsoever to die; indeed, we do whatever we can to avoid harm’s way. If we survive a day, we feel validated, triumphant, and for a moment invincible. But it’s out there still, the chance that that perfect machine can erase you with the wave of a magic wand.

  2. Good to read your ideas about this. Hope many others will.

    If we are unable to place ourselves in situations which involve managing risk we become sick in some ways. For a bunch of general health reasons there theoretically is an optimal level of risk-exposure for each individual at each moment of their life.

    This is who and what we are.

    Excessive individual ‘outsourcing’ of risk is ultimately harmful to the ‘social contract’ upon which everything that is important to us depends.

    PS – Hi Bob!

  3. Melissa Pierson’s book, “The Perfect Vehicle” is, in my opinion one of the best books written on “motorcycling reasons”.
    If not a death wish we probably cultivate a familiarity with mortality and a sense of our own limits.

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