(by Robert Higdon from On the Level, April 2003, magazine of BMW Riders Association).
In the picture Bob is resetting his own pace during a gruelling 2003 ride along the Egnatia road from Turkey to Greece, Albaniaa, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia Bulgaria
(note from Paolo) I met Mr. Higdon many years ago at the introduction in Turkey of the Iron Butt Association. He came with the IBA President Mike Kneebone and we spent time riding across Anatolia. We had then more opportunity to grow what I consider one of the important friendships in my life: we rode around the Black Sea and to other historical destination, we met in USA and we kept in regular contact.
For more than 30 years Bob Higdon has been an instigator, raconteur, provocateur, and unapologetic contrarian. He is a record-holding long-distance rider, both unabashed promoter and red-eyed critic of BMW Motorrad, award-winning motorcycle-rights advocate, and voice of the Iron Butt Association. His writing has earned him a unique place among the legends of motorcycle journalism.
Opening a new section on the thinkingomm blog dedicated to “writers who ride”, I asked Bob to allow me to publish some of his pieces from the recently published two books (available in Amazon) “The Higdon Chronicles”
Graciously, Bob agreed and sent me a selection of them that includes “Your own Ride”. This essay resonated within my experience when I first read it and it resonate even more now: in previous posts I expressed my growing antipathy for riding in group. I had it when young and, with the passing years, has become a mental barrier that I break in rare occasions.
Strange enough, motorcyclists celebrate freedom, independence, the lonely adventurer with wind in his face, ending up riding in convoy and large groups.
It is now Bob at the rostrum:
” In the organizational meeting that established the BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington 29 years ago, one of the stated goals was “safe motorcycle riding.” Periodically we try to deal with the difficult task of coordinating individual and group styles. Some clubs may have achieved that happy objective; we haven’t come close. Like many organizations, ours doesn’t have anything resembling a group consciousness. You’d have better luck trying to herd cats.
Still, we try, sort of. Last year a few of us attended a group-riding seminar being run by a local Harley club. Our safety-committee chairman subsequently cranked out a series of columns about the elements of riding in a crowd. For all the interest generated by the topic, he might as well have been writing in Sanskrit.
While there are innumerable rules, tenets, regulations, doctrines, options, tips, codes, by-laws, disciplines, opinions, suggestions, and multi-layered exceptions to all of the foregoing, the ultimate fall
back position in group-riding theory is that every rider is responsible for his own ride. When you chant those magic words, all bets are off. It is too often invoked for one and only one purpose: to excuse the conduct, no matter how negligent or illegal, of the group as a whole and the ride leader in particular. The result is that when the pack heads out, no one but the individual will be to blame for what happens next. –
I admire that kind of reductio ad absurdumreasoning, don’t you? It employs an unassailable principle of law that has been with us since the 14th century, sounding mortally profound while utterly ignoring what happens when a ride morphs from one rider into many. Individual egos immediately take over, and what little is left of the original group dynamic can just go piss up a rope.
Sure, the basic design is good. Every rider is equipped, or at least as equipped as a motorcyclist ever can be. The route is known. Turn-by-turn instruction sheets are issued. There are designated regrouping points. This is a ride in which the principle of individual responsibility has some actual meaning. If you don’t like the pressure or if you want more of it, drop out and go your own way. We’ll see you later.
But most group rides aren’t like that at all. They are hastily arranged affairs where the law of the jungle applies in full fury. Someone will step forward to lead. It’s always a guy whose self-image is that of Alpha Male. In our club it’s Racer X, though that is not his real name. He, or a cousin of his, belongs to your club, too. He says he knows the way from where you are to where you want to be. No one else has a clue. Do you have any doubt how this is going to end? Given the wholesale failure of structure at the outset, no one should be surprised at the resultant chaos. Someone is going to get popped, but good.
The normal peer pressure that bubbles when the group sits on the flight deck becomes a living creature. Adrenal glands begin to glow. It can’t be helped. You have no more control over the ensuing hormonal rush than you do over the phases of the moon. If you can’t stay glued to the rider ahead of you, you’re weak, and soon everybody will know it.
It gets worse. If you lag too far behind, you’re going to be lost as well. Anyone who can ride as contemptuously as that guy in the front isn’t likely to spend much time at the next intersection worrying about whether you’re still in tow. If you do eventually find your way to the finish, the crowd will have a good chuckle as you slink in. The big ego that was your passenger 15 minutes ago is now looking for a place to hide.
And if you’re the poor guy who simply hasto get to the finish for some reason — to see Jimmy’s soccer game, to mow a lawn that hasn’t been cut in nine weeks, or to be on time for a group therapy session — you will do whatever it takes to maintain the pace. With that decision, your security flag changes from green to red. You will soon discover that it’s the tension, not the speed, that will shortly be putting you in the hospital. The speed merely adds to the time it takes before you’re discharged.
Speaking for mineownself, I avoid riding with people I don’t know, especially guys like Racer X, unless I have no real choice. I don’t want them to show me their best stuff and I want even less the incessant pressure of trying to keep up. There are surprises enough in the ordinary trip from A to B to last me a lifetime. Why would I want to add another level of uncertainty to an already insanely dangerous sport?
There’s an additional problem. Racer X and I almost certainly don’t agree on what our responsibilities are. I, for example, may naively believe that since he has volunteered to lead us to our destination, then he has assumed a duty to do so reasonably and safely. He, contrarily, may think his duty is to do it as fast as he can. He may also think my duty is to keep up, while I view my role as being somewhat less aggressive. I’m hoping that he’s thinking about all of the ducks lined up behind him, but my guess is that he’s just thinking about how fast he can punch into that next corner. In such cases, when I can’t be sure that I’m on the same page
everyone else, I stop reading altogether. I suggest you do the same. with
But you didn’t listen to me, did you? Now you’ll be sucking dinner through a straw in the rehab unit for the next five months. Will you persist in believing that you were responsible for your own ride? You were, in some legal and metaphysical sense, I suppose. Taking a cosmic view, however, the fates had arranged to put you in the worst of all possible positions. You will be paying for it for the rest of your life. And on every one of those long, painful days, a fellow motorcyclist will no doubt be pleased to remind you that it was all your own fault.
There’s only one person who can change this sordid mess, and his name is You. Rider X and his ilk aren’t about to conform their behavior to the minimum standards of biker, much less social, propriety. They can’t. You might as well try to teach an orangutan to sing the
ilgrim’s p horus from Tannhäuser. Pretend you’re Nancy Reagan: Just say no. It may hurt a little for a while, but it’s better than hurting a lot forever.” c