This article is a revision of a piece written for the OMM Bulletin in 2009. What prompted the re-editing is a small consideration I made during the last weekend ride in Turkey.
To facilitate the crossing of the Gocek pass between Gocek and Dalaman the authorities of the state built, years ago, a very convenient tunnel saving time and pain to the heavy traffic. For bikers, the hilly and tortuous road passing over is still a good alternative and a simple way to enjoy some corners. And there I was when on a tight right corner, I had a close encounter with a small Mazda overtaking blind and taking possession on my lane. Thankfully a was on the extreme right margin of my lane and I managed to have just a rear mirror taken off position. I then continued, made my descent and joined the four-lane highway toward Mugla: a straight line with ample room for manoeuvring and uninterrupted visibility. Police were there, at the end of the straight preceded by a small sign warning of “Radar Speed Control”. Easy to keep legal speed and avoid the “trap”: or better to avoid the “toll”.
Nobody can convince me that these speed controls on such easy and obvious spots contribute to the safety on the road: they are, in most cases, a toll to pay in a country were most of the highway are free of charge. In decades of riding on roads across Europe end other continents I NEVER met police or traffic wardens in mountain road or dangerous spots, checking for risky and illegal manoeuvres (as overtaking). Probably it is easier and more profitable to set up traps where speed is not an element of risk.
Unless one consider speed, under any circumstances, always dangerous.
Power and Speed are among the main reasons why European riders buy sport bikes: declaration of top HP and Speed are the normal opening of MC reviews. At the same time Speed gained rapidly the enemy-number-one position among non-riders and authorities.
Understanding and dealing with speed is at the base of the riding virtue we call “restraint”. And “restraint” is a negative verb and noun. Look at the dictionary and you will agree: “To hold back or keep in check; control: prevent. To deprive. To limit or restrict.[from Latin restringere, to bind back]” How would you like to score great in inhibiting or restricting freedom, emotions, thoughts?
Safety (the greatest value in a society that turns everyday more unjust and dangerous) is not a value nor an objective: if one looks for safety at all costs the only solution is to stay home protected by bio-chemical-concrete walls with “heavy friends” acting as body-house guards.
Safety, as fluctuating status, can only be established by knowing what we are doing at any time. This is safety of living, and not the safety of protected.
Joseph Campbell created time ago a driving-riding system for riders who need to go fast (policemen) in normal road conditions. The RoadCraft system developed over the year, under the care of UK Police, into a method to reduce the chance of accidents at speed by providing more time and/or space.
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life – said Mr Campbell- I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive”.
We are seeking an experience of being alive and some are studying, asking, listening, rehearsing and training just to remain alive while experiencing a close relationship with speed.
The best safe riders, that I know, and the riders that show intelligent control of time and space are fast riders. For them a riding system is useful to coordinate, knowledge, experience and skills in a module that can be constantly applied under ever-changing circumstances.
Bikers without a system need more time to react; they are a touch “slow” in understanding what happen, in deciding how to react and in applying the right skill for the situation; they try to reach the nirvana of safety by restraining themselves and other road users. Safety and Restraint, how many crimes have been committed in your names.
Why should we take the lower denominator (incompetent, ignorant and undisciplined biker) as a model? Let us take as a model of safety the models-heroes of motorcycling who are fast and competent. Here I reverse the process: we should talk of Safety and Restraint in the contest of Competence and Speed.
Rupert Paul wrote an involving and clear column on BIKE magazine: rarely he picked up a subject that did not raise my interest. Never met Mr Paul but I am told that “he has road-tested virtually every bike under the sun, but is also passionate about tortoises, dinosaurs and recycling”. Love it, after all, fast biking opens the mind and one has to fill it with more the raw metal and asphalt.
Time ago Rupert Paul in his column on BIKE magazine wrote an article “about the State being on collision course with the way we get our kicks” “… They hate us again… Looks at bikes – he writes – from the perspective of a box-ticking civil servant this surge of intolerance makes sense. Of 3000 killed a year on the road 700 (UK figures 2008) of them are motorcyclists. So latch onto speed, because figures are easy and remote technology happens to be able to measure them. Then ratchet it down until the problem goes away. Politicians too adore this kind of thinking. Turn a problem into a number, then argue about the number and hope it gets you re-elected. In many ways this is how the world is run nowadays. Being seen to do something is more important than truly understanding and connecting with it.
But riding a bike isn’t like this. Yes, it involves judicious speeding. And yes, if you get nicked, you should usually get fined and points. But it is not the mindless, suicidal rush into oblivion that road-safety lobby imagine. It’s a moment-to-moment exercise in judgment and responsibility. Because if anything goes wrong, we cop it.
We gladly accept that risk in exchange for not having to sit in a steel box like everybody else. And the resulting freedom is a source of meaning, satisfaction and happiness. Even writing this feels like defending the indefensible. How can we support speeding while even one road death still happens? But unless we do, we’re in a crusher”
Yes we should defend the in defendable; we should not only protect but feed as well our source of meaning, satisfaction and happiness.
We should write a full Encomium of Speed, make it our banner and fight for it: protecting “Judicious speed”.
Judicious speed says it all: it applies the limits when needed for the protection of the innocents and for self-protection.
One of the readers wrote me a note commenting on competent, judicious speed: “Paolo you claim that good riders are fast riders; think of Joey Dunlop and T.E. Lawrence… they were fast and good. And then?”
That “then” it’s all a program. Pharmaceutical, Cosmetic, Health, Fitness, Fashion, are some of the many industry thriving on that “then”.
Then what? Then we die and dying we must, but while living for a while we should take competence, knowledge and judicious attitude on two wheels. After all “if anything goes wrong, we cop it”