Aren't motorcycles dangerous? I don't know how many times
I have been asked this. My best short answer is, "Only during
the brief periods of time when you are hitting something. So
the game is not to hit anything." Not bad. But I think
the issue of danger as it relates to us and to motorcycles deserves
more attention, if you'll bear with me.
So, how about motorcycles? Motor vehicle crashes are
the number one cause of death in the United States, and motorcycle
crashes have a higher lethality than car crashes.
Let's get one thing straight right now. We are pretty
vulnerable to injury by impact. People have broken their
necks on bicycles without doing stunts. My father broke his
right arm and leg on his bike, just riding down a bike path, and he
doesn't even understand what happened. He just fell
badly. So we are proposing to increase the collision force
envelope by thousands of times, by going highway speeds on
motorcycles. Yes, it's dangerous. OK. Let's move
I don't think that we have a broad enough vision of what is
dangerous. There is more danger than just the danger of
physical injury. People who think motorcycles are
"dangerous," meaning unacceptably so, often do not understand
this. Broadly, the danger I am talking about is the danger of
living an unengaging, fear-constricted, emotionally impoverished
life. We must face up to a confusing fact about the human
condition; we are not happy when we get everything we want, and we
become weaker when we do not have to try. Ultimately, this
will amount to physical danger anyway, as well as spiritual
A great deal has been written about this. It's a notorious
phenomenon. We are all driven to accumulate wealth, power,
reputation and influence, if only for our own safety. Yet
those among us who are most successful in these ways, are not
typically the happiest, nor are they typically in the best mood,
nor are they the sweetest people to be around. Yet, from the
motorcycle travelers I have read, it appears that if you are a
stranger in a strange land, the poorer everybody is, the more
friendly they are, and the more likely they are to help you if you
need it. What does this mean?
It means that our survival instincts, if successfully and
completely followed, do not lead to the best life. The modern
world of plenty and safety and hurry has us off kilter. We
were not meant to have it this easy. Motorcycles are one way
to straighten this situation out.
You can see the signs of the mismatch between our actual,
prosperous situation and the recipe for human happiness
everywhere. On the one hand, there are the risk-takers.
Mountain climbers, explorers, stunt riders, and soldiers.
What are they doing? They may mention, "adrenaline."
They may say they love the focus it gives to their attention, to be
navigating a truly challenging and dangerous situation, though most
soldiers will tell you that killing and suffering injury at the
hands of others gets pretty old. It seems that many of us do
not feel proper unless we experience an important level of
risk. We were built to strive, and to navigate around mortal
danger. That is our animal heritage, and our internal systems
and psychology remain optimized to that situation.
On the other hand, the majority remains convinced that they want
maximum safety. But I can see, even though they can't, that
they suffer side effects. One is fear of the unknown.
As we live, we hear stories. We are hard-wired to listen more
carefully to stories of danger. They come to fill our
awareness, though the danger of the four homicides out of a million
people last year, say, means we are individually very
unlikely to be murdered. We then tend to feel that anything
outside our own lifestyle is dangerous, because we have heard the
stories. "Beyond here there be monsters," it said 400 years
ago on maps of the world, over the uncharted waters.
What we say may sound more like, "everyone inside the 494/694
beltway should be nuked," or, "Going out on the road alone is
nothing for a woman to do."
But I can see in many of those people a sickness, expressed as a
dark view of the world, and a very restricted vision of their
life. It ends poorly, too. We need to stretch, to
strive, to improve. This is taken care of for us when we are
young, by our growing bodies, instincts and lack of responsibility
as children. As adults, we must make time for it, alongside
the roles that have accumulated in our lives. If we don't, we
start to die. Unused muscles atrophy. Unused bones
decalcify. Unused neurons die. Unused skills
fade. Unused friendships grow thin. Arteries with
slow-running blood collect debris. Let me ask you
something: How safe is it to reach old age having spent 50
years not stretching or striving or dreaming with hope that one
might achieve it, and having no practice beating back the unknown,
to call upon in the endgame, when our bodies and minds start to
pack up? So often people walk into the endgame with no
fitness, no skills, no strategy. We MUST strive and
grow. It is what we were meant to do. We are only in
proper condition when we have sweat on our brow, and are facing the
fear in our hearts.
So now let's talk about motorcycles. Motorcycles are
pretty special. To ride a motorcycle is to face
mortality. You really could die, just like that. But
that is the optimal condition of our beings. Acceptance of
the possibility of death now, and development of the ability to
face it and manage it without denying it or wimping out and yelling
for mommy to make it go away, is as important to the soul as good
nutrition is to the body. It is also the foundation for all
courage, which is clearly in short supply, and which I am coming to
believe is the root cause of all corruption and most
Motorcycling is also good for the soul on the bright side,
relating to hope, skill, joy, and unity with all things.
Motorcycles are connected to us in dozens of ways. Everything
you do causes a response in the motorcycle, and manifests in the
real world. Just a few examples:
If your faith that you can go around the corner falters, you go
If you ride pulling on the bars, bumps can cause the bike to
If you are not prepared to put all your weight on the pegs,
temporary loss of traction is far more dangerous.
If you have an emotion or mood that is too strong, your
awareness of your situation fades, and you let danger in closer
before seeing it.
If you ride with a vertical back, it hurts a lot more to go over
a monster bump, and you are more likely to be thrown off or lose
control than if you are leaned forward.
If you hold on tight and micromanage the motorcycle, your
ability to corner and handle road irregularities goes way down, and
you tire very quickly.
Motorcycles are what, in electronics, they call a
"transducer." In electronics, they mean a device that
converts some property of the world, like pressure, temperature,
light, etc. into a voltage, to inform the operation of a
What I mean is that what the motorcycle does, taken in detail,
reflects everything about your being, mental, physical and
spiritual, and lays it bare in an amplified form. It
telegraphs your efforts and ambitions. It broadcasts your
faults, so you and others can see them. It speaks of your
struggles and your pain.
When you feel aggressive, the motorcycle is aggressive.
When you are exuberant, the motorcycle shows it. When your
confidence wavers, your motorcycle wavers. When you are
patient and precise and skilled and aware, the motorcycle moves
with grace. When you are distracted, unskilled, and
impatient, the motorcycle moves with dis-grace. When your
skills and attention are shallow, your zone of grace is
shallow. When your skills and attention are deep, your zone
of grace is deep. The motorcycle is the ultimate in
biofeedback. The motorcycle is a window into the soul.
Motorcyclists are blessed with the opportunity to peer within their
own soul, by paying attention to their riding.
Motorcycling is a practice, much like Yoga. Your whole
life you just do the basics, over and over. If you do it with
love and attention to yourself and the practice, and always strive
for more grace, more harmony with your situation, your level of
understanding of and connection with your world increases.
If you have gone down this path a ways, in Yoga, a
martial art, or a sport, you know what I'm talking about. To
the rest of you, let me tell you, it's the way to go. There
is joy and peace of mind in the sense of flow that only comes as
you strive with full attention and patience.
Motorcycles are a way we can strive forever, grow forever, and
be handsomely rewarded for our success. Many of us already
know the thrill of handling a patch of sand on a turn in a way that
really worked, or just going through a turn with the tires walking
just a little, and ending up exactly the way we had in mind.
In this striving and this accomplishment, as well as in the ability
to escape the familiar and see things and people, there is
joy. As with all true joy, it is earned. It is earned
by the practice. It is earned by the mental discipline of
improvement. It is earned by making peace with mortality and
facing it down each time we ride. It is earned by gaining
skill in making new friends, learning how to give and receive from
the people we meet on the way.
As we engage in the dangerous practice of motorcycling, we are
also getting our houses in order in another way. We are
clearing away the fear of the unknown that is piled up on every
unused surface like junk mail, restricting our freedom of movement
in life. We are out there in the wind, bashing into the bees
and the flying gravel, and getting through ok. We are out
there among the semis, dancing in their huge windblasts, dodging
through them unseen, and getting through ok. We are out there
among the strangers in the strange places, finding that almost
everybody out there is friendly, caring and helpful. As we
do, the unknown becomes known, and the monsters in our mind are
chased further afield. And the world brightens, isolation
grows less, and the siege laid in our souls by the subtle trap of
prosperity and modernity grows weaker.
Can you see there is danger caused as well by not doing
dangerous things like motorcycling? Yes, we might die; we all
do, you know. But until then, we are alive, paying
life the respect and sacrifice it deserves, and cultivating our
ability to live it well.