By Nicholas Worrell
Memorial Day Weekend is upon us, the moment I publicly longed for in my winter blog. It’s been a long winter, and it’s great to get the bike back on the road and feel the open air. This weekend always features some outstanding events where riders reconnect with some old buddies, meet new ones, enjoy the road together, and come back with some stories to tell.
But in 2012 we lost almost 5,000 riders nationwide, 13 people each day who won’t be able to make new memories and share old stories. I am not okay with that – and here’s why.
For several years my buddies and I, from various rider clubs, have packed our bikes, hitched our trailers, and taken that long journey from Washington, DC to Myrtle Beach Bike Week to enjoy a week of riding and fun. I can hear the patient if ominous deep idle of the Harleys, the buzzing roar of Suzukis, and every now and then the signature sound of a Ducati dry clutch. I can feel as much as hear the bikes, all sizes, colors and shapes, thundering through the streets. And I can see the smiles on every rider’s face, smiles that look like relief from Old Man Winter. I can feel the cool breeze hitting my face as I cruise the stretch of Atlantic Street with riders I’ve known for years.
And I want to see each and every one of them the next year. I don’t want our group missing any of those bikes’ sounds, or any of those faces I’ve gotten used to seeing.
In the Washington area, every year Rolling Thunder brings hundreds of thousands of bikes roaring through the streets in commemoration of servicemen and women who have sacrificed for our freedom. The dedicated bikers at Rolling Thunder ride in remembrance of those who gave everything to protect us.
With all that they sacrifice for us, it’s a shame when we don’t protect ourselves.
As a United States Marine Corps veteran (OORAH), I am not shy about standing up for one more noble cause: motorcycle safety. (Repeat after me: “This is my bike. There are many like it, but this one is mine…”) And I want everyone to realize that motorcycle safety isn’t just riders’ business – it’s everybody’s.
So here are some of the dangers and safety measures we should all take into consideration during this Memorial Week and the rest of the summer.
- Drivers: Share the Road and Pay Attention. For riders one of the biggest concerns is for drivers who are not focused on the task at hand. The distracted driver who simply can’t wait to place that call, send that text or update that Facebook posting, and the impaired driver who is too intoxicated to focus on the road, endanger everybody, but riders have less protection. If you ask most riders their number one concern, they’ll say “lack of respect by drivers” (or perhaps stronger words to that effect). So listen up drivers: share the road, don’t drive distracted, and don’t drive impaired.
- Riders: There’s a time and a place. Too many of us have done it, even though we shouldn’t have; we’ve taken those corners a little too fast, or performed a trick on a crowed highway. There is a time and place for those types of stunts, and it’s not where you’re taking risks with the lives of other riders or drivers.
- You’re not invincible. Gear up. Long-time riders will tell you that road-rash is no fun, and it can get way worse than that. I am amazed every time I see riders in shorts and a tee shirt, not realizing that at any moment they can take a fall from a simple pebble or piece of gravel in the street. Then there are riders who would never drive without a seat belt but ride without a helmet. A helmet is your best defense against head injuries when, not if, you fall off the bike. Helmets are estimated to be 37-percent effective in preventing fatal injuries to motorcycle operators and 41-percent for motorcycle passengers.
If you still have to gear up, get it done now, so the rest of the summer is a safe one.
- Ride for a Cause. Safety first. I’ve been waiting all winter to ride, but I’m not gunning the engine the first chance I get. I’m going to ride at safe speeds. I’ll be in a DOT-compliant helmet. And you won’t find me drinking and riding, because those two are a bad mix. If you live to ride, like me, you also have to ride to live.
Riders, respect the road and the power of your bike. And drivers, have a little consideration for the riders; put away the distractions and keep your eye out for that rider sharing the road with you.
Nicholas Worrell is a Safety Advocate in the NTSB Office of Communications.