Pride yourself on your technical ability on a bike? It's irrelevant, argues MAG's President
"IMPROVING motorcyclists' skills merely means they kill themselves in a more skilled way." So said Robert Gifford, Chairman of road safety group PACTS a few years ago. The comment caused outrage and Robert modified his view, or at least his public expression of it.
But extreme comments often contain a degree of truth. I should say at the outset that I think advanced training is probably a good idea and certainly MAG has always promoted the option of education instead of legislation.
However, I don’t know if advanced training produces lower accident rates, and the last time I asked the insurance industry, they didn’t know either. It’s true that some companies offer discounts to riders with advanced certificates but they admit the deal is a marketing exercise based on nothing more than intelligent speculation.
I consider myself to be a sub-standard rider, at least in my ability to take bends at speeds greater than a fast cyclist. I’ve only been riding for about 40 years so I may yet improve.
But I do have a vivid imagination. Sometimes that manifests itself in the belief that I cut a figure like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. Other times it provides me with images of what I might look like after a prang with an artic (I am convinced that the best road racers have no imagination at all).
For five years I rode in London as a motorcycle courier, an experience that doubtless honed my skills of anticipation and pessimism, though whether these are technically riding skills is questionable. I always successfully anticipated when pedestrians were going to step straight in front of me. In all of those years I never hit one nor used my horn.
By contrast, put me on a bendy A-road, especially in the rain, and I will crawl along like a novice. I am certain that if I lean more than a few degrees in the wet I will slide off. In the dark, columns of traffic grow behind me. By many people’s standards I am a hopeless rider, but this does not equal my being unsafe. Meanwhile there are some excellent riders (and drivers) who no longer answer their mobiles for the worst reason.
In his book ‘Risk and Freedom’ Professor John Adams endeavours to debunk the notion that any safety initiatives are of the slightest use. He contends that humans respond to safety enhancements by taking more risk commensurately, so the former risk level is restored. Again, there is a molecule of truth.
My sister is one of the least skillful drivers I know. If a car comes the other way on any road narrower than an airport runway, she brakes. But she has never had an accident. If I had to get from London to Birmingham on A roads in less than two hours, chauffeured by either my sister or Jenson Button, I’d opt for Jenson. If I just had to get there some time, I’d travel with my sister.
I would choose my sister because it’s possible to be exceptionally safe despite a low skill level, as long as your imagination is such that you don’t exceed it.
As Dirty Harry put it, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
IAN Mutch is President of the Motorcycle Action Group and author of five books on motorcycle travel and culture. A former ship's navigating officer, he describes himself as "jolly clever".
That's Mutch's view. What’s yours?
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