Discuss: The better rider is the one who crashes least, not the fastest

Think being fast makes you a good rider? It's irrelevant, argues Simon Hargreaves

E. HAMILTONHam’ Lee was a pilot in the nascent US Post Office Air Mail Service in 1918. In the face of a staggering casualty rate – 31 of the service’s 40 original pilots died in the first two years of flights – Lee certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking bravery. No stranger to flying in bad weather, he was, however, a conservative pilot and a good judge of risk. He went on to become the first person to fly more than a million miles and when he retired in 1949 he’d logged 27,812 hours and flown 4.4 million miles. On his retirement Lee gave some now famous advice to new pilots: ‘Don’t be a show-off. Never be too proud to turn back. There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots.’

On his 100th birthday in 1992 Lee flew again, piloting a Douglas DC-3. He died of old age in 1995.

No old, bold pilots. No show-offs. No place for pride. As true on a bike as in the air.

Generally speaking, no rider can stand in judgement of another unless he’s got a longer crash-free record. Anyone else pontificating on other people’s riding has no evidence for their assertions.

Point being, the only worthwhile measure of skill with regard to motorcycles is the duration of incident-free riding.  Not pace, not number of points, track day ‘wins’ or IAM badges.

And if you want an opinion – he said, tempting fate because fate’s got nothing to do with it – the thing that offers us the best chance of extending that duration is prudence.

Lots of experience, a modicum of ability and a bucket of modesty, a calm, moderate, even temperament, a willingness to accept responsibility and a realistic – possibly slightly pessimistic – approach to risk assessment with an underlying belief in a positive outcome. These are the contributors to a long and successful life on two wheels.

Of course bad luck can always intervene at any point and make a mockery of the whole thing. That’s the bit that keeps it edgy, no?

But prudence gives us the edge over luck. It’s our greatest survival tactic. Always, always, always think. And think again. Check yourself. Check the scene. Check your head. Make it the most important decision you’ve ever made, then make it coolly, steadily, cautiously. Call it right.

Then, and only then, feel free to rant the absolute cock off it.