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bike and blackboardBiker Psychology

What makes bikers tick? We've been talking with a lot of very accomplished riders and trainers recently, and we asked them all the same question about biker psychology and it's relationship to safety.

Risk Takers

Lee Parks (of Total Control) thinks that bikers are risk takers, in the noble tradition of the species. We possess the gene that led us out of the trees and to the top of the food chain. He also points out that the successful risk takers in prehistory and later are the ones who intelligently managed their risk factors. The mammoth hunters who went wild-assed at their prey with spears got tusk-skewered, the ones who figured out how to drive the beasts over a cliff ate well, got laid and stayed in the gene pool. Our ancestors.

TriumphRule Breakers

There is a strong tradition of rule-breaking, outlaw mentality among bikers. But these dudes take pride in the fact that they are 'one percenters' and are probably fewer than that. Lots of bikers like to break some of the rules, speed a bit, pop a wheelie, but in the eyes of the true hard-core outlaws, riders who try to look like them are 'wannabees' and get no respect.

Victims

Steve Garets of TEAM OREGON believes that bikers have a victim mentality. They blame cage drivers for all crashes, and this causes a fatalistic attitude and failure to take control of our risk factors. I thought of the local rider who tail-ended a car, blamed the cage driver, and on almost the exact anniversary of the first crash, tail-ended another car, this time totaling his ride and doing some hospital time. He blamed both drivers for the crashes and his denial probably contributed to the second crash. Victim mentality and denial, in this case, allowed this biker to avoid responsibility for controlling his risks, and prevented him from learning from his mistakes. Experience was useless to him.

Hurt was brilliant and his study produced major benefits. He did help popularize the fact that three quarters of his accidents were the cage drivers fault. This may have helped create a victim culture of fatalistic whiners who refuse to seize control of their rides, and pathetically await their fate at the hands of the next lazy cage driver that comes their way.

We say: we are not victims. We control our rides and manage our risks. We spot problems before they arise and we are ready with the skills for whatever life throws at us.

Death Wish?

It was suggested that bikers have a death wish. It seems to us that this would be a self-correcting problem, but maybe bikers with death wishes account for some of the statistics. Suicide by bike? Look at the stats for bikers who crash on the way home from the dealer. We don't have to worry about that with live bikers. So we'll forget it.

Fear

Jerry Palladino, of 'Ride like a Pro' brought up fear (Lee Parks did too). Fear, or freezing up when confronted with danger, can be countered by training and practice, the knowledge that you have the skills to handle the situation.

Muscle memory drives the response to imminent danger, and that means training and regular practice of a few essential skills. There is no time to make this up when the problem is on top of you.

Biker 'Fashion' Victims

We also thought about riding buddies who are victims of biker 'fashion' - guys who don't wear helmets, or wear half-helmets even though they know full-face helmets give better protection, or who ride wearing t-shirts or inadequate gear. One buddy won't ride on the local base where he works, because he thinks he looks like a dork in the mandatory ANSI hi-viz vest and protective gear. Joey Redmon of 'Ride like a Pro', North Carolina has a motto, "Dress for the crash, not the ride" inspired by this phenomonen. All we have to say about gear is Brittany Morrow.

We think there's hope for these riders, and, in a rational world, bikers who don't like to wear protection ought to be even more motivated to pilot our risk hierarchy so as to avoid crashes.

90 percent of what's in Bikesafer.com is in your head, and if you are worried about peer pressure from your riding buddies, unless they've been studying us too, they'll never spot that you've been getting training, or that you are riding ultra-defensively, or that you are taking responsibility for your ride.

We also have some stealth options in our safety gear section.

Think about it: are your riding buddies are exerting peer pressure to ride unprotected? Could they be mistaken? Or maybe you can help them see the benefits of at least improving their defensive riding skills.

Either way, Bikesafer still has something for you, and, by choosing not to use adequate protection, you have doubled up on the ultra-defensive riding stakes.

Risk Takers with no Tradition of Risk Management

So where is the intersection of biker psychology and bike safety? It comes back to bikers are risk takers. It's a tiny remnant of a proud genetic heritage, in an over-regulated culture which values comfort and an illusion of safety. But our ancestors also had traditions and techniques of managing risk, and in our 120 years or so of motorcycle history, it seems we failed to develop a well accepted and rational culture of biker risk management. Instead we seem to have come up with a bunch of dumb myths, see motorcyclecruiser.com on bike myths.

There are a lot of enforcers and researchers out there that want us to be safe their way, and they don't mind pushing governors and lame restrictions on us. That won't work, most of them aren't bikers. We need to do for ourselves, so they won't come up with an excuse to add regulation and enforcement.

Risk Homeostasis

See our note on hubris. It's not just bikers, anybody who takes risk management measures tends to take additional risks in other areas, and don't always come out ahead in the exchange.

Cognitive Issues

Cognitive science suggests that our ability to multitask is limited by the working memory we have available. Overloading our working memory can have disastrous consequences for a rider. Management of this limited cognitive resource is vital while learning to ride. See our page on paying attention.

BikeSafer Philosophy

We can take control of our rides, take responsibility for our outcomes, ride rationally, develop the skills needed to counteract fear in dangerous situations and still have a blast on our bikes. In fact, it's more fun this way. Not saying we can't throw over the rules from time to time (that's part of being risk takers), but we'll do what we can to limit our exposure to risk. Which is what bikesafer.com is all about.

So why is bike safety the bastard stepchild of the industry? Maybe because there's no profit in it.