Managing Risk

Riding safely means managing risk

Riding safely means managing risk, but what is risk? Risk has two parts. The most obvious is the degree of damage, but risk also depends on the chance the damage will happen.

For example, planes are risky because plane crashes are so horrible. Yet your chances of being in a plane crash are far less than your chances of being a car crash. So this makes planes less risky, and indeed people are much more likely to die on the road than in the air. Riding a bicycle is risky for a different reason. People riding bicycles, especially young people, quite often fall off, though usually they are not hurt badly. Here the risk comes from the likelihood of hurt, not the degree of hurt.

If risk depends on both the degree of damage, and the chance of damage, there are two ways to reduce it:

  1. Reduce the degree of damage, e.g. with protective gear.
  2. Reduce the chance of damage, e.g. by safe riding skills.

This book advocates both ways.

Risk sense

A good risk sense is critical for riders

Naive people just see what is, but with experience, one “sees” what might happen. This "sense of risk” is your ability to know the likelihood of accident. This sense is not like vision or hearing, as it comes from the mind, not your eyes and ears, but a good risk sense is critical for riders. Experienced riders re-assess the current risk every moment they are riding along. It is like a value their mind calculates, that goes up and down as they ride. It is like a snake sensing the heat of its prey with its tongue, or like a Geiger counter that clicks when radio-activity is near. Your risk sense picks up when there is danger. Without it, you are like a sheep among wolves.

When you start riding, it is important to listen to your risk sense, as this is the key to learning to ride safely. If you ride without a helmet, your risk sense should tell you your risk is up, as your possible damage is up. If it starts raining, your risk sense should tell you your risk is up, because the chance of an accident just increased. Now what you do next is another thing, and a lot of this book covers that. However to respond to risk, you have to first "sense" it. From moment to moment, your risk sense guides you, but you have to listen to it.

Handling risk

People tend to flip-flop on risk. One approach is to shut your eyes and charge blindly ahead like a bull. The other is to open your eyes, see the danger, and be paralyzed like a deer in headlights, or run away like a frightened rabbit. Both approaches, fight and flight, have their problems.

Tempt fate

Taking risks proves you are not afraid. It also shows that you are stupid

The brave deal with risk by confronting it. They do wheelies, and other risky things, to “prove” danger has no power over them. They are not scared. It is a macho thing to take risks to prove you are not afraid. It also shows that you are stupid. It is stupid to act as if you are above life. The Greeks called this stupidity “hubris” (or pride), and said ‘Pride comes before a fall”. They argued that because we are not "gods", to act like we are is to invite their revenge. It is to "tempt fate". My view is that there is a law of life that “accidents happen”, and this applies especially to motorcycle riders. To tempt fate is to arrogantly think one is above this law of unexpected events. There is enough risk in the world already without asking for more.

Ignore the risk

Ignoring a risk makes you feel better, but doesn’t alter the risk

The opposite of tempting fate, of choosing to be risky, is to ignore risk entirely. While some unwisely tempt fate, others deal with risk by shutting it out, like an ostrich with its head in the sand. They tend to only only ride slowly on sunny Sunday afernoons, so can ignore the risks of everyday riding. Pretending there is no risk might make you feel better, but it doesn’t alter the risk. In fact it increases it, because not knowing of a threat makes it harder to handle. You can better deal with what is out there if you know about it. Risk is like a menacing dog – the more you avoid it, the more it will chase you. The best way deal with risk is to face it, but not invite it in, the “eyes wide open” approach.

Eyes wide open

Risk seekers are as obsessed by risk as those that run from it

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to riding a motorcycle. Nor is bravado. On a motorcycle, risk is the enemy. Deal with it neither by seeking it nor by ignoring it. Deal with it by knowing it. If you know your enemy, then forewarned is forearmed, and you know how to deal with it. Risk seekers are just as obsessed by risk as those that avoid it. The opposite of both is to not to be hypnotized by risk. You see the risk, but neither move towards it nor away from it. This "eyes wide open" approach has three parts:

Face risk (as a reality of life).
Deal with it (as best you can).
Accept the outcome (whatever it is).

Facing risk means accepting it as part of life. Dealing with risk means managing your degrees of freedom, as this book explains. Accepting the outcome means understanding that we propose but the world disposes, so we never know what will happen. The value of acceptance is it lets you think about the unthinkable - like a crash. If you can’t accept that crashes happen, you cant think about them, and if you cant think about them, you cant avoid them.