DisCONENCT returns with an off-topic post!
Hey guys, did you miss me? No? Never mind. DisCONNECT went on holidays for a very long time (maybe ‘absent without leave’ is more accurate) due to a number of different, rather significant life changes. My work suddenly got very busy as I progress up the chain of paramedicine including lots of assessments, I moved to a new unit, and I got a new girlfriend. All of this meant DisCONNECT got pushed down the list and was almost abandoned. But now I’m back, and I’m going to try to commit to a new article every month.
One other thing I do is ride motorcycles. While I’m by no means excellent at this rather dangerous craft, being a relatively novice rider who also throws ambulances around motorways at breakneck speeds, I do want to comment a bit on what it’s like to get started in the world of motorcycle riding. For the record, I only own a little VTR250 2010 model – by no means a powerful bike, although a good little commuter bike which is all I’ve ever really wanted.
If you’re thinking about getting a motorcycle, here are a few reasons for and against getting one.
Reasons for getting a motorcycle
They’re fun to ride. Honestly this is the main reason for getting a motorcycle, because they’re not the most practical vehicle for most people (at least here in Australia). There’s nothing quite like feeling of freedom while you’re riding around. You feel very much attached to the machine you’re riding. Every part of the ride is a test of your skill – it’s an accomplishment, an actual achievement to be competent in riding a motorcycle.
They’re efficient for commuting. Motorcycles are generally cheaper in terms of fuel consumption, registration and insurance than a car, although it only works out that way if you primarily use your bike instead of your car. I can get a good fortnight of commuting to work (on a fairly short commute) on a single tank – which costs me about $12 AUD to fill up at the moment. My car, a 2007 Holden Astra, might last the same time on a tank but it’ll also cost me $50 to fill it. Also I can lane filter in stationary traffic, so I can cut through a lot of gridlock if I’m careful. And honestly, I can throw $10 in my tank (using 95 petrol too!) and be good for almost the fortnight if I’m conservative in use – that’s a good feeling.
They’re fairly easy to maintain. You need to be careful about checking and maintaining your motorcycle but they’re not difficult machines to understand. A lot of things you can do yourself, since there’s usually no massive chassis to get in your way. Some things are better left to your dealer but there’s still lots of things you can manage yourself, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling.
Parking is easy. Even if you’re relatively inept at slow-speed manoeuvres (and you really want to learn if you are) you can just walk your motorcycle into any small parking space. Bang, it’s parked. A lot of shopping centres have motorcycle parking right near the entrance, and there’s usually plenty of it. Failing that, two of you can fit into a standard bike parking space, or you can fit in places where cars just can’t fit.
You get more performance per dollar. A high performance bike will cost you a lot less than a high performance car, and even the smaller bikes will be cheaper and quicker than most general use cars. Even my little 250cc motorcycle is quick enough to get out in front of your average commuter car.
Reasons against getting a motorcycle
They’re inherently more dangerous. Even if you’re an awesome rider, there’s one thing you’ll never be able to control – other road users. You might do everything right but someone else’s poor decision can end things for you very quickly. Your only protection is your safety gear, and in a crash it might not save you, no matter how good it is. You take a much bigger risk by being on two wheels. Don’t be deluded into thinking otherwise.
You need a higher level of roadcraft skill. The way I ride my bike is the way I drive my ambulance under lights and sirens – very, very carefully. I’m hyper-vigilant. I’m always looking well up the road. I always look for gaps. I maintain a safe distance from everything around me at all times. I have to know where everybody else is and guess what they might do – that is I have to account for every possibility. I have to know where I can and can’t go if something goes wrong, and how quickly I can safely stop. On top of that, I need to keep an eye on the surface of the road, safely operate the bike controls, know the capabilities and limitations of the bike, and more importantly – know my own limitations. There’s a lot to driving safely, but it’s even more important when riding a bike. Any moron can drive a car. You can’t be that moron, there’s no safety net here.
You need to carefully maintain the bike. If your car’s service is overdue, usually the worst case scenario is that it dies on you and leaves you stranded. If something goes terribly wrong and you crash, you’ve probably got airbags or at least a seatbelt and the frame of the car to protect you. On a motorcycle, if something goes wrong on the road, you’ll probably lose control, get thrown to the road and get badly injured or possibly killed. There’s no protection here – keep that motorcycle in top condition. It doesn’t take much effort to do a regular inspection.
They can be uncomfortable and difficult to ride. Remember when you first learned to ride a bicycle, or a manual car? Well, a small motorcycle is basically like those two combined – not only are you working a throttle, clutch and gears, but you’re working to keep your balance during all of your actions on the road. It takes time to properly learn how to ride a motorcycle and a bit of an understanding of the physics of riding a motorcycle. Some people never learn it and just do it instinctively – which sometimes results in them getting killed because instinct doesn’t work when we’re riding machines, we’re doing something humans didn’t evolve to do. On top of that, you’re exposed to the elements, so it’s going to be cold, or hot, or wet, or windy, and if you’re riding a sports bike you’ll be leaning forward which will get tiring after a while.
You need to spend a lot on gear, and it has a shelf life. You need a very good quality helmet (i.e. not a cheap Aldi one, and preferably a full face one) and a good quality jacket at a minimum – some gloves are also fairly essential, and some riding pants or motorcycle jeans aren’t a bad idea either. Even a good helmet, jacket and set of gloves can cost around $1000 AUD. You also need to be prepared to bin that expensive gear if it becomes defective or old. If your helmet no longer fits properly, it has no protective value and should be replaced. Likewise if you’re ever in an accident, your gear needs to be replaced, even if it only seems lightly damaged.
With all that said…
If you want to ride a motorcycle, do it! Yes, riding a motorcycle takes a lot of effort to learn, and it’s dangerous, and you’ll need to put in the work to learn how to maintain it (and then actually do it). But if you want to do it, it’s worth it. You will probably have a minor incident, or maybe even come off your bike – but you’re not likely to be killed or badly injured provided you’re very careful. But you will enjoy riding around. You will smile when you fill up for bugger all at the petrol bowser, or when you filter though gridlocked traffic. You won’t miss parking rage at your major shopping centre. If you want to do it, do it – just be careful and remember that there’s significant risk with what you’re doing.