A long time ago when motorcycling was all about day-glo leathers, iridium visors and having your backside higher than your head I went on a three-day health and safety course from my job in a chemical plant. Most people there saw it as some kind of punishment, but I had a great time. The lectures were a mixture of understanding risk, taking the right actions to minimise them and being accountable, where possible for your own safety.
I still remember riding home; splitting traffic for the best part of 70 congested motorway miles, visualising the ‘bike lane’ a few hundred yards ahead and being very aware that riding a motorcycle is in fact a continuous exercise in high-speed risk assessment. I’ve spent a huge part of my adult life looking a few seconds into the future, working out what that car/truck/pedestrian/sheep is likely to do next. At the same time I’m calculating the appropriate speed, position on the road, necessity to indicate, how much grip is beneath me and whether any of that risk might be worth it to shave, ooh, a third of a second from my journey time.
I love risk assessing…when I get it right. It’s when I miss something vital that it all goes a bit scrapy and achey. Britain’s recent ‘Freedom Day’ which put Covid restrictions and the UK’s pandemic response in the hands of our ‘personal responsibility’ brought predictions of ‘Plague Island’ and Mad Max imagery of the UK citizens fighting over the last pack of loo roll Tank range and luggage capacity aside, I can definitely see how motorcyclists could be the winners if the Mad Max thing comes true and I think I still have some leather trousers somewhere. All those hysterical red-faced people who spent years saying things like ‘It’s health and safety gone mad’ finally have their chance to show us how it should be done and might be surprised how hard it is. I’ll be fascinated to watch it unfold, but forgive me if I view it from afar at first.
Because, from what I also remember from my time working in chemical plants was that health and safety guidelines formulated by experts, not people who write ‘opinions are my own’ or ‘University of Life’ in their social media profiles can be a very good thing.
In fact, far from arguing and insulting the experts and scientists, we should be glad that they spent the years with their heads in books and inhaling noxious chemicals so that we don’t have to.
Personal responsibility is fine for the things you are interested in and know about. I take personal responsibility for putting my trousers on the right way around. I’m pretty careful when I cross the road, pour the boiling contents of a kettle into a mug and answer my wife’s question ‘does this make me look fat?’. And the thing I take absolutely most personal responsibility for is getting to where I’m going on a motorcycle as quickly as I’d like while annoying the fewest people and with the least possible incidents.
It’s taken a long while to be this comfortable with it and I’m sure I still have plenty to learn. For a lot of the 38 years I’ve been riding I wasn’t so much learning as surviving and being lucky. But, in the last few years since I stopped worrying about riding quickly and concentrated on getting places effectively I think a lot more about what’s happening in the distance, am I really in control of the bike and how come I know what that van driver is about to do even before he does (apparently)?
I take full responsibility for everything I do on a bike, but right now, I don’t want to make the decisions on epidemiology, masks or how many people should be allowed in Cadwell Park. You make the decisions please scientists and leave me to split traffic and calculate mpg at 25 metres per second.
Truth is, the next few months will be better than the doomies predict but less straightforward than our ministers portray. I’m staying positive. I know there are idiots out there, I know where they hang out mostly, and on a motorcycle, I can avoid them until we know what the real situation is. In the next 100 days I can pretty much control 90 per cent of what I do and for the other ten days, where I might have to be in a crowded room or outdoor event like BSB, I’ll take all the appropriate precautions, act like there’s a pandemic and hopefully will get lucky too.
Being on a bike has been the thing that’s made a difference in the last 18 months. Some sense of normality in a very weird time. Thankfully, it seems the bike trade has survived mostly intact and in many cases business is booming as former public transport users take some personal responsibility for their commuting safety. I’ve been wondering about whether we, as experienced two-wheeled risk assessors should find a way of helping these new riders along. Sort-of like a ‘buddy’ system or a mentor. Does anyone out there know anyone already doing this? I’d love to hear from you if you are.
Give me a shout on firstname.lastname@example.org.