Here’s a hypothetical for you. You’re about to go for a ride, and you’re given two options. The first is for a ride punctuated by moments of danger; the second a ride that is completely uneventful. The outcome is the same, you’ll arrive safe and sound at home at the end of the ride. Which one would you choose? Your answer might say a lot about the reasons you ride.
Let’s try some specifics. With the first option you’re riding in traffic and a car pulls out in front of you. You brake and avoid it. A bit further on, a car in the lane next to you suddenly changes into your lane. You hit the throttle and accelerate clear. Later, you’re enjoying some twisties, pushing hard enough to just take you out of your comfort-zone. You go into a corner a bit too hot and momentarily lock the back wheel under brakes. The bike flicks sideways, but you ease off, the bike recovers and you make the turn.
A few corners later, you go into a tight blind turn. As you lay the bike over, suddenly the road surface turns slippery. The front goes light and actually slides a bit. Pressing harder on the outside peg, you lean off the bike and lift it a bit more vertically, the tyre grips and you power away.
With the second option, you ride through the suburbs and all the traffic behaves itself. No-one pulls out on you or cuts you off. Later, you’re out in the twisties enjoying the ride and the scenery. While not exactly sedate, you’re riding well below what you know the bike is capable of. The road is smooth and dry and your progress uneventful. Okay, which do you choose?
For me it’s the second option. No question. I don’t like danger! You see I’ve always had a strong sense of self-preservation. Always have, and always will. If ever I went bungee-jumping (which I would never do anyway!), I’d want to do it with a parachute; make the fall nice and smooth, and if that bungee cord didn’t work properly I’d land softly! And if ever I went parachuting, I’d want to do it with a bungee-rope attached. That way, if the ‘chute didn’t open I’d have a big strong rope to whisk me back up to the plane again! (Come to think of it, I reckon there’s probably a market for this sort of thing. I could start a whole new recreational trend – “Extreme sports for whimps”!).
What started me musing over these things was an article in “Riding On”, the Ulysses Club’s magazine, by Neville Gray, the organisations’s national safety coordinator. That and my daughter going sky-diving. Oh, and also constantly reading that one of the reasons we motorcycling people ride is that we enjoy the dangers. I’m not so sure I go along with that. But first my daughter.
I have two daughters. The eldest is like her parents; easily frightened, and feels slightly nervous when stepping onto a plane for a domestic flight. The youngest my wife and I are now sure is not our child; she must’ve been swapped at birth! She is much more out-going and enjoys the chance to experience adrenaline-pumping activities. She wasn’t nervous at all, just excited, at stepping out of a plane at 12,000ft! I was there to watch her land, and when she got to the ground, instead of kissing the ground and wobbling over with legs of jelly (as might be expected!), she came striding over with a grin from ear to ear saying, “That was great! I want to do it again!” No, definitely not my child!
After they leave the plane they free-fall for quite a while, reaching speeds of 200kph, before deploying the parachute and gliding into land. “If I’m going to do 200kph, I want to be on the ground!” I said to her; then added thoughtfully, “Where there’s something to hit!" Yes, I could see the irony in this. If you’re on a bike doing 200kph, you face much greater immediate danger than if you’re falling through the air with nothing around you. But if it all goes wrong, the ground is a lot further away than it is on a bike; and you’re going to hit it a lot harder! So I’ll take the bike option any day rather than stepping out of a plane into the sky!
Now, getting back to that theory on why we ride. In the same way that some people (like my daughter!) enjoy jumping out of an aeroplane and falling through the sky, some riders might enjoy getting out on the road and facing the dangers, pushing the limits and beating the odds. Not me though. I am happiest when I feel safe! Oh sure, I enjoy the performance of a bike. For example, if I come to a suitably traffic-free spot on a quiet road I’ll often open the throttle and give it a quick blast to 140kph or so. And the occasional blast to 160kph is good to get the oil circulating and blow the cobwebs away! For me and the bike! (That’s when I’m riding on my own. If I’m in a group then taking off like a startled rabbit and suddenly backing right off again does tend to confuse the following riders a bit!). But I only do that when I feel it is safe to do so. As I said, I want to feel safe; even when I’m enjoying myself!
After thinking long and hard about this (it’s amazing what you come with sitting on the toilet!), I started to think that there might just be something in it though; even if it’s subconscious. We all know that riding a motorcycle is inherently dangerous; so when we come home safe, having survived those dangers, there can be a sense of achievement, a sense of having faced the dangers and survived. We mightn’t go looking for danger (if you’re like me, you’ll be looking to avoid it), but we know danger is out there. And, deep down, surviving the danger can start to feel good. It’s pitting yourself against the elements of danger, and coming out a winner.
Some people, though, take the “pitting yourself against the elements of danger” a lot further, and more intentionally, than that. They’re the ones who get a thrill out of riding the dangers. For me, I (mostly anyway!), try to avoid danger. That’s not just riding as safely as I can, it’s also trying to avoid riding in situations or environments that are dangerous. I’m happiest when the riding conditions are the safest. Which brings me to Neville Gray’s article. In the article he listed some fascinating statistics.
The first was a graph showing what days are, statistically, the worst for bike accidents. Not surprisingly, the worst day was Sunday, claiming about 23% of all bike accidents. Next highest was Saturday, with about 19% of accidents. So over 40% of accidents happen on weekends. I bet you didn’t expect that! Yeah, pretty obvious really, that’s when most people are out there! Reminds me of the bloke who reckoned he had the solution to weekend bike crashes. “Tell ‘em all to stay home and go out on Monday!”
Just as an aside, for cars Saturday was the worst day, with Friday coming in second. (Maybe it’s people rushing home from work wanting to get an early start to the weekend?). Sunday was third on the list.
But back to bikes. Looking at the whole week, Monday claimed just under 10%, with the rate falling to about 8% on Tuesday. From there it was a steady and steep increase for every day of the week until reaching that peak on Sunday. So, according to the statistics, you’re safest going for a ride on Tuesday.
When it came to the time of day, the stats listed 5% of accidents happening at midnight, then fell to about 2% at 4am. So 4am is the safest time to be out on the roads; because that’s when the fewest accidents happen! Actually, I thought that figure was pretty high. Why 2 out of every 100 people who crash are riding around at four in the morning baffles me! Anyway, from there it was a fairly steady increase until about 1pm, by which time just under 10% of accidents were happening. (Actually there was a slight decrease between 11am and 1pm – presumably while people were parked having lunch).
Okay, these statistics don’t tell us when it’s safest to go riding (although I’m having a bit of fun here by interpreting them that way!). What they do is tell us when accidents are happening. But let’s get a bit more serious for a moment.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. From 1pm there was a massive increase over the next few hours, with the rate peaking at 23% at 4pm. Why does the rate go up so much at that time? Well, according to Neville, it’s all about our circadian rhythms.
If you’re like me, you probably thought “circadian rhythms” had something to do with those annoying insects that cause such a racket in our trees every summer. But no, they’re all about how our body works; and in particular, the body’s urge to sleep. It’s no surprise that the body feels most like putting itself to sleep during the night hours. But it also has a significant urge to sleep in the early hours of the afternoon, peaking between about 1pm and 4pm. This won’t be a surprise to many older folk; the “granny-nap” syndrome is well known to many oldies! (And even those not so old, actually). As Neville points out, if you over-lay the graph of crashes with the graph of our circadian rhythms, the peaks pretty much correspond. From this he concludes that fatigue, (or the “granny-nap” syndrome) is a significant factor in crashes.
So, for those of us who wish to maximise our safety, what do we do about this? Well, having a 4-hour lunch-break that includes an afternoon siesta is probably not the answer! But as Neville says, being aware of the problem means that we can be extra vigilant at monitoring fatigue. We might not be able to avoid riding at this time, but we can look out for any signs that we’re about to drop off into a “granny-nap” while we’re out on the bike during this period. And remember, it only takes a slight tiredness, a slight amount of fatigue, to reduce our attention level. And, as we should all know, any reduction in attention level can prove disastrous! So, when you have lunch, eat, drink (preferably not alcohol – that will tend to add to the fatigue and tiredness), and be very! Very aware of tiredness. It’s something that, if you answered that question at the top by choosing the “safe” option, you’ll particularly want to pay attention to.
Anyway, I’m off to set the alarm. Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I want to be up at 4am to go for a ride!
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