It’s been a rough week for us at CMG. We hate running stories about people killed on motorcycles and in the last seven days we’ve run two: Robyn Gray, founder of Harley-Davidson of Winnipeg, who died when his bike was rear-ended by a 16-year-old driver, and Dan Kneen, killed by a crash in practice at the Isle of Man TT races. Since then, Adam Lyon also died racing at the Isle of Man, and there’ll probably be more before the end of the week.
Aside from the tragedy of lives lost, such stories only fuel the fires of those who decry the dangers of motorcycles. They might not actually stop many people from getting a bike, but they do create extra concern for that person’s loved ones. There are many, many tales of young people who bought a motorcycle but had to hide it at a friend’s house to keep it secret from their mom.
I’ve spent the last 30 years trying to persuade my wife and family that I’m actually safer on a bike than I am in a car. I tell them that I’m more aware of my surroundings and less distracted (though smart helmets that keep you connected to your phone are putting an end to that); I tell them that I’m more agile and able to avoid collisions better, but if you’ve actually ridden my non-ABS Harley, or non-anything Suzuki, then you know that’s a bit of a stretch. Above all, I tell them that I ride defensively and with All The Gear, All The Time, and that’s probably the most convincing argument.
I don’t know the details of either of the very different events that caused the deaths of Dan and Robyn, but I do know the circumstances were almost certainly out of their control. Dan was racing at the Isle of Man, by his own choice and with a full realization of the risk – he was a Manxman, a resident of the island. Either a momentary lapse of judgement or a mechanical failure caused him to crash on one of the fastest sections of the course and he died at the scene. It was out of his control because, as his dad said later, “Dan lived for his racing. Wild horses wouldn’t have torn him away from it.”
Wild horses almost certainly wouldn’t have stopped Robyn Gray from riding, either. He had a half-a-century in the saddle, but when it came down to it, it was a car approaching from behind that hit his motorcycle. Sure, he might have seen the car in his mirrors and he might even have tried to avoid it, but when a car targets you on a bike for whatever reason, it’s the luck of the draw if you’ll walk away from it.
If Robyn had been in a car or a truck, he’d probably have been fine, but that wasn’t Robyn. Like all of us, he knew that sometimes, your number’s just up, so you might as well make the most of your life while you’re around to live it. Like all of us who ride responsibly, we know there are risks and they can be mitigated, but we’re also prepared to take those risks because we love what our motorcycle can give us. And almost all of us come away unscathed at the end of a long life of riding.
When I was a teenager, I knew a guy who crashed his Suzuki GS1000 and spent a month in hospital because of it. He swore he’d never get on a bike again, and I just couldn’t understand that: surely, he knew the risks involved before he got his bike? Surely, he’d accepted those risks? And surely, he knew that there were ways to make everything considerably safer, including training, practice, and effective gear? But no – he was shaken and wanted no more of it. To each their own.
Now, my 18-year-old son is talking of getting a motorcycle and both his mother and I are concerned. A burst of bravado could kill him, as it almost did me at that age, when I leapt a humpback bridge at 130 km/h and came so close to the car pulling out of a side road on the other side that my jeans skimmed its front bumper. But we know that ultimately, it’s his choice as to how he wants to live his life and I would never want to deprive him of the pleasure motorcycles have given me.
I think both Dan and Robyn would have felt the same way. They lived full and successful lives, enhanced by their love of motorcycles, and I doubt either of them would have wanted to change a thing.