I met Jamie and Susan several years ago. They were my instructors when I showed up at the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s beginner (think infant beginner) class to learn to ride a motorcycle.
I managed to make it through the class and pass. I did not have the worst score but I was constantly admonished by Jamie to keep my head up and to look twelve feet in front of me. Head on a swivel. Susan warned us that we were invisible. She pointed out that she rode a completely chrome Harley and dressed out in bright yellow gear. She called herself a “Canary on a piece of tin foil”. And yet, she said — people still didn’t see her.
Jamie rode a Harley as well. His method to overcome his invisibility was sound. He would blast punk music from the sound system so loudly it was incompatible with life. Surely everyone at least heard him coming. But no.
In the course of our education that was the main theme they taught us — how we would not be seen — how it would always, always be on us to be defensive drivers. We had to see and anticipate everyone else’s bad driving habits and be able to react. Period. Or we would become the statics which everyone used to trumpet the unsafe-ness of motorcycles when in fact it was other drivers’ inattention that got motorcycle riders killed.
And they told us, if we rode long enough, it wouldn’t be a matter of if, but when our skills to evade disaster would be put to the test.
My date with inevitibility came on Sunday. And it was most surely a combination of The Grace and having those lessons drummed into my skull that spared me.
As I came around a familiar corner on an old country road I saw the car at the stop sign on a side road to my right. He let the car in front of me pass and in my usual habit I backed off the throttle just a touch until I was sure he was going to sit still. He didn’t. I sensed his movement faster (as he pulled out to make a left turn across my path) than my brain consciously registered his wheels moving. My muscles were already responding by downshifting and leaning into a possible right hand turn down that road to my right. I was going slow enough and I knew I could do it if I had to. He saw me then (or heard my engine down shift more likely) and stopped dead in front of me, completely stunned by my existence. However, there was plenty of road around the back side of him by this time. He finally got his wits about him in about a split second and pulled more forward. I simply went on by the trunk of his car (still hanging half in the lane I was driving in). Total time of above exercise — perhaps three — five seconds. Its hard to tell, for me it seemed like it all happened in slow motion. But I had followed the golden rule, by slowing down just that little bit, I gave myself the time and distance I needed to make decisions and react in those seconds.
As I left the intersection and the man who didn’t see me in the dust, I noticed that my heart rate wasn’t even elevated. I had done everything I needed to do and it was over. Jamie and Susan had said there’d be days like this. It’s part of the deal. I knew I was a safe rider and that I had just successfully coped with one of the most common things which happen to all riders. I wasn’t feeling cocky. I felt incredibly grateful to the people who had taught me how to prepare for it.
To the people who love me who might read this with horror, it really wasn’t a near miss or anything so dramatic. Again — read the part where my heart rate remained normal. I had that right hand turn planned if I couldn’t get around him. I was never going to hit his car. I write this to illustrate for everyone the truth of the lesson I was taught. Motorcycles are invisible to most drivers.
Please pay attention when you are driving your car. Look both ways and then LOOK AGAIN. This motorcycle rider thanks you. And she thanks Jamie and Susan most of all.