Showing posts with label philosophy of motorbiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label philosophy of motorbiking. Show all posts

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Do bikers ignore reality?

I recently saw this on the Science Channel's Through The Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.  I really enjoy the show, but I've gotta call you on this one Morgan.

Let's look at some of the statistics given:

For the UK:  motorcycles make up less than 1% of motor vehicles on the road but they are 14% of total deaths/serious injuries. 

Considering that bikers have no cage around them to mitigate their own poor driving habits I'm surprised that they are only 14% of serious accidents.  There is no doubt that if in an accident bikers are more likely to be injured; bikes don't have fender benders.  

Riding well demands a level of defensive awareness foreign to most drivers.  A good rider is attentive to the threats around them and deeply engaged in the operation of their vehicle beyond what most people are capable of.  The only time I came close to that level of intensity driving was in a shifter cart in Japan and during track training at Shannonville.  Day to day driving is a simple, safer operation by comparison, but does that mean it's better?

A motorbike rider doesn't get on a bike to test fate or ignore statistics, bikers know how dangerous what they are doing is.  There is a difference between doing something that is bad for you (smoking, etc) and developing a complex skill in a challenging environment.  Like other athletes or sportsmen, the motorcyclist is developing their craft in an unforgiving environment.  To say that they are ignoring the reality of statistics is reduction to the point of absurdity.  Not to mention that statistics themselves aren't reality, but a vague mathematical representation of it.  If there is a reality it isn't to be found in a human abstraction.

Is biking more dangerous?  No doubt, but this reality episode is choosing to selectively chose their realities.  Chasing all motorcyclists onto four wheels because it's safer isn't really safer.  Why don't they take into account how dangerous it is to drive a massive SUV that is actively destroying the ecosystem we live in with its atrocious waste of resources?  Or mention the political and financial instability caused by big oil and OPEC?  If there were less people driving around in three ton tanks there would be fewer severe accidents.  You can do a lot more damage in a 5000 lb vehicle doing eighty miles per hour than you could ever do on a bike.  The reductive reality given in the show seems designed to cater to mediocrity.

If we want to be really Malthusian about it, making sure everyone survives every accident no matter how many they cause might appeal to SUV drivers, but for the rest of us keeping them alive to do it again (and again) is a disaster.  

Biking demands competence and punishes you harshly for not having it.  If you want mediocrity go drive a car, if you want incompetence go drive as big a vehicle as you can find.  You can hit as many things as you want and if you have enough money, you can burn a hole in the world while doing it in a massive SUV that pretty much guarantees your safety.

US stats: motorcyclists are 37x more likely to die in a crash

This is an exceptionally worthless statistic, of course you're more likely to die in an accident if you're on a bike.  If you were in a motor vehicle collision would you rather be on a motorcycle or in a Smartcar, a Hummer or a Sherman tank?  That tank would offer you the greatest level of protection if you were in an accident, but would be cripplingly wasteful.

Once again, there are other degrees of damage being done in the complex activity of human beings burning fossil fuels to transport themselves.  This past summer I did about four thousand kilometers on the bike.  I didn't die, I didn't come close to having an accident and I did it all at about 60mpg.  That's a reality I'm not ignoring.

Why do people continue to take this risk?

If reality is what we think it is I want mine to reward competence and punish incompetence.  

I don't believe that longevity is the point of human existence, I believe that we should all seek to improve ourselves by any means available, even and especially if that means putting ourselves at risk in order to do so.

I think we should strive to improve ourselves through the activities that we pursue and that should involve putting some aspect of yourself on the line in order to make the feedback meaningful.  Learning that matters can only be gained through sacrifice and risk.

I'm not ignoring reality when I get on a bike, I'm facing it in a way that most cage drivers never will.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I just finished this book.  It's the first book I've finished digitally, I'm more of a paper and ink reader, but I thought I'd give this a go on my phablet.

The narrative is based on a man and his son doing a cross country trip on a motorcycle in the 1970s.  The story focuses on that quiet mind you experience as you make miles on two wheels.  While some people's mind wander while riding, the narrator of this hefty tome starts with an examination of the basic mechanics of motorcycle maintenance but quickly wanders into a philosophical deconstruction of Greek philosophy and its effects on Western thinking.

If you've got a background in philosophy it's fairly easy to follow, if you don't you're probably going to be wondering what the hell is going on in places.

The book is full of some real gems in terms of how we approach basic mechanics as well as life in general, but it can get pretty full of itself as well.

To further complicate things the author is battling with his alter-ego as he recovers from electroshock
therapy.  No, this isn't an easy read, though it's worth it if you can get through it.

Last year I read Shopclass as Soulcraft, which I'd recommend as a much more accessible read if you're interested in getting philosophical through the lens of motorbiking.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic, and it has attained a kind of cult status in philosophy and motorcycle literature.  I'd recommend reading Crawford before you take a run at Pirsig.  Reading a review of Western philosophy wouldn't hurt either.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Quiet Mind at Ten Tenths

Written March, 2013, courtesy of Straw Dogs:

I've wanted to get a bike since I was old enough to drive, but my parents did backflips to put me in a car instead (probably wise at the time).  Now that I'm older and wiser, I'm looking for something other than just thrills from riding a motorcycle.

What feels like a lifetime ago, I was living in Japan.  A colleague and I came across a student who was into racing carts.  He invited us out and it became a regular event.  I'd always had an interest in motorsports and fancied myself a decent driver, it was nice to have the lap times prove it.

One of the most enjoyable side effects of ten tenths driving in a tiny shifter cart doing 100km/hr into a left hander was how focused your mind is.  You are taking in all sorts of sensory inputs, your adrenaline is ticking, you can feel the tires on the edge of grip, the wind is thundering past your helmet, the engine is screaming behind you, and you are no where else but in that seat.  You feel burned clean of any worries, plans, random thoughts or distractions.  You feel like you're dancing with the machine under you, it becomes an extension of yourself.  It's a wonderful feeling and I have never felt so exhausted and relaxed as I did after a day at Kiowa, deep in the mountains, tearing around that track.

I'm hoping that I can find that same quietness of mind on a motorbike.  The personal space and focus needed will be therapeutic.  The chance to disappear into my senses, to be entirely with the moment... the best kind of meditation.