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Travels With An Airhead

Motorcycle safety

— by Notch Miyake

Since we are at the peak of our riding season, I thought it appropriate to devote a column to motorcycle safety. Let's face it, we can't afford to lose any members given the sorry state of our recruiting.

You know what to do: Wear a helmet, a full-faced one if you are reasonably attractive and have all your teeth. If you are ugly and wear false teeth, an open face helmet is cheaper.

Wear protective clothing. If you want your body marked up and pierced, go to a licensed tattoo parlor. They use disinfectant on their instruments instead of the usual dog shit along the curbs. And the results sometimes look better than random scars.

Ride defensively. Do not trust the creeps. I have noticed many more of them on the road recently. They are the ones that let up on the brakes of their automatic transmission cars while waiting at the intersection.

On the subject of helmet use, Kelly Krebs from Minneapolis wrote to New York Times columnist, Randy Cohen: "I often ride my motorcycle without a helmet. Our state law basically applies to motorcycle riders under 18. I figure I'm not putting anyone but myself at risk. My friends say this is tantamount to suicide. But isn't it just one of many risks all of us take every day?"

Cohen, who writes The Ethicist, an advice column about ethical behavior, replied, "If riding without a helmet affected only you, then helmet laws would be intrusive and paternalistic, and you'd be doing nothing unethical by riding bareheaded. An autonomous rider living free of the larger society is an attractive and romantic idea, but like most romantic ideas, it has little correspondence with actual life. Should you get in an accident, you are likely to be more seriously injured than you would be wearing a helmet, and thus you'll consume enormous medical resources."

To this I might add that head injuries usually result in paralysis and loss of brain function, although with some bikers it's hard to tell the difference.

Cohen continues, "And should you die, your dependents might need a variety of public assistance. In other words, all sorts of social cost would increase, from insurance to emergency services; other people will be paying the price of your riding with the wind. And that is unethical. So I am afraid that, law or no law, you've got to wear the helmet."

Cohen recognizes the carefree appeal of riding with the wind whipping through your hair and the bugs gleefully splattering on your skin, so he offers an alternative: "However, if you remain determined to feel the wind in your hair, you can ride without your pants, which will not greatly augment your chance of dying, except of embarrassment."

I did not make this up. Check it out yourself in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, May 21, 2000.

Of course, I cannot encourage bottomless riding because of my stand on protective clothing. Some might even argue that pants are more important than helmets considering what they protect. And getting hit down there by a bug at 65 mph must hurt like hell.

Ride safe.

— Copyright © 2000 by Notch Miyake.

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