Why I ride …

Why I ride ...




Oxford, 15/10/2018. I was musing on the consequences, mental as well as physical, of having an ‘off’ in the last few days. My incident happened last Saturday at dusk, when in a moment of lost concentration on a road I didn’t know, I failed to see a kerb between the road and the pavement at a service-station entrance, and managed to jam the front wheel into the gutter before the bike flipped me off.

Landed on my shoulder, and would probably have broken it even at 20 – 30 mph, but for the armoured shoulder pads in my jacket. They did their job, and although I couldn’t breathe for a while and had to be carted off in an ambulance, it seems I have no broken bones and only a bruised body, and ego, resulting.

The machine also came off relatively lightly, and would have been rideable except for a broken gear-lever. But I decided to let the experts assess it before I plan what to do next. There was a fair amount of cosmetic damage of course, but I reasoned that could be dealt with gradually over the winter.

So I’m not riding at the moment, and just doing everyday physical things has become a bit more complicated. But I didn’t reckon on the consequent mental pressure from family and friends. On the theme of, ‘maybe it’s time you gave up two wheels for four’, including the moral blackmail of my chosen hobby putting unnecessary additional pressure on the health services.

My reaction has mostly been the throwaway line. Something like, ‘yes well, what about people who go skiing, or parachuting, or take part in motor-sport?’. Or in one case, ‘the insurance industry reckons sailing to be statistically more dangerous than motorcycling – that’s why insurance premiums are higher’. True, I am told.

But I must admit my patience snapped with one questioner and I reacted badly. She was unfortunate enough to get the reply, ‘yes well I suppose I could give it up, start watching daytime TV, get fat and become a vegetable!’, which didn’t go down too well.

I shouldn’t have reacted so badly, but I feel nonetheless that my response was a valid one. All too many people my age seem to think that bland conformity is the only option in life, believe everything they are told by government and the BBC, and seem to have lost the ability to think for themselves.

It is fortunate I suppose that I am interested in many things, and to have one or two activities (biking being one) that I find really absorbing. And I’m fully aware of the risks involved in riding a motorcycle these days, not just from the sheer density of traffic on the roads, but also the fact that at my age I don’t bounce as well as I used to.

So while I am aching all over at the moment, I don’t think it is going to put me off riding. I’ve already cut down the risks to some extent by preferring to ride in the dry, and preferably in daylight rather than at night (my accident happened at dusk).

I’m certainly not racing anybody any more, and have no inclination to do ‘wheelies’ whatsoever. But I still enjoy the freedom of being ‘out there’ on the bike, where you see and experience everything around you far more directly than inside a four-wheeled cage. And even when I have the impression that most of the drivers around me are lunatics (and it does happen from time to time), it’s usually possible to find a way to escape from the worst of them.

For these reasons I will continue riding. I might well reach some point in the future when general age and disability prevent me from continuing to ride as now, but most likely that will simply mean a downgrade to something more modest in performance, and lighter to push around. It is also possible that environmental concerns will see us all on fully electric bikes before that happens. But for those involved in public health issues, accident statistics in the UK are already showing that elderly people on electric (pedal) bikes have a disturbingly high penchant for falling off them.

I’ll probably continue to deflect criticism of my choice of hobby with a throwaway line; it makes rubbing along with others who don’t understand the joy of biking that much easier. But I find it interesting that people who ride horses understand, as do those who like ski-surfing, or flying, or paragliding, or any one of a dozen different hobbies that carry a degree of risk.

Because living is about risk. Life is risky. You can spend your life avoiding any kind of dangerous activity, and drop dead of a stroke or heart attack tomorrow. We have a certain time to live on this earth, and one day our time will be up and that will be that. I like to think that I’ve spent some of that time enjoying myself, and sharing that joy with others who feel the same way. I can think of no better way to be.

Ride safe, and enjoy.

© Philip Hunt, 2018.

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