Motorcycles are Just One of Life's Risks

By Ralph E. Hanson
June 19, 2006
Charleston Daily Mail

I am 46 years old.  Over the years I have eaten lot of Mexican and Italian food, worked summers in the Iowa corn fields, worked hard to control my cholesterol, and ridden motorcycles.

 Guess which one of these events causes strangers to come up to me to say I’m an irresponsible danger junkie.

You don’t need more than one guess. 

You’re already armed with a story about how your uncle/cousin/friend had a motorcycle accident.  If you’re less tactful, you’ll refer to my bike as  a “murdercycle”  or use the incredibly witty line, “In the emergency room, we call them donorcycles.”

All of this has come to a head recently with the accident that injured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Critics of Roethlisberger point to the fact he rides a motorcycle capable of going more than 180 miles per hour and doing the quarter mile in under 11 seconds.

It is inconvenient that the performance level of his motorcycle wasn’t a factor in his accident.  According to press reports, a 62-year-old driver made a left turn in front of Roethlisberger while he was riding at about 40 miles per hour.  According to the landmark Hurt Report, the left-turn-in-front-of-the-motorcycle is the most common two-vehicle motorcycle accident, and one where the motorcyclist is generally not at fault. 

But most of the talk is of Roethlisberger’s irresponsibility, not of the driver who hit him.

It is true that Roethlisberger rode without a helmet or other safety gear.  He has also been outspoken about his refusal to wear a helmet.  In an article from the NFL web site, he said he was protected by being a safe rider and by riding in groups.  He also justified not wearing a helmet by noting correctly that Pennsylvania law does not require it.  “Obviously, Pennsylvania doesn’t think people need to (wear a helmet),” he told a reporter.  “There’s a law you’ve got to wear it in football.”  But does the fact that he is a fool about not wearing a helmet mean that we ought blame him, and by extension all motorcyclists, for his accident?

Let’s get back to the list in the first paragraph.  Which of those items have actually caused me serious harm? 

Five years ago I was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that affects me and my behavior every hour of every day.  If I don’t take scrupulous care of my blood sugar levels, I could suffer amputation, blindness, heart disease and kidney failure.  One of the likely causes?  Too much Mexican and Italian food (along with every other kind of food).

Four years ago I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that could have killed me if it hadn’t been caught in time. Given the location of the cancer on the back of my arm, it seems likely that the cause was too much sun while working in the Iowa cornfields.

Two years ago I suffered from drug induced hepatitis.  The likely cause?  The medication I was taking to lower my cholesterol.

As for my motorcycle -- so far I have been careful and fortunate; no injuries to report.  That doesn’t make motorcycling safe.  I know it’s dangerous.  That’s why I’m an ATGATM kind of guy.  ATGATM?  That’s All The Gear, All The Time -- helmet, jacket, gloves and boots.  And I could be badly injured riding my motorcycle tomorrow. 

But motorcycling is not the only dangerous thing I do.  I live a life, and life is dangerous in so many ways.  I think Roethlisberger is a fool for not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle.  But even if he gave up motorcycling entirely, his life would still not be safe.

Hanson is an associate professor of journalism at West Virginia University.