Risk, Filtering, and what you love.

A good friend of mine wrote in response to my recent post:

Every person that I have ever known that has had a motorcycle has been in an accident, and I would hate to see that happen to anyone else.

I've had numerous people say the same thing to me over the years, and while I appreciate the sentiment, I've always found the statement a bit annoying, so I'd like to talk about that sort of statement in general (not picking on you, Nick...)

People have a poor perception of what the true risks of an activity are, and their perception is often based on whether they participate in the activity or not.

There's a process I like to call filtering going on here. The same people who make such comments about motorcycles don't make them about automobiles, because they understand automobiles and aren't thinking about the risks.

It's true that motorcycles are statistically more dangerous than cars, but it's also true that there are lots of stupid and/or drunk motorcycle riders. I was rarely the first, and never the second. I've had friends who had two or three accidents in 5 years, but I didn't notice anyone telling them they should stop driving.

Life is full of risks. I'm actually a fairly risk-averse person - I didn't take big risks when I was riding, and I don't take big risks when I'm cycling or skiing. I work on my skills to reduce my risk, but I think you have to take risks to do the things you love.

Comments (14)

  1. SimonTocker says:

    I ride a bike I have done for 8 years, and I love it and yes it scares me. Having a good fear/respect of what you are doing helps I think.

    The other thing about biking is I went on an intensive training course to learn to ride, this covered passing the test, but went deeper into staying alive, risk assement, other tricks like ensureing the car driver has seen you, look in their mirrors to get the eye contact.

    I think I’m careful, I did commute a lot and managed to stay safe, I hope I continue to do so. The people I know/knew who have missing heads, limbs and various implants due to motobike accidents were all being dicks at the time, and the odd one where a coach driver was being a dick.

    Sorry to hear you giving it up, but you may pick it up later, I left it 2 years and then had to have a bike again no matter what the cost.

  2. Tim Scarfe says:

    Hi Eric

    Great to hear you are a careful rider.

    Probably the biggest risk though is other motorists not seeing you on the bike. Here in London there are accidents every day where a motorist hasn’t seen a motorbike in their blindspot.

    I guess this big unknown (translate: other people) is just amplified a bit more when you are on a bike, in both probability and severity (risk).

  3. Jeremy Marsch says:

    I understand what you are saying completely. (although I am probably a person who has no business on a motorcycle <g>).

    I kayak whitewater, which sounds to most people like a pretty risky thing. The truth is that there is a certain amount of risk there. However, it just as you sead: it has a lot more to do with building your skills and then taking risks that are reasonable within the context of your skill level.

  4. Tom says:

    >> I’m actually a fairly risk-averse person.

    Your risktaking also reveal that you’re a fairly young person, either in years, or if not chronologically, in terms of maturity and wisdom.

    If it’s the former, I invite you to bookmark your comments about risk and motorcycling and come back to them in a decade or two… you’ll be amused (perhaps embarassed?) at how you’ve "grown up."

    If it’s the later, well … you’re part of the small number of people who never "grow up," frequently die before their time, and occasionally serve humankind by doing great things that are only possible by living life in a way that we, the conservative pack, consider foolhardy…

  5. jaybaz [MS] says:

    When I wanted to work on my skills, reduce my risk on a motorcycle, I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Experience RiderCourse.

    A year later I got a bigger bike, so I took the ERC again.

    Both times Eric was my instructor.

  6. Scott Duffy says:

    I remember reading an interesting article at Discovery Online about "risk perception". People’s perception of risk sometimes does not match the reality.


    The author makes the case that eating peanut butter is a lot riskier than living near a nuclear power plant, yet people are not afraid of a peanut butter sandwich but are afraid of nuclear power stations.

    The author mentions other examples of dangers that people aren’t afraid of, such as x-rays and swimming.

    Perhaps motorcycle riding has a higher perceived risk than it does an actual risk.

    I think that the liklihood of an motorcycle accident is low, but the potential consequences are high. So I wouldn’t want to be in a 30 mph motorcycle accident, although getting into a car accident at that speed might not be too bad.

  7. Niall says:

    At the risk of incensing a large number of motorcyclists, I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that there are a lot of stupid riders.

    In Australia, pretty much the only chance you have of catching a bike in a state where it is not breaking the road rules is when it’s parked. Even then, you can be pushing your luck 😛 Drivers not looking for or seeing motorcyclists is a large problem, but most often this issue is greatly exacerbated by riders riding illegally.

    I think it’s possible for motorcycles to be ridden in a fashion such that the risks are approximately equivalent with driving. It just rarely happens.

  8. J says:

    My girlfriend is a doctor. She deals with an inordinate number of motorcyclists every day, from every walk of life. The actual level of risk appears to be very high from the evidence I’ve seen.

  9. Josh Holmes says:

    When I got my first bike 10+ years ago, a good friend and long time biker gave me the following advice that I ride by to this day:

    "Ride like everyone on the road is drunk or out to get your or both, and you’ll be fine…".

    I thought that this was an interesting report:


    One of the startling numbers was that 80%+ of the fatal accidents happened off-road – off-road being quantified as shoulders, medians, outside of the right a way and so on. Also, most of the accidents happened at night, speeding after drinking.

    I started on a 1974 360cc Yamaha and had a blast. It was fast enough to get me around and have some fun, but not powerful enough to really get into trouble. After riding that for a year, I really knew how to control the bike, watch traffic and so on. I know too many teenagers who go out and get a 600cc rocket as their first bike and everyone is surprised when they wreck it right off the bat.

    I’m saddened to hear that you have to give up the bikes, but I understand.

  10. john doe says:

    i’ve owned seven motorcycles and been riding for 20 years so it’s ‘in my blood’ so to speak. however, if i could turn back time and never have started riding i would. it IS very dangerous- much more so than driving a car due to other drivers. i have never been in an accident, thank god, but i have no illusions to the risk involved. good luck and drive safe.

  11. Bob says:

    I made the decision to sell my V45 Sabre in the early 80’s, about a year after I moved to Dallas. I got tired of people trying to kill me on the bike. I definitely felt safer flying my ultralight than on the bike.

    When I lived in Florida in the late 90’s, 99% of the motorcycle accident reports in the newspaper went something like…Man riding a motorcycle was seriously injured/killed when a car pulled out in front of/turned in front of the motorcycle. The 80 year old driver of the car said she never say the motorcycle.

    If you haven’t ridden since October, you are probably making the correct decision.

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