Tuesday, July 19, 2011

America—Home of the Free, the Brave, and the Sometimes Stupid

Now that it's finally summer here in the American Upper Midwest that means one thing—motorcycles and lots of them. Summer for me means spending extra time driving around on the roads, encountering single riders or packs of motorcyclers.

I realize that you motorcycle enthusiasts will correct me that technically motorcycle season starts as soon as the snow melts but you are all out in full force this July. I'm not blindly writing this article because I do have some (very limited) experience with motorcycles. My uncle not only repairs motorcycles but also races them. Yes, I have ridden on a motorcycle while wearing a helmet. Like the majority of us who drive cars, our major experience with motorcycles is while we're out driving.

Now who hasn't been passed by the aggressive young motorcyclist, driving his racing bike at about 100 mph in traffic. Zigging and zagging around cars as if they were standing still. Of course he's not wearing a helmet. Then there are the gangs of Harley Davidson riders clad in leather or sometimes bare chested, doing their staggered speedy drive along the highway as they roar by in a pack of 20 fearsome riders. Usually most of these riders are also not wearing a helmet.

While they were in medical school at the University of Virginia, I remember my sister and brother-in-law coining a term for motorcyclists who choose not the wear a helmet—organ donors. True enough. I don't see the thrill and enjoyment of riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Do you like bugs in your teeth or butterflies smeared across your sunglasses? Is it the thrill of cheating death that prompts one to leave the helmet at home? I realize that in some states, motorcycle riders do have the choice NOT to wear a helmet, and it seems like a whole lot of people here in Minnesota exercise that choice.

I guess I don't see the joy in riding a motorcycle at 70 mph, knowing that if I crash or a car doesn't see me I'm probably dead. And at times motorcycles are very difficult to see. Especially the ones cruising along who sneak up behind you, pass you on the right, and then cut across another two lanes of traffic at lightening speed. If you drive a motorcycle like this with or without protecting your head, how to you expect to live? To me, it would be an easy choice. Helmet = life.

I applaud those motorcycle riders who opt to wear a helmet and their full leather gear even in the throes of summer heat. Perhaps a blurb I spotted in the newspaper a few weeks ago sums it up best. A motorcyclist was killed during a road rally in support of not wearing helmets in Wisconsin. While exercising his freedom of choice to not wear his helmet, he was thrown over his handlebars and landed on his head. The state trooper at the accident scene was quoted saying, "he would have survived if he was wearing a helmet."

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