I can’t possibly count the number of times I have heard this from people who overhear that I ride or who see the helmet sitting on my desk at the office. It’s the pat, knee-jerk response to riding by many nonriders. I’m sure you’ve heard the others as well: “I trust myself, I just don’t trust other drivers”; “When I had kids I did the responsible thing and gave it up”; “My spouse doesn’t want me to ride.”
I take the “dangerous” comments with a certain wry smile. It’s a relative word. What is safe? My father died at 57 from a brain aneurism while watching television—yes, while watching television. Two weeks ago my only brother, a strong, energetic roofer with a lust for life, suffered a severe heart attack at 44. He is recovering. Last week a 56-year-old man in my small hometown was driving his car home at 1 p.m. on a beautiful, bright, clear day when a truck filled with blacktop lost its brakes on a steep hill and charged through an intersection, pushing the driver of the car into a firehouse. He died in the ensuing fire. Anecdotal? Sure, but events like these tend to realign my ideas about exactly what I am willing to give up for the illusion of safety and what constitutes danger.
I’m not by nature a risk taker, and I get no rush from dangerous things, but I do get a rush from things that make me feel alive and inspired. Riding has a way of peeling the husk from everything I foolishly think of as important. It falls away to reveal what was underneath that truly is important: boundless joy, a recollection of youth, so much joy that it can feel like you don’t have enough room inside you to contain it. That’s the trade-off with what nonriders consider a dangerous hobby.
George Bernard Shaw said, “In this world there is always danger for those who are afraid of it.” Is riding dangerous? Only relatively. The true danger for me would be to not ride. Where would my inspiration and passion be allowed to spread its wings? Where would I go to spend quiet time with my father, who died so many years ago? I always thought the real concern was that you simply must do the things that make you feel the most alive. You must, otherwise you’re not really living; you are simply existing, and that’s the biggest danger of all.