It’s an undeniable fact that as motorcyclists we’re one of the most vulnerable users of our roading network, and as such ‘shit happens’. I often think about how I’d react in a crisis situation; about whether I’d have the ability to make the almost instinctive calculations and decisions to avoid becoming a statistic. I class myself as a pretty good rider, I’ve done plenty of training and have thousands of incident-free kays under my belt, so I imagine I’ll be pretty good when it comes to the crunch.
But then, after reading about a fatal crash of a motorcyclist involving another vehicle on a stretch of road myself and Kerry travel on a semi-regular basis, my self-assessment changed. There’s nothing worse than the stomach-dropping realisation that someone you know has been taken from us, especially when it’s a motorcyclist that you know is an excellent rider.
A few months back, I interviewed a friend of Kerry and myself who had recently purchased a Benelli 502X and had turned it into a great looking, extremely capable and totally affordable adventure bike. Chris McKay was a good rider. He probably – actually, definitely – did more kays per year than me, loved his Honda VFR800 and rode everywhere with his partner Karen on her CBR500R. They were one of those couples which make you wonder why you don’t get your arse into gear and have all the adventures they do, with regular posts on social media of their many trips around the country, camping at their destination and simply enjoying motorcycling and life.
Although I’m not going into details of the accident that took Chris from us, from the reports it was a situation around a corner that Chris would have faced with little, if any, time to react. As I say, he’s an excellent rider. I’d ridden with him as a back-up for a ride we had organised, and his presence of mind, positioning on the road, the way he reacted to any possible hazards reminded me of my own style, and he was instantly someone I was happy to ride in close proximity with. So, if he couldn’t avoid the incident, then, chances are I wouldn’t either. And that scared me.
But what do we do? Stop riding? Nah, he’d kill me if I did. And let’s be honest, you can end your days falling out of the bath, a tree or a bar – life is full of hazards all ready to try and extinguish our fragile existence.
Spending some time thinking it over after hearing the news, it made me realise that I’ve inadvertently entered one of the highest risk groups of motorcycling, that of an over-confident rider. I believe I’m an above-average rider. Therefore I should be able to deal with/avoid any situation that arrives because, among other things, I look for approaching possible hazards and plan for the worst. But what if, like Chris’s accident, the hazard appears out of the blue…?
Mark Jones, an instructor for Pro Rider wrote in issue 187 about the various stages of motorcyclists. We move from ‘unconscious incompetents’ as a new rider through to a ‘conscious incompetent’ rider as we start riding more and understand the areas we aren’t yet competent. A seasoned rider can then be classed as ‘consciously competent’, usually someone who has been through training, got their licence and is practising the skills and lessons they have been taught while also proactively upskilling. But, we can then easily fall into a final stage of ‘unconscious competence’. As Mark put it, ‘The day you believe you are a perfect rider – take the bus!’
We don’t know what is around the next corner, over a crest or about to appear from an intersection, and as a motorcyclist, the results can be disastrous. What can we do? Keep training, keep expecting the unexpected and don’t think we know it all. It was a real blow when I heard it was Chris who had lost his life and Kerry and I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to his loving partner Karen, his family and friends. He was a great guy, an excellent motorcyclist and loved by many.
What his loss has done for me – and I hope it will do the same for many of you reading this – is been a wake-up call. We can’t be complacent when it comes to how we ride. Take ALL the training you can get, ride expecting the unexpected and don’t, ever, believe you’re a perfect rider.