I had an odd little conversation at the dentists office recently. In the parking lot I was pleased to see a recent model R1. I parked nearby so I could walk past it and was a little surprised to see such a nice bike as dirty as it was, but commuter bikes often accumulate a lot of grot.
I was again surprised to see that of the two people in the waiting room, neither was holding a helmet or wearing a riding jacket or boots. I hoped that the rider was not in the waiting room but unfortunately I soon found out that wasnt the case when the woman behind the front desk made a comment to a young man seated opposite me;
"I hope you're careful on that motorcycle. It looks fast."
Unfortunately the rider responded;
"I'm always careful. I never go over 150 on the freeway."
While he was still grinning, I asked;
"Have you ever ridden on a track?"
The grin immediately faded. Bad sign...
"Are you kidding? I don't want to crash."
"Why would you crash?" I asked, "Theres nothing to hit!"
But this highlighted the problem of perception.
Here is a young male riding a high powered sport bike. He's smack bang in the middle of the highest risk factor for death and injury on a motorcycle. He proudly announces he rides on public roads at twice the speed limit, and does so without a helmet, and he considers that riding on the track is too dangerous!!!
I felt like my head would explode in exasperation!
But then I thought of a different approach. Forget the improved safety equipment all riders wear at the track. Forget the clean, clear track, forget the coaching and classroom training that teaches people how to ride safe. Forget all that, lets talk money. So I asked,
"Have you ever really done 150 on the freeway? What does it cost if you get a ticket going that fast?"
There was a little attitude in his response,
"Nah, not really. But I get up there. Why, how fast have you gone?"
"My GPS says I did 165 a few weeks ago."
That got his attention.
A brief conversation followed, during which I explained the benefits of riding on the track versus riding on the street. As a young man he was of course largely interested in top speeds. He was shocked when I told him how cheap it is to get on the track, especially when compared to a speeding ticket.
But each time he almost seemed convinced he would give it a try he came back to the issue of crashing. So I asked him how often he crashes on the street. I'd seen his bike on the way in, it had no visible crash damage. But then he admitted that was his third bike in only a year. Both the others had been written off after multiple crashes. His insurance was paid for by a family member, I hate to think what that cost...
And that got me thinking. A person who crashes a lot is quite likely to keep crashing unless they change their habits.
And this is horrifying.
A young male in his 20's who may or may not have a license and most likely has no training, will crash. Often.
The ones who survive often swear off motorcycles as being too dangerous. Then, twenty years later they'll get another one and fall right back into the second highest risk demographic - men over 50 with no training and very little experience who are riding again for the first time since their youth when they narrowly escaped a gruesome death...
Put a rider like this on the track and they have every right to be worried about crashing. Whats the definition of insanity? Repeating the same actions and expecting a different result.
If a crasher rides the same way on the track as they do on the street they will likely continue crashing.
But put a crasher in class, teach them how to enter and exit a turn safely, and not only will they likely not crash on the track, the skills will transfer to the street.
So lets review - a rider who crashes a lot on the street will get to the track and sit in on a class that teaches them how to ride safely, how not to crash, how to ignore their ego, and how to finish a day of riding in one piece, with no speeding tickets and no repair bills.
Then they get to ride on a smooth track with no traffic lights, no oncoming cars, no speeding tickets, and yet the perception is that this is too dangerous?
In 20 years of attending track days as a rider, and in five years as a rider coach, I've never once heard a first timer say:
"This is too dangerous. I'm leaving and never coming back."
How many times have I heard a first-timer say:
"This is the most amazing thing I've ever done. I wish I started years ago instead of risking my neck on the street for so long."
More times than I can count.