by Jackie Vaughan
Everything in life has limits. When we were young, we had bedtimes that were far too early, especially on a summer night, or when something good was on TV. As we got older, curfews and the frustrations of limited spending money chafed us. We were pretty much controlled by how often and how long we could borrow the car. Still, we stretched and broke the limits with only minor repercussions.
As riders we have limits, too, and these, unlike legal limits such as speed and right-of-way, can only be stretched so far before the consequences become very dire indeed. These limits are our personal limits, the limits of our machines, and the limits of our environment. To ride safely, we must know these limits and ride within them. This would be a fairly easy task if the limits were fixed and separate. However, they are each highly variable and intertwined so that one can affect the others.
Personal limits change constantly. There are the slow, but perceptible signs of aging when we finally don glasses that eventually give way to bifocals and when hearing dims. As we reach the over-the-hill age of 40, night vision begins to lessen. With any luck, skill and experience provide compensation.
Not even the young among us are immune to personal limits. We are all susceptible. These limits can be imposed by physical conditions such as fatigue or emotion or by medications, both over-the counter and prescription. New prescriptions can have unexpected side effects, and drug interactions can produce terrifying reactions. Medications should be carefully discussed with doctor and pharmacist before we ride. Getting all prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy lessens the chance of a conflict or overdose not being spotted. Recreational drugs create dangers that should be obvious.
Over-the-counter drugs frequently pose problems. Almost every label on allergy medications carries the warning, “May cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication.” By heavy machinery they don’t mean bulldozers or tanks. They mean cars and trucks and motorcycles and riding lawnmowers and anything else where a drowsy, dizzy or uncoordinated operator could have an accident. Almost every skill needed to safely operate a motorcycle is affected by such medicines.
Even when we’re at our physical best, our motorcycles pose limits. Obvious ones are type and power. A fully loaded touring bike is not made to ride over sand dunes at the beach, nor is a two-up 125-cc bike safe on the interstate. Even the best-maintained bike is subject to routine wear and tear. New tires are slick until the mold release wears off. Cheap tires can offer poor traction under even optimum conditions. Brake pads wear. A poorly cared for bike is two-wheeled disaster.
Even when our bikes and we are in tip-top condition, the environment can sharply define our limits. A twisty back road is a joy on a warm sunshiny day. The same road on a cold, wet night is a rider’s nightmare. Cold can dull our reflexes and slow our reaction times. Numbed hands operate controls more slowly and with less feedback, making full-braking stops less effective. Nature can brush a road with sand or mist it with rain or fog. Our only choice is to slow down and to avoid any sudden changes in speed or direction. We should never be so dumb that we don’t realize it is time to get off the road.
Our limits, the limits of our machines, and natural limits, all combined in endless permutations, are part of the challenge of motorcycling. Knowing these limits and riding within them are part of the responsibility of motorcycling. And that is part of the joy of motorcycling.
Copyright © 2000-2005 by Jackie Vaughan.
This article may be used if I’m given credit and a copy of the publication.