People (riders and non-riders alike) will often talk about a crash in a similar way – "Oh, that rider didn’t know how to corner/brake/balance/etc. THAT’s why they crashed.’" The assumption seems to be that if the rider had more knowledge (how to use the front brake assertively, how to press on the hand grip to increase lean, etc.), the crash would not have happened. In this article, I will suggest that this is not the case. Here is my story of a crash – a crash on the river in an inflatable boat.
In 2006, my wife and I wanted to spend some time on the river. So, we signed up for a beginner level kayak class. The class was an entire weekend of time in the water. We started with some briefing, then we got in a very calm lake, then on a pretty calm river, then the next day progressed to a more challenging river. This follows a very similar pattern to motorcycle rider training in a "learn to ride" class.
It was a good class and the Instructors did a fine job of covering safety apparel, safety procedures, basic boat handling techniques, and what to do when things start to go wrong. Again, much like a motorcycle riding course. One of the "what to do when things go wrong" techniques was to move to the downstream side of the boat when your boat gets stuck on a rock (and stops). This keeps the upstream side of the boat light and allows the flow of the river to easily go under it. If you keep your weight on the upstream side of the boat, the flow of the river is likely to catch the side of the boat and flip it upside down – putting you in the water. We practiced this maneuver several times until we could all do it correctly and quickly. Think of it like learning how to swerve to avoid an obstacle in a motorcycle rider training course.
Overall, a good weekend that left us feeling comfortable and confident on the water. Following the class, we went on the river just a few times a year and had a very "event free" time.
Fast forward to 2008. It’s now been 2 years since we took our training, and our boating time was very calm and relaxing. Being calm and relaxing, we hadn’t practiced any of our "what to do when things go wrong" techniques since we finished the class. One day as we were floating the Boise River past the county fairgrounds, the boat started to follow a current toward the river bank (and right toward the roots of a large tree!). We tried to paddle out of the current and get back in the middle of the river, but the current was too strong and before we knew it, the boat had stopped right up against the roots. Somehow, my wife made it quickly off the boat and into the tree. I remember thinking to myself “Oh, I know what to do, when the boat gets stuck, move to the downstream side of the boat so it doesn’t flip upside down.” The problem is that I had to think it through before acting (because I hadn’t actually done it in over 2 years). By the time I got to “…when the boat…” in my thoughts, I was already flipped out of the boat and under the water, fighting the current and stuck in the roots of the tree. Yep – if that were on a motorcycle, it would be called crashing. Since it was in the river, they just called it being "strained."
(In case you were worried, I did manage to get out – I joined my wife in the tree. I’d love to tell you how I did it, but I’m honestly not sure HOW it happened. Perhaps it was my lucky day. Good thing I got out…if I had drowned down there, my wife would have killed me!)
My point is I had the knowledge needed to prevent that crash. I got trained, I did it right in class, and even passed all their tests. However, I did not practice that skill, so when "the moment of truth" came, I did not perform. Many motorcycle riders have had this same experience. They took a class, passed all the tests, and then never practiced. The moment of truth came and they were not as prepared as they could have been.
Now don’t get me wrong, my career is in motorcycle safety and rider training…I BELIEVE in it. I also believe in exercise and vitamins, but if you only exercise one day or take vitamins for a week, there is essentially no long term benefit. (On a side note, bathing doesn’t last either, but we still recommend it daily!) Taking a rider training course is not a magic pill. It is also not the only way to learn skills. However, it is a good start. Whether you started by learning from a friend, were self-taught, or took a class, please practice braking, serving, cornering regularly. I don’t want any of you end up under the water stuck in the roots.
Be Crash Free,