Uh, oh -- that was my reaction when I went to get The Oregonian newspaper last Tuesday. Prominently displayed on the front page (if I recall correctly) was a headline about older motorcycle riders getting into more accidents.
Since my wife isn't wild about my Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter obsession, arguing that it's too dangerous to ride around on fewer than four motorized wheels, I figured that Laurel wouldn't make a distinction between "motorcycle" and "scooter" when she read the story.
I was right. But to my wife's credit, the only reference she ended up making to it was, "I hope you read about older guys getting into accidents."
My response: "Yes, I did. It was interesting. But I didn't learn anything new."
I already was aware that the average age of motorcyclists is increasing, as baby boomers rekindle their love affairs with this marvelously enjoyable means of transportation, and that older riders are more likely to be injured or die in an accident.
I stand by my blog post of last year, written shortly before I picked up my Burgman: "Motorcycling is as dangerous as you make it."
Before deciding to get back into riding, I studied motorcycling accident statistics (didn't come across scooter-specific data, which probably are mixed in with motorcycles).
They can be pretty sobering and scary.
Here's the thing, though. Those figures are on average.
They include motorcyclists driving drunk or stoned, not wearing a helmet, speeding like crazy, lacking protective gear, unlicensed to drive a motorcycle, those who haven't taken a motorcycle safety course, and such.
Nobody wants to be average. Especially when it comes to staying alive and healthy.
So the most informative (and inspiring) web site I came across in my motorcycle accident statistic research was this one: an article by James R. Davis called "Beating the Odds Requires that You Act ABNORMALLY."
Davis talks about how the risks of motorcycling can be reduced markedly by going against the grain of what gets riders injured or dead.
That's why I have a white scooter, wear a white full face helmet, always wear complete protective gear, have green day-glo striping on my jacket, drive a scooter with antilock brakes, rarely drive at night or in the rain, don't speed or take turns too fast, don't ride after drinking alcohol, and -- vitally important -- retook the Team Oregon training class before I started my scootering.
Reading the Oregonian story, I didn't find any facts that made me scared to be riding regularly at my increasingly ripe age (I'll soon be 62). For example:
As ridership took off, so did the number of fatal crashes, shooting from 29 in 2002 to 51 last year. Crashes spiked from 337 in 2002 to 842. Up to a third were not licensed to drive a motorcycle. But in nearly half, no other vehicle was involved, says Michele O'Leary, ODOT's motorcycle safety program manager. The rider just made a mistake.
The Oregonian examined the crash reports and interviewed the investigating officers of the 33 deaths so far this year, and found a startling number could have been avoided. Running red lights, rear-ending and colliding with cars claimed several lives.
But more than half of the riders died after they left the roadway or missed a curve on a clear, dry road. Several suffered horrifying injuries usually after striking a tree, roadside sign, utility pole or boulder.
Thus the risk of riding a motorcycle or scooter can be reduced by about 50% just by not being stupid, inattentive, or figuring that your handling skills are better than they really are.
Doing the sorts of common-sense risk-reduction things I mentioned above cuts down on the chance of gettting in an accident even further. However, no matter how careful a rider is, there's no getting around the fact that driving on two wheels is going to be more dangerous than getting around in a four-wheeled "cage" (as motorcyclists like to refer to cars).
Also, a lot more fun.
Which is why I ride, along with most motorcyclists and scooterers -- aside from those who can't afford a car and simply need a low cost means of transportation.
Back when I worked in health planning and policy research I became acquainted with the notion of balancing the quality and quantity of life. This often comes into play with living wills, where a person has to indicate how he or she feels about this sort of tradeoff.
Most people consider that extending the sheer quantity of life via time spent hooked up to a respirator, feeding tube, and such isn't worth the suffering and distress if one's quality of life is dirt-poor.
Similarly, virtually everybody is willing to take some risks in order to get more enjoyment out of life. Whether it is horseback riding, bicycling, getting on an airplane, or even driving to the weekly meeting of a knitting circle, doing something rewarding entails some risk-taking.
Today a guy came up to me as I was preparing to get on my scooter after having coffee with friends at the West Salem Starbucks. He said that he was thinking of getting a Burgman 650 and wanted to know how I liked it.
"I love it," I told him.
And proceeded to tell him more than he perhaps wanted to know about my replacement windscreen, a recently purchased seat cushion that makes my butt happier, how I'm able to store all of my riding gear under the seat, the joy of anti-lock brakes and automatic shifting, etc. etc.
My core message, though, was how riding this maxi-scooter has put the fun back into driving around, just like when I first got my driver's license at 16.
Getting someplace is secondary to simply experiencing the joy of open-air riding -- being in touch with the scooter, the air temperature, sounds, sights, the texture of the road, other vehicles, everything that is less lively when encased in a car (even a convertible).
I told the guy that I can't believe I'd get more enjoyment from any other sort of $10,000 purchase. Even a $150,000 Maserati, I said, wouldn't be as much fun to drive as a $3,000 motorcyle, because there's no comparison between four and two wheels.
It sounded like he was on his way to becoming another Suzuki Burgman 650 happy rider. I hope so. Life is short. The risks of motorcycling and scootering are well worth the rewards, because most of the risk factors are within the rider's control.
So if you're older, like me, and thinking of getting a bike my advice is in tune with Nike's: "just do it."