Fact Checking My Email: Motorcycle Edition

It’s uncommon, but every so often, I get a forwarded chain letter from someone that I know “IRL,” as the kids say. I tend to delete these upon realizing that I’ve been sent yet another “if you send this to ten people, Bill Gates will give you money” but every once in a while, I get something that not only makes me pause, it compels me to write a blog post about it.

This particular email was titled something like “True Love, this will make you cry so much” etc. etc. I’m paraphrasing it since I read it on my smartphone and deleted it as soon as I finished. It was only later that I realized I could turn this into a blog post. Here’s the gist of the email as best I can remember:

A boy and a girl are riding on the boy’s motorcycle. They’re going very fast down the express way. So fast, like over 100 mph! The girl tells the boy that it’s too scary and that she wants to slow down, but the boy insists that it’s fun going this fast. Then the boy says something weird. He asks the girl to tell him that she loves him. She does. He asks her to hug him. She does. He asks her to take his helmet off and put it on herself, because “it’s been bugging him.” She does.

The next day, there’s a report in the local paper about a motorcycle accident. The girl survives, because she was wearing the boy’s helmet.

The truth was that while they were riding, the boy realized that the motorcycle’s brakes were broken. Rather than tell the girl and scare her, he had her say that she loved him, shared a final hug, and then sacrificed himself (by giving up his helmet) so that she could live.

Like, omg, you guys, isn’t that so sad? That’s like the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.

It makes me sad because it reminds me of the early days of the Internet, when shit like this happened all the time. It makes me sad that, despite how far we’ve come as an Internet, this sort of thing still happens.

It’s obvious that this story is impossible. But seeing as how I’m a motorcycle rider, I feel compelled by my very DNA to point out all the ways that this story is impossible. If you’re curious, Snopes looked into this particular story and also declared it false.

  1. The boy in the story “realizes that his brakes don’t work.” This seems incredibly unlikely, given that all motorcycles have independantly operating front and rear brakes. Your front brake is considerably more powerful than your rear brake, but they require completely separate systems to control. It’s very unlikely that both sets of brakes would fail at the same time.
  2. Even if BOTH brakes did fail, almost all motorcycles are manual transmissions. The rider could downshift into a lower gear which would begin cutting down the speed considerably. This is called “engine braking.” It wouldn’t work in most emergency braking situations, but in this particular scenario, the boy has enough time for a touching psuedo-farewell with his girlfriend. He would thus have more than enough time to drop down a few gears and slow down.
  3. Even if he somehow COULD NOT downshift (fuck it, let’s say his clutch is broken too), all he needs to do is release the accelerator. Motorcycles, even with two passengers, have FAR less mass than a car or truck. They aren’t able to efficiently overcome the coefficient of friction due to their reduced mass, so without a constant source of momentum from the engine, they slow down very quickly. Cars and trucks can coast for miles in a way that a motorcycle simply can’t.
  4. It is all but impossible to take off a motorcycle helmet and put it on one’s self while moving at 100 mph. As a person who travels at 100 mph quite often, I can attest that at this speed, your primary concern is going to be holding on for dear life.
  5. It’s equally impossible for two people to talk to one another at 100 mph, especially if one person is wearing a helmet and the other is not. Seriously. It’s really fucking loud at 100 mph. I tend to wear earplugs under my helmet so that I don’t go deaf.

Honestly, this wouldn’t bother me all that much if it weren’t for the fact that every single discussion I have about motorcycles with someone who doesn’t ride is some variation of an unsolicited story about someone on a motorcycle getting hurt or killed.

Had To Lay This Post Down

This post is going to be about motorcycles.

If you talk to a motorcycle rider long enough, it’s possible you’ve heard the phrase “laying the bike down” or some variation thereof. It generally refers to a situation where a rider is faced with a difficult choice: crash into some sort of obstacle or vehicle, or ditch the bike and intentionally crash to avoid the impact. It communicates a certainly steeliness that exists within the rider. It’s a willingness to make hard choices and to think quickly under pressure.

It’s an incredibly stupid phrase and I despise it.

I’ve dropped my motorcycle once. I’ve also fallen off my motorcycle once. I didn’t “lay it down” either time. I dropped it and I fell off it. The first time, I had no idea what I was doing and tried to turn far too slowly and sharply. The bike tipped and gravity took hold of 400+ pounds of metal and did the rest. It was tremendously embarrassing, especially since I hadn’t actually bought the bike yet. At least it was a used bike and the owner was my brother, instead of some stranger.

When I fell off my bike, it was exactly as it sounds: I was riding, I was inexperienced, and I tried to pull onto a shoulder and rode through a deep patch of gravel. The only thing I remember was having just enough time to think “well, shit” and then I was lying flat on my back on the side of the road. The only injuries were some bruises on my leg and my pride.

I didn’t lay the bike down, though. Let’s be clear on that.

The reason I dislike the phrase is that it implies that leaping off your motorcycle is some sort of valid defensive strategy, when really, it’s not. If you’re off your motorcycle when it’s moving, it’s a crash. Maybe it’s a small crash and does indeed avoid a bigger crash, but it’s still a crash.

The idea that you would have the time to see a dangerous situation oncoming, assess the situation, realize there was no time to swerve, brake, or otherwise evade the situation, steel your reserve, and then push yourself off the bike . . . does that seem realistic?

You know what’s easier and faster than jumping off a motorcycle while it’s moving? Hitting the brakes. You know what’s better than jumping off a motorcycle at 60 miles an hour and possibly getting crushed under your bike or run over by a car behind you or slide along the ground for a while? Braking first, so that even if you do hit something, you’ve cut your speed by 15 or 30 miles per hour.

It’s true, older bikes had inferior brakes to what’s available today. Maybe there was a time and a place when “laying it down” was the only viable strategy. But that’s come and gone and to suggest that it’s still a good idea is just ridiculous.

The fact is, most riders are too proud to admit that they fell off or that they braked incorrectly and locked the wheels. We need to start admitting that. Yeah, it’s embarrassing to say “I fell off my motorcycle” or “I crashed my motorcycle.” You know what’s not embarrassing, though? Following that up with: “even though I fell off my motorcycle, when I was physically able to do so, I got back on.”