The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has officially designated May as Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Now this is something I can get behind.
It seems like I’ve been on two wheels before I even got out of diapers. I shed the training wheels early and then found motorcycles in my pre-teen years.
That’s when things really got fun.
My uncle, who was basically my stand-in father, delivered unto me my first real motorcycle before I even got my first zit. I was instantly in love. The freedom of power (even if I was confined to fields) and the exhilaration of speeding and jumping occupied my thoughts from that point forward. Sure, girls came into the picture, too, but there was always room for bikes.
I graduated from that dirt bike to a street bike when I was 15. My same uncle rode street bikes and decided it was time for me to do so, as well (big grins as I write this sentence.) He promptly bought me a bike and enrolled me in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation training course in Dallas. That was a great weekend for 15-year-old Rodney as I not only got to ride bikes all weekend but I got to hang out with my uncle in his bachelor pad. That singular event solidified in my mind the tangible connection of happiness and joy to motorcycles.
I don’t know what the laws are now, but back then in the 1980s, a 15-year-old could get a motorcycle operator license for a bike 125cc or under. What I got was a peppy little 50cc motorcycle that was short on top speed but great on quickness. I took that little red and gold beauty down every back road McKinney, Anna and Melissa had to offer. I wasn’t old enough to have a regular automobile driver’s license but I still had my freedom.
I learned quickly, however, that it was me against everyone else, an ethos that I carry to this day whenever I’m out on my bike. Even before cell phones, texting and interactive car dashboards came along people were distracted. My scariest moment came when I was westbound in the left lane of Virginia St. in McKinney and a truck in the right lane decided to make an illegal left turn. I hit the gas, hopped the sidewalk and left the bewildered truck driver stopped in the middle of the road. To top it all off, when I rode onto the sidewalk a bee had flown into my helmet, gotten stuck and angrily stung me in the inner ear. I was terrified and in pain.
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve driven on the street for nearly 30 years (am I really that old?) and have never had an accident. Others haven’t been as fortunate. I’ve never lost a close friend to an accident so I count myself lucky there, as well. Part of that luck, however, is that I don’t associate with the guys you see pulling wheelies down Highway 75 and zipping in and out of busy traffic at 90 mph. Those riders give us all a bad name and those are usually the guys lighting up the evening news. They make their own luck - dumb luck.
But there are good motorcyclists out there who end up getting a raw deal. I know bad stuff can happen at any time. Motorcyclists are harder to see on the road, especially for those auto drivers not paying attention (and there are way too many of them on the road nowadays.) A little awareness can go a long way out there on the streets, and if all drivers would put down the phones, stop texting and actually check their mirrors there would be more motorcyclists still with us today. The numbers tell the story: In 2013, 494 people died on Texas roadways while riding motorcycles and scooters, representing a five percent increase from the previous year. Those deaths accounted for approximately 15 percent of all traffic deaths in the state last year.
I’m still on two wheels today but, unfortunately, that first motorcycle of mine is not. The tale is sad but true: we were riding in a field in Melissa when a friend of mine fell off and locked the throttle full on. The bike, under its own power, took off, began veering and drove itself straight into the brick side wall of the old Melissa police station. As I went chasing after my beloved ride a Melissa police officer came running out with his gun drawn, obviously thinking a bomb had gone off as the sound of the impact was stomach-churningly loud. The bike that started it all was reduced to a pile of twisted metal and I was crushed.