There’s a common phrase in the bike world: “It isn’t that you haven’t crashed, it’s that you haven’t crashed yet.” The idea that all motorcyclists are likely to crash is a smart one that will likely help keep riders safe, but reminding each other of it all the time is rude, annoying, and drives us apart. Let’s break this down a bit.
A week or two ago, I mentioned that I had yet to crash on a bike, and I was quickly reminded by several readers that I shouldn’t say that because—again—it wasn’t that I hadn’t crashed, just that I hadn’t crashed yet.
Unfortunately, I crashed last weekend. While you might jump to think I proved them right, I still don’t think it was right to correct me and tell me so.
This is an absolutely true statement. More importantly, it’s one we should all keep somewhere in our consciousness every time we get on a bike. While skill can help us reduce the risks to some degree, we’re choosing to get on a powerful, heavy, hard machine and subject ourself to the free will of the human race and nature and chance—and that doesn’t bode well for us.
Even the most talented among us have had offs. My crash, while not completely devoid of things I could have done better, is another example of how sometimes shit just happens. Skill can absolutely help you ride more safely, but it doesn’t prevent crashes from happening.
But, if you’re riding like every time is the time you could go down, you’ll likely be more alert and ride more defensively and hopefully avoid that thing that tries to take you out. The message behind the saying is a good one, and certainly helpful for riders at every level.
In the intro to my article about the crash, I said that people who said this phrase were assholes. Call it not wanting to burn up space explaining myself or laziness or the pain killers, but I probably should have clarified a little. Let’s see if I can do that here.
The thing that bothers me about it is that it’s often a blanket response given to anyone who mentions that they ride at all, or haven’t crashed, or haven’t crashed bad. It’s a part of life for all of us, but unnecessary and morbid to beat people over the head with.
Most people don’t go around reminding other people that they’ll likely lose a grandparent in the next few years or that someone they know will likely get cancer, even though those things are also true. It’s unnecessary, and it most often comes off as arrogant and preachy; making anyone on the receiving end feel dumb and naive.
Many of you will respond that you say this only when people say they’ll never crash, because somehow they’re better than the rest of us. That dude is already fucked, and just tell him “Good luck, but please don’t ask me to contribute to your GoFundMe when you’re laid up.” Because that guy isn’t going to learn from your cute anecdote.
Communication is all about sending a message and how it will be received. It’s why couples use the phrase “when you do X, it makes me feel Y” in counseling. It’s why, as a teacher, I used natural consequences instead of punitive ones. It’s why, as a rider, I say that my crashing is most likely inevitable and I try and be as prepared as I can for then that day comes. Or why I try and create conversations that include the person I’m talking to or share personal experiences when trying to discuss the importance of gear and dangers of riding; instead of correcting them with a cute saying that comes off as a scare tactic.
So, if you’ve said that phrase, I don’t really think you’re an asshole. You just sort of sound like an asshole when you say it. And you’re definitely an asshole when you tell a guy who’s just crashed, “See, I told you it would happen!”
Some of my critics say I write like I have a chip on my shoulder and I’m “better/smarter/more skilled” than everyone else. I’m not. I try really hard to own that there are plenty of guys more talented than me, but if I’ve come off like I think I’ll never crash, then I’m an asshole too and deserve to be treated like one and talked down to. I think we should encourage each other instead of pointing out the morbidly probable things we’ve all come to accept.
Finally, the statement promotes the idea that we’re all due for something given some amount of time which, on the flip side, lends to the idea that once we’ve had a crash we’re somehow safe for a while. That’s bullshit.
Having ridden without a crash for 10 years does not mean I’m likely to have one soon (although I just did), and crashing this last weekend doesn’t mean I’m safe for a while. We’re just as likely to crash every time we’re on a bike and that’s all that matters.
Let’s find a new way to say the same message, in a way that doesn’t divide riders or make the ones hearing the lesson feel talked down to or inferior. We can all be safer and feel more comfortable learning from each other rather than trying prove we’re better motorcyclists than each other.