By Jay D. Johnson

I’m always amazed by the number of people who have never ridden a motorcycle, but still feel compelled to give riding advice to those of us who do. “Motorcycles are dangerous!” they state as if this is something that never would have occurred to us had they not pointed it out. “No kidding, Lady?” Well, if you’ve never experienced a rear tire blowing and coming off the rim at 50 miles an hour on a twisty mountain road, you have no concept of the meaning of the word “dangerous.”

“What do you do when it rains?” is another of my favorites. “Well, living in Seattle that’s rarely a problem, but if it happens I usually just turn on the windshield wiper.” That confuses them. After they inspect my bike looking for the wiper, I just hold up my left glove. When you’ve ridden in snow up to your floorboards, loose sand or gasoline soaked blacktop, riding in the rain is a “day at the zoo.”

When you’ve done something for a couple of decades, you start to think you may have insights on how to do it. After four decades you get downright arrogant about it. That’s where I am today. I’ve made a list of rules about riding which come from 40 years of making mistakes and living to tell about it. These are rules I’ve made for myself. Breaking these rules will put you at risk of life and limb. I have the bent motorcycle parts to prove it. A few months ago I broke four of these rules and that’s why I found myself lying on my back staring at the leaves waving in the branches of the oak trees above the center of Marine Drive in Vancouver BC, Canada wondering if I could still wiggle my toes.

Rule #1 Never get on the motorcycle when you are tired. Or, if you feel the slightest bit drowsy, stop and get off the bike.

Rule #2 Never get on the motorcycle when you are angry or upset.

Rule #3 Never get on the motorcycle when you have had a drink.

Rule #4 Always have an escape maneuver in mind for your current riding situation.

Rule #5 Never ride in anyone’s blind spot or assume other drivers see you or know you are there.

Rule #6 Never let distractions take your attention away from traffic ahead, behind, and to the side of you.

One sunny afternoon in Vancouver, I broke rules #1, #2, #4 and #6. The pickup truck in front of me suddenly stopped to let a jaywalker cross the street at the same time I was changing stations on my radio. When I looked up I didn’t have time to stop or dodge right. I just slammed into the back end of that truck. My Cavalcade hit the bumper and I bent the tailgate with my face. I did $1000 damage to an $800 pickup and several times that amount to my Cavalcade. I spent the next three days on the couch of a friend in Vancouver until I felt up to riding home in the car. It took several months to find someone with the knowledge and resources to find all the parts and rebuild “Blue-on-Blue” back to showcase condition.

You may have noticed that I didn’t say anything about maintaining the mechanical condition of your motorcycle. I figure that if you don’t know that you shouldn’t start a 2,000-mile trip with 1,000 miles of tread, you are beyond hope. Tires and brakes are the two most important devices between your legs. Everything else is just “accessories.” For example, if your spark plugs fail, you may end up pushing your Cavalcade. If your brakes or tires fail, you may end up pushing up daisies.

The irony is that I have friends who ride with bald tires, old batteries, weak brakes, unwashed motorcycles and have ridden that way for years. On the other hand, my best friend and business partner kept his motorcycle in immaculate condition, but one careless moment cost him and his wife their lives. There is a lot of luck in surviving life on the highway. But I still believe that the more you put the odds in your favor, the better your chances of survival. That’s why I have six rules for riding. I try to remember them every time I have my cycle keys in my hand. What are your rules?