Sometimes well-intentioned actions produce an outcome that’s the opposite of what was originally intended, or they solve one problem while creating another that’s just as bad. Let’s say you drive a gas guzzler and you’re feeling guilty about your contribution to global warming. So you sell the guzzler and buy a smaller, more fuel-efficient car.
But have you really made a difference? You sold your old car to someone who will go right on driving it, and you bought a new car to replace it. Now there are two cars on the road where there was only one to begin with. You haven’t done anything to reduce global warming; if anything you’ve made it worse. All you’ve really done is sell your guilt.
You can see the potential for this sort of backfire in the effort to promote motorcycles as a viable transportation alternative, and convince people to leave their cars at home and ride bikes to work, to school, to the grocery store...well, maybe not the grocery store. As someone who didn’t own or have access to a car for about a year back in the 1970s, I can tell you the number of round trips I had to make to Safeway on a CB500/Four just to keep the cupboards half full was more than enough to offset any savings on gas.
There are more good reasons why riding a bike instead of driving a car just doesn’t pencil out. If the price of gas is putting a serious hurt on you, what do you think the monthly payments on a bike will do? Then there’s riding gear—a helmet, a jacket and pants, gloves, boots—none of which you need in your car. Throw in another insurance policy, and the price of maintenance and tires, then factor in the number of days each year when it’s too hot, too cold, or too wet to ride, or the task at hand demands a device with a trunk, seating for more than two, and some weather protection—days the motorcycle sits in the garage unused—and it’s obvious why you’re never going to get Joe and Mrs. Suburbia to trade in the Tahoe for a couple of scooters.
But suppose they did, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, making one of the motorcycle industry’s fondest wishes come true. That would be a good thing, right?
More riders will inevitably result in more crashes and fatalities, no matter how well trained those riders are. That will attract the attention of legislators, regulators, insurers, a national media already convinced that motorcycles are death machines, and—you might want to send the children out of the room now—lawyers.
This will inevitably lead to more restrictive laws—mandatory DOT-approved fully armored protective jacket and pants laws, anyone?—more public backlash as a few bad apples suddenly become entire orchards of them, and in general the kind of governmental scrutiny on the local, state, and federal level that motorcycling has so far escaped by virtue of being too small an insect to bother swatting very hard.
Currently motorcyclists can argue that they should be exempt from emissions regulations because they constitute a small minority of road users. But if the number of bikes on the road gets high enough, that excuse won’t fly. If you laughed when you saw the optional air bag on the latest Honda Gold Wing, you probably won’t think it’s very funny when it’s a government-mandated requirement on your dual-sport, along with a roll cage, arm restraints, and any number of half-assed “safety” features thought up by know-nothing politicians.
The sad thing is I’m pretty sure I’ll live long enough to see some of this stuff anyway. So why hurry it along? Next time someone asks you why you ride a motorcycle, tell them it’s because you’re too poor to afford a car. Don’t let on how much you enjoy it. The longer we keep the secret, the longer the fun will last.