Saturday, November 14, 2009

Unpopular Opinions: Be Careful What You Wish For

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?

Wouldn’t it?

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.


Matt said...

The biggest economic argument against motorcycles has got to be tire cost.

For my Honda Del Sol, it it about $400 for a set of tires that will last 40,000 miles. Works out to be about a penny a mile. 10 cents per mile for gas.

For my Triumph Sprint ST, to go about 10,000 miles it will cost about $450 (2 rears, 1 front). 4.5 cents per mile for tires. 8 cents per mile for gas.

11 cents for the car, 12.5 cents for the bike. Plus I'm throwing away a lot more used up tires.

Oh wait, not riding the bike I'd have to pay for a therapist.

Jerry Smith said...

You're right. Seems like there was a time when tires lasted forever. They were rock-hard and cornered like they were made of wood, sure, but they didn't wear out to the tune of three or four a year. Then again I wonder how many miles a year most people rode back then. I clock about 7,000 in an average year, sometimes 10,000. I wouldn't swear I rode any of my older bikes that far the whole time I owned them.

crwells said...

Hey, I just found your blog and have been enjoying reading it. That said, I also like commenting when I disagree on something -- so here goes!

If I buy a new car, and sell my other one, that doesn't necessarily increase the pollution. If someone buys my old car, they are either a brand new driver (16 year old), or they are an existing driver that will no longer be driving their previous means of transportation. In the end, there is a certain amount of the population that is driving a motor vehicle -- even if all of them own 5 vehicles a piece, it doesn't mean they can drive them all at the same time.

Also with regards to safety -- what if the trend actually went the other way? With more motorcycles on the road, there would be more moto-on-moto accidents -- and these accidents would probably have a higher survival rate when compared to moto-on-auto accidents. So what if legislators saw that, and decided that motorcycles were actually a safer alternative?

What if they mandated that cars must be reduced in size and weight so that they don't have as lethal of an affect against motorcycles when they are involved in an accident? What if they realized that the number of moto-related accidents as a percentage was significantly less than auto-related accidents? What if the roads became a safer place for all of us motorcyclist because we were such a common site?

Anyways -- food for thought! I'm really enjoying your blog! And I will probably take you up on your advice anyways about telling people I'm just too poor to afford a car!!