Maui motorcycle riders will hate the main conclusion in this column, even though it could be a lifesaver.
I began riding in 1963, on the street, in downtown Chicago. When the weather was halfway decent, riding my Ducati 250 was a form of self-medication. It kept mental and emotional problems at bay. You can't think about junk when riding requires your total attention.
I moved to Hawaii from the Windy City in 1968. In January of that year, I found myself sitting in the boiler room of an apartment house, staring at my bike. Outside, there was three feet of snow freezing into ice crystals by a 10-above temperature.
It was two months since I'd fired up the Duck. It would be at least another two months before the bike would be moved out of the boiler room, even on days when the roads were dry but the temperature could, and did, fall 30 degrees in a matter of minutes.
To hell with this, I thought. I want to live somewhere I can ride all year-round. Got a job in Honolulu that April. Since arriving, a day without riding has been a waste of sunshine and tolerable temperatures, even in the rain. There have been years when a bike was my only transportation - on Oahu and Maui.
When restricted to just one bike, I averaged something like 7,000 to 10,000 miles a year. I did two 6,000-mile solo trips on the Mainland, in 1990 and 1992. With three bikes in the garage and a truck in the driveway, my yearly average has fallen to a total of around 5,000 miles a year. Before I retired, most days included a 36-mile commute to and from work. This morning, Baby and I went from home in Waiakoa to Pukalani to the 27-mile marker out Kahikinui way and back.
I'm not an expert rider. I've had my share of visits to hospital emergency rooms, but never involving a collision with another vehicle. The crashes were all due to taking stupid risks and paying the price in broken bones and dislocated shoulders.
My basic defense attitude in traffic is that everyone else on the road is either blind or homicidal.
Compared with Chicago and Oahu, drivers on Maui are mellow but bear watching. I especially look for drivers turning left and coming out of side roads and driveways. On four-lane roads, I'm watching heads and front wheels, both early indicators that a driver is ready to dive into my lane.
This year, reading traffic death reports in The Maui News has been depressing. So far this year, Maui has counted 18 traffic deaths, six more than at this time last year. Seven of the 2011 traffic dead have been motorcycle riders. Most, if not all, were riding while under the influence of alcohol. Most, if not all, of the "victims" were speeding.
I write "victims" because motorcycle riders must take full responsibility for everything that happens to him or her. If they were "victims" at all, they were victims of their own stupid behavior.
There have been exceptions, but not many. A friend died in a collision at the intersection of Hana Highway and Pulehu Road. He apparently watched a car stop, but it pulled out in front of him. The driver probably looked past my accelerating friend in an effort to find a break in the traffic. In effect, the driver was blind.
A definitive study of motorcycle deaths in Los Angeles found that every driver claimed he or she didn't see the motorcycle. It also found that most of the riders could have stopped before the collision but didn't have the skill to do so. Riders, practice panic stops before you need to make one.
That study also found that most of the collisions involved drivers turning left and most occurred within a few miles of the rider's home.
There's no need to get into arguments about wearing helmets, dark-colored clothing or shorts and slippers. I've worn a helmet since 1964. Today, riding gear includes a helmet, eye protection, boots, jeans and a jacket that has "armor" in the sleeves, shoulders and back.
At a party a few years ago, I got into a discussion of helmets with a rider who chose to ride with his head covered by a bandanna.
"I'd sooner ride without my pants than a helmet," I said.
"I guess it all depends on what you want to protect," he said with a smirk.
Seven riders have died on Maui roads this year. That's seven too many in a place that is perfect for motorcycling. How you ride is up to you.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.