Misplaced machismo

By now you must have experienced the roar. Chances are, once you leave your home you will hear it. It’s an extremely shrill noise that increases in decibels as it draws closer to you.  There is something disturbing about its pitch, almost eerie-like in nature, as though it’s a cross between a sinister warning siren and the sound of disaster approaching.

The roar announces the arrival of the new kings of the road, the young macho men on their superbikes. It’s hard to miss the hulking machines, brightly painted in glowing colours with the bulky tyres. The riders bestriding the powerful beasts are quite often very casually attired in short pants, tee-shirt and slippers – the more casual, the better ‘Tom Cruise’ look one attains.  Very few opt to wear the prerequisite protective riding gear –‘racing leathers’‒ which are mandatory by law in most states and provinces in North America.

The leathers are one-piece or two-piece jackets and trousers, reinforced with modern materials such as high density foam, carbon fibre, titanium, Kevlar and hardened polymers at the back, shoulders, elbows, hips and knees. These synthetic additions serve as shock absorbers and energy spreaders for the crash which often occurs with equipment operated at alarming speeds. Sophisticated models even have airbags which deploy on impact to protect the neck, torso and lower back of the wearer.

Other compulsory safety gear for riders includes riding boots of specific standards, gloves, goggles and helmets. The latter, of course, compulsory by law in Guyana, are viewed as an unnecessary and sissy item, not needed by our macho kings of the road.

A few weeks ago an incident was reported to this newspaper involving one of these superbikes.  The witness was waiting to cross the street at the traffic light-less intersection of Camp and Robb streets, The rider’s pending arrival preceded by the wail of the bike’s engine, prevented any attempt to cross the heavy afternoon rush hour traffic.  Rooted at the south east corner of the junction, the witness noted his continued acceleration from the west, as he drew closer to the crawling traffic, slowed by the functioning traffic lights at the two intersections immediately to the north and south.

The driver of the vehicle preceding north brought it to a complete halt, lest it be sawn in two by the approaching missile, while the occupants of the car in front, now stuck in the middle of the intersection waited with bated breath for the pending crash. The dare devil dropped a gear at the last second, cut between the two cars, with nary a glance to the south bound traffic, which had now screeched to a sudden stop at his untimely appearance from behind the vehicle (and probably having being alerted by the aforementioned siren), leaned low to his right and swung the superbike southwards.

The transfixed onlooker was the recipient of a bemused look from the performer of this unwarranted reckless act which read, “That’s how it is done, Big Boy,” to borrow a term from this generation. The twenty-something year old rider then increased his velocity and was gone in a flash, blissfully unaware or unconcerned, about the near pile-up his dangerous riding had nearly created.

These superbikes, commonly called ‘CBRs’ (CBR is one of the models by Honda) have become hugely popular in the last two decades, and the ownership of one is virtually guaranteed to change the  status of any young man among his peers, and more so with the young ladies who seemed to be completely drawn to these ‘chick magnets.’

The most popular models are the Yamaha R6 (600) and the Yamaha R1 (1000) ranging in price from US$10,000 –US$12,000, brand new, to $2,000,000 –$1,500,000 for a second hand one. These bikes range in weight from 300-330 lb and are capable of attaining speeds of 160-200 mph. These toys are not cheap and can become lethal weapons in the wrong or inexperienced hands.

There are six superbike clubs in Guyana, two in Georgetown, one each in Essequibo, West Demerara, Linden and New Amsterdam.  The oldest club, the Georgetown Sonic Hunters claims to adhere to strict rules of conduct with regard to traffic laws, the wearing of protective clothing and adherence to road conduct and courtesy. Prospective members are under close scrutiny for a year before being allowed to join, and require three more years of training, including sessions conducted at the South Dakota circuit, before they can become full-fledged members.

In the last month, we have seen the loss of three young lives in tragic single vehicle accidents. The common thread with these two accidents, and the ones over the last five years is youth and inexperience. Both riders in the last two incidents were owners of these superbikes of less than two weeks, and like most of the previous fatalities were unattached to any club.

The volatile cocktail of youth, speed, testosterone and ego is at play here. Where does one begin to tackle this dilemma?  The first area that can be addressed urgently is licensing.  At present, motorcycle licences are not classified, and upon passing the test, the new licensee can ride any motorcycle regardless of engine classification. Levels of classification need to be introduced as quickly as possible, and as one moves up in engine class, a minimum number of years of experience need to be stipulated for each class, along with the attainment of certain standards of performance set and regulated by a recognized body; the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club, springs to mind.

This is just the beginning. Insurance stipulations, tighter policing, restricted zones and times can also be considered for superbike regulations. We cannot continue to fold our hands and stand idly by while our youth continue to be victims of slack regulations and their own inexperience.

The words of wisdom imparted by a wise and experienced legal mind many moons ago, on why all his sons were driving cars and not riding motorcycles, need to be shared here for the benefit of our youth who aspire to race: “Remember, young man, a motorbike is power without protection.”

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