One of the truest but hardest to explain sayings in motorcycling is, “It’s not if, but when, you go down.” We all know motorcycling can be dangerous. We have friends that don’t ride, and they don’t understand why we ride. Something I see frequently is those riders that have been involved in an accident and become afraid to get back on a motorcycle again.
Many of the people I work with and many of my friends ride. Some use it as a mode of transportation, some as a hobby, but for most of them, it’s a part of their lifestyle. Why we ride isn’t as important as the fact that we ride. It doesn’t matter if you like the high gas mileage, the freedom of the road, or the thought of cross-country tours when you retire. Riding is riding.
However, being involved in an accident does have an effect on your feelings about motorcycling. For some, it doesn’t change much, as It’s just a part of motorcycling. For others, it can completely drain your confidence and may even result in putting away the bike for good. When I hear someone say, “I was in an accident once,” I have to stop myself from asking details about the situation. Will I bring up bad memories that they’ve forgotten, or will it turn into a great dialogue about skills they wish they had more of?
Losing confidence in riding a motorcycle after an accident is perfectly normal. The confidence may be in your skills, or it could manifest in the motorcycle itself. I’ve known riders that have put on thousands of miles every year, both on the street and on a closed racetrack, and they can tell stories of ‘little’ things that would terrify me to have been in. How you feel about any accident, whether it’s falling over in the driveway, or a collision with a car on the freeway, varies on a case-by-case basis.
Being injured in an accident may have an effect on how you heal, both mentally and physically. Some may just shake off a physical injury, allow their body heal, and jump back on to ride again. For others, a small injury can not only injure your body, but also cause a residual mental trigger. It’s up to you to take the time you need to heal your body and mind, and decide when or whether it’s time to get back on for the next ride, if there’s even a next ride.
Oftentimes a motorcyclist can forget what happened during an accident. It may be a blank moment in time or could have been caused by a head injury in the accident. Thinking back on how it happened can cause frustration as they try to piece together the details of the accident. Sometimes people feel guilty wondering if they self-inflicted the accident by doing something wrong. Sometimes having no recollection of the event can be a good thing, as it can lessen the chances of PTSD.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is having stress and anxiety after an event. Although some may not associate it with motorcycling, PTSD does exist within the motorcycle community. Nearly everyone will experience some range of reactions after trauma, yet, most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Symptoms usually begin within 3 months of the accident, but it varies from situation to situation, similar to the healing process.
Common symptoms of PTSD include :
- Nightmares – Nightmares can happen frequently and multiple times per night right after the accident.
- Flashbacks of the accident – You may see, hear, or smell something that causes you to relive the event, also referred to as a trigger. News reports on TV, the internet, or the radio, seeing an accident in person or the aftermath, or simply hearing a car backfire are examples of triggers that can affect you negatively, and can oftentimes induce symptoms such as sweating and rapid heartbeats.
- Lack of interest – Motorcycle accidents can cause a lack of interest in motorcycles or anything motorcycle-related, and sometimes in things completely unrelated. There’s no guarantee that something seemingly unrelated to motorcycling won’t be affected. If you were on a ride to get a milkshake as a reward, you may attribute milkshakes to the accident and not be interested in drinking one again for a while.
- Increased anxiety and stress – As your mind processes the information from the accident, it can stay in a heightened state of anxiety. You can stay irritable, tense, or feel uninterested in talking to people you associate with motorcycling.
- Hyperarousal (feeling on edge, stressed, or angry) – Arousal symptoms are usually constant (as opposed to triggers) that remind one of the traumatic events. It interrupts your daily routine and can cause difficulties sleeping, eating, or concentrating on things.
If these symptoms persist, disrupts your work or home life, and continues for more than 3 months, consider seeking professional help to work through the anxiety and residual feelings. They aren’t healthy for your long-term happiness, and you need extra help to get through the situation.
An accident is an experience that you need to learn from. You will have to think back to what happened and uncover how you got into the situation to begin with. You have the ability to process what the conditions were at that time, and from your training, you can decide what you could have done differently to avoid the situation or how you could have reacted differently.
Think back to the visibility at that time. How good was it? Could you see for miles or just a hundred feet? What was the weather like? Rainy? Sunny? Clear but after hours in the nighttime? What condition was your motorcycle in? Did it have good tires and a fresh oil change? Did you complete a T-CLOCS inspection before you left on the ride? Or was this a situation where you did everything right, and the fault really lies in another motorist? Keep in mind that you could have done everything right, and still ended up in the same situation What’s important is what you learned from it and how to bounce back from it.
If you still have the urge to ride again, no matter how long it’s been since the accident, there are steps to take to ensure you’re completely ready.
Being injury free means both mentally and physically ready to ride. Consult with your doctors to ensure that your injuries are fully healed before you can hop on a bike again. Do NOT try to ride earlier than advised, as it can manifest hiccups to your healing injuries.
Aside from your physical health, check in with your mental health to see if you’re ready to ride. It may take more time than you realize to get that fear out of your system, or at least minimized to a point where the desire to ride is larger than the trepidation of riding. Patience is key to healing, so take your time and don’t feel pressured to hop on sooner than you are ready.
Inspect Your Safety Gear and Motorcycle
A rider I spoke to after an accident said that he didn’t know the condition of his motorcycle safety gear or motorcycle until a later inspection. At the time of the accident, your focus isn’t going to be on your safety gear and motorcycle. If you were following ATGATT correctly, your safety gear should have been what took the most damage. You may have taken it off after the accident and put it away for a later time (that’s what he did). The motorcycle may get a quick inspection at the time of the accident, but until you’re ready to really look it over, you may not realize the true condition.
Your safety gear should have included a DOT approved helmet, a jacket, motorcycle gloves, full-length pants, and good riding shoes. Did it protect you during the accident? If it didn’t, take that lesson as a calling to invest in better safety gear if you do return to riding. If you had quality gear, is it in a good enough condition to use again or should it be replaced with new gear?
How did your motorcycle fair from the accident? Did it suffer major or minor damage? If you’re not familiar with the signs to look for, consider taking it to a certified mechanic for a full inspection and then decide what needs to be replaced and the cost to do so. If your motorcycle really took a hit in the accident, you may want to upgrade or replace the motorcycle altogether. If that’s the case, you can look at something new that may have better features like ABS brakes.
Enjoying the Thrill of Motorcycling Again
If the time comes that you’re ready to ride again, here are the steps we suggest to getting back out there safe and ready to go:
- Follow ATGATT – Whether you had great protective gear, or you’ve now upgraded to great gear, it’s time to make it a priority. Full gear, all the time. No questions.
- Practice makes perfect – It’ll take time for you to be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepare to head onto the road again. Take your time to feel comfortable on your motorcycle and don’t rush it. Think about starting off in an empty parking lot or in a controlled environment away from traffic and other vehicles to get acclimated to the feel of riding again. Practice the bare basics, such as turning, braking, etc. If you want to, refresh your skills by taking another motorcycle course or reading up on motorcycle guides.
- Take it easy – Go on a short, easy ride on a road that you’re familiar with. Don’t go on the highways, but rather, ride on surface streets and cruise just to ease back into the thrill of it. This will help you with gaining back your confidence. Ride during nice weather and not during rainy days or inclement weather. Try to avoid the scene of the crime as it can oftentimes reinforce that fear and can act as a trigger for PTSD.
- Don’t go alone – Having a partner or buddy to ride with you can make you feel more secure after a crash. Do you have someone that you constantly ride with that makes you feel safe? If so, have them help you get acclimated to riding again. As a friend or partner, they’re only there to support you, and not judge you.
- Be mindful of your ego – Don’t get overconfident just because you’ve been riding for a long period of time. You want to overcome your fear of riding sooner rather than late, but by not listening to your gut feeling, you can overlook things on the road. Don’t put yourself at larger risk for an accident because you want to continue with business as usual.
Accidents happen. They happen in motorcycling and life in general. How we move past them and continue on is an individual choice. Losing a little confidence is normal, and we need to stay cognizant to the signs of PTSD from the event. If you find yourself unable to move past the event after a few months, it’s best to talk to someone about how you feel concerning the issue. In motorcycling, fear and trepidation can cause us to react poorly to changing conditions. We need to move through our feelings and take the necessary steps to get back to motorcycling with a healthy mind and body. When it’s that time, ease back into it with the proper safety gear and support. And if you choose to not rejoin motorcycling, you can look back on the fun memories that you cultivated while doing something you love. Good luck and stay safe!