When Motojournalists Die

RIP,  Jeff

RIP, Jeff

I’m saddened once again at the news that a fellow motorcycle journalist has died while riding his bike. Last week, I learned of the death of Backroads Magazine contributor, Jeff Bahr. Jeff collided with a Cadillac driven by an 86 year old man who pulled out from a shopping center in front of his Triumph Explorer.

Wait, There’s More

Jeff is only one of a string of motorcycle journalists whose ride on this Earthly plane ended suddenly. There are many others who I do not recall at the moment, but these stick in my head.

RIP, Larry

RIP, Larry

Larry Grodsky of Stayin’ Safe and Rider Magazine fame collided with a deer in 2006. Larry was 55 years old.

RIP, Christian

RIP, Christian

Christian Neuhauser of Roadrunner Magazine died when he was hit by a truck while riding a sidecar in North Carolina. He was 45.

RIP, Kevin

RIP, Kevin

Kevin Ash, a renowned British journalist died in 2013 on an off-road group ride in South Africa with other journalists test riding the new BMW R1200GS. He was 53.

RIP, Greg

RIP, Greg

Greg McQuide worked for Motorcyclist Magazine when he died back in 2000 after a truck cut across his lane on Interstate 40 while visiting the Honda Hoot in North Carolina. He was 20 years old!

I know there are more, but I am embarrassed to say I can’t remember them all. Help me if you can so we can pay respects to their contributions to motorcycling.

Why, WHy, WHY?

Jeff's Explorer.

Jeff’s Explorer.

I ask myself what could be happening to cause these presumably skilled, experienced and thoughtful motorcycle riders to die at what they do best? It’s certainly possible that each of these riders made a fatal mistake. Maybe it was an unfamiliar road combined with too great a speed, or perhaps they lost concentration for just a moment, which allowed a hazard to turn nasty.

What I think is more likely is the fact that motorcycle journalists have a dangerous job. You see, moto-journalists have an inordinately high exposure to the risks associated with riding a motorcycle. Yes, they sit for what seems like endless hours tapping at a keyboard (which has its own hazards, believe me). But, they also spend many hours and miles riding all kinds of motorcycles in all kinds of situations. And many of these bikes are not familiar to them.

Notoriety

Of course, many hundreds of motorcycle riders die each year who often don’t get much more than a line of text in the local newspaper. In contrast, when a national-level moto-journalist dies while riding a motorcycle, it is industry news. This makes it all seem more notable, but it also shoves a mirror into the face of every “average” motorcycle rider who asks “If it can happen to him (or her), then it can happen to me”.

Do All You Can

Anyone can find themselves facing the sharp end of the “motorcycling is dangerous” stick. The answer is not to give up riding (as if you would actually consider this), rather, the solution is to do all you can to minimize the risks. Even with all the knowledge and skill in the world, you still may end up in trouble. But, you owe it to yourself and your loved-ones to be the smartest and best motorcycle rider you can be.

Sorry to be a bummer. Reality sucks sometimes.

Share your thoughts below.

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Ken is author of "Motorcycling the Right Way” and "Riding in the Zone" (book and blog). He is also the "Street Savvy" columnist for Motorcyclist Magazine, and former longtime author of the Proficient Motorcycling and Street Strategies columns for Motorcycle Consumer News. Ken is Lead Instructor for Tony's Track Days, a 20 year Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor, and owner of Riding in the Zone Motorcyclist Training.

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8 comments on “When Motojournalists Die
  1. Susan says:

    I’m 54. I rode in college after passing an extensive safety course. My Dad got a Honda 200 for me and insisted on the class. Thanks, Dad. For my 25th wedding anniversary My husband got me a Suzuki s40. I love it. I ride as often as I can. I drive defensively but worry about distracted drivers. My bike has a switch that lets me flash my headlight to get the attention of other drivers. I use it a lot. Recently a coworker/ friend ended up in the hospital after a bunch of kids plowed into him at a stoplight. I have not riden since. After reading about fallen motorcycle journalists I am truely saddened and deeply concerned about safety on the roads. What ever happened to drivers Ed. In high school? Where are these kids learning to drive and why can’t they use their turn signal?
    Too many people are learning about motorcycle safety the hard way. Something has to change.

  2. Chris Bowen says:

    I’m waiting for my 4th grandchild to be born and came across this website. I was googling Christian Neuhauser…I loved his feelings for riding, but after 40 years of riding everywhere, coast to coast, it was near miss of a distracted driver that ran me off the road at 75 mph, but didn’t crash which made my decision final. I still love motorcycling, but don’t ride. I miss it so much.

  3. Tom N. says:

    Doug,

    Your quote ‘Drive like you are invisible’, is a nicer version of mine… My wife earned her motorcycle endorsement 3 years ago, and my son, just last Friday. I told both of them, as well as other new riders. “Ride as if every driver on the road is out to kill you, because, THEY ARE!” They may not be out there actually trying to kill us, but with the 2 ton SUV, there is a big chance we will lose. This philosophy has worked for me, 23 years on the street, and counting.

    Ride safe, Ride on!

  4. Doug Shepherd says:

    I’ve been hit. It wasn’t fun and it could have been a lot worse if my skills weren’t what they are.

    The very first thing someone told be when I was 18 and going to get my motorcycle license was ‘Drive like you are invisible’ As corny and cliche as that sounds it’s has stuck with my over the 35 years I have ridden on the street.

    We ride because there is nothing like it. Every time we throw a leg over we know there is a potential for incident. My personal mantra is you should always respect and have a little fear. If you don’t it’s time to take a break. I also think there are times you’re head isn’t in the game and you shouldn’t get on a motorcycle either. My friend has this as his signature on a message board I frequent. I’ll end with it.

    Riding is not inherently dangerous but is unforgiving of mistakes.

    Doug

  5. brady ward says:

    I wonder what the actual data looks like, motojournalist mortality vs. the general riding population? At least they had a job they loved that got them on two wheels more frequently than most of us. RIP.

    A general comment on situational awareness and threat anticipation: I used to watch the Russian dash cam accident videos on YouTube to marvel at the ineptitude of the average driver. Now I realize they are a fascinating real-world survey of high risk traffic situations, and I try to anticipate the threat and solution before the carnage unfolds.

  6. Marc Robidas says:

    This will sound a bit dry, buy stick with me…

    The risks of an accident will never be zero. Enhance your skills, choose where and when you ride; the risks can get closer and closer to zero, but there are risks you can never eliminate. Combine a long riding career with risks you cannot control (deer), you can think of it as a reverse lotterie. Oops, that sounds a bit dark.

    All your riding experience is stored in your neocortex, which needs one second (or so) of anticipation to fully utilize your skills. When things get real in less than one second anticipation, the neocortex has negligible involvement; the amygdala will kick-in and stab the brakes or freeze. Rossi-like reflexes only live in the neocortex.

    OK, enough with dry commentary…
    Riding has enriched many facets of my life, discovering new roads within 1-2 hours from home, meeting great folks on street rides and at the track. Some family hiking and kayaking in new locations happened because the location was first discovered during a ride. Each riding season is a new/evolving experience, I look forward to.

    I’ve got more, but I’ll stop here 🙂

  7. Ken,

    Tragic. The world is truly a less interesting place without Jeff.

    Mike B. and myself had a very similar conversation to your post on Sunday. Then we went on a beautiful ride that ended at Jeff’s wake.

    When my wife heard about Jeff she said “That’s scary”. She’s used to hearing about squids but, as you say, if it can happen to experienced riders then it can happen to anyone. But she also noted that people die in the most mundane ways. As someone once said, some people exist and some people LIVE and I’d rather be in the second group.

    For me it is simply a risk reward equation. When the enjoyment I get from riding no longer out weighs the risks that go with it then I’ll hang up the gloves. Based on the amount of fun I had on Sunday that day is still some considerable way off.

    Stay sharp!

    Barry

  8. Adam Butler says:

    Very good and somewhat sobering Ken. But I look at it like this. We need to make sure that we do all we can to be safe and proficient. But not lose sight of why we ride. We ride because it is enjoyable. We should promise ourselves to enjoy each and every ride. As we have seen you never know when the next ride will be the last ride. Always enjoy the ride and never ever take it for granted. We that ride on two wheels know a love and freedom on two wheels…

    Find a corner and lean into it!!!

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