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Roadside Monuments

All across our nation friends and families place little wooden crosses decorated with flowers as roadside memorials where a loved one was killed in a crash. Some memorials even have pictures of the victims and other mementos of their life. These quickly built monuments are expressions of love for the person who was killed and helps the survivors through their grieving process. Similar memorials are sprouting up in other states.

The number of these monuments dedicated to motorcyclists has been steadily climbing with the most recent data indicating that more than 4,500 riders lost their lives in motorcycle crashes in each of the past two years. This increase in motorcycle fatalities has made these memorials more prevalent and noticeable on our highways.

In South Dakota, the state starts the memorial with a double-sided diamond shaped sign with a red “X” to mark the spot where someone's life was suddenly cut short along the road. Friends and family then often decorate the signpost with flowers and other artifacts to pay homage to the person forever lost at that point on the highway. In stark black letters, one side of the sign says, "Think" while the other side says, "Why Die?"

"Constantly thinking as we ride may allow us to keep the risks we face at a manageable level."

The words emblazoned on these signs are good advice for us as bikers. Why would we want to die when we have so much riding left to enjoy? And if we are constantly thinking as we ride, we may be able to keep the risks we face on the road at a manageable level that allows us to ride again tomorrow. We all know riding is both a physical and a mental activity. Some experts suggest that riding requires as much as 90% of our mental skills and 10% of our physical skills.

There is a fair amount of physical skill required to make the motorcycle go, turn, shift and stop. Just ask anyone learning to ride about how easy it is to get both hands and both feet to work together while doing different things. They often struggle to independently to squeeze the front brake lever, press the rear brake pedal, squeeze the clutch and downshift all at the same time. Yet, with experience, these physical actions become almost automatic as we putt down the road. We are able to coordinate both hands and feet without even thinking about it.

But the mental skills, as important as they are, must never become automatic because we can’t afford to ride on autopilot. We should be constantly alert to what is going on around us. We’ve got to continuously analyze what might happen and determine what we'll do about it if it does. We have to always identify an out we can use if the worst happens. We can never let our guard down. We've always got to be on top of our mental game when we ride.

"Think" is great advice and what we must keep doing as our wheels roll down the pavement. The more we use our mental skills to keep us out of trouble, the less we have to rely on our physical skills to get us out of trouble. And the fewer roadside memorials we'll have to build. "Why Die?"

Ride Smart! Ride Safe!