May 24, 2020

Motorcycle Safety Course 401 - Attitude over Ego: How to NOT be a Squid

Motorcycle Safety Course 401 - Attitude over Ego: How to NOT be a Squid

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." –Zig Ziglar

If we were to tell you that if you follow our advice, you’ll never crash, you would (rightly) click out of this article as quickly as you could. Because riding is inherently dangerous.

Most (if not all) the riders we know have dumped their bikes and hurt themselves at least once. Some riders even say crashing is inevitable, part of the learning process.

We think crashing is a very poor training tool. We also know that avoiding certain risky behaviors can dramatically reduce the risk of crashing. We’re not talking out of our tail pipes, either: science is on our side.

In the 1980 Hurt Report – the nickname for one of the most comprehensive studies of motorcycle crashes ever done in the United States – numerous risky habits and behaviors stand out. When it comes to motorcycles, crashing = injury -- at least 96% of the 900 studies crashes in the Hurt Report reported injuries, and 46 were serious. As they say, stupid hurts.

This last installment is meant to put our thoughts into some categories to about what it takes to minimize - or even eliminate - the risk of crashing.

Don’t be a squid!

What’s a squid, you ask? Well, there’s a lot of controversy over the origins of the term, as with any slang. Is it a contraction of “squirrely kid?” Is it a reference to young sailors in Southern California crashing their motorcycles while on leave (sailors are called ‘squids’ by rival service members)? Or was it what they look like smeared all over the pavement after the inevitable?

I don’t think we’ll ever settle that one, but we can all agree that a squid is a rider who takes extreme and dangerous risks because of ignorance, ego, good ol’ fashioned dumb-assitude, or a combination of the above.

We all start out as squids one way or another. The ‘beginner squid’ is born out of ignorance, and they usually learn the lesson quickly and correct the risky behavior. But squids don’t learn! That’s part of being a squid.

We’ve all had that flash of ego, too, pushing our bikes, brains or bodies past what they can safely do. A normal person will scare themselves or worse, crash. And if they survive, they’ll probably never do that again (or at least not for awhile).

We won't pretend to understand the mind of the squid (if there is such a thing) so who knows why they do the things they do. But they do seem to like attention - "Hey! Look at my tats! Check out my guns! Watch this wheelie! Can I borrow your truck?"

If you know what a squid is, and have some self-awareness, you’re probably not a squid. But the truth is we all do squiddley stuff. Read on for some anti-squid therapy.

Accidents can (and probably will!) Happen

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but the squid is archetypically young and male. Those of us who are or have been in that group know that good decision making is really, really hard. That said, squids come in all genders and ages and get into something without really considering the possible consequences.

The stereotypical biker look when you ride your motorcycle

The first thing a motorcycle instructor does in the classroom portion of a basic riding course is inform prospective riders of their risks and responsibilities. Motorcycling is 27 times more dangerous than driving other vehicles per vehicle mile travelled in the United States, and we’ve seen students actually get up and walk out of the classroom when informed of that fact!

That means one less squid on the road. A person who thinks motorcycles are just a kind of two-wheeled car that signals to the world how brave/dangerous/sexy/sassy/independent they are likely hasn’t put much thought into the dangers and risks of riding.

Not everyone can – or should – ride a motorcycle, either because they lack the ability to learn the skills to ride safely, have a physical difference that keeps them from riding safely, or because they can’t exercise proper judgment. It requires self reflection, something squids just don’t do.

Things squids do on motorcycles

Accepting the real risks of motorcycling is just half of it. As a rider, we have a responsibility to our communities. First, we owe our family and friends the opportunity of having us around and uninjured, as they will be the ones who may have to care for you – or mourn your passing – if something goes wrong.

We also owe the society we live in the chance for us to not be a nuisance, be it from obnoxiously loud exhausts, breaking traffic laws (yes, drunk motorcyclists sometimes hurt or kill others besides their own stupid selves) or spending a decade in the coma ward at a public hospital because you just "don’t do helmets."

Motorcycle Safety - only squids ride without a helmet.

Finally, we have a duty to our community of motorcyclists, and we advocate upholding that duty for selfish reasons. Motorcycles are one of the least regulated of all the dangerous sports and activities, and it shows: about 5,000 motorcyclists die every year in the United States.

Don’t spread that number around too much, because it’s appalling: motorcycles are 3% of the 274 million registered vehicles in the United states (and they get ridden an average of less than 5,000 miles a year), but account for 13% of the deaths and Lord knows what percentage of the injuries.

That we’re allowed to ride at all is a miracle, if you ask us, so being a safe and responsible rider is the best way to make sure we’re not legislated out of existence.


All The Gear, All The Time. That’s what ATGATT stands for, and it’s not a definition of what is proper gear so much as it is the attitude of being prepared for the crash, and not for the ride. A squid assumes (we guess) that bad things only happen to other people. That’s why they don’t wear protective gear other than what’s required by law.

Riding without gear – or allowing your passenger to ride without – means you are either in denial about the risks involved in riding, or are ignoring your responsibility to others to do everything you can to ride safely.

Biker attitude don't be a squid and wear safety gear

We’ve already covered what gear to ride and why in another article, and you probably already know how important it is to wear boots, gloves, body armor and of course, a DOT-approved motorcycle helmet.

What we want you to understand is that ATGATT is a lifestyle choice that is frequently uncomfortable and inconvenient, but worth it. Sure, you probably won’t die if you crash wearing shorts (although people have died from infection caused by large abrasion injuries), but you will wish you were dead, lying on your belly for three weeks as your wounds heal.

Being suited up benefits you and your community of fellow riders. When you walk into work or the grocery store in full gear, carrying a helmet, the first thing people ask is, “aren’t you hot in all that stuff?” You can respond by saying, “it’s not as hot as sliding along asphalt on bare skin at 40 mph,” which has a tendency to make folks STFU.

Wearing the gear makes others aware of the dangers of motorcycling, and it tells them that compared to most yahoos they see riding in sunny weather, you take your safety seriously.

It also tells them that there are responsible motorcyclists who deserve a chance at life, and they may think a little more carefully about motorcycle safety when they’re out there driving. That means they might actually look out for motorcycles before merging or turning left. Hey, we can dream, right?

Picking the Right Ride

“What’s the best first motorcycle?” is probably one of the most Google-searched phrases regarding bikes. There are thousands of possible answers, but there is only one truly good one: the best first bike is the bike that’s best for you.

The difference between a normal person and a cephalopodic one is that the squid will decide what motorcycle they want first and then look for info that validates that choice.

Definition of a squid - dress for the slide not the ride

There’s no shortage of validation on the Internet. For instance, if you want a Suzuki GSX-R600 as a first bike, you go to a Facebook group or Internet forum for GSX-R600 owners and ask them if it’s okay. Some of the participants will tell you the truth – that a high-performance 600cc sportbike is probably the worst possible choice for many reasons.

But the majority of them will say something like, “just take it easy for a while and you’ll be fine. That’s what I did.” Warning: those people are squids, too. This is the life cycle of the squid. The same goes for a $20,000 Harley-Davidson or a loaded-to-the-gunwales BMW R1200GS adventure bike.

So our molluscan friend goes out and spends as much money as they can buying their dream bike, thinking they’ll “grow into it,” whatever that means (we wonder if they buy shoes the same way).

Sometimes, miraculously, they survive their first year with only moderate physical and economic hardship, long enough to recommend new riders follow their path. Others total or sell (“Low miles! One Owner! Left side is perfect! Includes helmet!") their bikes and never ride again. And a third category...well, you can guess what happens to them.

Sportsbike posing its an acquires skill.

You should choose your first bike depending on how solid your basic skills are. But how do you learn those skills without a bike? It’s a Catch-22, no? No! That’s the value of basic motorcycle instruction. They give you a bike to learn on! Crash their bike! Drop it and dent the tank, snap off a lever or two, bend the shifter. It’s no problem, and no charge! Yes, they’ll just pick the bike up for you and fix it, or if you banged it up too bad, give you a different one.

If only that was how it worked after the class. Once you know how to ride, you’ll know a little more about what kind of bike you need…if you want one at all (many riders never purchase a motorcycle after taking a basic riding course).

Now you’re ready to buy. A tentacle-less person might buy a simple, lightweight, inexpensive and easy-to-repair starter bike. What style of bike depends on your body type. Tall with long arms (or tentacles)? Consider a small dual-purpose bike. Very short-of-leg? A small-displacement cruiser is a good choice (and swallow your ego if it’s not what your friends ride!)

Your first bike needn’t be large enough to be freeway legal, as most of your practice time should be on nearby city streets with light traffic. Craigslist has a zillion such rides for under $2,000, and the best part is after you practice with it for 3 to 12 months, you can clean it up and sell it for $2,000. And liability-only insurance for a small bike is so cheap it’s practically free.

The worst possible choice to learn on? Well, a bike with way more capability than you’ll likely need in your first year of riding and costs $1,000 to fix every time you drop it at low speeds or fail to make sure the kickstand is down all the way when you park, a bike that can accelerate to 60 mph like a quarter-million dollar supercar, or one that weighs more than three NFL linebackers.

Buy the best bike for your learning time, and at the end, after you sell it to the next learner, you’ll have a $2,000 down payment for the bike you really want. More importantly, after months riding in the real world, you’ll have a better idea of what bike you actually need.

Life Long Learner

“For the best return on your money, pour your purse into your head.”

– Benjamin Franklin

A hallmark of the squid is that they know it all. They are usually self-taught, and many of them have a surprising amount of ability and skill. You’ll see them pulling (admittedly awesome) wheelies on the freeway or dragging a knee on your favorite canyon road.

Every chance they take successfully is latent permission to up the ante and try something even riskier. The goal? To be the fastest, or craziest or most attention-grabbing rider in the group. The result? Well, if you see an old squid, odds are they weren’t born a squid, if you know what we mean.

Or you could choose a different path. Become a lifelong learner, a student of motorcycles. That means you understand and acknowledge the need for continuing rider education and seek out training opportunities as often as is practical.

The importance of motorcycle training and learning

If you love motorcycling and understand the extreme risks (you have to either love it or be insane...or continue it passionately), these educational opportunities will be the most fun you can have while clothed. Try a day at the racetrack, or a flat-track racing school. You can train to be an MSF or CMSP instructor and share the gift of your moto expertise to newbies. You can take a small-engine or motorcycle maintenance course at the local community college and gain a new appreciation for your machine (and ride safer, as mechanical failures do account for a small percentage of crashes).

There are also advanced street-riding clinics if you don’t feel like getting dirty or going 100 mph on a racetrack. Please check out our more in-depth article on rider education here.

Lifelong learning isn’t just about taking classes and learning new skills or improving old ones. It’s the attitude that you’re a student of motorcycling and that there will always be something to learn.

The Non-Squid

While we can’t guarantee your safety (only a fool would believe us anyway), if you follow these steps we can guarantee you won’t walk, talk, act or look like a squid.

Stick with it and you’ll find you may be a smoother, (and ironically) faster and more confident rider than your average undergarment-exposing no-shirt canyon crawler. That means you’ll enjoy motorcycling for a long time and fly our motorcycling freak flag in a creditable way.

Thanks for reading. Now let's ride!

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