If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday 18 May 2010


There's a very sad post over at The Last Of The Few here. The writer's friend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and his post tries to come to terms with the guilt he feels about introducing the guy to biking in the first place. He doesn't succeed.

I really feel for the guy. There are things in my life that I carry a weight of guilt over, things that I cannot change and which I regret. Logically, I can tell myself I am not to blame (and all my friends will tell me the same), but that doesn't cut any ice. When you feel guilt, it won't go away. However many people tell you something isn't your fault, you nod and agree, but inside you tell yourself that it's all very well for them, but inside you know you are guilty.

But how responsible are we for the things that other people do? The writer of TLOTF feels that, as he introduced his friend to biking, trained him, and went out for Sunday rides with him, that he is in some way responsible for the friend's death. I can understand how he feels that, but he is wrong. On a bike, almost every decision you make could be a life-or-death decision. Do I overtake now, or wait? Do I slow down for this side-road, or is that over-cautious? What's the best speed for this stretch of road, given that it is raining and there's mud on the tarmac? No-one is whispering the right answer in your ear. You have to decide, and you had better get it right. That's one of the marvellous things about riding - for once in our over-managed, risk-averse, cossetted and insulated existences, we get to make decisions that matter. It's very life-affirming.

If I took you on your first skiing trip and ten years later you were killed in an avalanche, would that make me guilty for your death? Of course not. And if I introduce you to motorcycling, help you through your first wobbly rides and be a companion to you on some great days out, does that make me responsible when some tractor driver pulls out of a field in front of you? Sorry, mate, but I wasn't there, and you made your own decisions that day. The law will take its course, and I will have to live with the thought that - perhaps - if I had acted differently ... But you only have to flip the question over to see that it is ridiculous. If we never told our friends about things in case they may later be hurt doing those things, where would it end? Social life would become impossible. I can't go for a drink with you in case I inadvertently encourage you to drink more and you may later succumb to cirrhosis of the liver. I won't accompany you on a fell-walking trip in case you slip and break a leg, or fall over a cliff and die.

No, that won't do. We must allow each other to run our own lives. We have a responsibility not to put each other into danger, but that is a long way from sharing something that moves you with a friend, something which has a potentially dangerous downside.

I wish TLOTF well, and I hope that these feelings of guilt eventually subside.


  1. endemoniada_8818 May 2010 at 23:04

    I followed the link and felt compelled to add my own support. It's been a long time, thankfully, since I've been in the position of having a mate die on a bike. I'd have to add that none of those were people I'd actually introduced to biking, so it's not quite the same as TLOTF's case.

    His sadness, regret, frustration, even anger are quite natural and understandable. All the unspoken "if only"s are there amongst the grief, and I hope the poor guy can come to terms with it all.

    However, I have to agree about the blame and guilt side of things being misplaced - and maybe they're simply being misdescribed: in the moment, it's not always easy to tell which particular flavour of overwhelming emotion is actually in play.

    Guilt implies responsibility, though: that there is fault by comission or omission that could have changed the outcome. As you say, that isn't biking. Even in groups, we all ride alone, with our own lives in our hands. If TLOTF had been there, could he have done anything except watch from behind or in his mirrors? Or even earlier: could he have prevented his friend from taking up biking, even though he himself was a biker?

    Blame would be for lending your recently DAS-ed novice mate your Stage 3 urban tiger Fireblade, then wishing you'd remembered to mention the notchy head bearings and bald rear tyre - not for taking the time and trouble to introduce him to biking and sticking with him while he learned and gained experience on the road.

    I'd like to think, although I know neither of the people involved, that his friend would thank hime for bringing on all the good times rather than blaming him for their premature end. And I hope TLOTF gets to a place where that makes sense to him.

  2. As always, you say what I meant to say, only better. I concur with your last paragraph entirely.

  3. endemoniada_8821 May 2010 at 00:21

    There was a very nice addition from TLOTF today, thanking everybody who offered their support. It sounds as though the funeral went as well as these things can do, and that it has helped. So that's good to hear.

    Thanks for the compliment, by the way, but I have far too much respect for your own turn of phrase to agree entirely! Plus, it's much easier to respond than to write the original piece...


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