Riders and Pilots – Bikes and Planes – what’s the deal?

A recent article by Fred Rau in Friction Zone magazine explores the correlation between riding motorcycles and flying aircraft. Fred says a pilot is 12 times more likely to be a motorcycle rider than an average person, and that a U.S. Marine pilot’s number one cause of injuries was due to motorcycle accidents.

In the back of my mind I’ve always suspected that many pilots were also riders.


Heck, just check out Tom Cruise riding a Kawasaki ZX-10 in Top Gun for proof. No helmet, of course, just cool Ray-Bans and lots of wind in the hair. Or how about Richard Gere’s Navy-pilot-in-training character, riding a vintage Triumph around when not making time with Debra Winger. Clearly there’s something to this.

Everybody knows Peter Egan, right? Yup, Pete’s a pilot.


Back in my college days, learning to pilot planes and work on them too, there were lots of bikes parked at the airport. Well, at least during the six months of the year when the central Illinois weather cooperated. Half of the mechanics and flight instructors rode bikes, and of course I did too. I caught lots of grief from the older, Gold-Winger mechanics when I showed up on my Kawi 350 triple- sans baffles of course. Hey, I was 19, what can I say?


There are lots of similarities between riding bikes and flying planes. Focus. Preparation. Learning curve. Three-dimensional sensations. Speed! Exhilaration! Turning and burning! Banking and cranking!
OK, I digress.


Look through your turn. Lean into it. Tilting the horizon. Pilots and riders all experience these. Being closer to the ground, the sensation of speed is obviously greater on your Yamaha R1 or Ducati Monster, but it can easily be compared to the experience of performing aerobatics in a Pitts Special or Citabria.

Focus is equally important for both machines if you want to get home alive. Pilots and riders both report a “zen-like” experience of intense focus while flying along, on the ground or in the air. Both mode of transport are relatively dangerous, compared to more mundane and popular forms of travel such as cars and airlines. If it wasn’t a challenge, it wouldn’t be quite so rewarding.


I haven’t taken the left seat of an aircraft in several years, but the sensations of piloting a plane never leave. The feeling of greasing one onto the runway is just as rewarding as nailing that apex with my knee strafing the asphalt.

How many of you reading this are pilots? Ever think about getting your private pilot license? If you are an experienced motorcycle pilot, you owe it to yourself to at least take an introductory flight at your local small airport. Cessna and other aircraft makers offer low-cost flights for people just like you. Warning- you could become addicted.


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