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This Lady Biker takes risk, and the course


This summer, I officially crossed the line from "ride behind" to Lady Biker.

I could blame it on the handwriting analyst at Liberty Mutual Group's booth at this year's RIMS conference in New Orleans. She said that my Catholic schoolgirl script indicated a desire to take more risks.

But when I shared this observation with my colleagues and business associates, they all laughed.

"She obviously doesn't know you," most of them said.

Funny, I never really thought of myself as being much of a risk-taker. Then again, while others may live by the motto "don't rock the boat," my life has been punctuated by a series of Titanic-like catastrophes. I've encountered business risk, financial risk, emotional risk. So I guess it really wasn't out of character to buy a motorcycle to commemorate reaching the half-century mark this summer. I needed to add a little physical risk to my dossier.

According to the theory of "risk homeostasis" put forth by Gerald Wilde, a professor emeritus of psychology at Queen's University in Ontario, risk-tolerance levels vary by individual, with some people willing to take on greater risk than others. Risk-tolerance levels also don't change, even when we get older. As a result, when the level of acceptable risk in one part of an individual's life changes, there will be a corresponding rise or drop in acceptable risk elsewhere, he theorized.

Mr. Wilde's theory proves itself in my risk-taking behavior. As I enter the latter stages of adulthood, a time when I am finally settling down, I feel the need to shake things up by embarking on a dangerous recreational activity. In fact, many health insurers consider motorcycling to be an "extreme sport" and specifically exclude coverage for injuries sustained in bike accidents. I think biking could actually make me a better insurance risk because wending my way through Colorado's mountains on a 600-pound piece of motorized equipment can be quite a workout.

Even with my higher-than-average risk-tolerance level, I still feel the need to manage my exposure to live to ride another day. So before I headed out on the highway looking for adventure, I enrolled in an intensive weekend crash-course (no pun intended) in motorcycle safety.

Whenever I tell people I bike, they usually ask if I wear a helmet, as if that's all it takes to ensure a rider's safety. But the course, which was developed by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, taught me that even a full suit of armor wouldn't adequately shield me from other vehicles and road hazards. Instead, I needed to learn how to ride defensively because motorcycles are virtually invisible to other vehicles. I learned about the "no zone," the blind spot around a truck or other vehicle. If you cannot see yourself in the side-view mirror of the vehicle in front of you, then the driver can't see you, either. That's why so many motorcyclists "ride the line" to the left or right of the lane so they will be seen. This tendency to be invisible is also why I chose a Harley-Davidson over a Honda. Loud pipes save lives.

The effect of alcohol was another major component of the classroom instruction. Even though I already knew that one beer has the alcohol equivalent of a jigger of hard liquor or a five-ounce glass of wine, what I didn't know was that alcohol causes greater impairment to motorcycle riders than drivers of other vehicles. It made me decide that for me there would be no "poker runs," where riders go from bar to bar picking up playing cards, and presumably drinking alcohol.

There is a downside to my new avocation, however. I've noticed a little less of an adrenaline rush each time I take to the streets, maybe because I'm starting to get the hang of riding. Once I've got a few thousand miles on my treads, I may feel the need to do something more to meet my risk-tolerance threshold.

So I've started planning my 60th birthday celebration. What do you think about hang-gliding?