Alex Colpitts is a registered nurse who spent years working in the emergency room—and he’s also a motorcyclist. How does he reconcile the risk of riding with his time seeing the aftermath of crashes? Read on:

I have been riding motorcycles for 20 years now. Like most riders, I’m frequently asked “Aren’t you afraid of crashing? Dying?”. My answer is always that, yes, of course I am—I’ve seen the consequences first-hand.

I have been a registered nurse for a decade now, and I’ve worked in the emergency room as well as the intensive care unit. I’ve seen all sorts of accidents, deaths and trauma activations. That means years of observing the effects of motor vehicle accidents first-hand. I am surrounded by colleagues who constantly plead with me to give up riding and stick to driving my car. For years, my go-to response to these people has always been that I am a safe rider. That I follow the rules of the road and I wear proper safety equipment.

But most riders know the truth to those statements. You can never be completely safe while riding a motorcycle.

I learned to ride off-road, and I have plenty of scars from wipe-outs and crashes. Thankfully, my on-road riding experience has been less exciting, but I still have stories of near-death experiences, like most riders. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in high school was the importance of defensive driving skills. I was cruising down a back road in my home town, on my way to my Grade 12 graduation rehearsal, when a car pulled out in front of me. I locked up my brakes and ended up close enough to the car to touch the bumper.

That was a good lesson learned, and in my 20s, I learned about ATGATT. I bought high-quality gear, including a high-visibility vest, since many crashes are due to other motorists not seeing a rider. Compared to my years as a teenage beginner, I rode carefully around other vehicles, and stuck to the speed limit.

In 2018, as I was preparing for my wedding, I was riding to meet my wife-to-be so we could pick up our marriage license. I managed to drop my V-Strom in the yard while maneuvering around the yard, and went to to pick up our paperwork with blood running down my leg. I took a break from riding for a few weeks, as I had lots to do and dying on a bike wasn’t part of the wedding itinerary.

But in the years since, I’ve continued riding, because even though it’s a high-risk activity, and even though I saw the results of bike crashes in the ER, nothing beats the thrill of cruising down a country road. I deal with the risk the same way most riders do; I have to come to terms with my own mortality. I know that no matter how careful I am, no matter how much gear I wear, no matter how visible I am, I can never be completely safe on my motorcycle.

My wife knows how much I love motorcycling, and she also knows the risks involved. This has led to conversations that few of us want to have with our spouse. She knows my wishes if I was to suffer a traumatic brain injury or other debilitating injury from a motorcycle crash. I pay for plenty of life insurance, so even if I die, she will be taken care of. We approach the question realistically, and I want to ride as long as I can do so safely.

The best thing any rider can do is to approach motorcycling with an attitude of safety. Watch your speed, wear proper gear, keep your machine in good running order. If you’re responsible, it will help your family and friends understand and support your riding career.

So, all these factors come together, and help me reconcile the idea of working as an emergency room nurse, but also riding a motorcycle. Working as an RN, I’ve seen death as a part of everyday life. I’ve accepted that death is a fact of life, and although I wish to live a healthy and long life, I also can’t imagine life without riding.

It’s not that I have a death wish, or that I don’t care about my legacy or loved ones. I don’t want to flippantly say everything happens for a reason or some other cliche. But motorcycles have been my favourite thing for as long as I can remember, and I want to ride as long as possible, even with the risks—which I’ve mitigated as much as possible.