Donovan Fourie: why we love the danger element of motorcycles


Biking makes people different. Look at any person that rides a motorcycle and you will see something, often subtle, about them that separates them from everyone else. A glint in the eye, a slight smirk and a sort of logical optimism no matter how bad the circumstance may be. Much of this is down to why we ride bikes instead of simply residing in the luxury of an air-conditioned cage.

Bikes bring you closer to the action. You feel the wind, smell the passing odours and take in the sun first hand. But more so, we ride them because there is a definite danger element. Don’t get me wrong – riding bikes does not necessarily mean that something tragic is imminent. We are constantly scoffing at people who recite the adage: There are two types of motorcyclists – those that have crashed and those that have never crashed. Anyone who says this should meet the legions of bikers that have never crashed and never will.

Kawasaki tracking danger

While biking is far from a sentence, there is that danger theme lying beneath the surface, and while we all do what ever is needed to remain upright, we also kind of like that it is there. No one has bragged about how they backed a bike into a corner on a Playstation game because that would incite nothing but funny looks from people. Tell of your near death close shave at breakfast with your bike still ticking outside, and you will receive wonderment and adoration. It’s a the danger element that makes it.

Even people who have seen the inside of an ambulance often end up better than they were before. The famous examples are best – the likes of Rossi and Miller returned to race less than a month after breaking their tip/fibs in accidents and were hero worshipped for it. Mick Doohan nearly lost a leg after a crash, but modified his riding style and his five world championships are all the more sweeter. Our own Brad Binder rode to a top ten in the Argentina Moto2 while his arm was actually broken.

The most famous crash that propelled a man to the status of demigod was Barry Sheene’s near 300 km/h off at Daytona in the 70s. He broke his leg, six ribs, his back, a wrist and his collarbone. When asked about it in the hospital, the ever entertaining Sheene listed the offending body parts and there concluded with: “Apart from that, I’m fine.”

Barry Sheene Daytona Crash danger
Barry Sheene’s famous Daytona crash at nearly 300km/h. It caused many broken bones, a lot of humour and much fame.

This nonchalance to danger and injury is perhaps what makes us different from every one else. Perhaps it makes us see life as a series of opportunities with the odd hinderance in between rather than the other way round.

I was reminded of this last year – you might have heard that a certain 73 year-old father of mine crashed his bike and was hospitalised for four weeks, two of those were in ICU on a ventilator. He is completely healed and back to his usual mischievous self now and, against the wishes of doctors, family and everyone who doesn’t ride bikes, he will be back on a bike again soon.

This has become a theme of his – speed and thrill above all else and never mind the injuries. With this, his many racetrack tumbles have resulted in him breaking nearly every bone in his body. This has given him that exact biking nonchalance and even a giant dollop fame. It became evident again at the hospital on the day of his now famous crash.

I was on my way home from a day shooting at The Bike Show studio, when my phone rang. The voice on the other end told me that my father was being loaded into a helicopter that would be flying him to Milpark Hospital.

Right. I guess my lounging at home can be put on hold. Off to Milpark.

I arrived a little after the helicopter, and he was already in the far corners of the ER being treated by a host of doctors and nurses. Meanwhile, I was at the reception desk filling in forms and getting a little frustrated.

“How is he?” I would ask with a pleading tone, “Sir, we can’t tell you. You’ll have to wait until the doctor speaks to you,” replied the reception lady.

More pleas were in vain. Apparently, hospitals now have a strict policy about communicating with family. In the past, anyone at the hospital could talk to you if they knew the stats. As you would expect, sometimes they get it a bit wrong. This has led to certain dregs of society taking them to court for emotional harm or whatever bull their greedy little hearts could come up with. Now, no one but the doctor may speak to family.

Simon Fourie Hospital Smile Danger
Simon sitting in the hospital cafe after four weeks, two of which were on a ventilator in ICU. He can’t wait to get back on a bike.

The problem here was that there were four different trauma cases at once at Milpark as the helicopters queued outside, and the doctors were running around like headless chickens. Patience is a virtue and patients were in the next room, but after four hours of knowing absolutely nothing about his condition or – heaven forbid – whether he was even alive, you could say I was justifiably annoyed.

At this point, my normal laid back temperament caved and I lost it with the staff. After some frantic running around by reception ladies and nurses, two men were brought forward. They took me to a special trauma council room (not good) and in a quiet and soothing manner, asked me to please sit down on one of the couches (even less good).

A kind looking mind explained that he was the family trauma councillor (okay, now bad) and that the young man next to him was the paramedic that worked on my father in the helicopter. The young man explained in a slow, patient manner that he had been in a bike accident, that he had been struggling to breathe and so they put him under and intubated him. He then explained that we are going to have to wait for confirmation the doctor, but it looks like he may have a punctured lung.

They then paused, because now was the time for me to process this and maybe have a little cry. Instead I gave them a quizzical look and said “is that all? He’s had that before.”

A little unsteadily, the paramedic continued, introducing me to the kind looking man who is a trauma councillor and said I should really make use of his services through this trying time.

“No, I’m fine” I said chirpily, knowing that he’s not dead and probably not brain damaged or paralysed.

”Look, I know everyone likes to act tough, but please use his services. It will really help,” replied the understanding paramedic.

I’m sure that for normal families, an episode like this is a life-affecting trauma and will probably lead to deep set emotional problems. For me, it is ordinary. When I was a kid, visiting my father in hospital was pretty much a quarterly event.

“Look,” I said earnestly, “my family is quite used to this sort of thing. We race bikes.”

This caused some lights to go on in both these men as they suddenly recollected their previous biking happenings and friends who race.

“Oh,” I said. “Did you ever read a magazine called Bike SA?”

With enthusiasm, they both nodded.

“Do you know of a man called Simon Fourie?”

“Of course we do!” they exclaimed before showering his name with adoration.

“Well, that guy lying in your ER? That’s him.”

Their mouths hung open in disbelief. Crashing and injuries is not fun, but it does lead to a certain amount of fame. And they stopped insisting that I needed counselling. But they did ask that I get an autograph…