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Jarrod Gilbert on how to avoid being killed by a Devil's Henchman

He’s spent decades studying gangs, but a crash when out riding with some members made Jarrod Gilbert take out some special insurance: Ride Forever coaching.

The Director of Criminal Justice at the University of Canterbury didn’t see it coming. How could he, when the impact came without warning from behind? He’d been taken out by a member of the Devil’s Henchmen motorcycle gang, but this was not some dastardly plan. Instead, influential expert and published author on gangs Dr. Jarrod Gilbert had the back wheel of his R 1200 C inadvertently clipped by one of the group he was riding with.

Jarrod is well known for his expertise on motorcycle gangs and a go-to figure on the subject for the media. Perhaps less well known is his passion for riding motorcycles, one kindled at age 13 by a neighbour who taught Jarrod to ride and loaned him a DR200 to tear around the back paddock. By age 20 he was the proud owner of a Honda GB 400 TT. “A little café racer kind of thing,” is how Jarrod describes it. “And I rode it everywhere. I thought it was the bees’ knees at the time!”

'I broke half my body'

Three years ago, as part of his research on gangs, Jarrod joined a gang run on the roads out of Christchurch. “We were going at a reasonable speed when I got clipped from behind by another rider, a member of the Devil’s Henchmen,” says Jarrod. “I broke half my body. I can’t remember anything about how the crash unfolded but I woke up in hospital after breaking six ribs, my wrist, an ankle and rupturing my liver. I hit my head so hard it knocked me out, so I ended up getting a helicopter ride to hospital."

For some, experiencing a crash that came out of the blue like that would result in lingering trauma. But Jarrod’s philosophical. “You can’t be frightened of something you can’t remember,” he says. “But what I do remember all too well is the months of recovery. It was just awful.”

It was this that motivated Jarrod to sign up for coaching. “I wanted to reduce the risk of having another accident. I was always going to get back on the bike. Riding motorcycles is a joy and it’s just not my personality to get put off something because of a one-off incident. People who ride bikes know that joy. Everyone should ride a motorcycle, it should be compulsory!”

The James Bond bike

It wasn’t just Jarrod’s body that was smashed. So was his beloved R 1200 C. So he set about finding a replacement “They’re pretty hard to find, for a reason: they were never very popular,” he jokes. “Its sole claim to fame is as a Bond bike. But it was a Pierce Brosnan Bond, so not even a very good one!”

The crash did have a silver lining. It gave Jarrod time to track down a mint R 1200 C and register for Ride Forever coaching. “It had occurred to me before to do a course. When you learn to ride at the time I did I’d never had any professional instruction, never read books or anything about what riding is. You just do it, and that opens up the possibility that there are a lot of things you don’t know or aren’t doing as well as you could be, or even wrong,” says Jarrod. “So when this ‘opportunity’ came up I thought ‘let’s give it a nudge’ and I went along.”

Simple yet valuable

Jarrod wasn’t sure what to expect of the course, but he picked up a whole series of skills that he describes as simple but incredibly valuable: “Things like following distances. It’s not just about stopping in time–anyone on the road knows the value of that–but what I wasn’t really aware of is that giving yourself a bit more distance allows other people to see you more clearly. Particularly if they’re turning across traffic. If you’re tucked behind a car they might not see you and turn into you. Some things might seem self-evident, but it’s about putting a lot of little things together. Also, when someone’s watching you ride and talking to you about it, you become more conscious; more alert.”

The best thing about the course? “The thing I was so heartened by was the instructor understood that motorcycling is about fun, it’s that joy I was talking about,” says Jarrod. “He wasn’t trying to remove any of that. I guess I had some small fear that the coaching would take away some of that fun, that it would try to wrap you in cotton wool. But it wasn’t like that at all.”

In fact, Jarrod has become so enthusiastic about training that he intends to take more. “I want to do some track-based training next. I think it will help to understand the limits and complement what I learned from that Ride Forever Silver course. But I’ll be doing the Gold level at some stage too. It’s a great day out and you’re learning in the best possible environment.”

Overcoming barriers

Given the chance to talk with such an eminent sociologist, especially one with a passion for ‘bikes, the inevitable question was, What could Ride Forever do to encourage more people onto the courses? Unfortunately, Jarrod was stumped. “I don’t know why anyone would be reluctant,” he says. “If people think they know it all, and maybe they do, then come along and test it. Maybe us older buggers can be a bit bull-headed, All I can say is that I highly recommend the coaching, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I got out of it and how much fun it was.”