AUGUSTA — Gov. Angus King learned to “expect the unexpected” Wednesday as he rode to work on his Harley-Davidson Wide Glide along Route 201, then swung onto Interstate 95 for the fastest leg of his daily journey to Augusta.
Dressed in jacket, jeans and boots for the trip, the governor forgot to take money for the toll.
So King quickly left the interstate at the last exit before the tollbooth, baffling his state police escort.
The momentary embarrassment provided a perfect story for his Wednesday morning date for Tea 2000 with 100 members of the United Bikers of Maine on the lawn at Blaine House.
King shared tea and doughnuts along with tales of the road at the annual event. Then he proclaimed May as Motorcycle Safety and Awareness Month with the theme, “Expect the Unexpected.”
The annual tea also serves to warn other drivers that motorcycles are back on the road.
The governor is an avid biker, taking annual trips with the chief justice, attorney general and other state officials.
Still, most bikers do not look forward to being trailed by state police officers, and King told the bikers that having police escorts is like “having training wheels.”
The bikers, dressed in traditional leathers and colors, listened attentively as they balanced Blaine House teacups on their knees.
Despite the humor, the Wednesday meeting took on a serious bent when King and the bikers talked about the inherent danger of the road.
Many cycling accidents can be avoided, since half of all fatal motorcycle accidents involve alcohol and 25 percent involve speeding, the governor said.
Motorcycle riding takes heightened awareness because “other drivers don’t see us,” King said. The best advice he heard when he started riding was to “pretend you are invisible” and treat all other drivers as though they can’t see you, he said.
The founder of United Bikers of Maine, John Ponte of Hebron, remembered the days when bikers were taboo for most politicians and praised the “pro-motorcycle governor” for changing attitudes. John Higgins of Southwest Harbor, president of United Bikers of Maine, praised King for “bringing biking into the light.”
It is hard to imagine a state with a greater biker influence on state government.
Secretary of State Dan Gwadosky, who introduced himself as “a recovering politician,” complimented the bikers group for its traffic safety work over the years. Sen. William B. O’Gara, chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said his view of bikers has “changed dramatically” since meeting with UBM members at public hearings. O’Gara even joined the annual bikers’ Toy Run last year, after a lifelong fear of motorcycles.
Richard Perkins, director of the Bureau of Highway Safety, said motorcyclists should “expect the unexpected” since 76 percent of motorcycle accidents are caused by the bike riders themselves. “Don’t expect to walk away” from a motorcycle accident, since 85 percent of the 3,736 motorcycle accidents between 1990 to 1996 caused serious bodily injury, he said.