I never intended to become “the motorcycle guy” at the office and amongst my friends. But when you quit cars to become a bike-only person, you tend to stand out. And notice things.
When you don’t own a car and ride a motorbike everywhere, it’s inevitable. As someone who rides a motorcycle daily, I see a lot of things on the road that makes me take the name of Yeezus in vain. As a biker to drivers, I’d like to share some insights that might make all of our lives on the road a little easier.
Remember the movie “Hunt for Red October” that features Sean Connery doing a terrible Russian accent? One of the great things to enter our vernacular from the flick is pulling a “Crazy Ivan.” If you’re driving a massive nuclear missile submarine or similarly-sized Tahoe, this involves looking up from texting your BFF about the location of your next Yoga class, and realizing the “OMG! I’m about to miss my exit! Evasive maneuvers across five lanes!”
Often in the hurry to not miss the exit, and quickly move over several lanes, people don’t check their blind spot. It’s really easy to miss a motorcycle in this situation, and have to tell the gendarmes “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see the motorcycle.” The UK even has an acronym for it - SMIDSY: Sorry mate, I didn’t see you. A car driver gets a citation and we get a bad version of a slip and slide, and possibly a helicopter ride. Not cool.
Cars will often follow roughly 2.3 millimeters off the rear tire of a motorbike, possibly thinking that they are “drafting” and the highway is the banked tri-oval at Daytona. Unless your name is Ricky Bobby, and you’re on invisible fire, please don’t do this.
Also not acceptable, is sharing a lane with a bike. Motorcycles don’t take up a full lane and are entitled to use the whole lane, just like you are. A smart rider will often switch positions within a lane depending on road conditions and what’s going on around them. If a bike is staying to the left side of a lane, this is not an invitation to come snuggle up the right side of the lane. This is not appreciated and may cause general surprise and possibly some creative swearing.
There’s not much to be said here that hasn’t already been said, so I will be brief. Many places make texting and driving against the law, and I wish it actually were enforced. Distracted driving causes a lot of rear-end accidents. If your luxo land-barge taps the rear or a car, it’s usually not a big deal, unless there are high speeds involved.
The difference is this: if you hit a car, you may have to fix the bumper and hood. If you hit a bike, the bike is often totaled, and the rider could be seriously injured. This is a bad deal for the motorcyclist when all they were doing is riding their BMW GS around the corner to Starbucks while pretending to be Charlie and Ewan taking the Long Way ‘Round.
When a group of bikes riders together, they spread out in what’s commonly known as a staggered formation. This alternates bikes in a lane and mitigates the risk of accidents. Fairly often, merging cars will break into the formation. This is considered rude at best, and dangerous at worst. How do I know this, you ask?
In a combination of a Crazy Ivan and a break the formation, a total jackwagon about to miss his I35 on-ramp wedged between my friend Jose’s Triumph Tiger and my Sprint ST, collecting me in the process. The result? I spent a week in the hospital in Austin with several broken ribs. The damage to his Benz? Minimal.
Filtering or “lane-splitting” on a motorbike is common practice in much of the world, and California in the U.S. Despite roughly 20 years of attempts at legislation, the AMA hasn’t been able to buy enough votes from Congress to get it legalized.
Filtering in traffic jams helps keep us from being rear-ended by distracted drivers, keeps our bikes from overheating, and does help us get to our destinations quicker. Cars get A/C and airbags, we get filtering. Win-win.
Riding in Texas where filtering is not specifically allowed is a bit of admitted civil disobedience. Several folks I ride with practice it under the proper “rules.” Recently, while stuck on a ramp entering I 35, I had a guy in an F-150 ask me why I wasn’t lane-splitting. I replied that there was a merge just ahead and I had nowhere to go, even if I did start filtering. That man is doing the Lord’s work.
Americans have terrible lane discipline. I’ve come to find people first choose the lane they want to be in, then they choose how fast they want to go. Not to point fingers, but, Lexus SUVs and Priuii tend to be prime offenders where I ride. Far too many folks seem to be card-carrying members of the Anti-Destination League. On a bike, this isn’t as much of a problem, due to the sheer speed of motorbikes. You can do things in traffic you just can’t in a car. This in no way excuses parking in the left lane, while a growing mob of cars behind you start getting out their torches and pitchforks.
Odds are, the motorbike in the next lane over is just trying to get to where they’re going, the same as you. Please play nice and don’t play bumper...erm..cars with motorcycles.
Most bikers are trained to “ride like they’re invisible”, but it’d be a whole lot safer for all of us out there if more people in cars were willing to dedicate just a few extra brain cells to watching out for two-wheelers.
Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel, and we’ll all have a much happier time on the highway.