So as summer is upon us, I've been taking the opportunity to get out on my bike as often as possible. I've ridden to and from work on any days the weather was anything other than rainy as hell, I've ridden down the shore, I've found new raw bars to visit and ridden to them...in short, I've already put in several hundred miles so far since taking the bike out of storage in May and you know what I've found? Folks who drive cars are goddamn assholes.
Let me rewind here for a moment, because people who haven't ridden a bike are probably going "Yea but you biker types are assholes" - and while that's in part true, it's not true universally...any more than my statement about folks in cars is. The difference, and the thing that people in cars fail to realize sometimes, is that what would be a "reasonable risk" for y'all, something that at worst would be a fender bender, could well be fatal to me. Let me give you an example - the following video (not mine, please ignore the TERRIBLE audio track) shows how what could be a minor ding up for a car, could be VERY serious if not fatal for those of us on two wheels. Go ahead, watch it - I'll wait here.
Now look, I'm not naive. There's plenty of stories out there of bikers riding like assclowns: swerving in and out of lanes, riding too fast, riding up people's butts, ridings aggressively...and we've all had that moment where we've looked at a biker behaving in that manner, pointed and said "That guy right there is future road pizza"...but putting those guys aside let me tell you a little bit about how I ride, and why I ride the way I do.
First of all, I ride a large bike. It's a bike designed for the highways. It's black, and chrome, and honestly pretty hard to miss seeing as motorcycles go. This is my baby - its 700 pounds of steel, and chrome, power, and maneuverability. It's pipes are loud enough that nobody can say that they didn't see or at the VERY least hear me coming when we're talking about highway riding:
Yet despite it being large, and loud, and pretty tough to miss, people do. All the damn time. Just this past week the GF and I took a stroll up the Garden State Parkway to visit a clam bar I'd found online, and putting aside the every day "wow, that guy is a dick" comments, we once again experienced what, for us, would have been a near death experience. Stop and go traffic, I'm in the right lane, nothing much going, rolling at maybe 35 MPH and some fuckwad in the middle lane decides to cut me off...now understand, I'm not referring to "cut me off" as in I had to slow down a little, or as in that was kinda aggressive, but ok - we're talking I had to slam the breaks, squeal my tires, and even with that missed getting nailed by MAYBE 8". Not only did the person nearly kill me, but they seemed completely unaware or uncaring of the fact that they'd done it. Usually if someone fucks up on the road and causes a close call you at least get a wave - some kind of acknowledgement or a "damn, sorry dude". This lady, like so many others, couldn't have given less of a fuck - safe in the knowledge that had an accident occurred her car might have gotten a little dinged, without a single thought for the fact that she'd just come within a few inches of killing two people.
It's fortunate that I always ride under the assumption that everyone is blind. When I'm at a merge, I defer to a car, even if it's behind me by a bit. I'm defensive as hell. I know better than to tangle with a car, because it's a fight I wont win. If I'm in a hospital in traction from an accident, it's precious little comfort to be able to say "I had the right of way". The rules of driving go out the window because, whether I'm in the right or the wrong, I'm not going to win that one.
Now I know, I know...there's the old defense of "bikers are intimidating, especially when riding in groups", but it's really a stigma that needs to go. I'm not a 1% type (if you don't know what that is, google it - but in essence it's the old school biker gangs who still have territory wars and the like). I'm an IT guy for crying out loud - and if you saw me on the street the LAST thing you'd say is "holy crap that dude is intimidating". I don't wear leathers, I don't wear patches, I don't even wear a full face helmet so that people can see I'm just a normal dude. Plus, I have my girl on the back, a total hippie chick who is anything BUT intimidating. So you can't tell me your disregard is because I'm scary. Likewise, when I ride in a large group, it's generally to raise money for *insert cause here*...and yes, we all ride together in a group because that's what a bike run is. We're not trying to scare you, we're not big and bad (or at least not all of us are)...we're trying to get from point A to point B without y'all obliterating us - it's why we ride staggered side by side in one lane. Go around us if you want, we really don't mind, but for the love of god, look before you merge into the middle of a damn bike run!
Now with all of that having been said, we as motorcyclists have a responsibility too. A responsibility to make sure we're seen. A responsibility to make sure we're NOT an intimidating group. A responsibility to NOT fill an entire roadway and piss off the folks riding in cages. A responsibility, in short, to not do this:
But despite those bikers doing just about everything wrong, the ONLY people who got hurt were folks on bikes. Know why? Because we are, in our very essence, vulnerable. The very thing that we love about riding motorcycles is what also puts us at your mercy. For every instance like the one above, there are literally hundreds like this:
This guy was lucky. Not only did he land on his feet, but he walked away with nothing more than a busted bike and the "holy fuck that was close" shakes. I myself was hit by a dude in a pickup truck years ago - I was making a left on some back roads and, because there was gravel on the road, I'd slowed down - my turn signal was on, and the jerkoff decided to pass me. On the left. While I was making a left. He hit my front tire, the bike spun out, hit the ground, clipped my helmet etc. I was lucky, I was able to get up with nothing more than some road rash and some bruised ribs - and you know what the cowardly prick in the truck did? He ran. He hit me hard enough to know, but because it was backroads with no witnesses, and because he figured I'd be too busy making sure my limbs were intact, he just sped off on his way. It's something that happens so much more frequently than it ever should.
So what's it like to ride a motorcycle in a world of cars? It's fucking terrifying. You know, without question, that every time you get on the road you are taking your life into your hands. You know that your OWN riding skill is only a piece of the puzzle, and you know that you are relying on those around you to be aware of their environment and what's going on around them. It's also the most free and amazing feeling I've ever experienced in my life. Riding on the backroads with nothing but curves in front of me, trees around me, and the sun in the sky is a feeling that EVERYONE should experience, at least once in their lives. If you've never ridden on a 2 wheeled vehicle in the open air before, I highly recommend the experience, even if it's just a scooter (which I've also done down Ft.Lauderdale way) it will give you a whole new appreciation for what those of us on the road on 2 wheels do, and why we do it. And maybe, just maybe, it will make you check your review an extra time or two before making that erratic lane change. Or at the least, and possibly even more importantly, it will make you put down that goddamn phone. I have to pull over if I want to text someone, and I have to use a headset to talk to them - please, for the love of all that is good in this world, you all do it too.
Keep your eyes open folks - you don't want to be the one to END Geekymitch, or anybody else on two wheels. It's summer and we're out there - and we're about the journey, not the destination. Be safe folks and help us keep the shiny side up.