Common Tread

Street survival mindset: Three attitudes to take on the ride

Dec 01, 2015

I read a story recently on another moto site about this guy on a motorcycle who films himself riding real aggressively and smashing mirrors off cars when motorists commit traffic sins.

Although this guy is living out my occasional "Falling Down" fantasy, I think he's a tool. I started reading the comments on the story. You can usually tell quickly who has only a car, and who has a motorcycle. I was disappointed by what I read. (The term “cager” got tossed around a lot.)

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained a reference that some readers felt perpetuated a stereotypical view of women drivers. While that was not the author's intent, that sentence has been removed. Also, while Common Tread is very lenient about what readers say in our Disqus comments, some comments have been removed or edited because they used inappropriate language in a personal attack.

Motorcyclists in the United States are enthusiasts. Automobile drivers might be, but most are not. Most Joe Average drivers feel no passion for their vehicles. It's an appliance, like a toaster. They’re just trying to pilot their minivan to work, the store or wherever. They don’t undergo any meaningful education on operating their vehicle, and continuing education is a pipe dream in this country. That’s probably a good part of the reason we see folks not using turn signals, not checking their mirrors, not yielding the right of way, and tapping away at a cell phone as they drive. Those infractions can be lethal to a motorcyclist. However, motorcyclists are the minority, like it or not.

Masked bandit? Nah. This rider just doesn't want to swallow a bug. But to a motorist who's experienced the wrath of a frightened motorcyclist, this guy looks like bad news. Photo by Lemmy.

Drivers often forget — or are unaware of the fact — that they are piloting what is in essence a two-ton missile. When they see a motorcyclist, many feel as though that person is a bit of a nutjob. They get skittish because they have no idea why that guy is riding the way he’s riding. Motorcycles are hard to see, and they move around so much! Automobile drivers are generally quite oblivious to the disparity in braking performance or power-to-weight ratio that a motorcycle has because they’ve never ridden a bike. So they plod along at 47 mph in the left lane, white-knuckling the wheel the whole time, terrified of moving and killing this mental case riding around on a motorcycle. When you think about things from the motorist’s point of view, we are inconvenient.

Because of this, I try to be cognizant of three things.

One: It's not "us vs. them"

The first is that I’m a “cager,” too. I have a lot of motorcycles. I also have four-wheeled conveyances and most of the guys I ride with have a truck or a car. I think it’s rare (not impossible, but not the norm) in North America to have only a bike.  It’s not an “us and them” situation. We’re all using the roadway. There are times I’m sitting in traffic in a truck, and some dude zooms by me splitting a lane. I’m always happy for him. Good job getting out of this mess, dude. It can be hair-raising, but I remember how much more nimble that guy on a bike is than I am.

Sometimes just explaining that difference to “car-only” people can help them understand a bit better. It can also help them realize that you too drive a car and understand that viewpoint. (And not a “cage.” That term is probably not a great one to use to someone you’re trying to persuade to your point of view.) One of the other things that can be helpful is to point out that lane splitting is legal pretty much everywhere in the world except 49 of the United States.

Two: Let it go, move on

Another thing I try to remember is that when someone pulls some stupid traffic boner, the best thing I can do is survive, move on, and forget it, like the motorcycle messengers in this old story Lance wrote. Get away from the problem. I can always just pull over and drink some water or take a whiz in the woods or whatever. What’s the worst that happens? If it’s one of my days off, I get to camp 10 minutes later. Who cares? If it’s on the way to work, I get to work 10 minutes later. Again, who cares? As our readers have said, no driver ever repented his sins and vowed to improve his driving because someone on a motorcycle screamed obscenities at him or smacked his mirror. This whole riding thing is supposed to be fun. If it’s not fun, I don’t really want to do it.

taking a break
When a driver does something stupid, the best response is to survive and then move on and forget about it. Pull over and take a break, if necessary. Photo by Lance Oliver.

Three: Whatever happens, it's my own fault

The last thing I try to remember is probably the most controversial. I operate under the assumption that every accident is my fault. All of them.

The drunk running the red light? My fault for not seeing him coming. The guy who centerpunches my rear end at a stop light? My fault for not watching my mirrors and having an escape route. Sure, legally and financially, someone else may be responsible, but it's my responsibility to make it home to my family. By kicking over some deathtrap motorcycle and riding around on it, I’m saying to my loved ones, “Yes, I know this is dangerous. I’m focused on this so intently, though, that I’m pretty sure I don’t need a protective steel cocoon wrapped around me. I can be exposed to the elements, and I still will come home alive to you.”

Right or wrong doesn’t really matter in a motorcycle accident. Even if the accident is “their fault,” I’ve still made that decision to ride knowing something dangerous — even fatal — can happen. I don’t hang up my leathers, I just ride knowing that I need to work harder to get home safe.

Maybe you agree with me, maybe you think I’m nuts. Ultimately, I can’t “fix” a bad driver. But I can pull over and see if the gas station has gummy bears. And on our roadways, sometimes that’s all the control I need.

Beats punching mirrors, eh?