Common Tread

Video: Lessons from a year of commuting in eight minutes

Feb 09, 2017

Kind deeds, good awareness and questionable decisions. I found all three in this video, though you may have a different interpretation.

This rider in California recorded his commute for a year and condensed the highlights down to eight minutes. Over the course of a year, the rider stops to help fellow riders alongside the road, herds an injured or confused pigeon out of an intersection, and performs good deeds for drivers who forgot to put the gas cap back on or close the rear door. He naturally has a few close calls, but really, I expected worse. The real reason I'm posting this video, however, is to spur some discussion. Would you have made some of the same choices the rider did?

For example, at 0:15 the rider pulls out in front of a car that was clearly violating a red light. This is a scenario I experience all the time, where drivers waiting at an intersection to turn left treat the first 10 seconds of a red light as a left turn arrow (just like at 5:22 in the video). If you pop out into the intersection as soon as your light turns green, as this rider did here, you put yourself at risk. Is the car driver legally wrong? Absolutely. But who has the most to lose?

In these cases, I always recall a ditty my grandfather told me. As far as I know, he never rode a motorcycle on the street and probably rode fewer than 50 miles off-road in his life, but the message is particularly relevant to motorcyclists. He called it the Epitaph of John O'Day.

Here lies the body of John O'Day
Who died defending his right of way
He was in the right as the day is long
But he's just as dead as if he were wrong

Next topic: While it's not terrible, I'd personally question the finger wagging and gesturing at 7:27 and 7:50. What does this accomplish? I doubt any driver ever got honked at and gestured at by a motorcyclist and then thought, "Wow, I really need to be more attentive and kinder to those nice people on motorcycles." The goodwill for riders that was bought by replacing the pickup driver's gas cap was offset by the gesturing.

On a practical level, I think the rider followed up the pointless horn-blowing and gesturing with a bigger error in the final incident, which runs from 7:45 to the end. After the initial incident, the rider lane-splits and pulls up beside the driver he just gestured at. If I'm involved in any kind of unpleasantness in traffic, my goal is to get away from it as quickly as possible, and where lane-splitting is a legal option, that's often simple. I get my revenge by leaving the car mired in traffic as I go on my way, using my motorcycle's speed and mobility.

Gesturing and then pulling up beside a car with no maneuvering room is not a worthwhile risk, in my mind. How do you know that driver isn't a pathological killer having a bad day? He could impetuously swerve into you and crush you against the other car. Would he be in the wrong? Yes. See John O'Day, above. The driver might come to regret his actions, but I guarantee you the motorcyclist would regret them more and sooner.

I'm not trying to pick on the rider, who demonstrated kindness and generosity more than once and also showed good situational awareness in multiple scenarios. The point of this is to learn, to examine our own actions and to maximize our street survival strategies, so we can live to commute another year.