Common Tread

We have more in common than two wheels

May 18, 2017

Except for those who ride both, I get the feeling that most motorcyclists don’t feel much of a connection with bicyclists. As Nicky Hayden – most recently a bicyclist – lies in an Italian hospital, I’ve been thinking a lot about how that doesn’t feel right.

It’s not just the difference between leather and spandex, or getting there by internal combustion or sweat equity. People come to riding bicycles and motorcycles by different routes, in our wealthy country, where neither is most people’s first choice as transportation. And yet we have important things in common.

Nowhere is the overlap greater than among professional road racers. Most top racers these days use bicycling as a key part of their training. It makes sense. It’s great cardio exercise and builds muscle in places racers need it. Some motorcycle racers, like Ben Spies and Ben Bostrom, have become fairly well known in bicycle racing circles, totally apart from anything they ever did on a motorcycle.

For the rest of us mere mortals, however, there’s less overlap. Or so it may seem. But I wonder. I feel like we have more in common than just the number of wheels, the fact that we are both getting down the street on a single-track vehicle, or that some of us, in both camps, share the same kind of single-track-mind devotion to the pursuit we love.

Anyone who rides a motorcycle on the street knows the feeling of having a target on your back, of feeling like a third of the drivers are trying to kill you and another third are too busy looking at their phones to notice if they killed you by accident. Bicyclists have it even worse. Though we motorcyclists complain about drivers, only 36 percent of U.S. motorcycle fatalities involve another vehicle, according to the National Highway Transportation Administration. For bicyclists, that figure is 96 percent.

Photo by Robert Owen-Wahl.
For that reason, those of us who ride on two wheels, motorized or otherwise, should really see each other as allies with common interests. We are but different points on the scale of vulnerable road users. We are the minorities that get less attention. We face common enemies of a transportation system that is not designed for us, a system that is not focused on us and a driving public that’s paying less attention to us. The people we pass who are pumping away on those bicycles may not be as famous as Nicky Hayden, but they are the world to somebody — somebody’s husband, wife, fiancé, brother, son, sister, daughter, mother, father, friend.

We could be allies, whether it’s opening trails for recreation or making sure self-driving cars are designed so they don’t run over us. At very least, we should do better than many people in cars do. It’s easier for us to give them a little more room and show a little more recognition of our shared vulnerability.

Or maybe we could go even a bit further. I wonder what they’ll think if I start waving to them.