So in my last post I talked about how one of my friends, while an otherwise nice guy, could end up being an agent of death for a motorcyclist. Well, there are others who do see motorcyclists but actually have it out for us. They may think we’re rude, or unsafe, or just selfish road-hoggers. They don’t understand many of the perceived “rude” motorcyclist behaviors are for safety.
You know how we swerve back and forth within a lane? We’re taught to do that. It’s because we can. It’s to avoid the slick oily spots that cars leave behind, constantly put ourselves in the best line of vision, and avoid blind spots of other vehicles. It’s safe riding.
You know how in some states (CA) it’s not illegal (or legal) to lane-split, and how in other states, it’s not even legal, but motorcyclists do it sometimes anyway? They usually don’t do it to be jerks. There are jerks in every case, I admit, but lane-splitting is actually an extremely safe way for the experienced rider to handle stop-and-go traffic. If a rider is lane-splitting, they are less likely to be made into motorcycle pancake because someone got distracted for a second and didn’t slam on their brakes in time.
Well, here’s a safety issue that happened to John and I this week that may have been mis-read as dickishness by the drivers around us.
Incident the Second
John and I were riding 2-up on his TL1000R (also know as the Tiller, or as I call it, The Sand Thumper, because it makes the same sound the sand thumpers make in Dune.) We came up on some construction. Traffic is at a standstill, and John turns off his bike as we wait for the flaggers to wave us through. I sit up and look around.
We’re at an intersection normally regulated by a light, and the road is being repaved. Since it’s a busy intersection, flaggers are waving the cars through in shifts. The portion of road we’ll be riding on is the portion currently being worked on. The road is scraped and grooved, ready for repaving. It’s the sort of surface that if you’re on two wheels, it’s better to be going 35 miles or a little faster on, the better to keep your balance. There’s a large orange “Motorcycles Caution” sign to the side of the road.
Just in front of us is a little beat-up black VW something or other. Jetta, I think. Anyway, the flaggers finally wave our line through, John starts up the bike (he’d turned it off while we waited), and we start moving forward.
The minute we hit the grooved pavement, the VW slows down. A lot. The truck in front of them was going at a normal pace. The car in front of that truck continued at a normal pace. The beater VW? Slowed down to something like 10 mph. I kid you not. John revved the throttle and the car sped up ever so slightly, then slowed right back down. John was right on his tail, and he revved the throttle again.
I know how this looked to everyone else. To everyone else, it looked like the meanie motorcyclist was threatening the poor teenage kid driving through a construction area. To everyone else it looked like the Big Bad Biker had an attitude. He was revving his engine, and noise equals bad. Do you know what John’s motorcycle horn sounds like? An anemic goat. Seriously. You wouldn’t even be able to hear it. That’s why he revs his throttle — you can hear it. (I do honk my bike’s horn — it’s loud.)
I was riding passenger, though, and I knew what was going on. I could feel in my thighs the way that John was struggling to keep the heavy bike upright at those low speeds on that grooved pavement; the way the road was grabbing the tires and trying to flip us down. I could feel the tremble in his chest muscles from stabilizing the wiggle in his handlebars. I’ve ridden on grooved pavement in the past, and I know the heart-hammer feeling in your chest at the strangeness of how the road feels.
I also knew that much of the issue was the speed we were going. I knew that if we could add just a few mph — 15, 10, even 5 — everything would be a lot easier, a lot less of a struggle. I was angry at the kid in the beater VW for driving so slow on the grooved pavement — he has four wheels! What’s he worried about? It’s not like a four-wheeled beater VW is going to flip on grooved pavement! I was also scared we were going to wreck. Sure, at those slow speeds, it probably would’ve just hurt, but I didn’t want to have to buy new helmets.
Once the kid pulled to the side of the road and waved us by (everyone else glaring at us like we were death-bringer-baby-killer-orphan-dolphin-thingies), we rode home. But not before an old lady shook her finger warningly at me and her husband frowned at me in disappointment from the cab of his truck.
Yes, what is this world coming to?