There he was, the ambassador for our sport. Riding his late-model sport bike down a curving thoroughfare, I figure he was going almost twice the 35-mph limit. From my vantage point I could also see farther down the curve, where Casper Milquetoast and his four-wheeled conveyance were starting to cross the apparently clear road.
You can imagine Boy Racer's surprise when he suddenly found his path full of Buick. Displaying riding abilities commensurate with his judgment, he stomped on the rear brake alone. This locked the rear wheel, putting the bike distinctly sideways without putting much of a dent in his speed. Evidently he didn't like the cause and effect of that move because he then released the rear brake just as abruptly. By all rights he should have been high-sided past the Hubble telescope. But somehow the bike steered hard to the right, moving smartly past the now-stopped car. As he sped past, our hero, who had effectively been turned from rider into observer, managed to regain enough composure to give the car's driver a one-fingered salute-with an Italian twist for good measure.
Between the two outdoor cafes and the other traffic there must have been 50 witnesses to this little vignette. All I could think was, "Great! There are 50 more motorcycle haters!" Multiply each by three or four family and friends and hundreds of similar incidents per day and pretty soon you've got enough votes for a 100-horsepower limit. Or an ordinance prohibiting lane-splitting. Or maybe the CEO of some company just decided that his employees can no longer ride motorcycles if they are going to be covered by the company health plan. At the very least, after getting enough complaints the local constabulary would start taking every opportunity to bust our chops.
Most motorcyclists, and certainly most sport riders, believe that as a group, we are more capable motorists than the average bear: more aware, quicker to react, calmer in a crisis. And to a large degree we are right. It is very unfortunate that those feelings of superiority usually engender intolerance and aggression toward the "noncombatants" on the road. Many times we lose track of the fact that public roads were created to get all of us from place to place, not for recreational use. When it comes right down to it, car drivers don't owe it to us to drive at the sporty levels we are used to any more than John Kocinski would have the right to complain about our riding if he came upon us tooling down our favorite road.
As a group, we motorcyclists would be well served by adopting a code of behavior. At a minimum, every rider should follow the physician's motto: "Above all, do no harm." Examples:
Don't tailgate. It's rude, it's dangerous (unless you aspire to be a bumper sticker), and it's counterproductive. You will be able to make a much faster passing maneuver if you have room to accelerate before moving into the oncoming lane.
If you lane-split on surface streets, watch the traffic light. And when it turns green, be gone. Remember that lane-splitting at a red light is psychologically equivalent to cutting in line for ice cream. It can only be justified if you are a phantom-you don't impact traffic at all. If you're sitting there when the light changes and the cars behind you can't go, you've just cut in line.
Don't make impolite gestures at drivers who pull out in front of you. (You have to be Gandhi to always adhere to this one.) It's a visually structured environment out there. Besides the other cars, motorcycle riders are competing for attention with McDonald's signs, traffic lights, billboards-all things that were expressly designed to get noticed. On top of that, the primary visual clue we humans use to determine the speed of an oncoming object is the rate at which it grows in size. Being rather narrow to begin with, it is inherently difficult to judge the approach speed of a motorcycle. When you are traveling significantly faster than the speed limit, that guy about to turn left is not likely to realize how quickly you're going to be right there.
If you are really committed to the cause:
Wave thanks. When a car moves over to let you by, slows down to let you into a stream of traffic or gives you priority at an intersection, show them you appreciate it. Even if you're not sure it was intentional, do it. After all, thank-yous don't cost a thing. If you won't do it for motorcycling, do it for your mother. Let everyone know she didn't raise an ill-mannered mouth breather.
Facilitate traffic flow. Make space for merging or lane-changing cars (especially those that use a turn signal). Pretty soon people will subconsciously start feeling relief instead of anxiety when they see a bike on the road.
Offer assistance to stranded motorists. There is no quicker way to destroy negative stereotypes. Chances are your knowledge of mechanical things far outstrips that of Johnny Four-door. Show off a little. Most likely you can make a great contribution just by calling someone for them.
On these pages we've read about the Pace. Fundamentally, the Pace is about riding with responsibility to yourself. The natural extension of the Pace is the Code. The sport rider's Code of Behavior is about responsibility toward your sport and your fellow riders. And, at the risk of going a little over the top, toward your fellow man. Everybody knows it's a jungle out there on the road. As kings of the jungle we can afford to show a little grace, tolerance and restraint. And with all the legislative restrictions being bandied about, we really can't afford not to.
This article originally appeared in the February 1995 issue of Sport Rider