~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Friday, July 27, 2012


If you ride a motorcycle on the street you have dangerous encounters with cars.  If you started riding yesterday you can expect it to happen soon. If you’ve been riding a while you know that surviving distracted or just plain dangerous drivers is part of the game. We have to deal with it or stay off the bike.

For me, having some one pull out or cut me off barely raises my heart rate after so long in the saddle, a well developed set of instinctive reactions are my friend when surprises come along.
To seek retribution against errant drivers some riders carry stuff to toss at offending cars; that is an ancient motorcycle thing.  When I got my first bike over forty years ago old riders told me to "carry lug nuts to toss at tailgaters because lug nuts are common things on the highway and they can't be tied back to you." Ball bearings where also recommended. In these modern times I suspect tossing a lug nut or ball bearing at a brain dead driver would constitute some sort of assault and is probably a bad idea. As a kid I didn't carry anything, it seemed like a way to escalate situations I wasn't prepared to defend with my skinny 16 year old fists.

(image source unknown)
Here in Arizona where the open carry of a firearm is legal, a rider I used to know who got cut off and tailgated enough during his daily commute to work began strapping a pistol on his belt.  He claimed there were  fewer problems after that, seemingly people notice a gun where they don't see the whole motorcycle.  I'm not recommending open carry though. These days, even where legal, I believe it just invites trouble or unwanted attention from law enforcement if you get nicked for speeding.

My solution, developed long ago when I was a news film courier on a motorcycle in Los Angeles, was to give as few opportunities to car drivers as possible to shorten my life. I move around a lot on in a lane, choose my lane positions respective to the changing positions of cars around me, and always have an escape route.  I have shaken my fist at idiot car drivers, and when I was younger and less charitable given them the 1 finger salute on very rare occasions.  Generally I made sure they knew I was mad at them, but in truth, there's not much you can do against an idiot behind the wheel of a 4000 lb car or truck. If someone cuts you off, even hits you, and you strike back, you've escalated the situation and become partly at fault.

I was on a group ride a few years ago with 18 other large bikes and some clown in a car tried to do a slow lane change right into the middle of our group. A few of the guys pulled up along side and with their fists "waved" him back into his lane and the idiot backed off. 18 against one is one it took to get his attention and remind him that he didn't own the whole road.

If you ride a scooter or a bike you've chosen to put yourself lower on the "food chain" of the highway, you can try to work around it, develop survival strategies, but you should never, ever be expected to be treated as an equal.


The City Mouse in the Country said...

It's funny you bring this up. I'm still new to riding and just the other day was telling someone how much more I notice when I'm out on the road. The surface of the road, the cars 150 feet in front of me. What is going on behind me, just in case some moron is doing 100 mph in a 45 zone. I think it's made me a better driver when I am out in my car.

Canajun said...

Good post. I too was given the 'advice' to carry old spark plugs, the idea that one boucing off the pavement would proceed right through the offending cagers radiator. Bad idea then, and bad idea now. The right idea is, as you say, aggressive control of your space to block or otherwise discourage stupid cager behaviour. Not 100% foolproof, but it's the best we've got - and it's kept many of us alive over the years.

Trobairitz said...

Well said.

Oregon a legal open carry state as well. It has crossed our minds but I don't want to be pulled over and questioned every few miles because someone who doesn't know the law is freaked out by the sight of a gun.

I just try to take myself out of the equation as best I can. Pull over and let the ass-hats go by and be hyper aware of my surroundings. And always assume they will turn in front of you.

Learning to Golf said...

I used to say I ride like everyone is out to kill me. But, a knowledgeable blogger pointed out how negative that was and now I ask, "What is that cager capable of?"

Different semantics, but the same result. Attention is the key, not throwing objects that could hut someone.

Drifter said...

In India, this probably is at its worst. Anyone with a bigger vehicle will cut you off and worse force you off the road. You have the problem of cars not seeing you. Here even if they see you they wont care.
And then there are assortment of animals (dogs, pigs, cows crossing the road, yes even 4 lane highways). No solution other that to ride conservatively. Get off the road at a point convenient to you. Guess and second guess the driver in front to figure out if he will suddenly decide to change lanes. The silver lining, you will never fall asleep on the wheels due to boredom.

Affer said...

In 2006, I took three weeks to ride Route 66. I had no problems at all....except on a stretch of Interstate somewhere outside of Tulsa, when the driver of a 16-wheeler FedEx truck first squeezed me off the road, then onto (what we Brits call) "the hard shoulder" before trying to run me into the scrub alongside that! Not sure what I could have thrown at him but I think if I had owned a gun I might have confronted him at the first rest-stop I found him in. After, that is, I had laundered my riding pants.....

Ruckus said...

About a month ago I was ridding on a 4 lane city street(LA area) when a minivan driver changed lanes on me. I honked the horn and he kept coming. I kept honking and this aroused the attention of a cop just ahead writing a ticket to someone else. Cop jumped on his bike and pulled over the minivan. Went back the other way about 15 min later and the cop was still writing.
Only time a cop has ever been in the right place at the right time for me in almost 50 yrs.

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