I wrote recently about things car drivers do that annoy and endanger bikers, but I know in all fairness that the reverse is probably also true: sometimes, bikers do things in traffic that annoy drivers, things that are dangerous and/or illegal. Here are a few that come to mind.
1. Block traffic when riding in a group. I’ll admit, this practice makes me very uneasy. When there is a large group ride, sometimes a rider or two up front will pull out into an intersection and stop, blocking the oncoming traffic from one or both directions so that the entire group can pass through the intersection en masse. I’ve been in the midst of it, and certainly it’s beneficial to the bikers… but I imagine highly annoying to the drivers who have their own business to attend to and don’t care about keeping your group together. I don’t think the police are terribly fond of this practice either.
2. Hot-dog in traffic. It scares the holy hell out of me – and pisses me off – when I see a rider doing a wheelie (or any stunt) in traffic. I mean seriously – it might give the biker their jollies but if they crash they will be creating needless trauma for any motorist who sees them hit the pavement and/or runs over them because they couldn’t stop in time, not to mention endangering their own life and the lives of others. Completely irresponsible, as are excessive speeding and attempting a rolling human pyramid.
3. Ride without regard for their passenger’s safety. Now add to the above, a passenger on the back of an irresponsible rider’s bike and you have – an asshole. An asshole who puts another human being at risk of losing their life just so the rider can show off a bit. Of course, you don’t have to be a stunt-riding jerk to be guilty of disregarding your passenger. Another example of this is when I see someone with a child on a motorcycle that is too small to reach the footpegs, riding on the gas tank, not wearing a helmet, etc. etc. Seriously, I can think of no likely circumstance where any of this is acceptable. And don’t try to tell me about your four-year-old dirt bike prodigy. If he’s on YOUR bike and he can’t reach the pegs, he should not ride on it. If you are going to ride like a hot-dogging jerk, or even if you are just an idiot in general, do not subject a passenger of any age to your dumb-shittery and poor decision-making.
4. Lane-splitting. Although this practice is legal in California, I am not sure I’d ever have the balls to do it. (Well maybe if I lived in California where it takes 9 years to get across town…) I read a piece via Twitter recently, on the website RideApart, which referred to lane splitting as “… the most natural act of the motorcyclist.” (Really? Because I can think of at least five other things that are more natural for a motorcyclist than trying to thread their bike through the “needle eye” gauntlet of pissed-off stop-and-go traffic.) While the article does state that this practice can have “dire consequences,” the writer nonetheless encourages riders to practice this skill:
Find a long red light in town where cars tend to back up in two lanes or more, then try and approach it just after it turns red. Carefully pick your way to the front of the queue, quickly calculate the time remaining on the red and, if there’s enough, squarely plant yourself in front of one of the lines of cars, claiming your rightful territory.
Um — rightful territory? I’m pretty sure your “rightful territory” is back there in line, behind everyone else who got there ahead of you. But apparently not in California, nor in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
5. Park selfishly in a busy parking lot. This one’s relatively minor as far as infractions go, but I’m sure road rage has been waged over much less. Still, it’s one of those acts of courtesy you can perform to show the general public that bikers are not all hot-dogging dumb shits. What’s parking selfishly for a motorcycle? Arguably, one bike per space when open spaces are at a premium is one example. It should be noted that you are absolutely entitled to one whole space of your very own. You do not HAVE to park two to a space. So it truly is a courtesy if you and your pal park together, assuming you can do so safely. Cagers should thank you for this. But chances are they won’t, so perform this random act of kindness like you would any other – without expectation of reward. Other bike parking sins: parking over the line so your bike takes up two spaces… parking in the diagonally-lined space next to a handicapped spot… blocking someone in… unless it’s this person. You can block this person in:
BONUS ITEM 6. Mouth off/instigate road rage. As a motorcyclist, it’s pretty hard to bite your tongue when some jerk cuts you off in traffic, refuses to give you room, or any number of sins. And I’d say it’s probably well-understood that if one person mouths off in traffic, the other one will probably respond in kind. Cagers need to understand that motorcyclists are vulnerable, so it takes less to piss us off and we are perhaps more vocal about it when it does happen. But bikers also need to sometimes just take a breath, be grateful they are still “shiny side up,” and move on. Or do like I did: once when a woman turned left in front of me, I went to give her a piece of my mind by pressing my horn button with special emphasis, and hit the turn signal instead. I’m sure the blink-blink-blink of my left-turn light really let her know that I was furious!
What are other things bikers do that give us all a bad name?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve found over the years of riding a motorcycle that I have actually become a better driver overall. In particular, I diligently look for motorcycles. Sadly, I still see many, many drivers who do not wish to share the road, pay full attention to the task at hand (driving safely), or do their part to prevent accidents. I’m sure there are many variations on these themes, but broadly, here are the things drivers do that annoy and endanger motorcyclists. What would you add to this list?
1. Use their cell phones while driving. This one is so all-pervasive it isn’t even shocking anymore. I cannot count the number of people I see daily on the road, yakking on the phone or, worse, reading their phone and/or texting, just flat out ignoring the fact that they are in command of a four thousand-plus pound steel vehicle that is hurtling through the neighborhood. But this isn’t really just about cell phones. It’s about anything that grabs the driver’s attention away from driving. I understand it’s hard to avoid every possible distraction, but engaging in some – like phone use – is purely by choice.
2. Incorrectly gauge our speed. Granted, this one is difficult – bikes may be closer or farther away than they appear, and because our profile is smaller than a car it is not easy to tell how fast we’re approaching. But the rule should be, when in doubt wait it out – meaning, let the bike safely approach and pass in front of you before pulling out into traffic. Come to think of it, that’s a good rule no matter what might be coming down the road.
3. Fail to give us adequate room. Cut us off in traffic, turn left in front of us, veer into us in our lane, hit us from behind, don’t allow us to safely merge… etc. etc. As a car driver, you should just assume that a motorcycle is going to use at least as much space as a car. This is in your driving instruction manual, which most people probably haven’t read since high school, coincidentally a time when they were ALSO not paying full attention. Don’t pass us in our lane just because we are only using half of it. Look at what’s in the lane ahead of you when coming to a stop at a light or stop sign. Don’t assume you have enough time to turn left in front of us. Give us room to merge onto the highway by slowing down or moving over.
4. Throw stuff at us. You shouldn’t be flicking out your cigarette butts (your car has an ash tray for that), tossing out fast food containers (litterbug), or throwing anything else out your window anyway. For bikers, these things are not just an annoyance – dodging them (or being hit by them) can cause serious harm. And if you’re purposely throwing something out of your car in hopes of hitting a biker? You’re a special kind of ass-hat and I want nothing to do with you on the road or in any other facet of life.
5. Break traffic laws like speeding, traffic signals, etc. These practices don’t make you a menace just to motorcycles – they make you a menace overall, to everyone on the road. You’re not above the rules, and failure to pay attention is NOT an excuse. There was a post on Facebook recently making the rounds, written by a guy who was apparently sick of all the entreaties to “be on the lookout for motorcycles.” He was quite adamant that he would do absolutely nothing to watch for motorcycles, and that bikers should not consider themselves deserving of special treatment and should probably just drive cars like everyone else. The thing is, bikers aren’t looking for special treatment. We’re riding legal vehicles that leave us a lot more vulnerable than an automobile, and we simply ask that other drivers understand we have a right to share the road. You know – the same courtesy they might extend to their own mother, son, daughter, father, etc. should they encounter that person in another vehicle while driving.
BONUS ITEM #6. THIS. You are a Level Five Asshole. You have NO RIGHT to do this to ANYONE. Kindly rot in Hell.
BONUS ITEM #7.
Okay, now that I’ve ranted a bit about sharing the road, I’ll let you in on a little secret: we bikers are not all law-abiding angels.
Whhhaaattt??? I know, you’re shocked. As was I when I figured this out. But it’s true, sometimes bikers do things that annoy cagers. So, that’ll be covered in an upcoming post. Because this blog is nothing if not fair and balanced!
As if its not bad enough that most drivers these days seem to be dangerously distracted by cell phones, dashboard toys, and/or a sense of self-righteous road rage, motorcyclists also have a whole slew of other potential hazards to manage. Some are commonly discussed, such as deer or rain-slicked roads. But there’s a wide variety of other situations, objects and circumstances that can cause serious problems – for any driver, really, but with likely more dire consequences for people on motorcycles. Here are a few I’ve personally encountered – you probably have too.
1. Four-legged friends – Riding through a deer-laden gauntlet isn’t the only way animals can pose a problem for a motorcycle. Be on the lookout for overly-enthusiastic dogs charging out from a farmyard… determined crows picking morsels from a fresh hunk of roadkill… wild turkeys lumbering up from the shoulder… or even turtles. Yes, turtles. Although it seems they move slow enough to safely avoid, it’s a little unnerving to spot what appears from many yards away to be an Army helmet in the middle of the road, only to realize that it’s actually moving and you need to assess its speed and position.
2. Road surface deterioration – It’s easy to misjudge the size of a pothole, so be wary of all of them, particularly after a rain when water disguises their true depth. But also look out for “vertical” holes – the kind that are long and narrow and run with the direction ot the bike’s travel instead of across its path. These can catch your tire and yank the bike right out from under you. Likewise any section of road with a vertical seam in it, where one section has settled lower than the other. A friend of mine once got her front tire up against the seam of uneven adjoining sections, which threw her from the bike – fortunately at a low speed. Also, man-hole covers. A hard rain can force an iron man-hole cover up out of its “seat” and onto the pavement as water rushes through the storm sewer underneath. Bad enough when you can see it laying in the road… but potentially horrible when you are riding through even just a few inches of standing water and can’t see that the iron disk – and the hole it used to cover – are in your path.
3. Other surface issues – It’s truly a wide world out there when it comes to what can compromise the road surface. You’ll find plentiful advice about riding in the rain, along gravel, etc. But there’s a lot more to surface compromise than water or gravel. Out on the rural roads, its common to encounter a home owner astride their riding mower, throwing cut grass out onto the highway. Grass and leaves (also patches of gravel) hinder your tire’s ability to grip the road so be very cautious traveling through these patches especially when wet and/or on curves. And give that homeowner a friendly wave just for good measure. Another possibility: street paint. Have you noticed that crosswalks aren’t always just two horizontal stripes anymore? These days they can be giant blocks of solid paint spanning the width of the roadway. I’m absolutely certain these large blocks of paint slicken the surface and reduce tire grip, especially when rain-soaked. There’s one on a curve that I pass over every time I’m coming home from the north – I make sure I ride between the painted blocks.
4. Debris – We’ve all been stuck behind a construction vehicle now and then, and felt the tick-tick-tick of dirt or gravel coming off the truck. But consider that any open vehicle carrying “stuff” can pitch items large or small out into your path – from plastic grocery bags to household goods. Also pay attention to trailers, boats, or other items being towed. I’ve seen car parts come sliding off a flatbed trailer, water pouring from a boat that had recently been pulled from the lake… and, I was once traveling behind a pickup truck towing a covered boat, and the cover on the boat came up and off. Fortunately it sailed off to the side, but it certainly could have posed an interesting visibility problem for me had it come back my way. It doesn’t even have to be actual debris to be a hazard. It can be anything in the road that’s not supposed to be there. A few years ago, a drunken pedestrian stepped out in the road directly in front of my oncoming friend. Both were seriously injured in the resulting collision.
5. Optical illusions – Some hazards are not really problems in and of themselves, but they create a visibility issue. The other day we were on a road where there was a horizontal seam about every 20 feet, and every one of them was covered with black sealant. Twenty feet goes by pretty quickly on the bike, so it became a constant stream of black stripes whizzing by. It created some issues with depth perception as well as a huge visual distraction. I call this the Willy Wonka Effect because it reminds me of that annoying scene in the Gene Wilder version of the movie where they’re traveling down the chocolate river in his freaky boat with the LSD-inspired scenery. Riding in dappled sunlight can have the same Wonka effect.
As you can see, distracted drivers and deer are not our only worries while riding motorcycles. What’s the most unusual hazard you’ve ever encountered, and how “close” was the call with you and your bike? Thoughts or tips on dealing with any of the above?
A few years ago I blogged about some cool places in Iowa that I thought were must-sees. While I’ve still only been to #3, 4 and 5 on that original list, we have been to some neat spots that I wanted to add to the must-see list for others who are interested in what the state has to offer. Here are a few of my favorites:
3. Freedom Rock/Iowa Veterans Cemetery – A giant boulder near Greenfield, Iowa, painted annually by Ray Sorensen, celebrating the valor of the U.S. Military; and, a beautiful cemetery just for veterans and their spouses, set in the hillsides of Dallas County just outside Van Meter, Iowa, west of Des Moines.
And, a few new places I’ve added to my own list of future rides:
1. Lineville, Iowa – simply because of the curvy road that gets you there! South of Des Moines, near the Missouri border. (Hence, “Lineville.”)
2. Allerton, Iowa – home of a hundred-year-old restored round barn, and pioneer-era restored church and school. Southeast of Des Moines, on the way to or from Lineville.
3. Jefferson, Iowa – five-story bell tower donated by William & Dora Mahanay, looking out over 30 miles and five counties, northwest of Des Moines.
4. Lake Panorama – Apparently it’s a bit of a curve-hugger’s dream riding around the perimeter of Lake Panorama near Stuart, Iowa (or at least the part you CAN ride around), so it seems like something I should check out.
One of the principles that guides virtually all of my riding adventures is this: “No one sees you. And those who see you, want to kill you.” It may sound extreme, but it keeps me always mindful of the importance of being visible – especially given that statistics now show that “distracted drivers” are a primary cause of multi-vehicle accidents involving motorcycles. In fact, just this past week, there has been a tragic story reported of a truck driver who, momentarily distracted, plowed into a group of eight bikes – killing three riders.
At the February meeting of our local HOG chapter, Safety Officer Andy Lara presented a list of tips to help you be seen on the bike. I thought I’d share a few of them here, and hope you’ll add your own best tips for visibility.
- Wear bright colors – the Day-Glo yellow worn by construction workers is a good choice!
- Use reflective materials – on your person as well as on your bike!
- Additional lighting on the bike – the newer flashing brake lights are attention getters!
- Ride defensively – look ahead, see and plan for potential hazards before they become a problem.
- Adjust your lane position – to stay out of blind spots.
In riding, as in driving, there is only so much you yourself can do to prevent accidents. The above tips will help you do all you can to protect yourself, even though you are only part of the equation. What are some of your strategies for being more visible on the road?
I’ve often thought it would be nice to live in a state where the weather allowed for year-round riding, but lately I’ve been coming around to the notion that having a “winter break” is worthwhile.
Since I’ve owned a bike and ridden around a fair bit of this state, I’ve come to realize a few things that now make me glad I ride where I do.
1. We’ve got curves! Sure there are some spots in Iowa where it’s nothing but long, flat ribbons of highway. But, it doesn’t take long to find the kind of twisty curves that make riding a blast – Madison County, for one… eastern Iowa for another… the Loess Hills of western Iowa… and much in between.
2. We’ve got scenery! Whether you’re coming around a curve as Saylorville Marina comes into view, or cresting a hill on F48 with lush green rolling farmland laid out before you, Iowa is a beautiful state.
3. We’ve got four seasons! And only one of ‘em isn’t suitable for riding, usually from about late November through mid-April. But, here’s the thing: that forced winter break makes you really appreciate the riding time you DO have, so none’s wasted when the opportunity finally arrives. And, if you’ve got plans for major changes to your bike, you can make ‘em in winter so you don’t have down-time during the riding months.
4. We don’t have traffic! Someone mentioned this in the comments of one of my posts (or was it in a forum?) recently… she lives in CA and said yes, they have year-round (almost) riding but it takes TWO HOURS or more to get anyplace where there isn’t a lot of traffic, just so you can slow down and enjoy the ride. I don’t know about you, but I can find a beautiful twisty and low-traffic two-lane just ten minutes from home that’s perfect for a mind-clearing ride any time I need it. I can ride all summer without ever once using the major Interstate that runs along the north end of town, or even the freeway that cuts through the middle.
5. We’ve got road food! We still have lovely, flourishing small towns filled with local home-spun restaurants so you can spend your entire riding life fulfilling your quest to find the best pork tenderloin. And, as an added bonus, there’s usually a local roadside oddity or historic site to make the day more interesting.
My one gripe about Iowa as far as the bikes are concerned? Road repairs are getting shoddy… it’s not that they aren’t making them, it’s that there seems to be a trend to make a raised seam across the road when a repair is made. Everyone who works for the DOT – from engineers to road crews – should be forced to ride these repaired roads on a Sportster before they call it quits for the day. If Iowa wants to attract more bikers as tourists, they should mark my words and make nice, SMOOTH road repairs. (St. Donatus, are you listening?)
SO – your turn to share your view: why do you like riding in the state you live in? What do you NOT like? Do you STILL wish you lived in a year-round-riding state? Let’s hear it!
When I took my skills test to get my license, I didn’t understand why the entire test was based on slow-speed skills. After riding awhile, I finally figured it out: It’s not about whether you can go straight down the road and shift the gears – almost anyone can learn to do that. It’s whether you can control the bike, evade obstacles, and be safe in high-traffic or large-crowd situations that makes you a really good rider.
So, having brushed the chip off my shoulder regarding the importance of slow-speed maneuvers, I thought I’d share five skills you can practice that will help you feel more confident on the road, more in control of your bike, and overall a better rider. I’ve also included at the end a few links to websites that have good practice guides if you want more tips or more exercises to practice.
1. Right-hand turn coming off a stop.
Why it’s good to practice: It’s easy to go too wide, into an oncoming traffic lane.
Your goal: Keep your bike confined to the correct lane as you make your turn.
Tips: After checking for traffic, look ahead to the point where you want to end up – NOT into the oncoming lane and NOT at the yellow line in the middle of the road. Don’t apply the front brake when making your turn or the bike will go down.
2. Left-hand turn coming off a stop.
Why it’s good to practice: It’s easy to go too wide, into the opposite curb, when turning onto a two-lane street.
Your goal: Keep your bike in the correct lane and away from the curb as you make your turn.
Tips: After checking for traffic, look ahead to the point where you want to end up – NOT at the opposite curb. Don’t apply the front brake when making your turn or the bike will go down.
3. Starting from a stop on a hill.
Why it’s good to practice: You don’t want to stall the bike or roll backwards into cars behind you when it’s your turn to come off the stop sign or red light.
Your goal: Smoothly pull away from your stop without killing the bike and with less than a foot of roll-back.
Tips: Find a low-traffic, hilly neighborhood to practice in if possible. Slowly release the clutch til you feel it grab, then give just enough throttle to move the bike forward. Also practice this by turning right or left off the stop by combining with the tight-turn tips above.
4. Sudden Stops.
Why it’s good to practice: You need to get a feel for controlling your bike in a quick stop.
Your goal: Come to as quick a stop as possible without skidding or locking the brakes.
Tips: Practice with a riding buddy so they are on hand to help if you go down or get hurt. Find an empty parking lot for practice. Ride straight, getting into second gear. Then “suddenly” apply both brakes with even but firm pressure. If you do lock the brakes, DO NOT immediately release them or you’ll be thrown high-side or low-side off the bike
5. Riding in a tight circle or Figure 8.
Why it’s good to practice: It will teach you to really control your bike, make tight turns successfully, and that “looking where you want to go” really works.
Your goal: Ride in a continuous ten-foot-wide circle or in a nicely-formed figure 8 with ten-foot-wide loops.
Tips: Watch instructional videos such as the Ride Like A Pro series to see how it’s done. Look where you want to go – looking across the circle at a point directly opposite you should take the bike in a nice tight circle. Feather your clutch for speed control; use the REAR brake, not the front.
This week on Friday Fives, I offer five reasons why I love to ride my own motorcycle.
Accomplishment – I’ve been riding seven years, and still today every single time I’m on the bike I feel so good about myself for having persevered and learned this new skill. The fact that I’m still in the minority of women makes it extra-special.
Independence – I’m very lucky: my husband Steve is a safe, smart rider with (overall) good habits. Still, I like being in charge of (or at least responsible for) my own destiny.
Freedom – Sure you love the house, the husband, the kids… and all you do every day to keep them all comfortable and functioning. But wouldn’t you love to be able to say something like, “Hey family, I’m headed off on the all-women’s bike trip. I love you, and I’ll see you next week.” And mean it?
Rebellion – Similar to freedom, but taking into account that lingering bit bad-ass the general public attaches to riding a motorcycle. Trust me: it feels good to be different, to buck the status quo.
Community, support, and encouragement – Okay, that’s three things, but they’re all related. I believe that women, moreso than men, seek community, support and encouragement throughout all of life’s challenges. Riding is no different, and the woman-centered communities that exist around riding are as strong as – or stronger than – any you’ll find anywhere. If you want to rebel, but belong, ride your own.
What about you – what got you started riding your own, and what keeps you in the driver’s seat
Coming next week, IowaHarleyGirl Stephanie will guest-blog with “Five Reasons to Ride Pillion.”
In addition to setting up my bike with accessories that improve my riding experience, I also accessorize myself with some must-haves for the road. Today’s Friday Fives is all about the five personal accessories I can’t do without:
Leather jacket, chaps and lined gloves – By the time winter ends, I’m so ready to ride that I’ve been known to get the bike out if temperatures get to 45. (That feels SO warm when you’ve been in the months-long deep freeze, but when moving through the wind it’s really quite chilly!) There are some who go by the mantra, “All the gear, all the time.” This means they wear full leathers (or armored textiles) on every ride. I can’t claim to be that protective, but I wear my leather jacket, chaps and lined gloves for anything under 55 degrees; and, the jacket and gloves for anything under 65.
Helmet – Although in truth a helmet only provides limited protection, I wear one every time nonetheless. It’s gotten to the point where I feel naked without it. My current lid is a pink-and-pin-striped Fulmer half-helmet; it has the added bonus of being distinctive and memorable. (I swear: someone recently said to me, “I remember you – don’t you ride with a pink helmet?”)
Solid-gripping, ankle-protecting footwear – I used to wear a really nice pair of HD boots that were comfy even for all-day wear. Their only disadvantage was that they were lace-up and a pain to put on. Then I acquired a pair of red Ariat cowboy boots with good rubber soles, which I adore. And recently, I acquired another pair of HD boots also with rubber sole, but this time they lace AND side-zip for easy-on/off. A side benefit of all these boots – for me, anyway – is that they all have some degree of higher heel, which puts me flat-footed on the bike when I might otherwise not be.
Cell phone – do I even have to mention why this is important? Side benefit: mine has a built-in camera, in case I forget #5:
Digital Camera – Okay, sometimes I forget the camera. But I always kick myself when that happens. It’s important to me to document as many of our rides as possible, so that when I’m 90 and in a nursing home I can point to my pictures and tell the nurses, “You see? I used to be interesting too! And look – this hummingbird tattoo on my cleavage wasn’t always as close to my navel as it is now!”
What are the personal accessories you can’t live without?
Whenever I get a new computer, I always “load it up” with my favorite add-on tools: FTP program, graphics program, alternative browser, etc. And I’m the same with bikes, so today’s edition of Friday Fives presents my must-have motorcycle accessories. Each of these makes riding (especially highway riding) so much more comfortable – I couldn’t do without them!
Windshield – If you plan to do much highway riding (and believe me, most of those “open roads” you’ve heard about are indeed highways <grin>) you’re going to be amazed at the difference having a windshield makes. Not only does it catch the bugs that would otherwise end up in your teeth (you ARE smiling when you ride aren’t you??), it also lessens the wind force hitting your head and chest, making for a much more comfortable ride.
Saddlebags – you don’t give up the need to carry stuff just because you start riding a motorcycle. And I tend to carry a lot of stuff, including my rainsuit, a light-weight jacket, some tools, road map, makeup bag, bike paperwork, etc. If you’re a minimalist, I suppose you could get away with just a fork bag.
Wrist rest product – Again, if you’re going to be on the highway for any length of time, you’ll want one of those wrist thingies that lets you loosen your grip on the throttle while still keeping it wide open. Kuryakyn makes the Throttle Boss that coordinates with its ISO grips; other companies have similar non-proprietary products that work, too. I prefer these to the “cruise control” feature on some bikes – somehow locking the throttle open doesn’t feel safe to me.
Rider backrest – Does it strike you as odd that so many stock two-up seats come with backrests only for the passenger? If your bike’s stock seat makes your lower back or tailbone ache, you’ll want to check out after-market seats that offer rider backrests. The one I bought is made by Mustang. It did raise me up an inch or so, but the increased comfort is well worth it.
Voice-activated protective wrap-around bubble – This device deploys much like an airbag in a car, except it is voice-activated. If the rider shouts “Oh SHIT!” in a panicky voice, the bubble deploys and encases the bike and rider in a large see-through “hamster ball” made of indestructible space-age material. See also: Guardian Angel.
What are your must-have motorcycle accessories?