One For The Road

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Some people are so very sweet. Have you noticed?  No matter what they say, no matter who they are talking about, no matter how negative a situation they are discussing, they always have something good to say. They don’t seem to stray from the definition of sweet. I have met people like that on this journey, my host, Andrea, is one of them.

In my life I complain a lot about what I consider close-minded people. I think the worst flaw in the world is to shut off one’s mind to the ideas and thoughts of others. When I identify someone as being close-minded I am prone to judgement. I often time seize upon the word ‘dumb’ and use it lavishly. I find that word and drop it into sentences like an oak tree discarding its leaves in fall. It is an uneducated cop-out. It does nothing to solve the problem and it is unkind. It isn’t sweet at all.
It is something I need to work on; a lot.

I have been the passenger in many vehicles as of late, and in doing so made a new observation. At first I seem to find it enjoyable and charming to be a passenger. It is calming to let my mind relax from the turmoil that occurs to the brain when riding. The constantly shifting eyes, the tense fingers, the feet that are just waiting to hit the brake and gear shifter, it is brain excercises at their finest; the loser is the guy who falls down, the consequences are death and maiming. Being a passenger in a four wheeled cage is a break from that… at first. After a short time the passenger charm wears off and the headache sets in. It doesn’t matter which vehicle, it doesn’t matter who’s driving, my brain starts tensing up, and it isn’t the good tension like from riding, it is the bad one that happens when your sick. I don’t know what it is. The headaches last though. Today I rode with some new friends to the farmers market, and my head has been pounding ever since. Ten minutes into the ride I wished I’d rode Little Wing. My reaction was “this is dumb.”

Riding in California can be scary. Actually, the whole coast is like that. It is busy and it seems that everyone is in an extreme hurry, and because it is so populated it is subject to many traffic jams. The benefit of riding in California versus the rest of the coast is the ability to lane split. It makes a rider feel safer and it also gets us places faster, well, speaking for myself anyway. Now for those of you who don’t know what lane splitting is I will tell you. I actually learned about it in Neligh, NE at the Neil and Willie concert, and then only remembered it when I got here to California.

Lane splitting is the act of a two wheeled vehicle going in between two lanes of traffic headed in the same direction  (i.e. freeway) and filtering to the front. It is done if white dotted lines are present and gets the motorcycle out of the congested, stop and go, traffic which is so often the place of injury for riders. It is an activity that is isn’t truly understood by those who haven’t tried it. I know this because, not only was I not understanding of it before I tried it, I also have been a part of many conversations that show a lack of understanding towards it since. It is something that gets brought up around the table when the conversation turns to motorcycles  (which it inevitably does). Everyone wants to say they know something, and sometimes the only thing they know is that a pesky motorcycle came close to clipping their mirror earlier that day. Other people have an Uncle Frank who had a bike, others have a neighborhood kid with a dirtbike, and some people have a penchant out for motorcyclists without helmets, but regardless,  everyone has something to say when motorcycles become the topic. In California helmets are required, and in California it is neither legal or illegal to lane split, so motorcyclists have the option to do it safely if the opportunity presents.

Now imagine, you are in a car, stopped in a mile long row of ideling cars. You are all making your way forward steadily, but as you move an inch forward you see the brakelights of the car ahead of you light up red. Well, of course, you hit your brakes and continue to wait. The radio starts to play a song, oh crap, you hate this one. Time to plug in the Ipod. Oh,  you are fussing around, hooking up the auxiliary cord, you look up. That car ahead of you has moved ahead another foot. You take your foot off the brake and move forward too, it is a steady movement now. You have moved forward eight feet and then the fellow ahead brakes hard, so you do too, Ipod still in hand, one hand on the wheel. You stop about four inches away from the car ahead of you. You are just about to release a sigh of relief, I mean holy shit, you almost gave them a love tap — don’t want to do that on this freeway full of frustrated commuters– but the sigh is interrupted. It’s thwarted, it never comes, because instead you hear a loud thunk against your bumper. It sounds like someone just dented your car. What the hell? You check all the rearview mirrors, you don’t see it. You open your door a bit and hang your head out. When you look back you see a person with a helmet laying on the ground. You were just hit by a motorcyclist. Why? You hit your brakes too hard. You didn’t even know it was a motorcycle behind you. You drop your Ipod.

Well that sucks. Now imagine something different. Fast forward through the boring inching bit. You are doing that stopping and going thing, the song comes on, you pick up the Ipod, then you hear a loud pipe. You look up to see a motorcyclist slipping between your car and the truck next to you.  “Damn it,” you think, as you fiddle with your Ipod, “those motorcycles shouldn’t be allowed to do that. That’s so dangerous to be riding through traffic like that, don’t they know any better?” Your after work angst grows stronger as you turn your attenion back to the hand held device, one hand resting on the steering wheel, one foot tapping the brake.

That’s ‘dumb.’

So the discussion about close-minded comes back to me, as does the one about being a passenger in a vehicle. This discussion of lane splitting or not lane splitting was brought to my attention today in the car, on the way to the farmers market. “You don’t do that, do you?”I was asked.

“Of course I do.”

A look was exchanged by the two older adults in the front seats. I sat in the backseat and I felt my headache infused ire get up. “I cant support that,” I was told by my new friend in the passenger seat. She is a smart woman whom I respect a lot. Her partner nodded his head in agreement.

My brain was not ready for a debate about motorcycles at that point in time. I had head full of ache, and all I had been thinking about before they addressed me is how much I wished that I had taken Little Wing instead of cooping myself in the cage that I was currently a passenger in. My argument came out dull and sounding uninformed.. or maybe not. Regardless, these people, whom I really respect told me I was wrong. I had statistcs. I had experience. They had opinions. No facts, no first hand knowledge, and from that they derived an opinion. An opinion that made me, and every other motorcyclist who subscribed to lane splitting, an article for there abject and disdain.

So now I have statistics in the form of a PDF for your viewing pleasure. I am of the opinion that people should have facts before they make opinions. It all comes with an open-mind.

To paraphrase the facts, less people are killed while lane splitting (yay!). I enjoy lane splitting because when I pass the driver swerving all over the road I can look in their window and see them texting. I enjoy lane splitting because I feel safer.

I think it easy for people to judge from the comfort and luxury of their seat behind a wheel.

I have to admit, I judge too. I judge all the people with a phone in their hand. I judge all those people who cut me off without looking. I judge people who don’t use turn signals or tap their brakes before deciding to make a sudden turn. You know what I say? ‘Dumb.’

That’s not the correct thing to say.

However, I have driven a caged vehicle before. Four wheels, a roof, a radio, and a heater, I know what that’s like. I know that people can drive a lot safer than they do. I think these new found headaches might come from this new knowledge attained by riding a motorcycle. Some people drive ‘dumb.’ Whether it be the person driving the vehicle I’m in or the other people around, I have no control as a passenger. On Little Wing I am just 400 lbs of machine and flesh at the mercy of tons and tons of larger vehicles, and they have the ability to eat me alive, but the difference is I am in control. I am free, small, and I can skirt around all the drivers who drive ‘dumb.’ Close-minded? Open-minded? Who knows. All I know is I feel safer on Little Wing.

The constantly shifting eyes, the tense fingers, the feet that are just waiting to hit the brake and gear shifter. Brain excercises at there finest, that’s what all driving should feel like. If a driver thinks that they have the time and ability to pick up a phone/Ipod/makeup while their engine is on they are doing it wrong, in my opinion. If some one doesn’t feel like driving is something that takes serious concentration then I don’t want to be on the road with them.

But I really don’t get a choice. If I’m on the road then I have to just understand that people are inconsiderate much of the time.

That’s ‘dumb.’

Nope. ‘Dumb’ is not a solution. A solution is lane splitting. While the drivers sit there, not paying full attention, switching lanes/stopping/fiddeling without care, riders have the ability to observe it and avoid it.

One of the arguments put to me today was “people on motorcycles come up on me and I don’t see them. They are in my blind spot, and then they pass me. What if I had switched lanes?”

My response as a rider? I saw you move before I got there. I watched you long and hard before I  made the decision to pass in the middle. I saw that there was a safe chance, I took it, and now when you do switch lanes I am no where near you. I looked because you didn’t. And maybe you did, and if you did then, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Motorcyclists don’t want to die. Drivers don’t want to be responsible if we do. Simple logical solution: look for bikers. We see you, why don’t you see us?

Put the metaphorical Ipod down.

I have tossed the word ‘dumb’ aside on this subject. I have given my well thought out response, ‘dumb’ is no longer needed.

I would like to make a small plea to anyone reading this, and some sort of underlying message to the universe to all those who are not, don’t tell me you want me to wear bright colors, a helmet, or stop lane splitting for the sake of other drivers. Do not come at me as a non-rider and tell me how you would like me to change so you feel safer. Drivers of four wheeled vehicles have the upper hand. If you want me not to die then you need to stop driving your car in a ‘dumb’ manner. Excuse me, I have better way to say that, stop driving distracted. Stop driving under the influence  (of any and all substances that alter the thought process). Start looking for motorcyclists. I know you won’t see me most of the time, but trust me, I see you. I am looking, seeing, observing, reacting, thinking, and living my own life. Don’t tell me how to ride my motorcycle if you don’t know how. Just open your mind. Let the riders decide. Drive safely and we shouldn’t have as much of a problem.

That’s the sweetest I can muster, I’m still working on it. I have been trying to figure out how to say this without sounding negative. I have been trying to find something good to say on this subject, but the best I can muster thus far is the elimination of the word ‘dumb.’ Like I said, I’m still working on it. It’ll come.

Hey, I’ve got your back. I will try not to kill or maime myself around your vehicle, if you… oh wait. It doesn’t matter what you do, I will still try to survive.

As Yoda said, “there is no try, there is only do.” Lets do it. Lets all open our minds, be sweet and considerate, and drive safer.

Thanks in advance.

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I'm not sure why, but this cracked and bleeding pomegranate just seemed apropos. Maybe because it was so sweet. Who knows?

Sources:
Ewald and Wasserman. Motorcycle Lane-Share Study Among California Motorcyclists and Drivers 2014 and Comparison to 2012 qnd 2013 Data: Methodological and Analysis Report. The California Office of Traffic Safety, May 2014. Web. 13 Dec. 2014

Other suggested reading for those who are interested:
The Wikipedia Article
American Motorcyclist Association
And this fun opinion piece

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