We have met the enemy and he is us – Pogo

We all do it. So, don’t think I’m getting all high-and-mighty and preachy, here. Okay, well, maybe I am. Still, I’m just thinking about the “Us Versus Them” attitude many motorcyclists (us) have with car drivers (them). Think of all the terms we have for cars and their drivers: cages or cagers, road bison, rolling chicanes, coffins, rolling cubicle pilots, drones, etc. When that’s the position from which we start any interaction with car drivers, does that really leave any room for us to get along on the roadways we share?

We use the same roads as car drivers – sometimes even the same lanes at the same time. Shouldn’t we try to respect each other?

We use the same roads as car drivers – sometimes even the same lanes at the same time. Shouldn’t we try to respect each other?

Taking a quick glance at the comments for articles here on MO reveals telling details. The same can be seen on many of the motorcycle-focused forums. Things like: “Every time I put on my gear, I remind myself that I’ve got a target on my back.” Or: “Just keep in mind that car drivers want to kill you.” Really? Are drivers really gunning for us? Or are they a little more like us? You know, selfish, flawed, distractible humans? Yes, some of them behave in criminally negligent and/or stupid ways. The examples are so plentiful that cliches have developed: the secretary applying makeup in the rearview mirror on the interstate, the guy holding a coffee and a cigarette in one hand while trying to write a note on the dash with the other (What’s he using to drive?), or the adolescent couple making out in the pickup truck while tooling down a rural highway. Are these people really trying to injure themselves or others? Or are they just caught up in their own myopic, self-centered vision?

Road Rage And You

Are motorcyclists really that different when it comes to being selfish and self-centered? Think of the riders (or groups of riders) weaving through traffic on the highway. What about speeding and/or low-skilled riders crossing the double yellow into oncoming traffic out on a twisty road? The bikers riding home from the bar or bar hopping to another watering hole on their motorcycles after a few drinks? These people are putting themselves at risk, but their actions also affect others. All it takes is one person being surprised by and overreacting to the actions of a motorcyclist to cause an accident – or even a multi-vehicle one on the freeway. The rider might even get away scot-free. Yes, you have the right to choose the amount of risk you find acceptable, but don’t others have the right not to see your insides on your outside?

Last year, I was on an organized ride for the motorcycle and general media. Since the riders were of varying skill levels, a ride leader was hired to help herd all of us cats out on the road. During a couple sections of the ride, we spent several miles splitting lanes. During these times, I witnessed some of the most egregious displays of self-entitled behavior I’ve experienced in a long time. As we worked our way between the slow-moving cars, the ride leader would wildly rev his engine to announce our presence, expecting the cars to move out of his way. If they didn’t immediately respond, more revving and wild gesticulations followed. He even threw – and occasionally landed – an intermittent kick.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t kick or punch or however you choose to attract attention to yourself when a car is (usually through negligence) trying to occupy the space that you’ve already claimed. Dire circumstances require drastic responses. The difference is that this guy was demanding the cars move over to accommodate him. The slow to respond got glares and the occasional finger, too. Yes, lane splitting is legal in California, but that does not give motorcycles ownership of the unused space between the cars. I’ve often found that, if I wait patiently for the driver to notice that I’m trying to get by, they will move over and often respond to my wave of thanks.

Yes, I’m just as capable of being an asshole on my bike or in my car (one of the benefits/curses of working from home is that a large portion of my weekday afternoons are spent behind the wheel being the Dad Taxi) as the next guy. For years, I’ve referred to my own motorcycling shenanigans as being a rolling emissary of motorcycling goodwill, a term I blatantly stole from John Burns many years ago.

Just this weekend, I had a (drunk) pedestrian try to punch me in the face through the glass of my closed window when I was honking at the car that had just run the red light in front of me and then come to an immediate, screeching halt to let out a passenger, forcing me to slam on my brakes before I was able to clear the intersection. Fortunately, my kids weren’t in the car to see my minute-long horn tantrum before the pedestrian so politely reminded me of what a douche I was being and that I had long since surrendered my “rightness.” So, yeah, I’m human, too.

Motorcycle Vs. Car: What Happens When Cooler Heads Don’t Prevail [Video]

Still, it’s the struggle that makes us grow. Perhaps, when we look at others, we should see them as the same flawed, naked bags of meat that we are. Rather than calling drivers rude names, we should look at them as fellow motorists who are fallible and then get on with our ride. Isn’t motorcycling more fun when we’re smiling instead of fuming inside our helmets?

  • Alexander Pityuk

    There is nothing really to discuss. Positive attitude is safer, more efficient and just more fun. Cursing doesn’t help drivers to acknowledge their mistakes and, even more, makes both motorcyclist and the driver to become prone to more mistakes on their way because of rage and thus impared judgment.

  • Oslo Norway

    That is, by far, the best banner pic evah! Great piece Evans!

  • Jack Meoph

    I think there are people out there who are oblivious to everything when they drive, going completely into drone mode when behind the wheel of their vehicle. But I’ve also experienced too many people who think they are in charge of traffic flow and if you go against them, they turn vigilante on you. I blame the people who are in charge of regulating the traffic on the roads, from the politicians to the cops. Their focus is not on safety or efficiency, it is on the $$$$.

  • BDan75

    It’s always amazing to me how easy it is to lose perspective, both behind the wheel and on the bike. You sit there ranting and raving at the moron holding up the show…until the absurdity of it all hits you (“That made my trip a whole fifteen seconds longer”), and you wonder why so much anger/impatience/competitiveness gets wrapped up the act of operating a vehicle. The highway is like a playground for all our various psychological issues.

    Then two days later you do the same thing all over again…

    I actually have a lot of sympathy for car drivers trying to deal with bikes. It’s really easy not to see us…especially when we’re coming from behind, shifting lanes, and going significantly faster than the flow of traffic. Heck, even with a motorcycle directly ahead of me there’s less awareness. I’ve come to realize that (in a car) when I’m monitoring the lane ahead, I’m mostly watching the left portion. If there’s a bike in the center or right portion, I have to devote special attention to tracking it. And that’s me, as a 20+ year motorcyclist who doesn’t text, talk, etc. while driving.

    For that and other reasons, when I’m on a bike, I feel like it’s pretty much my job to stay out of the cars’ way to the extent possible. That may not be fair…but at some point it’s just a matter of 500 lbs. vs. 4,000 lbs.

  • CrashFroelich

    “For years, I’ve referred to my own motorcycling shenanigans as being a rolling emissary of motorcycling goodwill…”
    That sounds a lot better than the line I use: misdemeanor hooliganism.

  • HuntingtonHarold

    “… look at them as fellow motorists who are fallible and then get on with our ride.”

    Where is the fun in that?