Two weeks ago, as I rode to MotoGP Werks to dyno and weigh the Star V Star 950, I had a bit of a close call. Nothing major, really, just one of those things that happens to urban riders from time to time. In these situations, I try to perform a quick personal incident report as soon as possible after the event has passed. As often happens, I found several things that I had done which contributed to the event. I failed to consider a fact that, in this chain of events, led both myself and the driver of the other vehicle to try to occupy the same piece of tarmac at the same time.

Evans Off Camber – Us Versus Them

The event took place on a section of freeway the features a pair of cascading lane merges – the first of which shuffles four lanes down to three by folding the right two lanes into each other shortly after the initial merge. As a result, people are moving left from the soon-to-end right lane into a lane that is at the same time folding together with another pair of lanes. This merge is complicated by the fact that both pairs of lanes curve together at the merge point, placing the traffic in each other’s blind spots.

Evans Off Camber - Seconds and Inches – satellite photo

Setting the stage: Traveling to the right of the frame, the Suburban (black) and I (red) were in the next-to-bottom lane as we headed into the merge. The bottom lane begins to merge just out of frame. The top lane was occupied (blue), and the empty one below it was empty one the Suburban and I wanted to be in.

So, the event played out like this: I’m in the left lane of the pair of lanes merging in from the right as I come up on a Suburban with tinted rear windows. Yes, I’m speeding, but I’m closing in on the Suburban at a reasonable pace. As we approached the merge, I note that the lane on my left appears to be empty. However, just before I begin my lane change, I check my blind spot to make sure that the car I saw previously was in the far lane and not the one I’m moving into. Just prior to my head check, I signaled my intention.

So, certain that the space is clear, I begin my lane change while returning my head to the forward-facing position. In the fraction of a second I had my head turned, the traffic slowing in front of the Suburban has caused the driver to lift off the throttle and begin an unsignaled lane change. Even before my head stops turning, I’m immediately on the brakes, knowing that the lane to my left was already occupied. However, I do have more room in my lane to drift left and create more time as my acceleration relative the Suburban decreases to become deceleration. Ultimately, my front wheel gets about two feet from his bumper before we separate. At this point he sees me in his mirror and gives me a wave of apology.

It was close but not traumatic enough to even raise my pulse rate. Knowing I was partly at fault, I waved an apology to the driver, too. In my post-event analysis, I decided that my biggest mistake was not considering that he could only see me with his side mirrors. Had he been in a car, my high beam would’ve been shining in his rear-view mirror, (hopefully) making him aware of my presence. Yes, going slower would have also prevented this incident, and that’s the obvious mistake I made. The lesser one of not considering the SUV’s enlarged blind spot is the one that requires the implementation of new strategies. So, that’s the one I’ve been focusing on since the incident.

Evans Off Camber - Seconds and Inches – scooter

Although motorcycles take up less room on the street, we still find ourselves in conflict with other road users over that small bit of pavement.

I can imagine some readers thinking that this is all fine and dandy, but what about the times that the other person is completely in the wrong? Even then, if you’re willing to look at yourself honestly, you can find small ways that you contributed to the situation.

For example, this past summer, I was riding home after dropping my daughter off at her ballet class. (An aside: if you ever want people to look at you like you have two heads, show up at a ballet studio with your daughter and you carrying riding gear.) Riding home alone, I was in the left lane of a six-lane, divided urban thoroughfare. A car a half-block ahead of me pulled out into the right lane and accelerates up to speed ahead of the traffic I’m pacing in all three lanes. Suddenly, without warning, the car whips across the middle lane and begins to slow. As above, I employ the same technique of braking and pulling to the left of the lane. Only in this instance, the time is much more compressed. I’m in full-on maximum braking, and as I get my wheels within inches of the median’s curb, I feel the rear ABS begin to pulse. Shortly after that, the front does the same. To make matters worse, the median is lined with trees at about 30 foot intervals. I had nothing else to do but maintain my line, avoiding the curb, while watching the car’s fender get closer – until the bumper passes an inch or so in front of me.

I’d like to say that I brushed this off and went on to learn my latest motorcycling lesson, but that had to wait. Instead, the unsuspecting driver had reopened an old wound, in which a friend of mine was forced off the road where he crashed and slid head-first into a 4 x 4 in. post – about the size of the trees in the median. This poor woman, who had almost taken me out, was on the receiving end of the years of stored rage over the loss of my friend which was compounded by my enormous adrenaline rush. To make matters worse – for both of us – she clearly didn’t know that she had almost hit me. Just like my friend’s killer never knew – as opined by the witnesses of the accident – what he had done as he continued obliviously down the road.

Evans Off Camber - Seconds and Inches – splitting lanes

Don’t restrict your self-evaluation to just instances where you had a close call. After every ride, take a moment to think about what you did right, too.

What was my role in this incident? Simple. As she pulled out into traffic, I looked at her lane positioning, noted her rate of acceleration, and assessed her with a zero risk rating. I had no alternate plan in place when she pulled her stunt. Was she just an asshole driver? Was she distracted by the crying infant in the carseat behind her? (Yeah, there was one.) Or was she just an oblivious idiot? It doesn’t matter. I failed to account for her in my immediate plan of action, and that responsibility lies squarely on my shoulders.

Motorcycling can be a game of inches and seconds – with the highest of stakes. All my riding buddies have stories about how they narrowly escaped disaster. Others, unfortunately, can tell of how they came up short. Sadly, a dear friend can’t do anything, anymore. Although it’s impossible to prepare for every scenario, it’s far too easy for us, as riders, to direct the blame completely at the drivers of the vehicles involved. That’s putting our lives in their hands. Instead, we have to look for the lesson in every unexpected riding situation and then utilize what we’ve learned.

Using your head is the most important skill you can develop on a motorcycle. Apply it liberally while riding.

  • John B.

    Great article Evans. The decision to focus on what you could have done differently whenever you have a close call is the smartest alternative. I read several David L. Hough motorcycle safety books and articles when I first became a motorcyclist, and I write to him whenever I have a close call. Invariably, he sends me a lengthy response almost exclusively focused on my actions. Like you, he believes incidents like the one you described will occur, and riders must know how to get out of the way.

    In 2013, on my way home from Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico I exited the highway about four (4) miles from my home and came to a red light at a T intersection. I was nearly in tears due to a degenerated disc in my back, and once stopped at the light stood up to stretch my back. When the light turned green there was no traffic behind me, so I lingered a couple seconds to further relieve my back pain. As I began to make a left turn I noticed a car approaching to my right, and realized he was not going to stop at the red light. Somehow I stopped my bike about four feet short of where we would have collided, and did not drop the bike. The car stopped about 25 feet past where we would have collided. The driver was horrified and apologetic.

    Mr. Hough said I precipitated the incident because I did not immediately proceed when the light turned green, which may have led the driver to think I had a red light, or was waiting for him to proceed. He noted that drivers run red lights, among other things, and I needed to be prepared to avoid a collision. Moreover, he stressed that I had not managed riding fatigue properly, which reduced my situational awareness, and said I should have stopped in a safe place to stretch my back. My point is Mr. Hough preaches the mental processes and attitude you describe above, which makes good sense.

    • Evans Brasfield

      Great story, John. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Alexander Pityuk

    It’s a dangerous game and you can’t let other people decide whether you win or lose.

    • Will

      I live in NC and it’s a very dangerous game legally to ride a motorcycle because it follows the doctrine of contributory negligence, which bars recovery by the plaintiff if he or she is partially at fault. The majority of other states follow the doctrine of comparable negligence, in which the amount of damages (compensatory) is reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s degree of fault.
      For example, if Evans had collided with the Suburban in the above scenario while riding in the Tar Heel state, a personal injury lawyer for said defendant would try to pin some of the blame on him.

  • SRMark

    The thing I struggle with most is reciprocity. I have to tell myself, “Don’t be an asshole” or “Stay calm.” Too often my response makes the situation worse. I live in a sparsely populated area and that is probably the reason I’m still alive. I admire you city-folk who do the danger dance everyday. It sure does pay to process those situations after they have occurred. Dodge the ball and move on. Don’t pick it up and throw it back.

  • http://happymonday.biz/ Danilo Vargas

    Evans, thanks for keeping it real for us. This forces us to remember that this motorcycling thing is indeed a dangerous affair, lest we get too comfy and loosey-goosey out there. We should never forget that whether we’re going 1 mile or 1,000, there are real dangers down every road and the name of the game is responsibility and vigilance. Thanks for reminding us to be our own coaches and reflect on what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

  • Uncommon Sense

    I love to ride because of the extreme focus it requires. I find that when I ride around Chicago, I am so focused on looking out for idiot taxi drivers, cagers, and foot deep potholes that I forget about work and the other outside stresses in my life. It is just me and the bike enjoying the ride. it is therapy.

    Anytime I do have a close call, I usually do try to assess where I was slipping. I find that when I assess the close calls I’ve had over my riding years, almost all of then stem from my just not quite paying attention enough to my surroundings. I let some distraction get in my head. I got a little too comfortable. Didn’t quite see the wheels turning of the cager who didn’t use a turn signal. Didn’t assume there was a car creeping through a gap in the line of cars in the opposite lane trying to turn left just waiting to nose out into my lane. Didn’t check my rear view mirror to see the speeder coming up on me at a high rate of speed. The list goes on and on.

  • pcontiman

    yep.

  • Barry_Allen

    So your friend is dead and according to you, it’s his own damned fault.
    Great way to blame the victim.

    • Evans Brasfield

      I think you need to reread the article. I’m saying that we _all_ play some role in close calls or accidents precipitated by the actions of others. Saying I’m blaming him is more a reflection on your thought process than mine.