Jun 10, 2019

A Motorcyclist Looks at Motorcycles

Red Wing, this time of year, has a lot of pirate traffic. It’s a small town on the Mississippi River with good restaurants and lots of bars, polite and light traffic, wide roads with remedial curves designed for truck traffic, and decent scenery. This is the place for which Harleys and Indians were designed. So, the irritating sound of badly tuned tractor motors (potato-potato-potato and rub-rub-rub) decorates our evenings and weekends most every mild summer day. Our cops, like cops everywhere, can’t tell the real gangbangers on cruisers from the wannabe gangbangers on cruisers. So, they’re afraid of them all, including the dentists and stockbrokers, and let them wobble down our streets in packs of unskilled idiots, just like everywhere. There are days when most locals avoid our favorite restaurants because they’ll be littered with pretend-pirates and all-too-real assholes covered in patches and colors.

I, on the other hand, am either on a bicycle or in a cage (as a passenger or a tentative driver) these days. My eyesight is not getting better, which likely means my motorcycle days are done. So, I find myself at frontage road intersections like this one looking down my blind side (left) at traffic, making my best guess at oncoming vehicle distances and speeds, and planning a right turn into the right-hand lane. As Keanu would ask, “What would you do?” There is a truck in the on-coming left lane, about 1/4 of a mile away on a 55mph four-lane highway and a stop light about 1/4 of a mile down the road from this intersection, so traffic will likely be slowing about the time I'm up to speed and in my lane. I'm turning right, so I should be able to merge into the right lane without any issue, right? What if that truck was a Harley with the usual gearless pirate dangling from the handlebars? What if it were a parade of clueless pirates?

As a life-long (50+ years) motorcyclist and retired motorcycle safety instructor, I have a different take on the “start seeing motorcyclists” bullshit. I know, on average, motorcyclists are the most incompetent people on the road; either on their motorcycles or in their cars. When I see one, two, a half-dozen, or fifty motorcyclists in the lane I am hoping to join or even in another lane, at practically any distance, I am forced to wait for them to pass. Not because I don’t believe I can get into the lane and up to traffic speed in a decent interval, but because I know 99% of the nitwits on two-wheels in my town are totally incompetent (unfortunately that applies to bicyclists, too). Any sort of complication in the road ahead of them will cause insanely inappropriate panic and generally foolish behavior and I might end up with some moron plastered across the back of my pickup. It’s not worth the hassle. So I wait.

I admit that my estimation of the rider’s skill is dramatically guaged against the brand and style of motorcycle. If it’s a cruiser, I automatically assume total incompetence. If I’m wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise; but a rare one. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is geared-up, I assume moderate skills with undetermined judgement. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is helmet-less., bare armed and legged, and perched on the bike like he’s straddling a too-big butt-plug, I’m back to assuming total incompetence with zero judgement capacity. If its a geared-up adventure biker or, even better, a dual-purpose biker I take no special precautions. That one group can generally be trusted to be at least as competent as the rest of traffic. I don’t have the eyesight to pick commuters from joy-riders, but if I did I’d be pretty confident in the commuters’ skill, too; regardless of motorcycle style.

NOTE: If your take on traffic and commuting is, “I don’t ride to work on my motorcycle because everyone else on the road is out to kill me” you are a moron and not even close to being skilled enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads. Welcome to the sad, overwhelming majority of the motorcycle clan. I'm sure you'll be comfortable in whatever bar they are contaminating.

Sad, isn’t it? The people I’ve been associated with for most of my life, musicians and motorcyclists, are pretty much the bottom of the gene pool in most of society’s rankings. Honestly, other than through Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, my motocross and trials years, and the safety instructor gig, I may have been associated with motorcyclists but I rarely associated with them. I have fewer than a dozen friends (and a brother) who I would consider riding anywhere near. I almost always travel alone and use groups of motorcycles as an indicator of where not to go or be. You can’t really be a musician without being around other musicians, so there is that association that is totally fair.You can be a motorcyclist without knowing a single other motorcyclist. In fact, most likely the fewer motorcyclists you know the more likely it is that you are a competent motorcyclist. Knowing exactly zero "bikers" is always a good sign.

I admit it, I feel "put upon" by being required to babysit these incompetents. Worse, after I give their inabilities lots of safety margin, these idiots assault me with their exhaust noise and pollution and my local cops don't even give them a look. That's injury added to insult added to wasted time. The accommodations our culture makes for bikers so that a few bar owners can optimize their profits at the expense of the rest of society is a red flag of insanity.


  1. You know how to make a bloke feel good about himself. My brother is the only other rider I truly trust to ride with. A couple of his mates are only one level down on that. The rest of the motorcycling population? No thanks.
    Squint away, pull out and maybe force them to upskill! Survival of the fittest was never a bad way for the hooman race to get by.

  2. I've been the least competent rider in a very small group of skilled riders, but I've never been the most competent rider in a very large group of incompetent riders. Well there was one time but I've learned my lesson. If you don't use your bike to get places, like work, then how in the world do you gain skills?

  3. Over the past few decades of riding the alphabet roads of Buffalo and Trempealeau counties I have progressed from small group rides to mainly riding solo. Passing groups of cruisers has always been an issue.

    I've learned that when I come up behind cruiser group riders, I practice a safe way of making the pass. I look to pass the group only where appropriate and give indications that I’m going to pass.

    From what I’ve seen over the years; large groups of cruisers will have the most inexperienced riders at the rear of the group. Before I make the pass - I try and make eye contact (through their mirrors) with riders in the rear of the group. Once I’ve established a visual clue, I will then shift over the left and put on my left turn signal – indicating that I’m going to make a pass.

    Hint. While coming out of a corner, usually a small gap will form in the group between the leaders of the group and the less experienced riders. At this point I either downshift a couple of gears and pass the whole group, or pass as many as safely as possible.

    I give the riders in the rear of the group as much latitude as possible, because new riders can be spooked into making unnecessary adjustments in their line (not holding their line when passed).

    Caution: If the group is on a Poker Run then alcohol may give some members of the group courage. They will use this liquid courage to try and keep up with me, and/or take offense to being passed.

    Although this is rare, I’ve have come up on a groups of cruisers where the group will give me room to pass the whole group. It’s rare, but it has happened to me twice; whereas, Goldwing groups always give me room to pass ��

    What to take away from all this. Don’t be a dick when passing inexperienced group riders. Give them clues that you’re going pass them and give them plenty of room while making the pass.

  4. As an active riding examiner with IAM, never being able to shut off from looking at other road users (car and bikes) round me is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because your situational awareness and ability to respond to it is what keeps you safe. It's a curse because it's so frustrating seeing so many people who shouldn't even be on the road.


Disagree? Bring it on. Have more to add? Feel free to set me straight.(Spam goes straight to trash and is never read.)