Respect on the road is earned

As a motorcyclist, I am perhaps overly aware that I am at all times in far more danger of my life ending on the open road than anybody in a car. It is a simple fact that motorcyclists face more risk than car or SUV drivers.

I am willing to accept that risk, but I like to think I act accordingly.  Even on a day as hot as today, I’m wearing a full-face helmet, a jacket with armored pads in it, gloves, sturdy leather boots, and (usually) riding pants that are not only abrasion resistant, but also have armor in them.

I ride defensively, which is to say I am somewhat aggressive in defending my space on the road – not just my track in my lane, but my lane.  I rarely ride in a strict straight line, occasionally even weaving a bit so alert oncoming drivers (or oblivious ones behind me) I’m there.  I have two bright (yet properly aimed) HID lights on the front of my bike and when I get on the brakes, the back of my bike lights up like a blinky red Christmas tree.  I have a 132dB horn which has snapped more than one lane-drifting, inattentive driver away from their cell phone.

Most of all, however, I ride with respect.  Not just respect for the rules of the road (stop, yield, speed limit (well… mostly), RR Xing, etc.) but with respect for the danger I’m in as the next-to-smallest motorized vehicle on the road (the smallest being those crazy people on scooters). It’s the unwritten “law of the bigger vehicle” – as in, no matter what traffic law is on your side, a semi filled with milk trumps my motorcycle all day long and if he wants my spot bad enough, I’m going to give it up to him.

Which brings me to my point.  As a motorcyclist, if you want respect, you have to give respect as well.

One day not terribly long ago, as I was heading west on a major highway in our nation’s Capitol Region, a group of 8-10 (maybe 12) bikers merged (legally & properly) into the rightmost lane ahead of me. I was in the middle of 3 lanes.

After cleanly & safely merging from the acceleration lane into the rightmost travel lane, the procession’s tail gunner (last in line, for those of you not in the know) put on his turn signal, cut off the SUV in front of me, and slowed from about 50 mph to about 25 mph, nearly earning himself a trip to the hospital because the guy in the SUV in front of me was (of course) yakking on his cell phone and caught completely by surprise by the rider’s move.  I had a gut feeling something was going to happen (no idea why) and as soon as I saw his turn signal, I cut my throttle, downshifted & tapped my brake lever to alert the driver behind me I was slowing down.

What the tail gunner was doing was blocking the traffic behind the procession so they could all change lanes.  He maintained his 30 mph speed until all the bikes in front of him had a chance to change lanes.  Those of us stuck behind the procession couldn’t get out of the middle lane, because traffic in the left lane was going by us at something approximating the proper speed limit.


For the second time in about two minutes, I watched a car nearly kill the tail gunner, who continued to move down the highway at about 25 mph. Once the whole procession was in the left lane, they ramped themselves up to 55 mph, just under the posted speed limit of 60. Traffic went past & around them, including me. I may have flashed the finger to the tail gunner.

The real kicker is they got off at their exit just a few miles down the highway. They could have easily stayed in the right lane or even the middle lane & been perfectly safe since they weren’t doing the speed limit anyway.  I was getting gas, so I saw them go by, which is how I know where they got off the highway. I can only guess Mr. Death Wish Tail Gunner did a similar set of maneuvers heading into the right lane as he did heading into the left lane.

I’m still stunned, frankly, at the disrespect these riders showed everyone else on the highway this afternoon. They didn’t earn any respect for riders – as a matter of fact, fervent rider that I am, I sat there wishing I wasn’t on a motorcycle at that moment. I was & am truly ashamed to be associated with riders such as this group (who, incidentally, were not 1%ers, but had slick-looking 3-piece patches on their vests so everybody behind them knew they were together and super cool). Instead of being respectful and sharing the road like responsible drivers/riders, they acted as if they were the most important machines on the move.

There wasn’t a driver around them with any respect for them at that point, and I’m sure there was more than one driver went got home & told their friends or family about “these jerk bikers I saw” on the highway today.  THAT is what people will remember – “bikers are jerks” – the next time they come across a rider.  The next rider those drivers encounter will suffer for the disrespect this procession showed today.

That next rider could very well be me.

(This post previously appeared in a slightly different format in the author’s personal blog.)