respect on the road is earned

ImageThis post doesn’t have anything to do with the police, I’ll say that right away 🙂

What it has to do with is respect.

As a motorcyclist, I am very, VERY 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 riding pants that are not only abrasion resistant, but also have armor in them.

I ride defensively, which is to say that 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) that I’m there.  I have two very 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 132 dB horn that has snapped more than one 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.

Today as I was heading west on I-66, 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 – this is in Fairfax just before the HOV lane appears).

After cleanly & safely merging into the right 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 car 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 level to alert the driver behind me that 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.

THEN THE ASSHOLE DID IT AGAIN SO THE PROCESSION COULD GET INTO THE FAR LEFT LANE.

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 probably gave the tail gunner the finger as I went past.

The real kicker is they got off on 234 – only a few exits 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 66. I can only guess that 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 a motorcycle rider 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 on very slick-looking 3-piece patches on their vests so everybody behind them knew they were together). 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 that had any respect for them at that point, and I’m sure there was more than one driver that got home & told their friends or family about “these asshole bikers I saw” on 66 today.  THAT is what people will remember – “bikers are assholes” – the next time they come across a rider.  The next rider that driver encounters will suffer for the disrespect this procession showed today.

That next rider could very well be me.

extolling the virtues of the S2

Yesterday was an entirely unseasonably cool late July day. The temps stayed in the 70s throughout the morning, barely peaking above 80 in the late afternoon. Just a glorious, beautiful day. I really wanted to go for a ride, but I was busy for much of the day with work, work and more work. I posted a Facebook plea to some folks to meet up for dinner because I was really just going stir crazy.

Last night, then, I met up with some friends – I call them my biker buddies, but we’re more “motorcyclists” than “bikers” I guess. In the world of people who ride BMW motorcycles, “1%er” means something totally different than it does to a Pagan.

Anyway.

It ended up that I was the only one that rode to dinner, and after we were done I decided to go for a ride. I couldn’t think of anywhere specific to go (for which I have been castigated by at least 2 friends), so I got the idea to just do a lap around the Beltway.

Lately I’ve been using my old helmet, an orange Shoei RF1100, far more often than my “good” helmet. The good helmet is really a GREAT helmet; it is one of the more recent models offered by Schuberth, their S2 full-face helmet. It’s super trick and very high tech.

The one I got from Schuberth NA came in plain, stark bright white. Not bad for safety’s sake, but kind of plain. Now it sports some orange reflective tape (lights up when lights hit it) in kind of a random, Eddie Van Halen-inspired design.

The reason I’ve been using the RF1100 so much this summer is because it’s simply more comfortable on super hot days. Compared to the S2, the RF1100 is a damned wind tunnel – it’s wide-open neck hole allows a ton of air and noise to get to the rider.

Past all its high tech awesomeness, the S2 is one hot fucking helmet in the height of summer. The collar/neck roll is very snug against the rider’s neck, which is great for cutting down on noise – and it’s even pretty comfortable once you get used to that feeling, of having the collar ON your neck. Even with the copious amount of air that flows through the top vent, the S2 is simply too hot to wear when the temps get above 85ish degrees. When I ride my R1200GS, the chin bar vent is useless – yes, it flows some air, but the attendant noise from the filthy air flow around the least aerodynamic bike in the universe is crushing. On a bike with good air flow – like a K1200RS – the S2 is a quiet piece of work, with hardly any additional wind noise introduced by opening the chin bar vent. As a matter of fact, when I use the S2 when riding the K12RS, I can often forego using ear plugs. On the R12GS, ear plugs are a constant necessity no matter the helmet.

Well, since it was so nice out yesterday, I decided to throw on that S2 for my dinner/Beltway ride. I hadn’t worn it for a couple months, so it was a really refreshing surprise to put it on and remember what a great helmet it is – amazing fit and finish, incredibly comfortable and when I wear it, I just feel totally safe.

Don’t get me wrong, I like my RF1100 & it’s the helmet I recommend to people that are looking for a good helmet at a decent price, but the difference between the RF1100 and the S2 is like comparing a high school musical to a Broadway musical. It’s not competency that makes the difference – it’s just a different level of professionalism at work.

I have to take a second here to thank Schuberth NA and especially Iron Butt Magazine – IBM will be running my review of the S2 in its Fall issue.

Shoei & Schuberth helmets

Shoei RF1100 on the left, with a Schuberth S2 on the right.