How To Be A More Polite Motorcyclist

How To -



I’ve been cut off, stopped short, merged into. I’ve been turned in front of, acknowledged then ignored, nearly clipped, definitely clipped, and (seemingly) left for dead. I’ve also been yelled at, honked at, cursed at, and flipped-off. Heck, that was just this morning.

I kid, of course. But if you’re reading RideApart, so have you. You’re the bad guy, and everyone knows it. With apologies to red-headed stepchildren everywhere, motorcyclists are the runts of the road. We get no respect: not from cars, certainly not from pedestrians, and especially not from trucks and busses.

As a rider, you should expect to be disrespected – it’s how you respond that separates the men from the mice.

It’s easy – and often, admittedly, fun – to approach motorcycling as an exercise in “Us Versus Them,” and cut a contemptuous swath through traffic with no concern or regard for anyone else on the road. But it’s also a self-serving approach that drivers often resent. And like it or not, they’re bigger than you.

Here’s the Dirty Little Secret no motorcyclist wants to admit: A fight with someone behind the wheel of a car is a fight you will probably lose. Sitting in traffic with a zillion other nameless faces, encased by iron and steel and pine-scented air freshener, drivers can afford to be pushy – all that anonymity and metal makes many of them very brave. But with only a thin layer of leather and (hopefully) CE-approved polymer separating us from the hard, painful stuff that surrounds us, courage is a luxury motorcyclists should never assume we can afford.

Look, we’re all on the same road, for different reasons. We’re all out there on the pavement together: riders and drivers, walkers and yes, even truckers. We’ve all got a schedule, a place to be. And yes, Rodney, we can all get along. The sooner riders and automobile drivers alike recognize each other’s right to exist in the daily ballet of rubber and metal and asphalt, the better off we will all be.

There are plenty of things motorcyclists can do to be a more polite, responsible motorist, and here are a few of ours. Everyone has the right to ride however they’d like – but keep in mind the things that frustrate you as a rider, and treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Predict and Move
Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re forced to respond to another’s actions. Those quick and sudden maneuvers so easy for us are precisely the kind of moves that freak out moms in minivans.

Watch the traffic around you and take note of how each vehicle is behaving. Avoid potential hazards and, if you can, get beyond them. Notice a swerving vehicle or brake jockey in your vicinity? You never know what that driver is dealing with. It could be a screaming baby in the back seat, or a text message or phone call that just can’t wait. He/she might be lost, or unsure of their next turn… it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is that’s preventing a driver from focusing on the task at hand isn’t your concern. Do not engage. Instead, use that nimble machine between your legs to extricate yourself from harm’s way.

Signal Your Intent
How many times have you found yourself surprised by the move another motorist makes due to lack of a turn signal? On a bike, you’re out there in the open for everyone to see, and the only cushions you’ve got are your manners and your agility.

So use that vulnerability and exposure to your advantage. Especially in crowded traffic situations where everyone’s jockeying for position, always complement your turn signals with hand signals, as if you’re riding in a group. And never assume an adjacent vehicle sees your blinker; point, wave – whatever it takes. Leave nothing to chance.

You know those drivers who flip on their blinker halfway through a lane change? Don’t be one of those. A little blinking light does not give you permission to make your move. Head checks are free; always, always glance over your shoulder.

Read More – Page 2 >>

  • Samuel David Ayres

    Page 2 link isn’t working…

    • sean macdonald

      no clue why it isn’t working for you guys, it is for all of us (and always has been).

      try and clear your cache maybe?

      edit: we’re aware you guys are having issues and have forwarded it to our IT guys. Thanks for your patience, this is just part of our growing really REALLY fast.

      • NOCHnoch

        Could be a sign from the Lord of the Internet that 1 page is perfectly acceptable

      • NOCHnoch

        Working for me now

        • sean macdonald


      • Piglet2010

        I have often found that the “Read More – Page 2 >>” link is broken, but the little red “2″ (as in “Pages: 1 2″) has always worked.

      • darngooddesign

        Ask one of your riding buddies for help… oh wait. :D

    • Kr Tong

      Got it to work after clearing browser data.

  • Rogier Goedecke

    great article so far. please link page 2…

    • Jen Degtjarewsky

      Are you able to see it now? Our Dev team is working fast and furious on this issue to fix it once and for all.

      • Rogier Goedecke

        Yes!! All good! Thanks!

  • Kevin

    Haven’t seen the 2nd half, hope it includes this one: Don’t use lane sharing as an excuse to always go 20 mph faster than cars. I see riders lane splitting when traffic is moving at 70+ mph; Folks, if you do that then you’re abusing the privilege (and in fact, you’re probably breaking the law).

    • imprezive

      I lane split at 70mph+. If everyone is cruising at 80mph then you get the jackass changing to the fast lane and holding everyone up I just go around. The nicest thing about having a bike is not being stuck behind oblivious lane hogs.

    • Tony M

      When it’s done with safety in mind, there’s a benefit to lane-splitting even at 70+. A good example is when you’re trapped going 70+ in a cluster of cars, and there’s a pocket of space just a few cars ahead. When timed right, passing out of the cluster into the pocket will let you cruise comfortably in a pocket away from cars. So I agree that gratuitous lane splitting at 70+ is risky, but timed right it can be safer and benefit traffic overall.

  • Guzzto

    Well I liked the first half of the article.
    when I cross an intersection and have right of way I often given the driver of the car waiting for me a wave, There is no obligation to do this but I feel if may make some part of their reptilian brain register me as a human being rather than anonymous target or annoyance. It’s also a little thanks for seeing me and waiting kind of wave. Who knows it might just make them a little less negative towards bikes or take a second look at the next intersection.

    • Mykola

      Same here, and if I’m the lone pedestrian I’ll jog the few paces across the intersection instead of taking everyone’s time shuffling across.

    • Chris Cope

      +1 for waving. I try to offer friendly waves for just about everything.

  • Dan

    Page 2 isn’t working here either.

    • sean macdonald

      try now

  • sean macdonald

    For those of you who are having a hard time with pg 2, clear your cache. If that still doesn work, use the little “pages: 1 2″ at the very bottom and let us know, we’ll forward it to IT.

    • APG7

      Cleared cache, and neither link to the next page worked.

      • Clint Keener

        same here.

        • Tobias Hermansson

          me three

      • sean macdonald

        Thanks for the feedback. I’ve emailed or IT dudes who will get right on it. As someone who can read page 2, I can tell you it’s worth the wait :)

      • Guest

        Same here. Even tried it with multiple browsers, private browsers, etc. Weird how the Ride Apart guys are so defensive about it…. IT problems happen to the best of us. Nothing to be defensive about, but if it isn’t working for any of us, why not look into it, guys?

    • LS650

      Seems OK in my browser..?

  • Chris

    I would say that it’s actually the motorcyclists that have the most anonymity- or at least those wearing a FF helmet. Could be a robot on that bike for all the cagers can tell. Not that I’m planning to go without my FF lid just to come across as more human…

    PS- page 2 doesn’t work for me either. Fails for both Safari and Chrome on OSX.

  • metric_G

    Learn to forgive, if a cager almost took you out, or just cut you off, it was most likely not intentional, due to our lower profile and the tendency for car drivers looking out for bigger objects, this happens often. Don’t try to be “educational” with your middle finger or try to get back at the driver, you won’t gain anything by it, and you will look like just another aggressive rider for others around you.
    Forgive on the spot and ride away happy, that you are and your bike are still in one piece :)

    • Piglet2010

      My exception to this is getting hit by a lit cigarette butt or half-full soft drink cup thrown from a car/truck/SUV/minivan – catch them at a light and ask them what the **** they think they are doing.

  • NOCHnoch

    +1 for leaving the brights on during the day. I have HIDs as well, not retina searing but VERY noticeable. Favorite mod on my bike.

    • tbowdre

      +1 for the HID mod. I get noticed way more with HIDs than I ever did with my brights on. Plus I can actually see when riding at night.

  • ko0616

    Great reminders, thanks.

  • SteveNextDoor

    While aimed at motorcyclists, I think these are all great suggestions for anyone operating a motor vehicle of any kind.

    • runnermatt

      I concur

  • Fresh Mint

    “A personal rule: After a particularly nasty crash in the Bronx a few years back, I habitually ride with my brights on during daylight hours. Now that I live in California where lane-splitting is legal, the practice has saved my stones at least twice.”

    +1 to this advice…Been doing it for years. It works. I’ve met so many riders who look at me like I’m some sort of asshole for doing it too – Who cares if they’re a little uncomfortable for a moment, it’s not like I’m behind them for too long anyway and its not like my brights are nearly as strong as your cars.

    • Ben W

      I wonder how much it really helps versus confirmation bias.

      I believed whole-heartedly that a loud exhaust on a past bike was the reason that I stopped having close calls in traffic, but it turned out that I was making better choices when riding and I was more alert. I wear an all-white helmet now and I swear some people think I’m a cop. People seem to slow down all the time when I’m behind them. But is it the helmet or is it just something I never paid much attention to before?

      Anyhow. I’m not a fan of using brights – like some others, I find it obnoxious. Here in the land without lane splitting, I can’t think of any situation that would’ve played out better in the last 3+ years if I’d had my brights on, but I also don’t ride very aggressively in traffic.

  • runnermatt

    I could write something about most of these. I’ll save everyone from that, but I will say two things.

    First, ride a slow bike, like my CBR250R, that is unable to outrun most cars on most public roads and you will be less willing to challenge cars because if they want to run you over it would be difficult to get away.

    Second, people who drive slow in the left lane. Most states have laws governing left lane usage and there used to be a website that provided access to each states laws on the subject. I looked for it and was unable to find it. I did find this website; this blog; and this video;

    People who drive slow in the left lane annoy me to no end. I once went on a day trip for job training with one of my managers. She drove the whole way on the interstate in the left lane at the speed limit, about 60 to 70 miles, maybe more. I asked he about it and she claimed the “left lane is the travel lane” and the “right lane is for entering and exiting” and said that if people wanted to pass her they could just pass her on the right. She was from Ohio and I don’t know what they teach drivers there as I have never been to Ohio. Personally, there is only one time I can approve of driving in the left lane for anything other than passing. That time is when there is a multi-lane highway with 3+ lanes in one direction, especially if that highway is in an urban environment with many opportunities to turn left.

    • Stephen Wuebker

      For the record, that’s not what they teach in Ohio. At least not officially. In fact, there are signs all over the interstates here that state “Slower vehicles keep right” and “Keep right except to pass”, so who knows where she picked up that crazy idea.

      • runnermatt

        Glad to hear Ohio is fighting the good fight!

    • Piglet2010

      It should be legal to bumper tap “left-lane bandits”.

    • Michael Howard

      During my commercial drivers license training (about 15 years ago) we were told that passing on the right, no matter how many lanes, is technically illegal.

    • Justin McClintock

      That picture at the bottom….that reminds me of (and may in fact be a picture of) an “experiment” that some sociology professor organized a few years back. Rented cars for some graduate students and had them drive in formation blocking all the lanes from Chattanooga all the way to Atlanta at exactly the speed limit. Wanted to see how people would react.

      I really hope he was fired for that. And thrown in jail.

      • runnermatt

        The picture is actually from the video link I posted. Disqus automatically put the screen shot up when I posted the video link. I was unaware it did that.

  • Bill

    Riding near taxi and large sedans operated by seniors makes me most alert and nervous….

  • Tony M

    I agree that highbeams help with visibility, but it’s good to turn off the high beam as a courtesy when you’re behind a driver for an extended time. I find highbeams to be most beneficial when lane splitting, entering intersections, or going through chaotic areas (e.g. PCH near the beach where there are a lot of U-turners and parking-spot-vultures). There’s a definite enhanced awareness that I notice among drivers when my brights are on. I even notice a Moses-like parting of the Red Sea when I lane split with my brights on.

  • Michael Howard

    Before letting yourself go ballistic on someone for doing something stupid on the road, try to remember this: You have no idea what kind of day that other person is having and what their mental/emotional state is. For all you know they just got fired from their job, went home and found their significant other in bed with the neighbor, killed them in a rage and, at this moment in time, don’t have much to live for and have a very short fuse. Do you really think it’s a good idea to flip that person off for merging into your lane?

    Keep a cool head. You never know what’s going on in that OTHER person’s head.

    • Davidabl2

      This should be taught in Driver’s Ed–with your scenario included.

  • Davidabl2

    Read chapter nine “Urban Survival” in Nick Ienatsch’s book “Sport Riding Techniques” p.103 to p.112

    (try reading at p.103…)

    I had my stepkids read it when they were learning to drive. Drive cars, that is. Wound up with 2 copies of the book and none of the kids riding street bikes..

  • William Connor

    SMIDSY, Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You. Funny videos but excellent technique to make the bike bigger in a persons view when approaching someone entering traffic from a side road or anytime someone may not see you approaching. There is a wonderful demonstration of the closing speed of a motorcycle and our general lack of perception due to small frontal area in the videos. I also wave at people, I assume if they do not acknowledge they don’t see me. I do this a lot when leading a group.

  • Joe Bielski

    I keep my birds ready at all times ;)

  • vanduc996

    Great article, I agree with pretty much everything stated therein.
    If I may posit an opinion about the volume of an exhaust and it’s role in rider safety….
    I realize this issue probably in the top five of most contentious issues amongst motorcyclists, so I do tread carefully!
    I think there is a middle ground to be considered in between that of maintaining a near silent stock exhaust and having an exhaust loud enough to notify the dead of your presence. In my opinion the former tend to minimize the importance of our hearing as we move through this world, and the latter tend to overly rely on the effects of their auditory impact with regard to their on road safety.
    Put simply, I believe having an audible exhaust is a very important part of rider safety. It’s not to be ridden around with as if it’s a cloak of invisibility. That’s as absurd as the statement itself that loud pipes save lives. A pipe cannot safe a life, nor will a rider survive if they ride around thinking that because they can be heard they’re totally safe.
    But I do know how important our sense of hearing is to how we has human beings interact with the world around us. In a way hearing is more powerful than sight. Our eyes are limited by light levels, if we have our eyes open in the first place, and if so, where we choose to focus them. Our ears on the other hand “see” far beyond the limits of our eyes.
    As a rider I think it’s vitally important that amongst the other safety arrows in our quiver, we appeal, if you will, to the power of this sense in the other road users around us. No matter how bright we are, or how much we move about on the road to attract the vision of others, an auditory presence will always be even more effective simply because of the relative strength and weakness’ of sight and hearing.
    I’m by no means advocating an exhaust that completely dominates the sound scape in which it exists. But I will never own and ride a motorcycle that doesn’t have an exhaust that can be heard by other drivers and road users in my immediate vicinity. And while it is very reasonable to not want to create unnecessary noise “pollution”, a rider who rides with a very quiet exhaust removes one of the more powerful and effective tools in their safety arsenal.

  • Jack Meoph

    Share my aggression is what I do.

    Every day I ride the Tour de Fuckyou.

  • Chris Cope

    Dickead comment alert: In American English the plural of “bus” — i.e. those big vehicles that transport people — is “buses.” Whereas “buss” is an obscure 16th-century word meaning “kiss,” its plural being “busses.” So, in the second paragraph, I’m assuming you meant “buses.”

    Yes, I know that a lot of people use “busses” to mean the plural of “bus,” but just because a lot of people do something doesn’t make it right. For example, a lot of people listen to Toby Keith’s music.

    • Michael Howard

      “Buses” has been the preferred spelling in all forms of English for about 100 years, but “busses” is still acceptable (though uncommon) as a secondary spelling.

  • Tiberiuswise

    Don’t be an idiot like me and forget to cancel your turn signal.

    • Michael Howard

      Many years ago I got into the habit of pretending my turn signal cancel button was a missile launcher. Now I tend to cancel them too damn soon. ;)

  • ThinkingInImages

    I don’t necessarily agree with “the sooner riders and automobile drivers alike recognize each other’s right to exist in the daily ballet of rubber and metal and asphalt, the better off we will all be.” That sets up the “us v. them” argument, as if drivers have an agenda, a resentment, against riders. I’m sure at some level, some do, based on past bad experiences. That works the other way around, too. If you have a legit motorcycle on the road you have the same privileges (it’s not a right) to use the road, no matter how many wheels you have.

    All a motorcycle has is an advantage due to size and agility. We can simply get through traffic easier. So can a Smart car. That’s also a disadvantage due to size and visibility.

    Be visible. Position yourself well on the road. Don’t dress the same color as the asphalt. If you have to be audible, upgrade the horns, not the pipes. That’s the recognized warning sound. For all the lights on the front of a motorcycle (my motorcycle has five), the tail end is almost lightless (one). There’s only one tiny red light source on the back of motorcycles (unless you count the license plate light). Unless a driver is familiar with motorcycle tail lights they don’t know if that’s a running light or a brake light – until you hit the brakes.

    It’s not the Dakar or Isle of Man out there. We have enough variables to deal with just riding alone on an empty road. On a trafficked road more are added. I’m surprised it all works out as well as it does sometimes.

  • darngooddesign

    I ride with my high beams on doing the day for visibility, but I’ve come to the the conclusion that regardless of how much I like the duals on my 1st gen Tuono, at a quick mirror glance they probably make me look like a car that’s much further away. Good article regardless.

  • Blake Harrison

    I’ve noticed ever since I start open carrying a pistol. People notice me more often and tend to not forget I exist. But I also do the above and I am very express as to what others cagers should be doing for my own safety. Such as rolling back to the driver behind me and asking him not to follow or stop so close in traffic. Explain the ramifications of what could happen and how I don’t want to be a meat sandwich with him and the guy in front of me. Most folks look at me and say “wow, I never thought of it that way” and tend to back off and realize we are rude motorcyclists and realize we are riding and doing things for our own safety and theirs. More our own though. Haha

    The pistol freaks some people out and other is simmers them down when there is a little road rage starting to boil over the pot. Haha.

  • appliance5000

    If I’m behind a car for a fair amount of time I’ll change lane position pretty often. Once the brain sees something in the same place for a while it filters it out.

    Pedestrians are strange creatures – Whether in a car, bike, or bicycle they see nothing – they hear nothing. Strange really.

    I agree – Car vs bike, it’s always a fight you’ll lose. If there’s any question I let people go (intersections etc). If there’s a dumbass move I’ll curse into my helmet – get out of the situation, and live to fight another day.

    Generally – if someone’s not totally distracted by their phone – most people seem pretty respectful – I try to return the favor.

    The phone people will kill you – I do what i can to get in front as fast as possible and put a few cars between me and them. They’re easy to spot and I plan the rest before making my move.

  • Mugget

    “A fight with someone behind the wheel of a car is a fight you will probably lose.”

    Probably..? Certainly! If the bike didn’t lose, it wasn’t really a fight!

    Sometimes people make poor decisions because they get so hung up on wanting to exercise “their rights”. They figure they’re just going to do something because that’s their right, dammit! One thing I like to remember and remind others of is the fact that being in the right has no healing properties whatsoever. You may well be in the right, have had right of way etc., but you’ll still be busted and laid up in hospital.

  • mulderdog

    I rarely wave to motorcyclists. Seems like preaching to the choir. (sub 30 degree weather and remote areas WILL find me waving to fellow riders !).
    Whom I wave to is : senior citizens, kids (big ole peace sign to the back of the school bus crowd !), all the morning walkers /joggers in my neighborhood on my AM commute, and strangers in general if I sense any eye contact. seems like the polite thing to do.

  • ticticticboom

    Just my opinion, but people who ride around all the time with their high beams on are idiots. I don’t care if they’re in a car or a motorcycle. They’re kidding themselves about their safety. It’s impossible to judge distance or speed when the oncoming vehicle is blinding me and ESPECIALLY misguided when riding in pairs where the lead bike is blinding all oncomers and the rear bike has their low beams on so as not to blind the lead bike (oh, the hypocrisy!). I will admit I went through a phase in my 30′s when I thought it was safer, (I was an idiot once) but now in my mid 50′s with 37 years and over 200,000 astride a motorcycle I know better.

  • Scout Hikes

    ” . . . [t]he men from the mice”? I appreciate the alliteration, but chicks ride too. Separate “the women from the wimps”, perhaps?

    I’ve been pinned at 65mph between an Audi and a semi on I-5, losing my BarkBuster in the process, but keeping my bowel control. Not even a shrug from the driver. I don’t have balls, but I have BALLS. Just a quick equal-time message from and for the ladies.

    And yes, if I had been able to position myself better, it wouldn’t have happened. Rush hour didn’t allow for that luxury.

    • Guest

      Blame it on Steinbeck. ;)

      • Michael Howard

        Damn it, that was my post. I deleted it but now it shows up as “Guest”.

  • MK

    Great article, but I don’t believe that this describes drivers in all states and on all roads. I commute on San Diego Freeways everyday, and lane share for at least 20-35 miles of my 34 miles commute and by a wide margin 99% of drivers are aware of you, give you room and respect the space. Maybe that is because lane sharing has been around so long here, maybe because the weather is so good people ride year round (i do) and cars are more used to seeing bikes on the road. But the fact remains as was pointed out in this article, being nice, and having some patience will not hurt you.

  • Jeff Witters

    One of the best things I have done on all my bikes is replace the horns with Stebel’s – and use them.