Watson On: Hidden Dangers

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Hidden Dangers

There is something pretty disconcerting about being hit full in the face at 50mph by a glob of previously enjoyed chewing gum that has just been spat out of a passing car window.

First of all it felt like I’d been hit by a small rock. I had been riding in town and had left my helmet visor slightly open, but there was evidently a large enough gap for the lump of gum to fly in, hit me on the cheekbone and then roll down my face before becoming firmly lodged in my beard.

Secondly, someone else’s chewing gum is nasty enough but trying to pry it out of my facial hair at the side of the road is just plain disgusting. It may well have been flicked up off the road by another vehicle’s tire before being shot into my face, but I’m pretty sure the teenage driver in the Mustang convertible, who just overtook me in the right hand lane, spat it out of his window as he charged past me on an important mission to nowhere.

The cell phone using texting drivers versus motorcyclists debate has and continues to be beaten to death and I have no answer for any of it, apart from keeping my eyes open and watching out for drivers on the phone as they wander from lane to lane, oblivious to anything apart from the important conversations they are having.

But riding a motorcycle I find brings with it other hidden dangers from other road users that nobody tells you about when you first started out.

I’ve watched from the saddle of my bike as a cigarette butt, still smoking, has been thrown from a passing car window. It’s arced up through the air, hit the top of my bike’s tank and then rolled down it to sit still glowing in my crotch. I can assure you that trying to remove a lit cigarette from between your legs while on the move in heavy traffic is a pretty difficult task.

Like the chewing gum incident I am not entirely sure the flicked cigarette butt was a deliberate action aimed specifically at me on a bike. It’s just symptomatic of other road users ignorance and being completely unaware of anything but themselves and where they are heading.

However, there was a time out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada when I’m pretty sure the guy in the truck ahead of me intentionally emptied his coffee cup out of the window. He’d come racing up behind me, over took me, and then a few minutes later down the road tossed a cup out of the window knowing that I was still behind him.

I got to enjoy the remnants of his breakfast beverage and me and the bike smelled of coffee for the rest of the day.

We’re really lucky with the weather where I live here in California so it’s not often that you need to use the windscreen wipers and washers on your truck or car. But on really hot sunny days, when I’m out on my bike, I am occasionally surprised to find it has suddenly started to rain only to discover the guy ahead me of has chosen that precise moment to use his washers.

I’m not saying this is another deliberate action against motorcyclists but I do occasionally glimpse the driver watching in his rear view checking to see if his washers have hit their intended target.

Riding on the freeway as motorcyclists we all know is fraught with danger too. Apart from the obvious of the crazy driving habits of other road users there are times when there are obstacles to overcome like the remnants of a tire blow out that has left scattered pieces all over a lane.

I’ve driven through this kind of debris in a car and I know that it’s not always easy to avoid it sometimes because of the volume of traffic or simply because you didn’t have sufficient time to drive around it.  But there have been times when I’ve been on my bike when the guy ahead of me has had ample time to change lane, as the traffic is light, and could have easily missed hitting the mess altogether. Instead though, he’s chosen to plow straight through it, hurling it all into the air, which then come straight towards me in a rain of broken and frankly dangerous rubber. I’m not saying this was deliberate just another case of inconsideration from other road users.

There have been times though when it’s been entirely my fault. If a large truck on the freeway, which I have chosen to ride up to and sit behind, has large stickers stating ‘Live Animals On Board’ then I have absolutely nobody else to blame but myself for getting pissed on by a group of nervous pigs.

What obstacles have you found in the road when you’re on your bike and how have you dealt with the situation?

  • zion

    You’ve pretty much hit on every subject of “Hidden Dangers” that I try to pass along to the newbies in MSF class. Well, maybe not all of them, but close. I always hope that after passing these tidbits along, that not only do they stay aware while on their bikes, but hopefully they become aware of it in their cars. Not all of them will remain motorcycle riders, but hopefully they’re awareness as automobile drivers increases and they pass it along to friends and family. (I know, way too much optimism).

    Frankly, people in general only care about themselves these days, with no regards to those around them. (Ah, there’s my comfortable cynicism.) As a Paramedic, I see the “me,me,me” in people everyday (those that abuse the EMS system anyway), add in the motorcycle rider part of me….. I try very hard not to give up on humanity everyday.

    • Slacker

      I think one thing you can think about to maintain faith in humanity is that there are a crapload of riders out there who will give you hand in a hurry.

  • Ryan Kiefer

    500 miles after I got my CBR250, I was forced to ride through the detritus of a just-exploded white garbage bag that had fallen off of the truck in front of me. Traffic was such that I couldn’t change lanes to avoid, so I just rode steadily through it and out of the other side.

    I thought I was in the clear until I got to my destination and heard the telltale hiss of a punctured tire. A large construction staple had lodged both of its stems in my back tire about 1cm apart. Since it wasn’t the front tire, I patched it. I’ve ridden another 5200 miles on that patched tire, and it has never leaked. Maybe not the smartest thing ever, but I was stubborn and cheap enough to want to get some useful life out of that damned tire.

    • Justin McClintock

      It’s ALWAYS the back tire! Somebody needs to look into the dynamics of road debris, but I’ve had countless rear tires punctured on motorcycles AND bicycles, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a flat on the front.

      • Piglet2010

        The front tire flips up the sharp objects that were lying flat on the road.

        • Justin McClintock

          Yeah, I figured as much. It just seems odd how “effective” it is given that I’ve never had a flat on the front. Just weird.

  • Michael Love

    A guy in an SUV decided to change lanes in a construction zone the other day, clipping a pylon and sending it shooting straight into my path. Luckily I reacted fast enough and missed it by about 2 inches.

    However, my worst experience was provided by mother nature, when a wasp flew down my shirt.

    • Ryan Kiefer

      Ditto with regards to mother nature. Torrential downpour + hail was the worst. Suicidal birds were a close second.

    • Sportbike Mike

      Had a hornet get me in the shoulder. Same thing happened to a buddy wearing the same kind of jacket a few weeks earlier.

  • Trường Nguyễn

    Jeez, I’ve been riding for about a year and have never thought a second about half of the stuff on this list. I guess pray for the best and be prepared for anything. At the end of the day we will always be responsible for someone else’s actions so I always try to be on my toes whenever I ride.

    • eddi

      Just another good reason to dress for the ride.

  • Mr. White

    To anyone who rides in the snowbelt, be aware that the chewed-up, pothole pockmarked streets means there’s a ton of loose gravel, crunched concrete and asphalt bits just waiting to wash out your front wheel where you least expect it. My right knee and front right turn signal learned that lesson the hard way.

    • Piglet2010

      Why I have been riding the TW200 these days, since it deals with crap and potholes better than the other bikes.

  • Gabe Cosarca

    The “tar” filling used to patch cracks in roadways. Winter time that stuff is as bad as ice and summer time is like riding over a fresh oil slick. It’s terrible when you’re making a turn and that stuff is there. I nearly dropped my bike in a parking lot that has that stuff laying around, caught me off guard because I wasn’t looking out for it.

    • eddi

      Oily patches and water not just on the road but in a parking lot. I had my left foot slip right after I put it down. I’m not sure how I stayed upright, but I did get the other foot down solidly before I tipped.

      • Justin McClintock

        Definitely. I remember pulling up to an ATM on the bike once. Put my foot down and damn near hit the ground. I have no idea how the tires got traction on that, but my boot certainly didn’t.

    • Justin McClintock

      Sadly, based on my experience, most of those people at the construction zone aren’t distracted at all. They’re simply trying to pass as many people as they can before they cut somebody off. And they simply view a motorcycle as “easy to cut off”.

      • Gabe Cosarca

        You’re right about that… I need to modify my GPS holder into a hammer holder.

      • Piglet2010

        Traffic flows better if people stay in two lines until they have to merge – MNDOT has even been posting signs to that effect.

  • Slacker

    Sounds like most of these people just deserved a swift punch in the throat. That’d learn ‘em! Hopefully… I can’t say I’ve had experiences like this. Just the bugs. A few goodies, but it could always be worse.

    • eddi

      I council patience with the terminally dim. Reacting would just hurt your knuckles and get you talked about on the 5 o’clock news, and not in a good way.

      • Piglet2010

        “Reacting would just hurt your knuckles…”

        Not if you have track gloves with hard knuckle protection.

        • eddi

          Safety first.

    • Piglet2010

      “Sounds like most of these people just deserved a swift punch in the throat.”

      No, they deserved to be interrogated by the Saudi secret police.

      • Slacker

        I think that’s reserved for people who steal motorcycles.

  • Alex

    Bees.

    • Send Margaritas

      Bees are common. I’ve had run-ins with 17-Year locusts, truck-tire retreads, a flying lug nuts (ouch! OMG!)….and narrowly missed red-tailed hawk carrying a rabbit that just flew out of the right-side ditch.In my car, I had a semi hit a bump, and the rear doors opened. I didn’t think much of it, until it hit another, and a wheelbarrow slides out of a tarp, and one-hops toward my windshield. Miata’s can dodge most anything.

  • Dotcuebed

    On the way through Alabama and Mississippi I drove our Outback through the construction of a new overpass with a very large shiny propane gas barbeque grill under it blocking most of the 2nd lane. About a 1/4 mile later there was an unhappy looking Harley rider on a cell phone on the shoulder. He missed it but clipping one at 60 is worse than a discarded lit cigarette in the chest.

  • Davidabl2

    Debris in the road -and potholes- are another prime reason not to travel closely behind another vehicle: you won’t see the problem until you’re just about on top of it.
    Same with traffic problems in general if you’re behind a truck or SUV…another excuse for passing them, heh,heh.

    • eddi

      This is gonna be a Spring for potholes. Some of my favorite spots are a mess of cracks, holes and missing edges. Take even the most familiar routes like they were unknown, at least the first couple times, until you are sure it’s OK or you find a new safe line through.

  • William Connor

    I used to ride in PA a lot. It’s where I grew up. We had a lot of Amish, slow buggies can be interesting on a blind hill or corner at a decent rate of speed. There is also the fun of uhh horse emissions!?!?

  • JamesVFR400

    really bad idea to follow behind any kind of loaded up car or truck, incase some of their load bounces out into your face. I once was close behind a 4×4 with a bunch of steel L shaped beams on its roof about 6 ft long, maybe 10 of them, anyway because of the traffic i was right behind him, he hit a pot hole and it all came down, luckily i was just able to avoid it but it taught me a good lesson.

    Also dont ride without some form of hi impact eye protection, stones being kicked up by other traffic will blind you if they strike you in the eye. I was once riding down a motorway with my visor up and glass lensed sunnies on, copped a rock to the raybans and they cracked all over but didnt shatter, i was very lucky. Not doing that again.

  • KC

    Water filled potholes are a nightmare. You can’t tell if it’s a slight puddle or a crater that can flip you. I was riding on a hot day with my helmet open a notch. I got “shotgunned” under my left eye by some sort of flying insect. That was a nice trip to the emergency room. Another winner was getting caught behind a compost truck, on a hot day, in stalled traffic on a bridge on-ramp. There was no room to get around it. Every time a breeze started dust from the truck’s cargo drifted back. That was nasty.

    • eddi

      The smell of one last summer made stop and pull over until it was way down the road. Getting dusted? Ick and my sympathies.

  • http://bloodsweatandgasoline.wordpress.com tad diemer

    Two words for you. Track. Pants. Those modern, space-age fabrics aren’t just silky smooth against your skin… Hit a pair of those with my front tire turning through an intersection at night, I was sliding along on my shoulder before I had any idea what went wrong.

  • sixgunsteve

    A couple years ago I was riding a rural 4-lane and signaled to pass the slightly slower Mercedes SUV in front of me. The SUV sped up swerved in front of me then slowed back down. I signaled and moved right and received the same thing. This went on a couple of times over the next few miles until I faked left, accelerated hard and passed on the right. As I passed a bucket of KFC chicken bones, used napkins and side dish containers came flying out the rear passenger window at me hitting me on the left arm and chest. I guess the driver didn’t expect me to slow down and follow him to the next red light. I dismounted and approached the driver to have a discussion when I realized it was daddy’s SUV driven by a teen-something driver and three of his friends (two boys, two girls) that when faced with reality didn’t quite know what to do. The driver couldn’t get his power window up fast enough so I pulled it out the the track and bent it over at about a 45-degree angle to the door, politely removed the side-view mirror leaving it dangling by the power adjust cables and and left five or six size 11 Tech 10 prints in his door. I told the driver he was lucky he looked under 18 otherwise I would have done that to his head, make sure you tell your daddy what happened and have a nice day.

    • Justin McClintock

      Normally I’m not a man who would condone damaging others property to prove a point. But honestly, that kid deserved it. I’m sure he had fun explaining that one.

      • sixgunsteve

        I absolutely agree. After nearly 40 years of riding, like the article says, I, like others here, have seen just about everything there is to see while riding on two wheels. In the law of gross tonnage, the bike always loses and I always back off, give a wide berth, give a friendly wave (honestly, I mean friendly, no one-finger waves) or find some other way not to give a negative impression of motorcyclists. But after this kid’s deliberate, malicious and dangerous act I had had enough.

      • Mr. White

        The only problem is that the little weasel probably came up with some b.s. story about the damage. “Gee dad, we came out of the mall and we found it like that. I swear!”

    • Jack Meoph

      I can’t help but always think of The Weather Man ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0384680/?ref_=nv_sr_1 ), with Nick Cage, whenever someone talks about getting food thrown at them from a vehicle. Luckily I’ve never had that happen to me. I do hate it when people try to spray you with their windshield washers, for whatever reason.

    • Piglet2010

      Would have been better if you had removed him from the gene pool.

  • eddi

    My worst impacts have all been insects. Loose stuff flying out of pick ups make for fast maneuvers. Stuff thrown out of car windows has usually been too far off to hit me. And I strongly doubt it’s ever been anything but my being unseen. Of course now I’ve jinxed it and I’ll end up with a 64 oz. Slurper right in the visor tomorrow.

  • KeithB

    Poorly secured tail pack. (my own fault)
    I had a nylon tail bag slide off my tail rack and get stuck between my rear tire and fender.
    Locked the back wheel up as I was going into a corner.
    Held the bike upright but had to change my shorts!
    From then on, my riding partner (wife) and I check each others bikes after each stop.

  • Scheffy

    Landscaping and farm trucks are pretty bad too. I usually get stuck behind them when they’re loaded down with pine tree scraps or 15 foot stacks of haybales. Tie those things down as much as you like, the wind slowly picks them apart and aligns the debris perfectly so you end up riding through waves of blow darts.

    • eddi

      I’m worse, I’m allergic to hay. Get too close and my eyes water.

    • atomicalex

      Those things are a danger to cars, too.

  • Ryan

    My favorite are the cicadas that came to visit last year. Night riding was akin to having a 9mm unloaded at your chest and legs.

  • Jack Meoph

    “I’ve watched from the saddle of my bike as a cigarette butt, still
    smoking, has been thrown from a passing car window. It’s arced up
    through the air, hit the top of my bike’s tank and then rolled down it
    to sit still glowing in my crotch. I can assure you that trying to
    remove a lit cigarette from between your legs while on the move in heavy
    traffic is a pretty difficult task.”

    I would suggest standing up. the butt should just fly right off the bike, land in a patch of tall dry grass, and start a 50K acre blaze, well at least in CA.

    I can’t believe no one has hit a deer. I’ve hit two. One was full impact on the right front (broken plastics, broken rear set, bent brake lever, hurt leg, dead deer), and the other was a slight impact on the right side of the swing arm (stunned deer, left shaking it off in the middle of the road). Kept the bikes up both times.

    • Michael Howard

      I hit one a few years ago. About 5am, still dark, doing 60-65 mph, saw the deer on the right shoulder, started braking. Didn’t see the second deer jump from the left side until it was directly in front of my headlights. Next thing I knew I was picking myself up from the road and looking around for my bike. Rode back home (about 20 miles). Concussion, broken finger, broken toe, very likely a torn rotator cuff. About $3500 damage to the bike, mostly cosmetic (fairing, bodywork, etc).

      • Sportbike Mike

        ouch

    • NextTurn

      I came millimeters from hitting one two weeks ago. Unfortunately, in my haste, I managed to lock up the front brake. The bike road me for 20 some odd feet down the road, and my full gear protected me as best it could. However, I am now sitting on my couch right now with a non-functional spleen, a broken clavicle, and a broken scapula.

      Good news: The insurance company has deemed it a no-fault scenario. I either hit the deer or locked up the brake. I just wish I had a bit of a different position. Internal bleeding hurts worse than you think.

  • skongara

    I’ve had that cigarette butt incident happen to me. And it was deliberate. Two teenaged girls in daddy’s convertible were trying to race me for some reason. Cutting across dangerously. We came up to a light and I was behind them, could hear them giggling away. As the light turned green the car screeched away and one of them tossed a lit cigarette butt which came and hit me on my thigh and stung bad. I was pissed and honked at them. I lived a few blocks away and as I was parking I noticed the same car parked nearby. Both the girls were still there; so I walked up to them and confronted them about the cigarette. First they denied it, and then said “What do you want us to say….SORRY?…fine sorry”.
    I walked away, but had a feeling this wasn’t over and made sure I got the license plate memorized. So I kept an eye out through my living room. A while later, I saw them pull up in the car where my bike was parked, and leave a lit cigarette on my seat. I ran down as they sped off. Luckily I got there before the cigarette did any damage. I called the local PD and soon an officer showed up and took down the info. I got a call back from the local PD the next day with an update and apparently the officer showed up at the car owners door and reported the incident to the dad. The owner was warned about it. Hopefully the dad spoke some sense into the girls.

  • mickedard

    A motorcycle was behind a big rig drafting him. After about a minute a burning rag came flying out of his window and hit the motorcycle rider on his chest. After putting the flames out with his glove he pulled over to the shoulder. It was late at night and soon the single headlight caught up to the truck, The motorcycle turned his lights out (1973 you could do that on the old bikes) pulled up in front of him turned around and threw a good sized rock, speeding away. Wonder what the truck driver was thinking after that?

  • Heather McCoy

    Two harrowing near-misses come to mind…one recent forray on Phoenix’s infamous death-trap, affectionately known as Loop 101 (where it seems every cretan in a 40-mile radius seems hell-bent on proving their crappy American compact car is actually faster than a Ducati). I’d recently merged on on a Saturday mid-morning and flanked by said cretans, watched in helpless horror as a giant tarp of plastic floated across the median like an apparition, bouncing off the wakes of wizzing cars toward my lane. My life flashed before me as I imagined the thing cloaking me and my bike in a choking veil of doom, crashing, and being pulverized by cagers on their cell-phones. Alls I could do was slow way down, pray the person behind me WASN’T on their cell phone, and watch the thing float on it’s listless way.

    Another time was on the Las Vegas strip. After a 5-hr ride through the desert in triple-digit temperatures (fully leathered, mind you), the stop and go on the tourist-clogged boulevard was almost too much to bear. The heat from my 748 had already put a nice char on the layers of skin and fat of my thighs and was now roasting my bones, and my hands were weak from fatigue after several miles of clutching, braking, and slowly easing on, then off the throttle. If you’ve ever been to ‘Vegas, you know that A) there are a LOT of tourists B) they are all drunk, stupid, or (in most cases) both, and C) they are oblivious to street traffic and vehicles of any kind. So, when it was finally my turn to cross traffic and turn left toward my hotel, throngs of them, many with strollers, proceeded in a pentacostal march against the light, certain in their belief that “don’t walk” really meant “oh, go ahead”. Oh, hell-no. I proceeded toward them, mommies and strollers and all, fully prepared to take them all out if I had to; I was exhausted, and if I was going down, so were they. Turns out when a couple of Ducatis with faceless, leather-clad riders come barrelling at you, viciously revving in warning, people jump. It. Was. Awesome.

    • charlie

      “The heat from my 748 had already put a nice char on the layers of skin and fat of my thighs and was now roasting my bones, and my hands were weak from fatigue after several miles of clutching, braking, and slowly easing on, then off the throttle.”

      Nice detail! Now I need a glass of cold water, lol.

  • Chris Strizver

    A quite large hammer was dislodged from its resting spot on a landscaping company’s truck. I think the only thing that would bounce more unpredictably is a football. Looking far enough ahead and keeping proper distance allowed enough time to avoid an impact.

  • Michael Howard

    Bug in the eye through my cracked-open visor on the highway. As I tried to get it out, another bug hits my other eye. Quickly – and blindly – slowed and moved right until I felt the tires reach the gravel shoulder.

  • Desmond Perry

    I always just run into the person flicking the lit cigarette out of the window

  • Davidabl2

    10 minutes before reading Michael Howard’s story about hitting the second deer I watched two of them run across the road in front of me. Deer #2 was nearly taken out by a motorist. The damn critters travel in packs, more often than not.

    • Michael Howard

      Yep. If you see one, you can be absolutely certain there are others with it.

    • eddi

      Deer are herd animals alright and they have preferred paths to food and water. Low spots near water with trees growing close to the road are where to look out even if there are no deer xing signs. They seem to react to cars and bikes like they would a predator. Freeze and hope they’re unsensed. But if something keeps on coming at them they will take off at a run. Even zigzag which explains how they end up head first through your grille.

      • Davidabl2

        “They seem to react to cars and bikes like they would a predator”
        That’s one thing that the little bastards are actually correct about, i believe.

        • eddi

          We know the feeling, as bikers. I wish my jeans didn’t come with a target on the butt.

    • LS650

      “Where there’s one, there’s two…” was the rule of thumb I heard when I took my first riding course many years ago.

  • William C. Chapman

    I had a dump truck pull into the roadway up the road from me. I try to never follow dump trucks, but traffic was pretty heavy and I couldn’t move to the left lane before I had closed in on the truck. I noticed an orange “stripe” between the left side back wheels. I immediately swerved to the right side of my lane and it was a good thing I did. Moments after I swerved over a chunk of brick that was lodged between the dual tire shot passed me about head high and destroyed the windshield of the car behind me…very scary.
    On another occasion I was riding 60-65mph and came upon some crows dining on road kill in my lane…I took a gamble and passed the road kill on the left and wouldn’t you know that was the same direction the crow decided to take off in…I ducked down my head and the crow bounced of my helmet just above the visor…that darn near unhorsed me…

  • Piglet2010

    “However, there was a time out in the middle of nowhere in Nevada when
    I’m pretty sure the guy in the truck ahead of me intentionally emptied
    his coffee cup out of the window.”

    Before or after carrying a loaded gun was legalized?

  • Piglet2010

    Around here, the big problem is idiots coming the other way at 60 mph on gravel roads, so you get both a rock shower and a vision obscuring dust cloud.

  • Davidabl2

    I am reminded of a tale from many years ago,when I cabdriver i knew was being followed by a CHP motor officer and the hood blew off of that rattletrap Checker at 60 mph.. It bounced and flew over the guy’s head. Cabbie pulls over, CHP tried for 5 minutes to write the ticket but couldn’t. Because his hands were shaking too much to be able to put pen to paper.

  • Afonso Mata

    Years ago, when I got my driver’s licence, way before I start riding bikes, a friend of mine who was (and still is) a motorcycle rider gave me some advice, since I was a newbie at the wheel. One of the things he told me was: “You’re a smoker, right? Don’t ever throw your cigarette butts out the window. If you really have to, make sure there’s no motorcycle rider splitting lanes”.
    To this day, amongst various other scars from bike crashes, he still has a burn scar in his wrist from a cigarette butt that got stuck between the end of the glove and the beginning of the jacket, after being thrown out of a window of a car. Wierd stuff happens.

  • Bluesceyes

    This article and the responses below make me wince when I see a cruiser-type ride by without a windshield or eye protection.

  • LS650

    I once was behind a pickup carrying furniture, and a mattress fell out on the lane in front of me. I had half-expected something like this to happen when I saw the crappy packing job, so I was staying back and waiting for the opportunity to pass when the mattress flopped out. I was ready and swerved around it with little excitement – but it surprised the crap out of the car behind me, and he drove right over it.

  • chris ordanez

    When I was living in Seattle a ladder somehow fell off of a contractor truck while I was riding on the I-5. Luckily it landed flat instead of flipping through the air. I had plenty of time to avoid it because nobody in Seattle likes to drive faster than 45 mph on the highway.

    Another time a dry leaf sailed edge-on across my lower eyelid when I had my face shield open. It felt like someone dragged a hacksaw blade across my face. It surely would have messed up my eye if it had been a little higher.

    At least I’ve never had a tree fall on me.

  • James

    Where I live one of the worst road hazards in the spring is thousands of salamanders on the highway, The first few days of the migration you can usually miss them after that you pretty much can’t ride without running over hundreds.

    • eddi

      May I be the first to say, ICK! To date I have never had to hose any squashed lifeform messier than a bug off my machine.