How To Be A More Polite Motorcyclist

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Category: 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.

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