One of the telling moments of the second Iraq War was when Donald Rumsfeld was visiting a safe zone in Iraq, pretending to give a shit what the soldiers thought about how the war was going. One of the soldiers asked him something along the lines of “When will we get equipment that is appropriate to fighting this war.” Rumsfeld’s snide reply was, “As you know, you go to war with the Army you have. They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” There were two ways to take that comment, both ways are uncomplimentary to the people doing the work; 1) “You guys are what we have to work with, as sorry a lot as you are” or 2) “You’re just going to have to work with the crappy armament we’ve provided because we’re doing this war regardless of the risk” (to you, not me). Either way, Rumsfeld was basically saying, “Fuck you, kid. We’re here and you’re doing this with the overpriced, no-bid-contract crap Halliburton gives you to work with.”
History is jam-packed with moments like this. Consistently, the losers are usually on the side of Rumsfeld’s position. Sometimes it takes a while, but the imperialist position of “damn the torpedoes, we have more people and torpedoes where those came from” is expensive, inefficient, and eventually leads to a crumbling empire or sudden overthrow and defeat. The alternative view, best expressed by Sun Tzu in The Art of War, is, “One mark of a great soldier is that he fights on his own terms or fights not at all.” From an American perspective, you could say that , since the Revolutionary War, the overwhelming majority of the wars our country has staggered into have disobeyed this axiom and the result has been the decimation of the country’s treasure, thousands of wasted lives, and a steadily declining commitment to liberty and democracy. If you read much history, you’ll note that many great empires have followed this exact path into decline and collapse. It’s a scary scenario.
This, believe it or not, applies to riding a motorcycle. The only advantage a motorcycle has in traffic is flexibility and a kind of nimbleness that allows us to go where most of the traffic can not. Like it or not, the highway is a battleground. Freeways are all out war. Motorcyclists are too often the fools who get caught with a knife in their hand at a gunfight. All of those stories you’ve heard from the Biker Boyz and big bad biker gangbangers about scaring cagers with noise, the biker stare, booting a rear view mirror off, or kicking the snot out of a cager after the biker “had to put ‘er down” are mostly bullshit. A motorcycle is a lousy platform from which to start a fight. In traffic, a motorcycle is absolutely a knife in a gun fight. The only way to “win” is to bring the fight to your terms. Unfortunately, most motorcyclists don’t know enough about riding a motorcycle to know where a motorcycle and motorcyclist’s terms lie.
A quick look at motorcycling history in the 1st world would be useful. The people who mostly picked a motorcycle over a Model T were guys (almost always) who weren’t afraid of getting dirty. The opening moments of On Any Sunday were a montage of people riding their motorcycles where cars could not hope to follow. That is your first hint, if you didn’t have a clue in the early stages of this essay. Motorcycles are in their own, best element off of the beaten or paved path. If you want to “defeat” a cell-phone distracted cager who seems hell-bent on squashing you flat, lead him off of the pavement into a ditch. At best, the brainless boob will be stuck there till the HPD and AAA comes to their rescue. At worst, the cager will experience the thrill of rolling his handicapped vehicle and you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing his vehicle disassemble itself in your rear view mirror. That’s called bringing the battle to our terms.
Too many motorcyclists have decided to give in to sloth and inertia and take the battle to their opponent’s field; concrete and asphalt. The most popular style of motorcycle in North America is the cruiser, a totally disabled, barely-street-worthy bike with minimal suspension, a crippled feet-forward riding position, poor handling long wheelbase, and a ground clearance that often high-centers on speed bumps and minor potholes. Defending the existence of these pitiful vehicles is the engineering equivalent of whining that “we fight wars with the army we have,” not an army that can actually defend itself. The lame “defense” these rolling two-wheelchairs offers is “loud pipes save lives.” How’s that working for you, since the majority of highway motorcycle deaths are cruisers and old guys?