A Motorcyclist Looks at Motorcycles

Red Wing, this time of year, has a lot of pirate traffic. It’s a small town on the Mississippi River with good restaurants and lots of bars, polite and light traffic, wide roads with remedial curves designed for truck traffic, and decent scenery. This is the place for which Harleys and Indians were designed. So, the irritating sound of badly tuned tractor motors (potato-potato-potato and rub-rub-rub) decorates our evenings and weekends most every mild summer day. Our cops, like cops everywhere, can’t tell the real gangbangers on cruisers from the wannabe gangbangers on cruisers. So, they’re afraid of them all, including the dentists and stockbrokers, and let them wobble down our streets in packs of unskilled idiots, just like everywhere. There are days when most locals avoid our favorite restaurants because they’ll be littered with pretend-pirates and all-too-real assholes covered in patches and colors.

I, on the other hand, am either on a bicycle or in a cage (as a passenger or a tentative driver) these days. My eyesight is not getting better, which likely means my motorcycle days are done. So, I find myself at frontage road intersections like this one looking down my blind side (left) at traffic, making my best guess at oncoming vehicle distances and speeds, and planning a right turn into the right-hand lane. As Keanu would ask, “What would you do?” There is a truck in the on-coming left lane, about 1/4 of a mile away on a 55mph four-lane highway and a stop light about 1/4 of a mile down the road from this intersection, so traffic will likely be slowing about the time I’m up to speed and in my lane. I’m turning right, so I should be able to merge into the right lane without any issue, right? What if that truck was a Harley with the usual gearless pirate dangling from the handlebars? What if it were a parade of clueless pirates?

As a life-long (50+ years) motorcyclist and retired motorcycle safety instructor, I have a different take on the “start seeing motorcyclists” bullshit. I know, on average, motorcyclists are the most incompetent people on the road; either on their motorcycles or in their cars. When I see one, two, a half-dozen, or fifty motorcyclists in the lane I am hoping to join or even in another lane, at practically any distance, I am forced to wait for them to pass. Not because I don’t believe I can get into the lane and up to traffic speed in a decent interval, but because I know 99% of the nitwits on two-wheels in my town are totally incompetent (unfortunately that applies to bicyclists, too). Any sort of complication in the road ahead of them will cause insanely inappropriate panic and generally foolish behavior and I might end up with some moron plastered across the back of my pickup. It’s not worth the hassle. So I wait.

I admit that my estimation of the rider’s skill is dramatically guaged against the brand and style of motorcycle. If it’s a cruiser, I automatically assume total incompetence. If I’m wrong, it’s a pleasant surprise; but a rare one. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is geared-up, I assume moderate skills with undetermined judgement. If it’s a sportbike and the rider is helmet-less., bare armed and legged, and perched on the bike like he’s straddling a too-big butt-plug, I’m back to assuming total incompetence with zero judgement capacity. If its a geared-up adventure biker or, even better, a dual-purpose biker I take no special precautions. That one group can generally be trusted to be at least as competent as the rest of traffic. I don’t have the eyesight to pick commuters from joy-riders, but if I did I’d be pretty confident in the commuters’ skill, too; regardless of motorcycle style.

NOTE: If your take on traffic and commuting is, “I don’t ride to work on my motorcycle because everyone else on the road is out to kill me” you are a moron and not even close to being skilled enough to ride a motorcycle on public roads. Welcome to the sad, overwhelming majority of the motorcycle clan. I’m sure you’ll be comfortable in whatever bar they are contaminating.

Sad, isn’t it? The people I’ve been associated with for most of my life, musicians and motorcyclists, are pretty much the bottom of the gene pool in most of society’s rankings. Honestly, other than through Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, my motocross and trials years, and the safety instructor gig, I may have been associated with motorcyclists but I rarely associated with them. I have fewer than a dozen friends (and a brother) who I would consider riding anywhere near. I almost always travel alone and use groups of motorcycles as an indicator of where not to go or be. You can’t really be a musician without being around other musicians, so there is that association that is totally fair.You can be a motorcyclist without knowing a single other motorcyclist. In fact, most likely the fewer motorcyclists you know the more likely it is that you are a competent motorcyclist. Knowing exactly zero “bikers” is always a good sign.

I admit it, I feel “put upon” by being required to babysit these incompetents. Worse, after I give their inabilities lots of safety margin, these idiots assault me with their exhaust noise and pollution and my local cops don’t even give them a look. That’s injury added to insult added to wasted time. The accommodations our culture makes for bikers so that a few bar owners can optimize their profits at the expense of the rest of society is a red flag of insanity.

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